The Untold Truth Of General Hospital

A handful of TV shows have the cross-generational appeal to stay relevant in a constantly changing entertainment landscape. "The Simpsons" began its 33rd season in 2021, at the same time "NCIS" debuted its 19th season. Yet in the daytime, one program showed an even more impressive longevity. As the longest-running soap opera in America, "General Hospital" will celebrate 60 years on the air on April 1, 2023. No April Fool's prank, the show has picked up an impressive 14 Emmy Awards for outstanding daytime drama series, the most for a single show in the category, per TV Insider. It also picked up another 17 nominations for the 2022 awards. In May 2022, the cast and crew filmed episode number 15,000 of the series.

Over the years, some surprising faces have joined the cast. The drama served as a launching pad for some actors while others stayed with the series for decades. Jon Lindstrom, who has played Dr. Kevin Collins on "General Hospital" and "Port Charles," said that the castmates often love working with one another. "In response to those who tend to think there's a rivalry or competitiveness within our cast I offer you this," Lindstrom wrote on Twitter, with a photo of himself and his "General Hospital" coworkers all smiling. Other times, the drama and romance depicted on screen continued once the cameras stopped rolling.

Calling all soap fans, this is the untold truth of General Hospital.

What the series name really means

The title "General Hospital" may seem quite generic, but there was actually a thought process behind naming the long-running soap opera. Before the series debuted on ABC in 1963, the network had planned to call it "Emergency Hospital," and it wasn't supposed to be a soap opera. That changed when Armand Grant, ABC's Head of Daytime, learned that NBC would be debuting a similar show called "The Doctors" on the same day (per "The Official General Hospital Trivia Book"). Couple Frank and Doris Hursley were hired as creators, and they devised the premise of a hospital as a center of a wheel and all characters in the show as spokes on the wheel, actor John Beradino told Entertainment Weekly.

For more than a decade, writers never explained where the show was supposed to be taking place. Though the opening credits show the gates of Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, viewers eventually learned that characters in "General Hospital" lived in the fictional town of Port Charles in upstate New York.

Thanks to the show's success, it became a franchise with two spin-offs, "Port Charles" in the late '90s into the new millennium and "General Hospital: Night Shift." While both series came and went like so many characters on the shows, producers didn't rule out the possibility of other opportunities in the "General Hospital" universe. In 2022, the president of ABC Entertainment explained that the network was open to even more spin-offs in the future, especially as streaming services were exploding in popularity (via TVLine).

An A-list star joined the cast

It's not often that a major movie star appears on a soap opera, especially after becoming famous. One notable exception was when James Franco swung by the set of "General Hospital." More than just a brief cameo, Franco appeared in 54 episodes between 2009 and 2012. In the series, he played a mysterious artist and serial killer named Franco. According to Franco, producers pitched him the character with his same family name. Instead of the show reaching out to Franco in the first place, it was instead the actor who called up "General Hospital" and asked to be a part of the show. "I said, 'I want to play an artist, and I want him to be crazy,'" Franco explained to Vulture about his conversation with the show's producers. He also insisted on bringing a film crew to document his time on the show. 

Franco's interest in soap operas started as a kid because "I was home sick a lot because I didn't like school when I was little," he said. At home in the daytime, he could only watch the two movies his family had recorded on VHS, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." So, if he was bored of watching these films, "I guess I was watching soap operas," Franco recalled.

After Franco left the show, actor Roger Howarth filled in to play Franco. The artist character ultimately died on the show in 2021, per Soaps in Depth.

How the pandemic shook up the show

In the summer of 2021, many shows resumed filming after a long hiatus due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. "General Hospital" actors returned to set, but some of the veteran stars were not happy with the working conditions. "I work on a set with unmasked, unvaccinated actors, because my union thus far SAG-AFTRA has allowed this. Full stop," longtime star Nancy Lee Grahn tweeted

As a result, "General Hospital" required all actors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 1st, CBS News reported. Soon after the deadline, actor Ingo Rademacher found himself in a disagreement over company COVID policies. He posted anti-vaccine statements and transphobic messages on his social media and soon after, news broke that Rademacher would no longer be a part of the "General Hospital" cast (via Variety). It was a swift departure for the actor, who played the role of Jax for 25 seasons starting in 1996. After getting the boot from the soap opera, Rademacher sued ABC, claiming that the network's vaccine mandate was discriminatory, Variety reported.

