A Genie On Her Own

Genie Francis has been off TV’s General Hospital for months, but sitting in a hotel coffee shop in midtown Manhattan, it’s clear that her public has not forgotten her. A passing waitress can’t keep from gawking and knocks over a bottle of catsup as she passes Genie’s table. A half-dozen teenagers stare in awe from a corner table, while nearby adults, in an attempt to be tactful, studiously ignore the actress, clad in olive drab – her “Private Benjamin outfit.” Genie’s big eyes are luminous under dark eyebrows, plucked in a thin line, that make a striking contrast to her long blond hair. Her mouth is unusually wide when she smiles; although there really isn’t much of a resemblance, somehow, she reminds you of a young Elizabeth Taylor.

As every true blue soap-opera fan knows, Genie spend her teens looking at the world from inside a TV tube. Unlike a genie in a fairy tale of old, she wasn’t pleading to be let out but produced her kind of magic – acting – on the inside. If you watched ABC-TV when she was the reigning daytime princess, you warmed to the glow of innocence and vulnerability projected from her heart-shaped face as heroine Laura Webber. Growing from fourteen to nineteen, she was ever an agitated pawn in emotional conflicts, subject to traumas, amnesia, even rape. Shortly after Genie’s abrupt disappearance from the series, Laura Webber’s gala marriage to the character played Anthony Geary was headline news from coast to coast. After Genie left, the series began to slip in popularity. Then, last October, she reappeared, triumphant, on prime-time TV, playing a decisive yet voluptuous perfume executive in CBS-TV’s four-hour romantic drama Bare Essence. With that role, Genie won her independence – in reality as well as on TV.

Bare Essence director Walter Grauman remarks, “She’s one of the nicest and most appealing young leading ladies I’ve ever seen. She’s got a marvelous sense of humor and she’s very easy to work with. I think that she’s got an enormous future.”

It has taken her five years to become her own woman, working year round since she was fourteen. She recalls how tiring it was. “There’s no hiatus on a soap opera,” Genie explains, sipping a cup of coffee. “When they gave me my first two-week vacation they had to have Lara run away from home to account for her disappearance. Working so hard, I didn’t enjoy my own success.” When Genie was twelve, however, she sang a different tune. “I was driven,” she recalls vividly. “I don’t know why, but I had to become an actress, no matter what it took!” This, even though she was overwhelmed by shyness – in part because of crooked teeth that were in braces for years. “If you said boo to me, I would pass out,” she says. But that changed abruptly in the sixth grade, when she worked up a dance routine with a couple of other girls for a school Christmas show, designing it to feature herself. She remembers it as if it were yesterday, how she danced to a pop tune by the Carpenters.

“Having the spotlight, seeing the crown stare at me was overwhelming. I was incredibly happy. When I went home, my dad saw me coming down the hall and said, ‘You’re going to be a star!’ [Genie’s father, Ivor Francis, a character actor, teaches acting at UCLA. Back east – the family moved to Los Angeles when Genie was seven – her mother had been an actress, too. In fact, her parents spent their honeymoon on tour in the same play, but her mother stopped working when the older of Genie’s two brothers was born.] Even at the age of twelve,” Genie states without embarrassment, “I had charisma and a determination about what I was doing.”

At fourteen, her braces off, she auditioned for an ABC-TV series., Family. She appeared a couple of times as a little girl who picks on Kristy McNichol, then won a part in General Hospital. Up every day by six-thirty, genie was at the studio by seven. For the first two weeks, her mother drove her to work, then a nanny took her until she was sixteen and could drive herself. Genie learned to act “on my feet,” she says. “I had never taken a lesson, just had a natural flair.” From the beginning, nobody gave her direction concerning her character. “They just said, ‘Okay, now do it!’” Watching her first appearances, Genie could see how terrible she was. She promptly began making herself better, picking apart her performance and correcting mannerisms. Steadily, her following increased, especially after she was romantically paired with Anthony Geary. “Our popularity was incredible,” she says. “It was like a dream come true.”

Some girls might have found it more like a nightmare. “It was hard to grow up on a TV show,” Genie says. “You give up childhood pleasures, the carefree times. There’s no fooling around. You have to be responsible. Be on time. Know your lines.”

While making Bare Essence, director Grauman was startled to find that Genie rarely forgot a line. “In forty-three days of shooting,” he says, “she forgot her dialogue only once. It was so shocking to everyone that she’d blown a line that Bruce Boxleitner, who was playing opposite her in a scene, said, ‘Oh, thank God, you’ve finally done it!’ She said, ‘Done what?’ And he said, ‘Finally blown a line!’ She’s got an incredible memory.”

“I grew up quickly – five years in two months.” Then she corrects herself. “You don’t really grow up,” she adds. “You’ve got to go through emotional stages to change as a human being. In a lot of wars, I’m younger than people my age because I’ve been more protected, as if I’ve lived in a little bubble. I haven’t socialized that much. When I was fifteen and everyone else on the set was thirty-five or forty, I felt terribly lonely and ostracized, insecure and uncomfortable. I saw by myself. I’d read a little, or I’d sew; I did my schoolwork. But I was alone. I’m not bitter about that, but that was a part of those early years that hurts. People tend to ignore kids,” she continues. “And adults can bully you just by telling you what to do, when it’s really none of their business. They saw that I was good and I was talented, and everybody wanted to get their hand in: Do it this way. Do it that way. I was picked over a bit, and I began to resent it. Then when I got older, I just told them all to bug off! Now, I’ve very choosy about who I let get close to me.”

