USA Today

Movie brings 'Trek,' 'General Hospital' icons together at last

BEVERLY HILLS — Sci-fi flyboy Jonathan Frakes and his wife of 16 years, soap opera queen Genie Francis, will be forever remembered by their millions of impassioned fans as the beloved centerpieces of two of television's longest-running franchises.

Odds are pretty good that you obsessed over one of these two actors, but couldn't care less about the other. That's because Frakes' legion of Star Trek fanatics (he played Commander Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation and four spinoff movies from 1987-2002) and Francis' loyal General Hospital following (she played Laura Spencer on and off from 1976-2002) mesh about as well as, oh, Romulans and Cassadines. (Those are the baddies from Trek and GH.)

But now Frakes, 51, and Francis, 42, have united their polar-opposite worlds of futuristic high-flying adventure and melodramatic familial angst in Thunderbirds, a big-screen, live-action adaptation of a mostly forgotten 1960s British children's television series that starred puppets. The film, opening Friday, was directed by Frakes and features Francis in a recurring cameo as a globe-hopping television reporter on the trail of the crime-solving Tracy family.

"I think the film has some of the themes from both series (Trek and GH), sort of a celebration of family," says Frakes.

On this afternoon, Frakes and Francis are both dressed in floral vacation clothes as they snuggle close on a sofa in their luxurious suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Their children, Jamo, 9, and Liza, 7, are playing down by the pool. Occasionally, Frakes' cell phone goes off, with his ring programmed to play the Thunderbirds theme song. Life has been one fun adventure for the Frakes family ever since they rented out their Los Angeles home and relocated to London two years ago when Frakes was offered the Thunderbirds gig. "It's been a dream come true," he says.

Both actors said goodbye to their long-running characters, perhaps forever, in 2002, under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Frakes believes "greed" is killing the exhausted Trek franchise, which he thinks has perhaps "run its course." He was barely seen in the disappointing Star Trek: Nemesis, though Riker was at least given a happy send-off with a long-hoped-for marriage to lady love Deanna Troi.

Circumstances were not as pleasant for Francis' Laura. Twenty-one years after one of television's most-watched weddings — the 1981 union of Luke and Laura —GH was making major plans to revive the magic with another splashy Luke and Laura wedding. (The characters had divorced in 2001.)

But when Francis informed ABC that she wanted off the show, the writers devised a horrible end for the character. Laura murdered her father, swore off Luke and went insane. The last image viewers saw of Laura was her in a straightjacket kicking and screaming as she was being dragged away from Luke.

"I am not comfortable with the way it ended at all. They destroyed Laura," says Francis, whose life wasn't much better behind the scenes at the studio. Francis says her producers frowned on her decision in 2001 to go public with her teenage cocaine addiction, and she claims she was humiliated over her weight gain.

She recalls a particularly devastating incident in 2000 when she returned to the studio after a short vacation in Maine. "I'd put on a few pounds," she says, "and before saying 'hello' to me, (a female producer) grabbed my jacket, pulled it open, looked at my hips, dropped it and gave me a snotty look."

The family is now discussing the possibility of returning to Los Angeles in 2005, and Frakes, although not a fan of the struggling series Star Trek: Enterprise, would gladly guest-star on the show to give it a boost.

But it might take a bit more coaxing to lure Francis back to the Hospital. Asked about a Luke-and-Laura reunion, Francis said she'd "entertain the possibility," but two weeks ago had all the resolution she needs — privately with actor Anthony Geary, who still appears on the soap as Luke.

The two were in Amsterdam, where he owns a vacation home, and she was visiting for a Thunderbirds premiere. "He picked me up in his boat in front of my hotel and showed me all of Amsterdam from the canals," says Francis. "It was very romantic."

By William Keck

Thanks to Sherry for the picture!