Not long after Rademacher's departure, another member dropped out of the cast. Actor Steve Burton posted a video on Instagram explaining that "General Hospital" let him go for not complying with its vaccine mandate. The actor had played Jason Morgan on the series since his debut in 1992. Burton said that he applied for religious and medical exceptions to stay with the show, but both requests were denied.

Cameos you may have missed

Fitness guru and celebrity Richard Simmons was well-known in the '70s and '80s for his bubbly personality and approach to health. Beyond selling workout plans, he also used his acting talents as a guest on "General Hospital" beginning in 1979. Clips from his appearances on the series show Simmons teaching exercise classes. 30 years later, Simmons returned to "General Hospital" playing himself.

Another major face to spend time in Port Charles was a legend in the "Star Wars" franchise, Billy Dee Williams. He debuted on the spin-off "General Hospital: Night Shift" in 2007. "I'm having a good time with that. It's a whole different experience and format," Williams explained to Kam Williams about working on the soap opera. "The characters are involved in some very interesting situations," he added. More than just a different genre than he was used to, Williams admitted that working in the "General Hospital" universe helped him improve his technical abilities as an actor. He explained that filming scenes required a lot of improvisational skills and that emotion is key when delivering the lines. Plus, the production pace was "faster than anything I've ever done," he said. 

In the end, Williams loved his coworkers and felt that after working on a soap opera, he felt ready for any acting job in the future. In fact, Williams enjoyed his experience playing Touissant DuBois so much that he reprised the character in 2009 on "General Hospital," Soap Opera Network reported.

Surprising secrets on set

When filming "General Hospital," producers need to be conscientious of the show's budget to make sure the soap opera remains profitable enough to stay on the air, per CNN. This means finding clever ways to keep the cost down while filming. One obvious example is sticking with the same sets for many years. According to "The Official General Hospital Trivia Book," an earthquake within the show's story offered production a chance to rebuild many new sets in the 1990s.

In a Reddit thread, one user pointed out obvious cases of the same sets in different storylines, like a home that previously exploded later used as another home. The same happened with a particular apartment set that appeared to be the residence of at least three different characters.

A fan had a chance to visit the "General Hospital" set and said the producers revealed that furniture and props are often reused in various scenes, Food Fun Family recounted. As far as the scenes set in the hospital, a magic trick is to simply replace the signs or other markers depending on the storyline. The pens that viewers see in cups around the fictional hospital are likely quite old because each one is glued down to ensure actors and crew don't take them by mistake. Actors also pretend to drink from nonoperating water fountains, and noises are added in during the editing phase. Reusing sets is ideal because it is apparently expensive to film on location, even for simple scenes outside. This means the teams may only film off site at a local park once or twice a year.

The series has featured some unbelievable stories

With decades worth of episodes, some of the storylines on "General Hospital" are more memorable than others. The Ice Princess diamond, for example, has made various appearances on the show since its debut in the early '80s, Soaps in Depth recapped. This wild story involved a hostile confrontation between characters Luke Spencer and Robert Scorpio. Tristan Rogers, who portrayed Scorpio for years, told Stone Cold and the Jackal that the Ice Princess storyline was easily his most favorite of the series to work on. Kimberly McCullough joined the series to play Scorpio's daughter Robin when she was only 7 years old, per Soaps. The talented McCullough was a force to be reckoned with on TV and earned a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance when she was only 11 years old. 

