General Hospital is celebrating a milestone that only one other daytime drama (Guiding Light) has achieved – its 60th anniversary. The ABC serial is the longest-running scripted program on television today and rightfully so. As its many fans will attest, GH has been delivering drama since its premiere on April 1, 1963.
General Hospital – Happy 60th
The following is a thorough (but not complete) look back at six decades of General Hospital. The hospital has gone through makeovers over the eons but the medical facility remains the hub of the show.
Steve Hardy and Jessie Brewer in the 1960s
Medical dramas were in fashion when GH premiered given the primetime success of the 1961 drama Ben Casey, M.D. GH, which was created by Frank and Doris Hursley, debuted the same day as NBC’s The Doctors. The show’s setting wasn’t officially known as Port Charles just yet (that would come in the 1970s) but viewers met the show’s likable leads – John Beradino, who played GH chief of staff Dr. Steve Hardy (until his passing in 1996) and Emily McLaughlin, who played Jessie Brewer, R.N. (McLaughlin died in 1991.)
The show had a heavy focus on medical dramas, naturally, and also delved into the personal lives of medical professionals. Steve found the love of his life with Audrey Hardy (Rachel Ames) and Jessie found turmoil with philandering husband Phil Brewer (Roy Thinnes). Lucille Wall played head nurse Lucille March, Audrey’s sister, and brought, at times, comedy to her role as a strict disciplinarian of younger nurses.
GH – The 1970s
Rachel Ames played heavily in the 1960s and that continued into the 1970s when heroine Audrey went on trial for murder. The show scored a casting coupe when Denise Alexander was lured away from Days of our Lives (where she played Susan Martin) to join the ABC soap as heroine Dr. Lesley Williams (later, Webber).
Alas, as the ’70s continued, GH went through various creative regime changes. Ratings declined. By early 1978, producer Gloria Monty and head writer Douglas Marland had been brought on to perform life-saving surgery on the ailing soap. While credit is often rightfully laid at Monty’s feet for her innovative production values, Marland’s writing steered the show in the right direction with his characters and storylines. (“If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”)
Marland and Monty thrust young characters Laura Webber (Genie Francis) and law student Scotty Baldwin (Kin Shriner) into the forefront. During this time, Dr. Jeff Webber (Richard Dean Anderson) searched for his stolen son Steve Lars unaware that he was living right in Port Charles having been adopted as PJ Taylor, son of Peter (Craig Huebing) and Diana (Brooke Bundy). Jeff’s wife Heather Webber (Mary O’Brien, Robin Mattson, and, more recently, Alley Mills), who knew about Steven Lars’s whereabouts, accidentally drank some iced tea laced with the mind-altering drug LSD.
Viewers met Tracy Quartermaine (Daytime Emmy-winner Jane Elliot), who was determined to cause trouble for her brother Alan’s (Stuart Damon) marriage to Monica (Leslie Charleson). Marland re-ignited Monica’s feelings for Dr. Rick Webber (Michael Gregory; Christ Robinson). The Lassa fever epidemic threw the characters’ lives into turmoil. The story that had the greatest impact was Laura accidentally killing her older lover David Hamilton (Jerry Ayres). Her mother, Lesley, took the wrap and went to jail in order to protect Laura.
In December 1978, Bobbie Spencer (Jackie Zeman) enlisted the aid of her brother Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary). The plan backfired when Luke fell in love with Laura. After Laura and Scotty married in the summer of 1979, Marland and Monty parted ways; he became head writer of Guiding Light while she remained at GH as producer. Pat Falken Smith (a former head writer at Days of our Lives) succeeded Marland and continued his stories. In October 1979, Luke, fearing he’d be killed by the mob, raped Laura on the floor of the Campus Disco as Herb Alpert’s Rise played. Later, the rape was re-written as a seduction – something Francis has spoken out about today.
General Hospital – The Unstoppable 1980s
In the summer of 1980, Luke and Laura went on the run and the show’s ratings climbed even higher. College students across the country re-arranged their class schedules so they could watch the show. A.J. Quartermaine’s true paternity came to light courtesy of the Bombay phenotype syndrome — Alan was his true father. Lesley slapped Monica after she taunted her, telling her Rick felt no passion for her.
Mainstream media took notice of the show’s enormous popularity. Francis was featured solo on the cover of TV Guide. In 1981, Newsweek did a cover story on GH featuring Francis and Geary, calling it TV’s Hottest Show. People magazine celebrated Luke and Laura’s November wedding – attended by most of Port Charles and 30 million viewers – by putting Francis, Geary, and GH super-fan Elizabeth Taylor (who cursed the duo as Helena Cassadine) on its cover.
