Soap icon 'Laura' forsakes 'Luke' for a shop in Maine

For years, whenever work got the better of her, Genie Francis would tell everyone she was going to retire and become an antiques dealer.

Francis has made good on that threat. Sort of.

She did retire from acting, after nearly 30 years and after portraying one of the best-known characters in daytime soap opera history: "Laura," of the famed "General Hospital" romantic duo Luke and Laura.

But Francis wanted to retire to Maine, where she and her family had vacationed. So she decided against becoming an antiques dealer, which in Maine would mean lots of competition.

"I used to threaten to retire from 'General Hospital' and become an antiques dealer. But there are just so many great antiques dealers here, I couldn't do it any better," said Francis, 44. "Interior design is my favorite thing in the world, so I decided to do that."

Francis opened her own home-furnishings shop, called The Cherished Home, in East Belfast in late June. She and her husband - former "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star Jonathan Frakes - had vacationed in Bayside, south of Belfast, and fell in love with the area.

The store carries bedding, rugs, furniture, decorative items and sleepwear. Francis also plans to carry some baby items and kitchenware, including Depression glass and things that might be at home in a 1950s diner.

Francis is the buyer for the store but is not there every day. Still, when people come in and recognize her - and they do recognize her - she doesn't mind saying hello.

For the past several years, Francis, Frakes and their two children had been living in England, where actor/director Frakes was working. But when Frakes' work ended, Francis said her family weighed whether they should move back to Los Angeles or see if their favorite vacation spot would make a good year-round home.

"So we decided to give Maine a try," said Francis, who said her children - ages 9 and 12 - will attend local schools this fall. "When we vacationed in Bayside we fell in love with this area."

Francis has been a working actress since the age of 14 and now considers herself retired from acting and from "General Hospital."

But that doesn't mean she can't come out of retirement once in a while.

For instance, ABC has announced that "Laura" will return to "General Hospital" for a several-week guest appearance in October and November.

"The reason they invited me back was because it's the 25th anniversary of the wedding (of Luke and Laura)," said Francis. "My character has been in a coma, that's as much as I know."

Francis was last on the show in 2002. She first appeared on the show in 1976, as a teenager, and then in 1981 left for two years. That was at the height of the Luke and Laura craze that saw millions of people, including many high school and college students, glued to their TV sets at 3 p.m. each day.

Francis came back to "General Hospital" for two years in the mid 1980s, and was back again in the 1990s. She also was a regular on the ABC soap, "All My Children," and has worked steadily on TV and in films until recently.

But, for millions, she'll always be Laura. Her character even inspired the hit song, "Think of Laura," by Christopher Cross, which was played on the show and on the radio, and rose to become a Top 10 smash by December 1983.

When asked why Laura and Luke have become cult figures to a generation, Francis gave credit to the show's writer and producer.

"It was good story-telling, and for some reason it became the cool thing for people to do, to watch it," said Francis.

by Ray Routhier