This Genie Gets Her Wish

Genie Francis has always wanted a home to call her own, and now she’s got three: one on each coast, and a third on All My Children.

After being ushered into the plush, door-manned lobby of a Manhattan luxury apartment building, I’m already duly impressed, but when I poke my head out of the elevator and find myself face-to-face with the soap-opera legend Genie Francis, it’s hard to contain my excitement. “Come on in,” she beckons, her California-blonde beauty framed by the open door of her apartment.

Inside, I find two bedrooms, a mirrored dining room, and a living room boasting modern-deco bleached furniture with lots of beiges, pastels, and a fabulous view of the Upper West Side. “You know, it’s funny,” says Genie, as she waves her hand at the surroundings. “When I first walked in here, I thought, ‘How perfect!’ This place was the building’s model apartment, but it immediately felt like home.

“The decorating -- light woods with a touch of black and beige carpeting -- is what I tend toward. It’s just right, until I’m settled here in New York.”

Genie is settling in the Big Apple for one big reason: This past June, All My Children lured her from Southern California to try her hand at the brand-new femme fatale role of Ceara Conner. But since her husband, actor Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker on TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation), has West Coast commitments, Genie has begun this adventure on her own.

“My mother and brother are on the West Coast, and all of Jonathan’s, are here. And even though I’ve spent a lot of time in California, I’ve always felt like an East Coast girl.

“We wanted to come back and make the East Coast our home eventually,” adds Genie. “It’s just turning out to be a little sooner than we thought.” The couple takes weekly turns traveling to each other -- a commuter arrangement that works, thanks to the four-days-off, four-days-on schedule they both share.

Jonathan’s full-time companionship wasn’t all that Genie found painful to leave behind. She also had to bid farewell to their newly renovated home outside Los Angeles. “I put in new wood floors and walls, and raised and coffered the ceiling,” she explains. “It took me three years to finish that house, and as soon as it was done, I moved here!”

The California house’s picturesque grounds first caught Genie’s eye. “My back yard has 27 trees; it looks like you’re stepping into a forest. The house itself was built in the 1950s -- a period in architecture that was very uninspired.” She sighs contemplatively. “But the house had the right bones.”

Still brand-new to the New York high-rise life, Genie sounds wistful at times when she talks about her West Coast home. “We redid the driveway and put out handprints and initials in the cement. It will be hard to let go of that house, but it’s just not practical, so as soon as the real-estate market improves, we’re going to sell.”

No one lives in the house now, because once Genie moved to New York, her husband saw little reason to live an hour and half away from his television studio. The couple then purchased a “one-person house with a very country feel” in L.A.

A husband and a newly renovated home is an awful lot to miss, but Genie doesn’t pine for Los Angeles itself. “Manhattan is one of the world’s best cities, and if you drive an hour or two, you’re in the country,” she proclaims, warming to the topic of her new location’s attributes. “In L.A., you have neither. It isn’t quite country, and it doesn’t quite warrant being called a city.”

She doesn’t miss the notorious Los Angeles traffic, either. “Now I roll out of bed, walk a few blocks, and I’m at work. It adds enormous time to my day.” What she does miss are her friends. “I was the bridal-shower maven and threw great all-girl showers for my pregnant friends.” She points to a charming photo of two adorable tykes, children of a dear friend. “My surrogate kids,” Genie says affectionately.

Being “back home” at ABC (Genie played General Hospital’s legendary Laura Baldwin Spencer from 1976-1981) helps to soften the transition. “It’s a warm, supportive environment, and I love it. I also love the character they gave me. Ceara is a real departure for me. I’ve been acting for 14 years, and when you have to play the same type of part over and over and over, you get bored. And if I’m bored, believe me, the viewers are bored!”

Not that boredom stands a chance with Genie. In between cross-country commutes, she takes advantage of New York’s famed cultural life. “In Los Angels, there’s a tendency to feel isolated, because you’re always in your car. To go to the theather or museums requires a great deal of planning and effort. Here in New York, it comes and gets you instead.”

There’s a special part of New York’s cultural landscape that Genie plans to aggressively court herself, however. “See that little horse over there?” she asks, pointing to a painted wooden horse poised on the edge of the shelf. “That belonged to my dad, Ivor Francis, who acted in 16 different Broadway shows. He carried that little horse in his makeup box for 40 years for good luck. And that is my dream as well -- to be on Broadway. Here in New York, I can work toward that goal. I’m currently studying with a wonderful acting coach. For me, this city is energized with learning.”

Learning is a big part of Genie’s life. Besides studying drama, she plans to continue with a college program that includes her favorite subjects -- history, philosophy, and psychology. Her love of learning and traveling (earlier this year she and Jonathan toured Russia, Lithuania, England, and Spain) are reflected in her homes too. When she returned from Europe, Genie added a library to her California home. “I bought a set of encyclopedias, a gorgeous globe, and maps. I wanted my home to be a place of learning.”

Genie infuses her decoration style, somewhat unconsciously, with her appreciation of knowledge, culture, and history. Her homes are sprinkled with various collections, including antique fans and miniature silver frames. Central to her décor, though, is her antique furniture. “I keep a log of when I bought them and how old each piece is.” Though Genie developed a burgeoning interest in art deco, most of her collection boasts Victorian pieces -- dry sinks and china cupboards.

Genie’s home style is evolving, but she’s willing to invest enerfy and money in collections that will never grow old. “I have a ser of Adams’-style chairs that were made during the Revolutionary War,” she says. “They’re beautiful cherry wood with different inlaid pieces. I’m never going to tire of them.” A true believer in eclecticism, Genie knows her antiques will fit in with any style. “My favorite look is contemporary, upholstered pieces with the antiques looking special next to them,” she explains.

But for the moment, Genie is separated from her precious possessions. “I do miss home-making. It’s an important part of me. My husband and I will do this bicoastal thing for a while, and if everything works out, we’ll buy an apartment with three bedrooms so we can have kids.”

Eventually, the couple also plans to buy a country house. “I come from a family that struggled for a long time. Because of that background, stability is so important to me; I think I can find that in the country.”

“My parents were not big socializers,” she continues. “We were sort of isolated out there in California because the rest of our family was on the East Coast. I always had this terrible yearning to have lots of family around me.” With that thought in mind, Genie picks the living room as her favorite spot in any house. “I like arranging my furniture so that everyone is within comfortable visiting distance.”

More and more, friends and family fill Genie’s homes, and holidays are now her welcomed responsibility. For the first time in a long while, she and Jonathan will spend Christmas in New York. “When my father passed away four years ago, the hub of the family switched over to my house. Now I do Christmas and Easter with all the trimmings. I bake up a storm during the holidays!” she says with enthusiasm.

“When I first set up a home, I decorated the house in a sweet, little-girl style. I think we all do that during our twenties -- we recreate what we felt we missed or what we especially loved about our families’ homes. But in three years, I did an about-face -- my taste has become bolder and more distinct. I experimented with art-deco and brought in character. The California house reflected my coming of age. At first, it was my doll house. When I left, it was a grown-up’s house.”

What kind of home will be next for this beloved actress? “A country homestead, with room for our whole family,” Genie vows. “That’s my dream. And I’m going to do it.”

By Kim C. Flodin
Photographs by Robert Milazzo