Rock group The Afternoon Delights released the rap song General Hospi-Tale in 1981. The tune’s lyrics paid homage to the show’s many storylines…”It started out in Port Charles town where Frank Smith’s mob used to hang around. No one could tell he was a crook till Luke stole his little black book!”
Francis exited GH in early 1982; she returned in late 1983 to help usher Geary off the canvas. In 1984, the show suffered another immeasurable loss when Denise Alexander turned in Lesley’s stethoscope and the beloved character was killed off in a car crash off-camera.
Emma Samms (Holly Sutton) and Tristan Rogers (Robert Scorpio) took center stage, emerging as a popular couple. Their love story remains a favorite to this day. GH remained on top by introducing other fan-favorite characters including Ginny Blake (Judith Chapman), Frisco Jones (Jack Wagner) and Felicia Cummings (Kristina Wagner), and Anna Devane (Finola Hughes) and Duke Lavery (Ian Buchanan). Lynn Herring made her debut as Lucy Coe, who went from mousy librarian to temptress/troublemaker to endearing champion. GH had been number one for years, but in late 1988 The Young and the Restless claimed the No. 1 spot.
1990s – The Patient Takes a Turn
ABC, hoping to recapture the show’s glory days, lured Monty back to helm the show – this time without Marland (who was busy writing As the World Turns). She left in 1992 but on her way out the door, she lured Samms back to the series.
Enter Wendy Riche as executive producer and Claire Labine (Ryan’s Hope) as head writer. The two put an emphasis on compelling medical dramas involving beloved characters – Monica was diagnosed with breast cancer; BJ Jones (Brighton Hertford), declared brain dead after a school bus crash, donated her heart to Maxie Jones (Robyn Richards); Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough) was diagnosed with HIV after sleeping with her boyfriend Stone Cates (Michael Sutton), who died from AIDS. These tales remain classics today.
GH introduced the annual Nurses Ball, a talent show that served as a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS awareness in 1994. Port Charles characters performed a variety of routines at the annual gala. Lucy found a purpose by acting as Mistress of Ceremonies – she didn’t let repeated years of being caught on stage in her underwear deter her from hosting the annual event.
ABC launched Port Charles in 1997, a half-hour spinoff series featuring seven young interns. There was crossover between the two shows (think Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19). Port Charles went off the air in 2003.
Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) made his debut in 1993. He later took in a brain-damaged Jason Quartermaine (Steve Burton), who became Jason Morgan. Viewers learned Edward Quartermaine had a grandson – Justus Ward (Joseph C. Phillips). Sonny’s pregnant wife Lily Corinthos (Lilly Melgar) died in a car explosion meant to kill Sonny (or did she?)
The show introduced a series of younger characters including Brenda Barrett (Vanessa Marcil), Emily Quartermaine (Amber Tamblyn), Lucky Spencer (Jonathan Jackson), and Elizabeth Webber (Rebecca Herbst). Viewers learned that Bobbie had given birth to a daughter, Caroline “Carly” Benson (Sarah Brown), during her days as a prostitute in Florida.
Other notable additions included Daytime Emmy winner Nancy Lee Grahn as Alexis Davis, Ingo Rademacher as Jasper “Jacks” Jax, and Rena Sofer as Lois Cerullo. Jane Elliot occasionally reprised Tracy Quartermaine and continues to recur on the show today.
The biggest news of the 1990s was the return of Geary and Francis in 1993. A few years later, GH invited Denise Alexander back to the show as Lesley. Her 1984 “fatal” car accident wasn’t so fatal after all! Laura revealed that she had given birth to Nikolas Cassadine (Tyler Christopher) during her captivity on Cassadine Island circa 1982-83. Following Labine’s exit, Bob Guza Jr. became head writer and there was a greater emphasis placed on Sonny, Jason, Brenda, Carly, and various mob characters as GH entered the next decade.
GH – The 2000s
Jill Phelps became executive producer in 2001. Jacob Young was in as Lucky following Jonathan’s Jackson exit. Genie Francis took a leave as Laura. Sarah Brown exited as Carly; many may have felt the part couldn’t be recast but lightning struck twice when casting director Mark Teschner, a multiple Daytime Emmy winner, brought Tamara Braun to the attention of producers. Later, Braun departed, and Jennifer Bransford temporarily took over the role; next, fan favorite Laura Wright became Carly and has played the role the longest. She won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2011.
Other new characters in the 2000s included Kiefer Bauer (Christian Alexander), who abused Kristina Corinthos (Lexi Ainsworth), the doomed Kristina Cassadine (Jaime Ray Newman, who later won an Oscar!), Logan Hayes (Josh Duhon), who was Scotty Baldwins’ son, no-nonsense head nurse Epiphany Johnson (Sonya Eddy), savvy attorney Diane Miller (Carolyn Hennesy), lady mobster Faith Rosco (Cynthia Preston), Anthony Zacchara (Bruce Weitz) and his children Claudia (Sarah Brown – in a new role) and Johnny (Brandon Barash).
