Friday, August 12, 2011

FLASHBACK: Gloria Monty Returns to GENERAL HOSPITAL 1991

GENERAL HOSPITAL's General Television

In 1978, Gloria Monty pushed the ABC serial into the modern era. She left in 1986 but now has returned-and aims to drag it into the 1990s.

By Irv Letofsky
Los Angeles Times
February 13, 1991

One morning a few years ago, an actress was rehearsing her lines on GENERAL HOSPITAL. On her blouse she wore an innocent tiny yellow duck pin. Suddenly from the anonymity of the control booth boomed the voice of executive producer Gloria Monty, ever on the watch for anything that might detract from the show: "Lose the duck."

Wiry, petite, 5-foot-2, maybe 85 pounds after a big meal, Monty doesn't look so tough. But she's a Hollywood heavyweight, a brawler who took on the ABC serial in 1978 and punched and pummeled it into the modern era. She left in 1986 but now has returned-her name goes on the credit roll today-and aims to drag it into the 1990s.

It's possible she's even more fierce this time around. "G.H." (as it's known in shorthand) will sport some new cast members, six new writers, some slick new sets and assorted new production techniques. One of the added stars is Tony Geary, the Luke of Luke and Laura, whose crazy affair as created by Monty in the early '80s ignited a national passion-and Nielsens.

"This is exciting," Monty says. "We're bringing in much more humor, more realism, more jargon of the day, current issues. . . .

"Not that issues are the show, but everybody talks about the environment. You can't go into a home where they're not conscious of it. . . . It's part of the dramatist's job to keep up with things. For example, I don't know how we can not bring up the war."

But she declares that her primary thrill these days is presenting "a story I wanted to do for a long time. . . . I'm tired of all the WASP families (on television) and I wanted to do a blue-collar family for a long time."

During her respite from "General Hospital"-she left because she felt nine years was "more than enough"-Monty was working on prime-time projects for 20th Century Fox. One series developed by the native of Union Hill, N.J., was a comedy called BLUE COLLAR, set in Trenton, N.J. But it never came off.

So when Monty took over "G.H." in December to prepare the new offensive that commences over the next few days, she dismissed a few characters, kept the Quartermaines, Scorpio and Spencer families and made plans to introduce the working-class Eckerts, giving the show some UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS flavoring.

Not the least visible of the Eckerts will be bearded, salt-of-the-Earth Bill, a machinist who's been away in Portland, Ore., and who on Tuesday makes a long, slow, theatrical entry in the form of a nostalgic return to the family house in Port Charles. He'll look suspiciously like his long-ago-gone cousin Luke Spencer, the thug who first raped Laura, then married her.

It is, of course, prodigal actor Geary, whose volatile Luke brought him a celebrity previously unattained in the world of afternoon drama.

Geary begged off an interview, pleading busy rehearsals. But he told a recent press conference that since he left "G.H." in 1983, looking for "new opportunities" as he put it then, he did five TV movies, nine plays and 11 films, "maybe three or four of which I'm quite proud."

As for his return to afternoon duty, he gave the familiar actor-coming-back response, that the new character of Bill represents an exciting creative challenge.

(Genie Francis, the erstwhile Laura, likewise has returned to the soaps, currently as the hotly ambitious Ceara Conner on ALL MY CHILDREN. The new role is "challenging" and "the really great characters (like Ceara) do not come along very often in a career," she recently told soap opera columnist Nancy Reichardt.)

During the earlier tour on "G.H.," rumor had Geary's salary at $1 million. Geary's new manager, Ray Katz, said that he wouldn't be surprised at that figure but added coyly that Geary's new fee is "in excess of what he earned before."

Another performer in the new Eckert family on "G.H." will be singer-actress Carol Lawrence, who plays the passionate Italian Angela, Bill's mother. Also in the family: Her German baker husband Fred (Bill Boyett), the rebellious young daughter Jenny (Cheryl Richardson), nephew Joey (James Morrison) and Bill's son Sly (Glenn Walker Harris Jr.).

For another new diversion, Arte Johnson, the LAUGH-IN madcap, will portray a character who can find ways of doing things "that are not authentic," Monty says.

Monty comes out of the theater scene in New York, including improvisational workshops that involved Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Bea Arthur in their formative seasons, and employs the cherished techniques on her "G.H." characters. On a recent Sunday, she summoned the Eckert clan around her at the ABC studio for improvs in their characters-including miming their pizza lunch. And she still does one-on-one improvs with some cast members, "just to get into the truth" of their characters.

Monty demands a faster pace and tighter scripting than the interminable anguishings that once defined the afternoon style. "And I don't repeat things in case the audience missed it on Mondays," she says. Her approach to camera angles and other details is almost like a mini-movie.

"It's all drama to me, and I think the only difference from prime time and other shows is that when you're on five hours a week, you can develop characters and work with people," she explains.

When she first burst into "G.H.," she demanded long rehearsals and long shooting hours, even into the depths of the a.m. hours. She was a maniac about the look of the show and incidentals-like little duck pins.

Monty remembers that time as wildly creative and "fun," but not all cast and crew were as amused. One actor recalled a comment she made: "When I first watched the show, the only thing I could think of doing was to put you (the cast) all in a plane and crash it."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Gloria Monty would have turned 90 today.

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