Because of her experiences, Genie feels very sympathetic toward other children who act. “If there’s a child on the set that I’m on,” she says, “I make a point of talking to that child, making him or her comfortable and welcome.” Genie’s parents helped her keep going. “They always listen to whatever I have to saw, no matter how stupid or how many times they’ve heard it. I could come home and cry on my mother’s shoulder, and she always had an answer. She can always make it better. Even now,” Genie grins, “I call her all the time. I mean, I’m twenty years old!”

When she finally left General Hospital, there was no “departure” scene written into the script. Later, they simply labeled Laura a missing person. “I did my last day of work, December 31, 1981, just as if it were any other day,” she says. “They didn’t really believe that I was going to do what I said I would do – that I was tired and didn’t want to continue. They should have listened. I would have stayed on if they had been a little more considerate of my time and allowed me to take other parts. It wasn’t a question of money – they were quite generous – I was just tired of the same old role.”

Although soap opera are behind her now, Genie understands why they’re so popular. “They deal with emotions and relationships, like losing a boy friend or falling in love, that everyone can relate to,” she says. “That’s reality – not watching people crash cars.” But she doesn’t watch much TV. “I’m not entertained by it,” she explains. “It’s work. Movies really overwhelm me – I get caught up. I watch TV to see how actors are doing, to look for a director’s name, to see how the shots are edited.” When not working, she spends part of her time with autistic children in a little school near where she lives. “I used to baby-sit for a child who was autistic,” she says. “I always felt he was special. He wasn’t stupid, just detached, and I sympathized because I was shy. I am fascinated by younger children.”

Dating is a problem. “Men like to be in control,” she explains. “It’s hard to meet a man my age who’s more successful that I am. Most twenty-year-old guys are insecure around me, and sometimes, to compensate for that, they get nasty. Men don’t have to impress me – that’s their own hang-up. I was out with a guy the other night,” she goes on. “Talking about exercise, he asked ‘Do you exercise a lot?’ I said, ‘As much as my schedule permits.’ He got very indignant: ‘Your schedule! Your busy schedule!’ A simple statement on my part put him on the defensive. If someone is the slightest bit insecure, it makes it very hard for me to let him know I’m just a regular girl. And I don’t appreciate it when a guy asks me for my picture on the first date. Why would he, unless he wants to go around showing everyone – ‘This is the girl from TV I go out with.’ Even girl friends are hard to make. They expect you to be snooty, and I don’t like to have to bend over backward to shoe them I’m not.”

Genie finds it easier to socialize with other actors – if they’re successful. “If not, you have jealousy,” she says. “But otherwise, you have something in common to talk about. And it’s no big deal if someone comes over for an autograph. If that happens on a date, usually a guy who’s not in the business freaks out. He doesn’t know how to handle it. Thinking that everybody is looking at him makes him feel uncomfortable. It’s true, they are. But I’m used to it, and he’s not. It makes it difficult to know someone, but there’s time for that,” she concludes philosophically. “And I have a few close girl friends. Romance would be nice, but like anything else, it will come when it’s time.”

When she turned eighteen, Genie moved from home. “At first,” she recalls, “it was hard. And scary. I didn’t like living on my own. I was used to having family around me all the time. You have to learn to take care of your own business, make sure there’s food in the house, that the plants are watered and the clothes are clean.” She tried living with a roommate but decided she felt more comfortable alone. “Now my house feels like my home,” she says. “And relaxing is a new experience. Having hobbies. Learning to ride a horse. I used to paint landscapes when I was little. Now I want to start again. I’m just enjoying being alive, being a person on this earth.”

Philip Saltzman, executive producer of Bare Essence, remarks, “Genie’s a wonderful performer. She has a very luminescent smile and expressive eyes and mouth, and her close-ups are just wonderful. She has that ability to be a young girl who’s a little lost, a little timid, but she immediately overcomes that to become the adult professional.”

Genie’s father is of English descent; her mother Lithuanian. Her real name is Eugenie, “heard only,” she says, “if my mother is angry – you know how your mother will use your full name when she means business?” Genie herself isn’t often upset. She does become angry “at anything that feels like an injustice,” she says, “at anything that gets in my way, that I think I didn’t deserve, or if my career isn’t going right. This business is a hard business.” Religion helps her keep a level head. “I’m a confirmed Catholic,” she remarks. “Having a sense of faith keeps my feet on the ground. Going to church is a nice, peaceful way to start my week.”

The staring teenagers have finally summoned enough courage to file over to ask for her autograph. They stand silently, mesmerized, as she writes her name. Finally one turns around and whispers, “She’s more believable than all the others. She’s real!”

Special thanks to Carla for the info on this article!