In Part One of my interview with legendary soap writer Claire Labine, Ms. Labine shared her writing process, reflections on her early career, and how mothering contributed to her understanding of soaps In Part Two, the Emmy winner discussed her battles with ABC, struggles with recasts, and the psychological underpinnings of the Ryan family. In Part Three, Ms. Labine discusses controversial storyline choices on RYAN'S HOPE and GENERAL HOSPITAL, and her reaction to the criticism that her work is “too depressing.”
In Part Four, Ms. Labine dishes about life at GENERAL HOSPITAL, the pressures of continuing the Luke and Laura legacy, inventing Sonny and Brenda, and why Jason Quartermaine was given amnesia.
We Love Soaps: I have always said that I know I’m watching a Claire Labine show because the IQ points of all the characters go up, but the life expectancy of all the children go down.
Claire Labine: [Laughs] I like that.
We Love Soaps: The adults sound smarter but the children had better watch out. What is that about?
Claire Labine: Part of it is you end up having to recast, except for Jadrien [Steele, Little John on RYAN'S HOPE] who soldiered through until they decided to turn him into a teenager. You get into dreadful casting problems. The babies are not reliable as far as when they’re going to be screaming and when they’re not. A great example are the titles [of RYAN'S HOPE] with Maeve and Johnny in Central Park with Little John, swinging him around and holding him into a sunburst. And as you will note, Little John is positioned with his head turned away fro the camera. That was because he was red in the face screaming his head off! So here’s the idyllic scene, with Maeve and Johnny beaming at this child who is having a tantrum, holding him in mid air. So it’s the unpredictables like that. There was no editing in that day, and of course we used to inflict dogs on the cast too which is the ultimate horror. Dogs and children in the same scene is enough to give a producer a nervous breakdown.
When we killed off Edmund, we were in the studio. And [producer] Ellen Barrett said to me, “I want to show you something that they presented me with this morning.” Paul and I were there, and she leads us across the studio floor to the beach house set. And there, pinned up to side wall of the set, is a silhouette of a flying baby who clearly was blown through the wall when the explosion occurred. [Laughs] She shrieked when she saw it! Of course that was never on air. They had a rather grizzly sense of humor.
We Love Soaps: Now back to GENERAL HOSPITAL. You were hired in 1993, then given the blessing and the burden of continuing the infamous Luke and Laura story.
Claire Labine: It was a blessing and a burden. I adore Tony Geary! That man is a fabulous actor, and I wish he would take the time to do some stage work. I saw him in one production in Los Angeles and he broke your heart and repelled you and made you love him all at once. And that’s of course his gift as Luke. He deplored what I did with Luke. But I thought there was great value in seeing the action hero try to be domesticated and try to live a normal life with wife and dog and child. And it just wouldn’t work because he’s Luke. But we couldn’t go off in wild fantasy again, because I don’t know how to do that. He loved the action adventure stuff. Wendy [Riche] would send me downstairs to talk to him when we had something she anticipated he wouldn’t like very much. I had to go into the lion’s den. And he was so gracious to me, he really was. I’m a great fan and admirer.
Eleanor [Labine] and I were standing on a street corner in New York before we took over the story. A bus went by that had a sign, “The Return of Luke and Laura.” and Eleanor [screamed], “It’s on busses! What are we going to do?” We hadn't laid it all out by that point. It was intimidating. I had always wanted to almost send someone over a waterfall, in terms of the old time movie serials which I adored as a child. The train was always approaching the heroine tied to the tracks and they were always threatened by going over waterfall. Wendy produced the hell out of that. It was great for that, and I think the audience really liked it too.
We Love Soaps: What was Genie Francis like to work with?
Claire Labine: She’s a gifted actress, particularly in that role. Genie Francis owned Laura in a way that few actresses have owned a character. She understood that character inside and out.
We Love Soaps: You also created the role of Sonny Corinthos.
Claire Labine: I didn’t create it actually. He had been on the show for about four weeks when we took over. I found the thrust for the character really detestable. I hated the stripper story. He was supposed to be feeding Karen drugs in order to get her to do it. By the end of the first week we had her throw the drugs in his face and then turn around and walk out. I can’t stand what I call Dickinsonian heroines who are dominated by someone else or fate, and fall down on the floor and swoon when things aren’t going well. I can’t stand it! We got that going and the Brenda thing was magical. After we saw them on the Valentine’s Day show, each buying a car, we knew that was pay dirt. We had a number of writers who really invested as well. It went well.
We Love Soaps: Since your leaving the show, Sonny has become the focal point of all the stories going on on the show. Was it ever your intention to make him such a leading man?
Claire Labine: No. He was the lead in his own story, but for better or for worse we tried to keep Luke and Laura at the center of all of it. We kept them connected to the Quartermaines, which as I understand have been dismantled.
We Love Soaps: Most of the Quartermaines have been killed.
Claire Labine: I didn’t know that. I am sorry about that.
We Love Soaps: You also wrote the original story about Jason Quartermaine’s amnesia, when A.J. crashed the car and Jason became brain damaged. What was your intention, where did you want that to go?
Claire Labine: I don’t remember. We just needed to shake Jason up a little bit, and that seemed like a good way to do it.
We Love Soaps: Was the actor [Steve Burton] asking for that?
Claire Labine: No. That actor is lovely. He was very non-demanding, and played wonderfully everything he was given.
We Love Soaps: Carly Roberts came on right before you left the show. Was she your creation or a different writer’s?
Claire Labine: She was ours. We left them really well set up. We really tried to leave the show with takeoff points. The next writer could choose the direction, but they had good springboards. And Carly was part of that, and so was Jax. I thought he was going to be a lot of fun. We left after his first few episodes. There was a lot set up for Mary Mae Ward’s family as well, but they chose not to take that path. That story with Mary Mae was one of my favorites. Rosalind Cash was one of my favorite performers. We had so much fun with that.
We also set up the Nurse’s Ball. The first one went over so well we realized we wanted to do it every year. The goal of the Nurse’s Ball was to get Lucy in her skivvies in a rational way by the end. We did three of them and I’m so glad I didn’t have to do a fourth, I don’t think we could have milked it any farther. But we all looked forward to that. We did Mary Mae as Gladys and the Pips, with Luke, his son, and Justus as the Pips backing her up. We would sit back and be so entertained!
We Love Soaps: Knowing what you know now, were there any stories on screen that you would have told differently or not at all?
Claire Labine: No.
We Love Soaps: Everything played out the way you wanted it to?
Claire Labine: Yes. We had so much fun doing it. When you can have that much fun and you really are appreciating the talents you have to work with and then you see it on there on screen, it’s really hard not to give them the best you can everyday.
We Love Soaps: Then why did you leave?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stay tuned for Part Five in which Claire Labine describes why she left GENERAL HOSPITAL and her less enjoyable stint writing at ONE LIFE TO LIVE.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He has started blogging again at www.shouldless.com.