Genie Unbottled

A new man and a hot new role help Genie Francis build a life after Laura

In this season of soapy suspense, Genie Francis is facing a real-life cliffhanger: Is there life after Laura?

Laura, of course, is the former half of Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura, General Hospital's version of Romeo and Juliet. Last December, just as the pair's popularity, GH's ratings and viewers tear ducts were all reaching high-water marks, Francis left the show.

While the writers staged a mysterious disappearance for Laura, ABC claimed that Francis was leaving for college. The actress says it wasn't so. "I never intended to become a full-time student. I'd planned to take a few classes, that's all. The truth is, I needed a rest. My friends kept telling me, 'You're working too hard. You're miserable. You have no life. Get out!' And after playing Laura more than 1000 times, I was tired of the character. I wanted to do new roles."

If it sounds easy in the retelling, the decision not to renew her contract was difficult. Now 20, Francis had played Laura since she was 14. "Doing the soap was like living in a bubble. Everything was done for me. I was totally protected for five years. I knew it would be scary and painful out there in the real world."

She was right -- the pain and the fear hit quickly. "Last December was the worst month of my life," she recalls. "I wasn't working, was all alone and, on top of everything else, my father had a stroke."

Nine months later, her father (character actor Ivor Francis) is recovering nicely, and so is she. To start with, she's found a job. In addition to a development deal with CBS, which might result in a future nighttime series, Francis got her first post-Laura role in Bare Essence. Costarring Dynasty's Linda Evans and Knots Landing's Donna Mills, the CBS TV-movie airs Oct. 4 and 5. Francis burns brightly as Tyger Hayes, a go-getter who saves a failing company by putting it in the perfume business.

"Tyger's the opposite of Laura," Francis says. "She's realistic and assertive, while Laura was passive. Passive is boring to play. You know, I was sweet for so long, I couldn't stand it. I wanted to play a bitch on wheels, and I got it."

She also got the chance to live a little, "to catch up with all those things I missed while I was working." Francis lives in California's San Fernando Valley, sharing a condo with her brother's girlfriend, spending little of her newfound time watching soaps. Instead, she goes to the movies and the beach -- adding some natural highlights to her silky blonde hair -- and makes friends. "For the first time since I was 13, I have friends my own age, and they treat me just like one of the guys."

Her hiatus from the tube, however, hasn't made her anonymous -- thought sometimes she wishes it had. "Before, I was working so hard, I wasn't aware of my own popularity. Now people see me on the street and say, 'Hello, Genie! How are you?' They even spot me in the gym. I'll be in the sauna, sweating like a pig, feeling really unattractive, and as I bend to pick up a towel, someone yells, 'Genie Francis!' It's terribly embarassing.

Having found life, employment and recognition after Laura, it was only natural that she'd stumble on some romance, too. And whoever's writing her life's script must have a sense of irony. Last spring, Francis enjoyed a brief fling with Australia's answer to Tony Geary. She'd gone Down Under to attend an awards show, where she met Peter Bensley, 28, start of The Young Doctors, sort of an Australian version of General Hospital.

"I was romanced on TV all the time," she says, "but never in real life. Peter was the first, and it was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me.

"But I can't fall in love in a week, and that's all the time we had. Maybe it's for the best. It would be hard to love someone living on the other side of the world. Both of us have our own lives. Peter's very happy in Sydney, and you don't see me flying off to Australia, do you? I'd like to find a boyfriend who lives closer to home."

Tony Geary lives closer to home. But although Francis and her TV rapist-lover-husband once formed a mutual admiration society, they seldom see each other now. "We haven't gone out at all since I left the show. Tony's always on the go. He rarely takes the time to stop and smell the flowers. We talk occasionally on the phone, and I visit him on the set. I pop in about once every two weeks just to see how everybody's doing."

Well, how is everybody doing? We know what Francis found, but is there life on General Hospital after Laura? "The first time I watched," she says, " I had to laugh. I'd been gone three months, and they were still looking for Laura. The fans will get real sick of that. I hope they develop new, exciting storylines because the show seems to be slowing down."

Will Francis ever donate fresh blood to General Hospital? "I'd return for a few guest appearances if they gave Laura a death scene. That would make a great exit."

by Christopher Stone

Thank you to Destinee for sending me this article!