From the girl who had it all...
to the woman who wants it all
America's Sweetheart Captivates Pine Valley
Genie Francis is a star. She has been for more than half her life. Maybe that's why on this sunny summer morning, she seems unfazed by the pack of girls who stand giggling behind her on a busy New York street corner, impatiently waiting for her to look their way so they can ask for her autograph and a quick picture. Perhaps unfazed isn't the right word; better to describe her as unruffled, for when she turns to greet them, she is smiling and accomodating as they decide who will snap the picture and who will actually get to stand next to Genie Francis, super star.
That is the only way to describe Genie Francis' person -- she is a superstar. Her characterization of Laura, coupled with Tony Geary's Luke took the country by storm at a time when daytime television wasn't exactly revered in the industry, and single-handedly they raised General Hospital and the appeal of soap operas to a new awareness.
But when you talk to Genie Francis about that magical time, she still seems shocked by all the adulation. "It was all over my head," Genie offers in a small voice. "I was just overwhelmed by it, truly. Who would have ever thought that something like that would have happened in daytime. We were all surprised." When the conversation goes back to the fan reaction, Genie is quick to say, "I think I handle it a lot better than I did before. It just overwhelmed me when I was a kid. It was frightening to me. It's not to me now. I consider it a part of my work and I realize that they are in love with a certain success, but they don't really know me. The real me is something that my husband gets to see and my friends get to see. I retain a part of me for myself now. I didn't do that before and I think that was hard."
Genie credits her new attitude in great part to her husband, actor Jonathan Frakes. "My husband is such a loving man," she says with a wonderful smile. "He's such a supportive man. I really may not seem very shy now, but I certainly was back then -- painfully shy -- and people would say Genie's aloof, but I was scared. They perceived it as snobbishness." Genie pauses for a moment. The silence really says it all. In it you can hear the depth of hurt that only a teenager exposed to what she was could feel. "The first time I heard someone say that about me, I was crushed, because I felt so misunderstood. And really, I was terribly frightened. My husband has helped me enormously, because Jonathan is a very outgoing, wise man. I was very attracted to him in the beginning, because he had all those qualities that I didn't have, and by being with him, I didn't have to talk so much," she says with a laugh. "He has encouraged me and shown me that I'm bright and that I have things to say and that it's okay to express myself. He sort of picked up where my parents left off in a certain way and gave me self-esteem.
"It was very hard for me to go to social events because I didn't have them growing up. And I was away from my peer group, so I didn't do that socialization thing. I felt totally like a fish out of water in social situations. Jonathan of course is enormously social, so he helped me to bridge that gap in myself. We would leave parties and I would say to him, 'Did I talk to much? Did I sounds stupid?' And he would say to me, 'No, you were great.' I had another boyfriend before Jonathan who was not as encouraging. It's just so important who you choose to be with, because Jonathan has nurtured me into having more self-esteem and some other men don't do that."
This is a very different Genie Francis that one would expect after only witnessing the public record of her life. To hear Genie tell it, she has used the past year, since her departure from Days of our Lives and the role of Diana Colville, to some re-evaluating of her life. "I started working so young, before I had a fully-formed personality," Genie is honest to say. "I was already acting and getting a lot of attention for doing that. I got confused, thinking that my value as a human being being was based on how successful I was in my business and whether or not I was working, which of course is incorrect. But it's easy to feel that way. I guess what I'm saying is it was a year of seeing there were a lot of other things in the world besides my work. I love my work, I will always love my work. But there are a lot of other things in the world that I missed. Things that I didn't even pay attention to, that are beautiful, that are wonderful."
After an extended vacation through Lithuania, Russia, and Europe, where she and Jonathan traced their family roots, Genie returned to Los Angeles and went back to school. "I love to learn," she enthuses. "I want to continue with night school because I see that the world isn't about one thing. And it gives me new eyes to appreciate the whole world. So I guess I'm happier with myself because I did that. I know that I'm okay whether I work or I don't work. It's a very nice feeling."
