Thursday, January 8, 2009



By Jay Cocks
TIME Magazine
September 28, 1981

Day 1. Useless to resist. It is everywhere. On T shirts, umbrellas, potholders, even nightgowns, Puzzles, Piggy banks. At Harvard, where they had a GENERAL HOSPITAL weekend. It is a campus craze, a teen-age fad, a licensing bonanza and the top-rated soap on the tube, leaving ALL MY CHILDREN and ONE LIFE TO LIVE in the dust. Some 12 million people watch it every afternoon (3 to 4 p.m. E.S.T.). Have laid in provisions, disconnected phone. Must watch General Hospital.

Approach first day's viewing with trepidation. Last soap opera seen was Senator Harrison Williams claiming innocence during breaks in the Abscam hearings. First scenes not reassuring: a short man in a blue blazer, with eyes that glint like brass buttons, is carrying through hideous plot. Details as thin as his hair, which is combed forward in little bangs. A sure sign of flabby moral fiber and questionable sexual orientation. Only precedent, either thespian or tonsorial, is Frank Thring as Pontius Pilate in Ben-Hur. What he did to Charlton Heston the fellow in the blue blazer is doing to Port Charles, the town in which GENERAL HOSPITAL is situated. Mr. Blue Blazer turns out to be Mikkos Cassadine, an amuck plutocrat who means to create "a brave new world." Wants to set the planet an example of his terrible power by freezing Port Charles into submission. Confused; consult TV Guide, which verifies program is GENERAL HOSPITAL, not FLASH GORDON.

Continue reading...

Scene switches to jungle. Jungle? I think I may be going mad. Apparently outside Cassadine lair. Couple asleep in the undergrowth. Young. Trendy. First on line to buy tickets for an E.L.O. concert? No, they have come to rescue a friend, Scorpio, who is in Cassadine's clutches. They are Luke and Laura. Apparently account for the show's "youth appeal." Luke wears a shirt with cutoff sleeves and a gold chain. Laura is illegitimate daughter of Dr. Lesley Webber. Dr. Rick Webber adopted her when he married her mother but now Rick and Lesley are divorced. Pity. Who is Dr. Rick Webber? Notice Laura wears Woodstock Indian headband. Youth appeal? Learn that Luke stole her heart forever by raping her on a deserted dance floor in 1979.

I am quite certain that I am mad. But my doctor insists that I merely have GENERAL HOSPITAL-itis. There is a lot of it going around. He has had it since the show's first broadcast in 1963. He tells me that the action really exploded when ABC brought in Gloria Monty as producer in 1978. Monty allowed that Laura's rape was really "a choreographed seduction." Says that show does not go as heavy on sex as some of the other soaps. Recent shows prove that, alas, most sexual activity is indeed conversational. Monty also claims she "didn't consciously go for a young audience." Can think of no other reason, however, to cast Sanforized Rocker Rick Springfield as an eager young doctor. Springfield's career has received boost from exposure, including No. 1 single, "Jessie's Girl." Fortunately, role does not require him to sing.

Finally meet Dr. Rick Webber. He is efficient, take-charge type. Conscience of the hospital. Upright as a tent pole. He and staff worry about overtaxing their facilities during the cold snap. In the basement of a nearby beanery called Kelly's, a blond named Rose has a hunk named Hutch hidden in the cellar between shelves of preserves. His shoulders are as wide as the passing lane on a freeway, and he seems to be a criminal. A flashback however, shows him telling a young boy, "Don't make friends with bad guys," so suspect he just may be misunderstood. Police are looking for Hutch. Babies in the hospital are ailing. The nurses all wear sweaters and wonder what's causing the crazy weather. All this to quivery music that is part Isaac Hayes (Shaft) and part Milton DeLugg (Junior Miss Pageant). It occurs to me that perhaps my doctor is mad.

Day 2. Woke in a cold sweat, refrain ringing in my ears, "No one's feeling well/At General Hospital." Waking nightmare turned out to be clock radio, playing "General Hospital" by Joanne Cipolla and her Planet Street band. Hear that ABC has not taken kindly to the song. Sued Composer Cipolla for "copyright infringement" and "trademark dilution," asking $500,000 damages. Cipolla countersued ABC citing "unfair competition and unlawful interference." As new episode flickers on, everyone at the hospital is concerned about the steadily sinking temperatures. Dr. Rick Webber remains the calm eye in the snowstorm, making emergency plans. Government types plead with adamant Cassadine: "Give us time, give us time, in all human decency." Cassadine sneers and adjusts his blazer. Luke and Laura penetrate his defenses, disguise themselves in coveralls and helmets and strike bizarre resemblance to two exterminators posing for Vogue. Next clear memory is of national anthem and test pattern. Frightened.

Day 3. Dare not sleep. Morning news offers no respite. Gossip columnist announces Gloria Monty negotiating with Elizabeth Taylor for several guest appearances as Mrs. Mikkos Cassadine. Would she have to wear bangs? Sports pages report Amos Otis and Clint Hurdle of the Kansas City Royals are taping a segment. Can they hit the long ball in subzero climate? New episode offers no clues. Dr. Rick Webber organizes emergency medical triages. Nurses hug themselves. Cassadine talks about "carbonic snow." Luke tells Cassadine he is "intelligent: but misguided." Minions knock him to floor. but Cassadine postpones coup de grĂ¢ce. Insists he will "defend" himself, hinting at long monologue of scientific explanation and political elucidation. Thought is too terrible to contemplate. Do not wait for credits. Reconnect phone, call for paramedics.

I write this as they arrive. Help at last. Nurses are here. They wear . . . sweaters. Doctor smiles disarmingly. Just time to notice name on plastic ID badge: Dr. Rick Webber.

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