General Hospital star Maurice Benard (Sonny Corinthos) has created a safe space for candid, open dialogue about mental health on his series, State of Mind, which has quickly become the go-to place for daytime talent to share some of their most uncomfortable moments and memories. Benard's latest guest on his video blog was Kimberly McCullough (ex-Robin Scorpio), who felt emboldened enough by her longtime co-star to open up about some very difficult experiences she had as a child star on GH.
For those who might not know, McCullough was cast on the ABC soap opera when she was just seven years old. And at first, it was a dream come true. "I liked being around other creative people. I liked being around adults," she told Benard of starting her acting career at such a young age. "I seemed to have this talent that other people rewarded me for. There was a lot of discipline involved and a lot of sacrifice, but I really enjoyed it... and I welcomed the challenge."
But McCullough shared that her GH experience was punctuated by a lot of dark moments, as well -- the first of which was taking on much more than she could chew, which led to childhood health issues. "I was doing too much. I had a lot of responsibility, and I was having a lot of fun, but I'll just go, go, go," she recalled. "I'm like the Energizer Bunny; I wouldn't stop."
As a result, by the time McCullough was in seventh grade, she had developed an ulcer -- and her mother decided to tell the soap's then-producer that it was time for her daughter to attend school like a regular child.
"They decided from that point on that I would go to regular school during the day, then everybody would rehearse without me, and then I would show up, and we would tape the scenes," the actress explained.
Not everybody, however, shared in the thought that this was the best working situation. McCullough recalled that Steve Burton (Jason Morgan) gave her a hard time for not being on set as much as everybody else in the scenes.
"When I was a teenager, I remember Steve, like, yelling down the hall, 'Thanks for joining us, McCullough!' after I'd been through seven classes at school and driven an hour to Hollywood," she shared.
McCullough quickly tried to downplay Burton's behavior as just teasing, but Benard felt it was important to point out, "Steve was kind of a jerk-off early on. He's not that now, but he could hurt people's feelings. I mean, we both kinda were -- this is no bullshit -- we both were, but he didn't know when to stop. I kinda did."
Soon after, the pair's conversation turned to the illicit drug use that was present at General Hospital back in the 1980s. McCullough revealed that she first became aware of her co-stars using drugs when she was a teenager.
"I do know things, but because it wasn't my experience, I'd rather not say anything," McCullough said. "But I do remember there was lots of holes in the walls from people, like, busting doors open. And there was a lot of 'So-and-so won't come out of their dressing room... ' and there was a lot of, 'Can you go to so-and-so's house and wake them up because they're not answering the phone?' There was a lot of that. I remember having to wait around for people to just show up, and sometimes they didn't."
McCullough also recalled the work hard/play hard mentality on set that was prevalent during this time period, which she sums up via a story about how the cast would go to a nearby Mexican restaurant and "everyone would get trashed, and then they'd come back to work."
She continued, "We were there sometimes until like 1:00, 2:00 in the morning... We'd get there at 6:00 and people would just sleep there all the time. Like, that wasn't a big deal to just stay the night, because you're like, 'Why would I go home for four hours?''
Things have definitely changed since that time, McCullough pointed out, but she opined that the producers of that period thrived in such a work environment.
"When things were chaotic, it was a little easier to control," she explained, "And then there was also this like creative, artist-type thing where, back in the day, directors used to yell, and [the thought process was] 'if they're torturing you, they're an amazing director, you know? They really care!'"
McCullough went on to share that in the 80s, GH actors had more freedom to party because there were always teleprompters on set, which meant that they didn't have to have their lines memorized.
"Tristan [Rogers, Robert Scorpio] was the master of the Teleprompter," the actress noted of her on-screen dad. "He could look at it but pretend he wasn't looking at it and still be handsome and still have the right angle."
Reflecting on the emotional AIDS storyline that is considered not just one of her best storylines of all time, but also one of GH's best stories of all time, McCullough shared that a lot was going on behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.
"Things that were going on in my real life were chaotic and traumatic and awful," said McCullough. "And that story allowed me to have a catharsis and sort of, you know, think about things in this very, like, escapism kind of way."
She continued, "Even though it was also a very deep, heavy, tragic story, there was something that was so full of love about it. It wasn't just melodrama for the sake of melodrama, which you know we do a lot of! But this was, like, groundbreaking. This was the first heterosexual couple ever, in any medium, to deal with AIDS -- and in such a loving way. We didn't harp on, 'Well, how did he get it? If he was doing drugs, he must be a loser.' That wasn't the story... and I loved that non-judgmental, educational part about it."
Though she has such fond memories of her past as a performer, McCullough shared that she doesn't think she'll want to act in her future and will instead focus on her career as a director. She explained that the choice stems from no longer wanting to exploit herself in front of the camera, as well as the traumatic events that happened in her personal life during her teen years.
When Benard asked her to elaborate on the traumatic thing that happened, McCullough revealed, "I will say that mental illness runs in my family, and the mental illness is depression, anxiety, and addiction, if you want to put that under the umbrella of it. And so, I lived in chaos my whole childhood."
She continued, "The point of telling you about my personal trauma is... if you're so stressed, you have all this responsibility, I got an ulcer when I was 12, if you don't change your life or get help or have the right people around you, it's really hard to dig yourself out of it."
McCullough also touched on her Mexican heritage during her conversation with Benard, sharing that she spent the entire time that she was on GH, passing as "a white girl," and it was only very recently, when she was directing an episode of Fantasy Island in Puerto Rico, that she experienced the feeling of being surrounded by a non-white crew.
"Ninety percent of the crew was Puerto Rican, speaking Spanish, we had no-English Fridays," she recalled. "So, anyway, these things are happening in my life where I'm like, 'Wow. There are so many amazing changes in the business,' but also I feel like, in a way, I am getting more back to my roots and my original dreams and wants for myself."
Check out McCullough's full State of Mind episode below and let us know what you think in the Comments section at the end of the article.
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