In 2006, Francis returned for a multi-week guest run as Laura recovered from her regressed mental state. Laura and Luke renewed their vows in honor of the couple’s first marriage in 1981. Just like before, Helena attended the ceremony. Francis won the 2007 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for playing Laura. The Quartermaines suffered great loss in this decade with the deaths of Lila (Anna Lee) in 2004; AJ (Billy Warlock) in 2005; Justus Ward (M’fundo Morrison) in 2006; and Alan (Stuart Damon) in 2007.
General Hospital – The 2010s
In 2012, following the cancelation of One Life to Live, that show’s executive producer, Frank Valentini, and head writer, Ron Carlivati, took over the creative reins at GH. The team delved into the show’s past just to generate story just in time for the show’s 50th anniversary. Once Valentini and Carlivati’s vision kicked in, rumors that GH would go the way of axed soaps All My Children and OLTL vanished. Frisco came back to town only to have Felicia choose Mac (John J. York) over the father of her daughters. Bobbie Spencer returned from Seattle to help her family. A.J. (Sean Kanan), who’d been killed off years earlier, was resurrected as was Duke Lavery.
Luke and Laura decided to finally call it quits for good but they teamed up again to find their missing daughter, Lulu (Emme Rylan). The show brought back the much-missed Nurses Ball. Lucy, once again, returned as the gala’s hostess and champion. Villains Cesar Faison (Anders Hove) and Helena Cassadine (Constance Towers) came back. Dynamic new characters were introduced as well including Dr. Britt Westbourne (Daytime Emmy-winner Kelly Thiebaud), Dr. Leisl Obrecht (Kathleen Gati), tragic heroine Sabrina Santiago (Teresa Castillo), and the compelling Ava Jerome (Maura West).
Later in the decade, viewers learned that sociopath killer Dr. Ryan Chamberlain (Jon Lindstrom) had not perished back in the 1990s. He managed to switch places with his brother, Dr. Kevin Collins, who had married Laura. The mob still remained a focus of the show but there was a greater emphasis placed on nostalgia and on the hospital. In a special anniversary show, current players played the parts of Steve, Jessie, and Phil as viewers learned about the tragedy involving Luke Spencer, Bobbie, their long-lost sister Patricia (Dee Wallace), and their late parents.
GH – 60 and Sensational
GH remains as strong as ever as the show celebrates its 60th anniversary. Sadly, the show suffered two great losses with the untimely deaths of cast member Sonya Eddy (Epiphany) and coordinating producer N’neka Garland. The show’s current head writing team – Chris Van Etten and Dan O’Conner – have positioned Laura as Port Charles’s mayor, they maintain a balance between the hospital and mobster storylines, telling important social issue tales along the way such as Mike Corbin’s (Daytime Emmy winner Max Gail), Sonny’s father, battle with Alzheimer’s.
There’s a beautiful and popular young love story with Spencer Cassadine (Nicholas Alexander Chavez) and Trina Robinson (Tabyana Ali). Another young couple gaining traction is Carly Jacks (Eden McCoy) and Dex Heller (Evan Hofer). And what show would be complete without a young troublemaker? Avery Kristen Pohl’s devious Esme Prince currently has amnesia but we suspect that won’t last forever. Then? Watch out!
The Nurses Ball is back and if ex-lawman Harrison ‘Chase’ Chase (Josh Swickard) steals the show…well, it won’t be the first time. There are classic feuds – like the one between Carly Spencer (Laura Wright) and Nina Reeves (Cynthia Watros), and the one between Victor Cassadine (Charles Shaughnessy) and, well, everyone! GH keeps viewers guessing with plot twists, and “small” touches like surprise phone calls from Monica and Tiffany (Sharon Wyatt) that are actually big touches. We’ve seen the return of Holly Sutton and Emma Scorpio Drake (Brooklyn Rae Silzer), and many others. Is Luke Spencer really dead? Stay tuned.
Soaps have felt an economic crunch as a lot of TV has but GH manages to tell stories for all its characters sooner or later. The show has numerous sets including a stable, a rooftop pool, multiple restaurants/eateries, kitchens, a parapet, a castle, of course, the hospital, and more. Valentini made sure GH survived the pandemic production shutdown of 2020. The show recently paid homage to the early days of the show by having Elizabeth Webber Baldwin, Steve Hardy’s granddaughter, be named head nurse of General Hospital.
The show has won Outstanding Drama Series at the Daytime Emmys more than any other soap opera with 15 wins. You simply can’t miss a day because you never know what’s going to happen next. Soap Hub congratulates the entire General Hospital company on a happy 60th anniversary – and here’s to 60 more!