Commentary GH

Why Leslie Charleson Is Beloved As GH’s Monica Quartermaine

The actress has played Monica for 45 years and has made us adore her every step of the way.

Leslie Charleson As General Hospital's Monica Quartermaine

With the news that General Hospital has finally cast Elizabeth’s father Dr. Jeff Webber, many longtime GH fans are hoping this means a storyline for Leslie Charleson, who plays Dr. Monica Quartermaine. We wanted to honor the actress — and while any of us at Soap Hub could have because we adore her, we instead turned to the ultimate authority — Jami Deise Denison.

We Love Leslie Charleson As Monica

After all, Jeff and Monica came to Port Charles married to each other, as the inaugural couple in the hospital’s Mr. and Mrs. Intern program. Although Patsy Rahn originated the role in 1976, Charleson took over a year later, and she’s been a cornerstone of the show ever since.

It’s hard to believe that she celebrated 45 years on General Hospital this past August! From scheming intern to adulterous wife to hospital chief of staff and matriarch of the show’s most prominent family, Monica has lived a full, rich life – and Charleson has played every note with strength and integrity.

When Charleson took over the role in 1977, Monica had one goal in life: to break up the new marriage between her old lover and former brother-in-law, Rick Webber (Chris Robinson), and his wife Lesley Webber (Denise Alexander). But she soon got distracted by the arrival of Dr. Alan Quartermaine (Stuart Damon).

When she married into the wealthy Quartermaine family, Monica thought her future was secure. But after being quarantined with Rick at the hospital, old feelings resurfaced, and one of the best love quadrangles in soaps was born: the Alan/Monica/Rick/Lesley quad, which helped bring GH to number one in the ratings. And even though Monica ultimately ended up as a villain in the storyline, Charleson earned fans’ undying loyalty for her portrayal of a woman torn between her heart and her honor.

In the 1980s, Alan and Monica’s relationship was front and center on GH, and fans adored their clashes and reconciliations. Charleson proved she was as talented a comedian as a dramatic actress, and her one-liners and quips were quoted by fans for years. Whether she was putting Alan’s mistress Susan Moore (Gail Ramsey) in her place, telling off Heather Webber (Robin Mattson) for spying on her or keeping Jimmy Lee Holt (Steve Bond) away from Celia Quartermaine (Sherilyn Wolter), Monica always had the last word.

Professionally, she was a trailblazer and a role model. In a time when women surgeons were scarce, and female cardiac surgeons nearly unheard of, Monica worked tirelessly to achieve her dream.

From her humble beginning as a “Mrs. Intern,” she joined the surgical rotation, became Rick Webber’s right-hand woman; then head of cardiac surgery, and eventually chief of staff. Handling a variety of cases, Leslie Charleson was always believable, even when Monica made head-scratching choices such as helping Sean Donely (John Reilly) fake a heart condition. And in the famous “BJ’s heart” storyline, Monica was the doctor who transplanted BJ’s (Brighton Hertford) heart into her cousin Maxie Jones’s (now Kirsten Storms) chest, a steady professional even while her own heart broke for her friends Tony Jones (Brad Maule) and Bobbie Jones (Jacklyn Zeman). How many fans were inspired to go into medicine based on Charleson’s portrayal? Too many to count.

So maybe Monica wasn’t always a great mom, but Quartermaines had a tradition of sending their children to boarding school. Besides, she had to balance her professional life, contentious marriage to Alan, and affairs with people like her nephew (by marriage!) Ned Ashton (now Quartermaine).

But when AJ and Jason finally came home, Monica doubled down on parenthood. She adopted Emily after her friend Page died of breast cancer and supported her sons even when one became a mobster and the other an alcoholic. She even (off-screen) helped AJ fake his own death, then later return to Port Charles (where he died again for real).

Charleson played a fierce mother, a depiction that drew upon her character’s backstory as an orphan who’d always longed for a family of her own. Sadly, she lost all her children to death, as well as her husband and parents-in-law. It’s no wonder that Monica ended up becoming close to her former enemy/sister-in-law Tracy Quartermaine (Jane Elliot) and eagerly accepted others into the Quartermaine mansion, such as Ned (Wally Kurth) and his family, and her grandson Michael Corinthos (Chad Duell).

While Charleson has played many of soap opera’s most well-known tropes— love triangles, who’s the father, secret daughter—her most challenging storyline was her realistic portrayal of Monica’s breast cancer journey. Although breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer in women, Charleson made Monica’s story unique to the character. What was it like for a woman who was as sexual as Monica to face a disease that attacked her femininity? Charleson was nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy for her portrayal, and fans still blame the O.J. Simpson trial for robbing her of the trophy. (A pivotal episode, referred to by fans as “the mirror scene,” aired outside of eligibility due to trial pre-emptions.)

With a 45-year reign, having worked under countless head writers and producers, Charleson has kept the core of the character consistent in myriad storylines. She’s played high drama, comedy, and even action-adventure, winning the hearts of fans all over the world. Monica has always been a force to be reckoned with, whether she’s fighting with Lesley over Rick’s love, or fighting with Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) over his treatment of AJ. No matter what the storyline requires her to do, Charleson’s Monica is always a brilliant, fiercely loyal woman who does what has to be done. She’ll never back down from a fight; she’ll never stop fighting for what she wants, and she’ll never give in to self-pity. The Quartermaine mansion may be hers because Alan gave it to her, but Port Charles is her city because Monica, and Charleson, earned it.

Now her first husband, Dr. Jeff Webber (William R. Moses), is poised to return to Port Charles, and Monica fans have their fingers crossed that their history will play a pivotal role in his storyline. What a wonderful, full-circle development for a character and an actress that has meant so much to this show, and to its fans.

General Hospital airs weekdays on ABC. Check your local listings for airtimes. For more about what’s coming up in Port Charles, check out all the latest GH spoilers, and for an in-depth look at the show’s history, click here.

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