One of the most crucial times in Genie Francis' life came when she made the decision to leave General Hospital. "That was the hardest separation I've ever experienced in my life. Leaving your parents' home is a very painful separation -- well leaving GH was the same for me. It was like my home." But like any child who ventures out into the real world, Genie found that what awaited her was a vast array of possibilities. While some daytime stars fail in the realm of nighttime, Genie flourished, with roles in the hit miniseries "Bare Essence" and the Civil War saga "North and South."
But unlike other former daytime actors, Genie found the decision to come back to daytime a relatively easy one. "What I would like to do, if I could write the script of my life, is to lead the pack in going out there and winning the Tony, the Emmy, the Oscar, and then coming back and doing a soap again. Because I would like to lay to rest once and for all that there is some kind of shame in doing this work. I think that what we do in daytime is the hardest thing going in this business. And to do it well takes a real pro. I'm proud of that. I am proud of that. And I would love to go out and do something special and come back. I would like to be an individual about the way I make my choices. I think a lot of people make those choices because their egos get in the way. I say the hell with what people say.
"That's more ego than artist. If you think like an artist, you look for the part to play. If you think like a star with a big ego, you look for genre. I believe that if we're going to continue to grow and become better at what we do as actors, then you cannot sit home and tell yourself you're too good to go to work. We get better by doing it. I learn by doing in this business. I learn a little by watching, but I really learn by doing. And I think it's important to keep performing."
Moving herself to New York was not as big a decision as one would expect. "I went home and immediately talked to my husband about it, and because I'd been wanting to come back to New York for years now, he said, 'You've been talking about it and talking about it. If ever there's a time in our lives, it's now, while we are young, while we both have jobs and can fly back and forth, and while we have no children. This is the time for you to get it out of your system, so do it. Otherwise you will always be unhappy and wonder what it would have been like to give it a try.'" While it is true that Jonathan will still be living in California in light of the success his series is enjoying, Genie is quick to offer that the couple wants to relocate to New York as soon as Jonathan's series ends. Unfortunately that doesn't look like it will be happening any time soon. So for now they will be content with travelling back and forth for long weekends, and as Genie laughingly puts it, racking up huge phone bills.
Through all of her career choices, one thing has remained constant. Genie Francis has an enormous fan following. "There are fan who have stayed with me, followed me," Genie concurs. "It's nice. I wonder though if I had started in a part like Ceara, how they'd feel?" Genie says this with a mischevious smile, a smile that really expresses just how happy she is to be playing her new role of Ceara Connor on All My Children. "I truly think this is the best role I've had on television in years. The best since Laura. It keeps me thinking. This is not easy for me. I'm really working on it and I love it. I'm really having a good time. I waited a long time to get a part that feels this good. In a career, I'm beginning to realize there are great parts and then there are parts that are more like a job, and this is definitely fun for me. It's not a job."
"It was a tough decision to make, because I wasn't sure I was ready to come back. This is something that I've been saying that I wanted to do for years now and I haven't had a chance to do. Especially in nighttime television, I played very good girls. This is such a departure for me. Ceara has a sense of humor, she's a bit of an opportunist -- all these different parts of myself that I haven't gotten to play, so I couldn't say no. It was a very fast decision, but I trust my instincts a lot, and I had this feeling in my gut that something about this was very right."
And Genie's instincts have definitely withstood the test of time. Because when asked to reflect on her life thus far, Genie answers without hesitation: "I wouldn't trade my life. I would not do anything differently. But I had to pick up some pieces that I missed and that's what I did with my year off."
So it is true, Genie Francis has changed. Only she knows for certain who she was in the past. But today, Genie Francis is gracious and down-to-earth. She is confident and she glows of a newfound perspective. She seems to have made all the right decisions.
by Dawn Mazzurco