Interviews

Jackie Zeman Recalls Going from OLTL to GH 45 Years Ago

Jackie Zeman found out that she had more than one soap opera life to live.

Jackie Zeman on General HospitalPhoto credit: ABC Photo Archives Jackie Zeman Kin Shriner

This month, Jackie Zeman celebrates 45 years as General Hospital fan favorite Bobbie Spencer, R.N. Before arriving in Port Charles to play an ex-hooker who was searching for a better life as a student nurse, Zeman first had to say goodbye to her One Life to Live character. Zeman chatted with Soap Hub about leaving Llanview’s Lana to become GH’s Barbara Jean ‘Bobbie’ Spencer.

Jackie Zeman – Loving Lana McClain

“Originally, Lana wasn’t supposed to be on [One Life to Live] for long,” Zeman recalls of her waitress character who joined the ABC serial in September 1976. “Doris Quinlan [producer] called me in and said that Lana had become very popular and would be sticking around.”

Lana McClain was a waitress who was desperately in love with blond bad boy Brad Vernon (Jameson Parker). While Brad only had eyes for virginal Jenny Wolek (Kathy Glass), he lusted after Lana. “James was a doll,” Zeman recalls. “We did these intimate scenes together where I wasn’t wearing all that much. I remember scenes were much longer back then. We used to get Charley horses from being in the same position for so long!”

Leaving Llanview Behind

Brad wasn’t always nice to Lana but Jameson and Zeman got along swimmingly. “We took karate lessons together,” Zeman says. “We’d run 10 miles in the morning before going to the studio. Those of my memories of that time.”

After Zeman learned from Quinlan that Lana’s stay was going to be extended, she remembers jumping up and down with glee as this was her first contract gig. Later Lana’s tale, alas, came to a tragic end. She accidentally overdosed on some sleeping pills and Brad, who saw Lana as an impediment to his future with Jenny, simply watched her die.

Of course, ABC Daytime was far from through with Jackie Zeman. While wrapping up as Lana, she attended a performance of Beatlemania. (The actress’s then-boyfriend and future husband, Murray the K [Murray Kaufman] served as a special consultant for the Beatles-themed musical.) At the show, a legendary TV executive approached Zeman because he found her to be very funny and asked her if she wanted to be on a sitcom. “I said, ‘No, I’m on a soap opera,'” Zeman responded. She later learned the identity of her supporter. “It was [ABC Entertainment president] Fred Silverman!” she exclaims. Next, Zeman got a call from ABC Daytime president Jackie Smith, who told Zeman that the network had been trying to cast the part of GH’s Bobbie Spencer but hadn’t quite yet found the right actress.

Joining General Hospital

“Jackie told me that [General Hospital] head writer Douglas Marland wanted to meet with me to discuss the role,” Zeman says. She invited the scribe to her lavender-decorated apartment in New York, thinking it would be about a 15-minute conversation. “He stayed for hours,” Zeman shares. “We had so much fun. I guess he approved me because Jackie called me later and said, ‘We’re offering you the role of Barbara Spencer!'”

As veteran GH viewers recall, Bobbie did her best to snare Scotty Baldwin (Kin Shriner) away from Laura Webber (Genie Francis). She schemed to have Laura shipped off to reform school but her plans were thwarted. Audiences both loved to hate and just plain loved (and continue to love) Bobbie Spencer thanks to Zeman’s passionate portrayal of the have-not character.

The move to the West Coast worked out perfectly for both Zeman and Kaufman as Beatlemania was opening up next at a theater in Century City, Calif. Actors are sometimes given a break when they end one role on the same show or network if it’s known that they’re going to re-appear in another role, but that’s not what happened with Lana and Bobbie.

“As Lana was dying [on OLTL], Bobbie popped up [right after] on General Hospital wearing her blue student nurse’s uniform,” Zeman says. “They were like, ‘Oh, my gosh! We didn’t think…’ But I thought it was hilarious! And here we are, 45 years later!”

Soap Hub congratulates Jackie Zeman on 45 years as Bobbie Spencer Brock Meyer Jones Cassadine on General Hospital!

General Hospital (GH) 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 that’s been posted on GH spoilers, and for an in-depth look at the show’s history, click here.

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