Even with her incredible acting skills, McCullough couldn't do much to help save perhaps the strangest storyline ever on "General Hospital," when the writers were interested in sci-fi themes (according to "The Official General Hospital Trivia Book"). Young Robin becomes friends with a man named Casey. Well, less a man and more an alien from the planet Lumina who happens to land in Port Charles. Her mom helps Robin retrieve a magic crystal, allowing Casey to return to its home planet in the end of the story arc. Actor Bradley Lockerman told the Orlando Sentinel that writers created the alien character specifically for him, after he was passed over for the role of Duke Lavery on the show.

A wedding for the ages

In the summer of 1981, "General Hospital" became one of the biggest TV titles in entertainment. Two of the show's main characters, Luke and Laura, were getting married. The episode broke previous records to become the most watched daytime program ever at 30 million Americans (per ABC News). Amazingly, this major series event almost never happened, but the nuptials took place thanks in part to a little intervention from a famous celeb. Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor was a big fan and wanted to appear on the show. She allegedly gave an ultimatum that she wouldn't guest-star unless she got a wedding between Luke and Laura. Producers obliged but had to move the storyline up to the summer of '81, Tristan Rogers explained on "State of Mind with Maurice Bernard."

"General Hospital" revisited the Luke and Laura romance in later seasons but had to grapple with the dark reality of the original story line. Prior to their marriage on the show, Luke raped Laura. After the incident, writers described the act as seduction. Anthony Geary, who played Luke, appeared on "Soaps in Quarantine" in 2020 and acknowledged, "They tried to rewrite the history of what we all knew..." 

Fortunately, producers and writers corrected the injustice in the late '90s. "The times are different. What the audience perceives and what they expect is very different from what it was 20 years ago," executive producer Wendy Riche told the Associated Press. Geary returned to tell his character's son, Lucky, that he raped Laura in the past. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

What it's like to act on General Hospital

For viewers that feel stressed while watching "General Hospital" from all the drama and intense action, know that the filming process is full of pressure, too. To create each episode, actors go through a rigorous rehearsal process and need to be prepared for long days. Typically, a primetime TV drama requires directors and actors to complete around 10 pages of dialogue in a single day of filming. In contrast, "General Hospital" typically films around 80 pages of dialogue each day. This leaves almost no time for do-overs or shooting retakes, so the actors need to be crisp and correct on their lines once the cameras roll. "There's no room for someone that cannot take the pace, the speed; you have to be on your game," actor Nancy Lee Grahn told CNN.

According to a previous extra on the show, actors will repeat a scene no more than four times to allow for editing. Sometimes, the actors improvise lines for the characters to make the dialogue more believable. The extra actor also claimed that no one looked at a teleprompter, but they would rehearse lines with scripts in hand right up until the director started filming, Live About reported. This is different from other soap operas where actors allegedly use teleprompters instead of memorizing lines. Seamus Dever, who previously appeared on "General Hospital," used an iPod to record himself as other characters in scenes to rehearse with himself, Backstage reported.

The actors have an impressive clothing assortment

With so many characters and storylines interweaving during "General Hospital," audiences need to believe the action on screen is realistic. One way the series does this is with the impressive coordination behind the scenes on how to dress the stars for each scene. In fact, the costume department is impressively complex. Like a real wardrobe, each character has a specific closet and accessories box that feature pieces the characters could possibly wear. The show's costume designer, Shawn Dudley-Reeves, designs and buys all the clothes for each actor. "There's a lot of trends I don't like, but I find a way to like it, and I have to justify it for that character. If it works for them, then we're gonna do it," Reeves told ABC-13.

Previous "General Hospital" costume designer Lori Ann Robinson told "The View" about her job. She was in charge of outfits for a New Year's Eve party set in the roaring '20s. Robinson compiled over 75 different costumes for the episode, including some custom pieces. Aiming for authenticity, Robinson even went as far as to source shoes and real underwear from the historical period for the actors to wear. Showing her knowledge range of decades and styles, she had also designed a sophisticated wedding dress for actor Tamara Braun. As for hunks like Greg Vaughan, Robinson liked to stick with contemporary outfits often consisting of jeans and leather to have the guys looking as sexy as possible.

