As “General Hospital” marks its 60th anniversary, much remains the same for the longest-running scripted series in production in the United States. A hospital is still the backdrop for the soap opera, many of the veteran characters remain, the wealthy Quatermaine family looms large and the stories are about love, mystery and adventure.
But in a shift, many of the most powerful residents of Port Charles are women.
Genie Francis’ legacy character Laura Collins, whose 1981 wedding to Luke Spencer drew 30 million viewers and is still the highest-rated soap opera episode in US history, is now the mayor of Port Charles. The police commissioner is a woman (played by Tanisha Harper), and the chief of staff at General Hospital is also a woman (played by Cassandra James.)
Kristina Wagner, a longtime cast member who plays Felicia Scorpio, first joined “General Hospital” in 1984 as a literal princess and romantic interest for Frisco Jones (Jack Wagner), forming a soap supercouple. While agent Frisco was out chasing bad guys, Felicia would wait in Port Charles. But now, Felicia — long divorced from Frisco — takes down villains herself and often teams up with Finola Hughes’ Anna Devane to solve mysteries.
“I’m really proud to say that the show now feels very woman-centric,” said Wagner. “Most of the stories revolve around women more than they ever have. We’ve changed with the times and that’s a real perk. That’s what makes me keep coming back.”
Laura Wright, who plays Carly Spencer, has acted in three different soap operas, and says it used to be common for each soap to have one woman who was the standout, strong female lead.
“You go back and you had Kim Zimmer on ‘Guiding Light,’ who played Reva Shayne. Erika Slezak playing Viki (‘One Life to Live’), Susan Lucci playing Erica on ‘All My Children.’ You had some strong women, but you had like, one. Now we see so many,” she said.
Eden McCoy who plays Carly’s daughter, Josslyn Jacks, has grown into a fiercely independent woman in her own right. She doesn’t ask for a man’s help easily and has no problem standing up for herself. She even tells her love interest, Dex (Evan Hofer) that he can’t dictate where they stand.
“It’s like this wall went up between us and you have to protect little old me from big bad you,” Josslyn said to Dex in a scene. “I call BS on that. I make my own decisions. I know the risks I’m taking. If you don’t want me, just say that.”
McCoy says the characters stand on their own.
“They’re good enough characters on their own, and they don’t need men surrounding them. If men surround them, then that’s awesome and great, but they don’t need it,” said McCoy. “We’re not arm candy. We have things to bring to the table.”
Offscreen, the actors also make an important impact. Tabyana Ali, who plays Trina Robinson, is part of a beloved bi-racial couple on the series. Last week, fans purchased a billboard in New York’s Times Square to play a video montage devoted to the pairing of Trina and Spencer Cassadine (Nicholas Chavez) — known to fans as Sprina.
Ali admits to being surprised by how much the relationship meant to viewers, particularly those who could relate personally. “I didn’t realize that the people that are in interracial relationships, this means a lot for them. They feel very seen,” she said. “I’m honored to be part of it.”
Cynthia Watros, who plays Nina Reeves, the editor of a high-fashion magazine and co-owner of a hotel (soap characters juggle their time well), says even her male co-stars have noticed the shift.
”We’ve had some conversations with some of the guys on the show who’ve been here for a while. And it has shifted a lot (to) women commanding the show,” said Watros. “I give a lot of credit to (executive producer) Frank (Valentini) and the writers for allowing this show to be so women driven.”
The women also feel a strong kinship with one another behind-the-scenes. Rebecca Herbst, who plays Elizabeth Baldwin, joined the show as a teen in the ’90s and says the “GH” set is truly another home. She counts Francis, Wright, Jane Elliot, Kelly Monaco and Kirsten Storms in her “friend circle.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like a job. When I get in my car, I’m just going to go see my second family, and I get to work and we all just kind of get to play together. I see people that are near and dear to my heart and that I will forever cherish their friendships and love them. It’s pretty amazing. I feel very blessed.”