Rise and Shine

After more than four years in a catatonic state, GH's Laura wakes up

Luke and Laura's wedding on General Hospital in 1981 was the most-watched event in daytime television history. But just shy of their 20th anniversary, the supercouple filed for divorce. In 2002, they reconciled and planned to remmary, but what was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned tragic: Laura's stepdad, Rick, came to join in the celebration, but his appearance brought up Laura's long-buried memory of accidentally killing his mistress. In the recalled-memory melee, she struck Rick with a candlestick, leaving him fatally wounded. The shock sent Laura into a catatonic state, where she has remained frozen in time and shut off from the world -- until now.

The week begins as Luke gives Robin the go-ahead to treat Laura with the experimental drug LS49, despite the possibilities of dangerous side effects. Lucky fills in Nikolas and Lulu about the potential cure for their mother and the family gathers. When it appears that Laura's condition is not changing, the crestfallen kids exit. Luke is about to leave when Laura opens her eyes.

"It's a wonderful moment," smiles Anthony Geary (Luke). "We have an extraordinary connection, Ms. Francis and I. The first day she was back, the first scene that we did, looking into her eyes, put me right back there."

Which is nice since, Geary laughs, "If you'd asked me 25 years ago if I even wanted this day to come, I probably would have said no, so it's a total surprise."

Geary's not the only one who's surprised. While Luke is elated that Laura is alert, he soon realizes that she believes it's four years earlier and has no memories of the events leading to her breakdown. Luke leaps into action to protect the woman he loves.

"Right now, he's just so thankful for another opportunity just to see her and touch her and have her present in the room again," Geary elaborates. "So, he's trying to keep a lot of secrets from her for fear that her fragile mental state will collapse."

That's going to be a tall order, considering the chaotic state of her family. Lucky is in rehab, Lulu had an abortion, Nikolas is a single parent and Luke is married -- to, of all people, Tracy Quartermaine. "I don't know when those secrets are going to come out, but I'm sure they will," acknowledges Geary. "To be quite honest with you, I am not reading ahead because this is one of the few times I want to be surprised."

She's having a good time waking up and seeing her family and friends," says Genie Francis (Laura). "They haven't ler her in on any of the family crises because they're walking on eggshells around her. Luke has always been true to her. He believes that he is not the real parent in the family, that Laura was more of the parent, and he relied on her for that. That's part of the reason he misses her so much."

When speaking of love and loss, both Geary and Francis take a moment to remember their late mentor and former executive producer, Gloria Monty, the powerhouse behind the pairing. When asked what they thought Mondy would say about GH honoring the couple's legacy, Geary grins, "She'd probably say, 'I told ya so,' because she created this union and I'm still running on her notes. I still, whenever I get in trouble with Luke Spencer, think, 'What would Gloria say?' She knew what she had. She knew she has done something extraordinary and she'd be very pleased that 25 years later, we're not only still celebrating the relationship, but that the audience is still interested."

Adds Francis, "I'm sure she's smiling."

How GH Got Francis Back

So, what trickery did ABC engage in to entice Genie Francis to return in time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of daytime's most-watched event? Francis flashes those famous pearly whites and laughs, "They called up and asked me."

It couldn't have been that simple. "Honest to God, it was," she insists. "I got a call from my agent. He said, 'They want you to come back. It's the 25th anniversary. They want you for four weeks. Do you want to do it?' And I said, 'Well, yeah [laughs]!' That was it."

Francis confides that she had been interested in returning to GH earlier. "I called over there a couple of times, especially when I was leaving London [two years ago], to see who, if anybody, wanted me home," she reveals. "They didn't seem to at that time, so that's why we stayed in Maine [where her family resides today]."

The fact that Francis returned at all is a bit of a minor miracle. At the time of her departure, it was public knowledge that she felt underappreciated and was disappointed with her exit. Looking back, Francis says that she has avoided watching GH. "I really haven't [seen it]," she sighs. "It's just that that was too painful, too hard... But you just sort of let it go and go on with life. I was grateful for the opportunity to work again and left it there."

Francis also reveals that she feared the reason for the callback was to kill off the character. "If they want to allow the character of Luke to move on and really be free, they could go for a big sweeps, 'Die in his arms thing," she reasons. "So I said, 'Please don't ask me to do that.' I just couldn't do that. And they promised me they wouldn't."

Francis, who now runs her own home furnishings business, adds that while she has kept in touch with Geary, Kin Shriner (ex-Scotty), Jacklyn Zeman (Bobbie) and Denise Alexander (Lesley), she has pretty much retired from the entertainment biz. "I really haven't had a desire to find work and to work as an actress," she states. "I did so much of it, 25 years of it, and I started very young. I'm so enjoying just being with my children. My life was basically work to the exclusion of all else and now I want to enjoy my life."

Does this mean this could be the last we'll see of Francis? "They have not actually offered me to come back yet, so I don't want to jump the gun here [laughs]," she says. "But I've certainly enjoyed this visit. I have slipped in comfortably, easily and with a lot of joy. I found it is possible to come home again."

by Tom Stacy