FLASHBACK: 'General Hospital' - Proving That Miracle Cures Really Do Exist! (Part 1)

"Tracy Quartermaine is the sexiest, most colorful, most cunning,
most bewitching bitch goddess figure since Belle of Secret Storm."
'General Hospital': Proving That Miracle Cures Really Do Exist!

The Soap Box
Vol. IV No. 2 February 1979
by John Genovese

Remember the General Hospital of yesteryear? That American institution which was so unique and inspired under writers Frank and Doris Hursley for its first ten years?

It is still lovingly and vividly remembered--and with good reason. Who could ever forget the sparkling moments we shared in the presence of Lucille Wall as nurse Lucille, that striking blend of Molly Goldberg and General Patton? What two characters inspired more hope than Steve and Jessie, even when their respective lives were falling apart at the seams because of that demon known as "tragic, ill-fated love?" And how could anyone more versatile and imaginative than organist-pianist George Wright accent these goings-on in his inimitable fashion? Granted, some of the stories lacked originality. Indeed, a few were a bit trite. But as long as a stable company of regulars played it all out in a consistently fresh ensemble effort, the storytelling was secondary.

Then came a time span of almost five years when the condition of General Hospital was sinking. First, the pace slowed down to the point of standstill status. Then, we sat through that bogus fatal disease of Lee's stepson, Bobby, and Lesley's sudden discovery that her daughter, Laura, was alive and had been involved in a baby switch (you think we're kidding?)--stories which coexisted without that one necessary element known as conflict. But in time came the real blow, when a mass of familiar (and talented) faces were axed in favor of an even larger bevy of new ones--most of them unseasoned newcomers. As if this weren't enough for most loyal fans to bear, these characters were involved in more senseless accidents, sophomorically cutesy plot twists, and agonizingly cliched exchanges of dialogue. For example, Rick Webber and Tom Baldwin both "returned from the dead," Mary Ellen Dante tampered with the brakes of Terri's car, Lesley's climactic fall down the stairs, etc. etc. For a low-budget soap getting off the ground, this chaos would have been awful enough. For General Hospital, it was just downright inexcusable.

And yet, lo and behold, life in the halls of television's favorite hospital became more coherent in late 1977 and early 1978--still snail-paced, but coherent. The overall quality of the acting and the writing began to improve, magnificent new sets were introduced, and the more recent character arrivals became justifiably established in viewers' sympathies once they were involved in better stories and were delivering brisk dialogue. The two creative minds that deserve credit are Gloria Monty, a dynamic and seasoned producer who ruled Secret Storm with an iron hand during that show's finest era, and Douglas Marland, a sensitive and intuitive writer whose talents had been shared on other serials but have been utilized to their very fullest on Hospital. Marland favors stories about class conflict and stresses each character's backgrounds as the motivating force behind his or her actions, much like his former superior, Harding Lemay of Another World. But in terms of story mechanics and creating sharply defined characters with spine, Mr. Marland has his old tutor beat by a mile--and the ratings are proving it.

This is not to imply that all of the stories have been particularly appealing. The Monty-Marland regime inherited a real loser in that Heather-Jeff-Steve Lars affair, and could have done well to resolve that hyped-up mystery long ago. It combines the old baby-switch-resulting-in-family-friend-adopting-child routine, with a twist of non-paralleled irony: Not only does Jeff not know that his son was adopted by the Chief of Psychiatry; he has no idea that his own father is the Chief of Staff! This would be utterly hilarious on Soap, but on General Hospital this hokey double-deception has hurt an otherwise upgraded show. Thankfully, it's finally at a climax.

Craig Huebing (Dr. Peter Taylor), Genie Francis (Laura Webber),
Michael Gregory (Rick Webber), Denise Alexander (Dr, Lesley
Webber) and John Beradino (Dr. Steve Hardy).
Lesley's cover-up of daughter Laura's guilt in the Hamilton affair was quite drawn out and received more story attention than it probably deserved. But in retrospect the show handling may have been a more sound idea than one would have realized. This method allowed the audience to savor Lesley's torment and devotion to her daughter; Laura's severe insecurity coming to a head after being shifted several times between two radically different homes and sets of values; and Rick's gradual disillusionment at being treated as a stranger in the household he dreamed of making as stable as it had been in his childhood. These elements, coupled with Monica's restrained torch-carrying for Rick, made the whole story plausible. And now that we no longer have the murder secret to contend with, this particular plot has picked up nicely.

And that point leads to our succession of accolades, one of the most noteworthy concerning writer Marland's inspired creation of Tracy Quartermaine. This particular figure is the sexiest, most colorful, most cunning, most bewitching bitch goddess figure since Belle of Secret Storm. Tracy's story involvements couldn't be close to the mark: sabotaging her brother's marriage because of an inheritance factor; egging on the opportunistic Gary Lansing with his budding career as a medical celebrity; and playing the grasping third wheel in a captivating love triangle with two fellow nasties, Susan Moore and Mitch Williams. Such unique threesomes are all too rare when the audience never knows whom to root for or against, rather than the more standard romantic struggles involving those exceedingly bland ingenues. Bravo.

Continue reading 'General Hospital' - Proving That Miracle Cures Really Do Exist! (Part 2)...

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