Genie Francis celebrates 45 years at General Hospital

Posted Friday, February 04, 2022 7:09:24 AM

General Hospital star Genie Francis made her debut as Laura Webber on February 8, 1977, and Port Charles hasn't been the same since!

A lot of people look back at 1977 as the year that Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States, but General Hospital fans remember it for a much more life-changing moment: Genie Francis made her debut as Laura Webber.

Though it's hard to imagine today, Francis was actually a recast for the role of Lesley Williams' daughter, who was originally played by actress Stacey Baldwin. Despite being a recast, Francis was a big hit with fans, especially when the writers began dishing out some seriously great material for the character under the direction of Gloria Monty, who came aboard the ABC soap opera as an executive producer in 1978 along with new head writer Douglas Marland.

The pair's mission was to save the then-fledgling program, and one of the ways they did so was by turning a lot of focus to Francis' Laura. Making her the centerpiece of the show's teen scene drew in scores of younger viewers, and as Laura's popularity grew, so did her romantic storyline with Scotty Baldwin (Kin Shriner). Because drama reigns supreme on soaps, of course, the writers threw an obstacle into Scotty and Laura's romance: Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary).

Luke was only supposed to be on the canvas for a few months before being killed off, but GH viewers went so wild for the Luke and Laura pairing, the show's writers decided to change tack. Unfortunately, this included an extremely controversial storyline in which Luke raped Laura at the Campus Disco. Despite that, the pair's romance endured, thanks to ferocious fan fervor for the couple. The storyline was revisited years later and addressed as the act of violence that it was.

By 1981, Luke and Laura were the center of several crime and adventure storylines, such as the famous Ice Princess plot. These grand adventures culminated in an extravagant wedding for the couple, complete with a guest appearance by Elizabeth Taylor in the role of Helena Cassadine. Luke and Laura's wedding, which aired on November 16 and November 17, 1981, drew in 30 million Americans and was featured on the covers of major magazines like Newsweek and People. The momentous event cemented Luke and Laura as the most famous supercouple in soap operas.

Riding high on the success of her GH role, Francis opted to leave the ABC soap in 1982, hoping for big opportunities in primetime. She booked a few non-soap gigs, including the series Bare Essence, North & South, and Murder, She Wrote, but she eventually found herself pulled back to soaps with roles like Days of our Lives' Diana Colville, All My Children's Ceara Connor, and, of course, GH's Laura.

Francis has since returned to GH for several stints over the years, one of which was a 1998 storyline that dug into Luke's past rape of Laura. The episodes dealt with the lingering trauma of the shocking 1980s storyline, including how it affected the couple's son, Lucky.

Some of the other major storylines that have brought Francis back to the canvas include the supposed (but later found to be untrue) death of Lucky; a 2001 reunion with Scotty following Luke's affair with Felicia; Laura suffering nervous breakdowns and being committed after she was led to believe she had killed Rick in the mid-2000s (which landed her the 2007 Daytime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actress category); and a 2013 Ice Princess redo involving Laura's daughter, Lulu.

In 2015, Francis returned for a storyline to facilitate Tony Geary's retirement from soaps, but she ended up sticking around and signing a long-term contract with the ABC soap. Fans were shocked when the actress was dropped to recurring status in 2018, a career blow that Francis later revealed gave her serious depression. Fortunately, she was brought back to the show in a full-time capacity in 2020, and since then, Laura has truly become her own woman as mayor of Port Charles. The writers have also expanded Laura's family, bringing on two previously unknown brothers, Martin (Michael E. Knight) and Cyrus (Jeff Kober).

"I feel so lucky that [the writers] gave me these two brothers. It's great," Francis enthused in an interview in December. "It's a wonderful surprise this deep into a character on a show, to finally have them go back and they pulled that out of my past, which is a great thing to do. I love what they did. It makes total sense."

As for what may be coming down the pipeline for Laura, Francis says your guess is as good as hers. "I don't know the full story of what's coming. They don't often tell us that -- they keep that very quiet," she teased. "In the social media days, it's very hard to keep our stories secret. Everything just seems to get out."

General Hospital shared photos from a party thrown in Francis' honor, saying, "It's always a party behind the scenes at #GeneralHospital, but today is one for the history books. Genie Francis joined the cast on this day in 1977 and we will forever be in her debt. Happy Anniversary, Genie!"

Francis shared on social media that "[i]t doesn’t feel like forty-five years. Hard to believe. I am truly blessed."

One of Francis' longtime costars, Kin Shriner (Scott Baldwin), used his inimitable wit to mark the occasion along with a photo from yesteryear.

Would you like to wish Genie Francis a happy 45th anniversary as GH's Laura? What have been some of your favorite moments from the actress' four and a half decades on the ABC soap opera? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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