Sunday, April 18, 2010

FLASHBACK: Stuart Damon 1981



By Terry Ann Knopf
Boston Globe
November 22, 1981

A hit single called "General Hospi-tale" scores high on the charts. Tony Geary receives an honorary award from Harvard University. Luke and Laura make the cover of Newsweek - hailed as the "Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara of Soapland." A Hollywood legend named Elizabeth Taylor, having conquered Broadway, conquers Port Charles with five memorable guest appearances.

But despite all the media hype, there are unmistakable signs that GENERAL HOSPITAL is not in the best of health. With mounting pressures, the show seems slightly out of control. It is as if the freezing temperatures brought to Port Charles by Mikkos Cassadine, the mad scientist, are also a metaphor for the stormy weather now encountered by the show itself.

In a display of massivedissatisfaction, headwriter Pat Falken Smith and her entire team of writers jumped soaps and joined NBC's DAYS OF OUR LVIES. Many actors on the set resent what has become the Luke and Laura Show. And 19-year-old Genie Francis (who plays Laura), dropped the bombshell that she intended to leave the soap in December - spilling her guts to a reporter without bothering to inform her producer Gloria Monty or ABC.

Given the turbulent atmosphere, Stuart Damon (who plays the aristocratic Dr. Alan Quartermaine) stands as a welcome symbol of sanity and stability. He knows he's on a rollercoaster but is thoroughly enjoying the ride. He has established himself as a delightful conversationalist on the talk-show circuit with guest shots on MIKE DOUGLAS, JOHN DAVIDSON, and DONAHUE. He participated in a musical tribute to daytime on the recent nighttime Emmy Awards' show. And he has a starring role in a forthcoming TV movie thriller called Fantasies which is about a soap opera actor.

Recently in town for a personal appearance at a local disco called "Narcissus," Damon talked about his character, his controversial producer and his life on GENERAL HOSPITAL. Casually dressed in a red shirt and blue blazer, the attractive, dark-haired actor wore black-rimmed glasses which gave him a professorial look. The interview took place in a tiny office off the dance floor of the club. Indeed, the setting seemed a bit incongruous for one of the courtly Quartermaines but for the realization that Dr. Alan Quartermaine had previously purchased "The Campus Disco."

In conversation, Damon came across as intelligent, level-headed and serious, although surprisingly wary. Perhaps he felt overly protective toward his show, given all the adverse publicity. Perhaps he was simply tired, having just stepped off a plane from the West Coast. Perhaps he felt uneasy with the writer who, after all, was not "a Quartermaine."

In any event, Damon emerged as one actor who enjoys showing up for work. "I'm nothing like Quartermaine," he said. "I've been known to show up on the set wearing running shorts, a baseball cap worn sideways, speaking with a pronounced lisp. The morning rehearsal is the time to be silly."

In contrast to many soap actors who moan and groan about their characters, Stuart Damon is probably Alan Quartermaine's biggest fan. "He's really one of the most interesting characters around. He's loving one day; but he's also a failed murderer who wound up in a hospital on two occasions . . . I've just played some scenes with Monica (Alan's estranged wife) in which you couldn't be sure whether I'd kill her or screw her."

Similarly, Damon has unbounded respect for producer Gloria Monty who has been maligned by some as a soap opera Svengali given to working her actors to death. Describing her as "a smart cookie" and "a superb director," he said: "Gloria's been wonderful to me. For example, let's say I'm playing a scene with my father and during a heated argument he chides me about my stupidity for being involved with Susan. We're both going for the jugular. But Gloria will say I love everything you're doing in the scene. But don't forget he's your father, he has a heart condition and you love him.' She forces us to go in and out of moods."

Damon also credits Monty for changing the portrayal of males on daytime. "Gloria has turned men around on the soaps. In the past, they were subordinate to women and not the active parties in relationship. Gloria Monty has given men their balls back. I know she has changed me. Alan Quartermaine was originally a Casper Milquetoast."

Still, the actor admitted to a few personal criticisms. He thought the heavy emphasis on Luke and Luara indicated "a little bit of overkill." And he conceded the infamous Ice Princess storyline was a bit farfetched. "The Ice Princess was not one of my favorites. It went on too long and it became boring. It stretched my credibility," he said.

Any similarity between Stuart Damon and Alan Quartermaine is strictly a tribute to the actor's considerable acting skills. Quartermaine is your stereotypical country-club WASP. Damon is actually Jewish (born Zonis, but later taking the name Damon from the telephone directory). The Quartermaines are landed gentry. The son of Russian immigrant parents, Damon grew up playing stickball on the streets of Brooklyn and later went to Brandeis University where he graduated in 1958. (Can you picture Alan Quartermaine rubbing elbows with Abby Hoffman and Angela Davis at Brandeis?)

Having just signed a lucrative two-year contract, Dr. Alan Quartermaineplans to practice mischief and medicine in Port Charles for quite some time. At the conclusion of his contract, look for the actor to go on to other things.

As befits a Quartermaine, Stuart Damon's only wish is that the end should be dramatic. (After all, his cousin Alex froze to death after she accidentally walked into the Ice Room.) "It should be an end no one will forget - full of blood and thunder. I should finally kill Monica, be sentenced to death and laugh hysterically. I don't want anybody to sleep through my exit," he said, fully relishing the thought.

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