The Secret Storm

Superstar Genie Francis Gets Shockingly Intimate

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Genie Francis fanatic. But even if that wasn't the case, I'd still adamantly recommend Lifetime's Intimate Portrait: Genie Francis, airing November 5 (7 PM/ET). The program, quite predictably, is a swell stroll down memory lane for any longtime General Hospital lover, but it's also an unexpected eye opener: For the first time, Francis reveals a 20 year secret -- that she left the ABC soap in 1981, at the height of Luke-and-Laura fever, because of her addiction to drugs and alcohol.

What's more, Francis, now 39, lays much of the blame for her addiction on the rampant substance abuse among her adult co-stars (she was still a teen at the time) and on GH staff members who, she says, knew of her escalating cocaine problem but didn't give a damn, and what's more tried to cover it up.

Francis says in the program that she hasn't discussed her onetime drug troubles until now, because she was ''deeply, deeply ashamed of it.'' She details one particularly harrowing 48-hour binge that ended with her being burned and hospitalized, and says she was forced to return to GH the following morning with no sympathy from the production staff. Recalls Francis: “They told me that 'it didn't matter if [I] lived or died because Tony Geary is the whole show.'”

Geary (Luke) and Gloria Monty, the GH executive producer who launched the Luke-and-Laura phenomenon, are also interviewed. Geary admits to having had his own severe substance problem back then, saying that ''it almost broke me.'' Monty appears not to have known her two biggest stars were all hopped up, and insists she would have taken action if she ''had known more.'' That is curious: Anyone who hung around the GH set for any length of time in the early 1980s (and that includes me) knew about the excessive drugging and boozing that went on there. How this could have escaped Monty, an extremely hands-on producer, is a mystery.

There is much more in this Portrait: Francis's lonely, painful childhood; her obsessive devotion to her father, the late, great stage actor Ivor Francis; her affair with GH costar Kin Shriner (Scotty); her failure to parlay daytime fame into primetime success. Alas, the program, short on meaty clips, does not properly showcase Francis' rich, luminous performance as Laura, which has never been properly honored (she's had one crummy Emmy nomination after 25 years in the biz). But this is a minor gripe. Kudos to the Oscar-winning actress Lee Grant, who produced this Portrait and personally conducted the interview with Francis. It is truly the chat of a Lifetime.''

by Michael Logan