How one star went from guest to regular

Early in his career, Australian actor Tristan Rogers was looking for nearly any role. Around October 1980, Rogers' agent called him to talk about a casting opportunity that was seeking East African actors. Neither guy knew what this meant, but both felt that producers wouldn't either, so Rogers decided to try. It just so happened to be for "General Hospital," Rogers explained on "State of Mind with Maurice Bernard." The actor didn't know how popular the soap series was, but he still auditioned. 

After five script readings over five days, Rogers got the part. Originally, the nameless role was supposed to only last for two days. "I was brought in expressly to beat up the hero, Luke, and then disappear," the actor recalled. Only halfway through his first day of filming, executive producer Gloria Monty called Rogers into her office and asked him to stay on longer. More than anything, she wanted a lot of screen time for this new character to look shady and "suspicious." 

Originally, writers planned to call his superspy character Agent X or Agent X1. Rogers didn't like this and proposed Agent CK8, which stood for "can kill." The writers agreed, and Rogers signed on for three years with the series. Ultimately, the actor became the famous character Robert Scorpio, which he played for decades. "I would not trade a minute of it," Rogers told Stone Cold and the Jackal about being a mainstay of the show.

The real-life tragedies of General Hospital

Almost every character in the history of "General Hospital" has dealt with a tragedy or difficulty of some kind. Sadly, some of the actors in these roles had tragic ends in real life. At the start of 2021, John Reilly, who was a longtime member of the cast as Sean Donely from 1984 to 2013, died at the age of 86. In a tribute episode of "General Hospital," Reilly's real daughter Caitlin, also an actor and a TikTok star with millions of followers, came on board to play Donely's daughter Annie, Entertainment Weekly reported. "This episode is meant to honor him and his contribution to the show's rich history," executive producer Frank Valentini said about John. "...I am grateful that we were also able to include his daughter," Valentini added.

Sadly, that same year, actor Jay Pickett, who starred in "General Hospital" and its spin-off "Port Charles," died at the age of 60. Reportedly, he suffered from an apparent heart attack while filming a drama in Idaho, per Entertainment Weekly. Less than a year later, "General Hospital" alum Lindsey Pearlman died before police found her inside a car in Hollywood's Runyon Canyon Park, People reported. Pearlman went missing over a week before she was discovered. In a since-deleted Instagram post, her husband Vance Smith confirmed his wife was gone and said, "I'm broken." The actor had appeared on the show a few times in 2020 as the bartender character Maggie McMorris, Soaps recapped.

A special tune for the soap opera

Jonathan Jackson portrayed "General Hospital" icon Luke Spencer's son Lucky on the soap opera. Jackson was especially gifted at bringing tears to viewers' eyes during emotional scenes, Entertainment Weekly recapped. The actor stayed with the series until 2015, appearing in an impressive 370 episodes. The reason for this long history is that Jackson started the role of Lucky in 1993 as an 11-year-old, via IMDb. Two years prior to his debut on "General Hospital," Jackson and his brother Richard took a family trip to Universal Studios in California and were inspired by seeing a "Back to the Future" exhibit. "I got bit by the (acting) bug that day, and Jonathan did, too," Richard told The Columbian. The boys and their mother then moved to Burbank in 1993 to pursue acting.

One of the more memorable moments on "General Hospital" was when Lucky sang a song called "Elizabeth" to a character with the same name. As it turns out, Jonathan's gift with the guitar was a serious passion. Jonathan became the front man of the band Enation that he founded in 2002 with his brother Richard, according to All Music. In 2010, "General Hospital" featured the Enation song "Eyes of Grace" on an episode, Daytime Confidential reported, and Jonathan went on to star in the drama "Nashville" for the series' whole run, from 2012 to 2018.

Details about the show's fearless leader

"General Hospital" had been on the air for over a decade when low viewership threatened the series. Four weeks away from being completely canceled, the show needed a miracle. Gloria Monty, previously with the CBS show "Secret Storm," came on board as executive producer for "GH" in 1978, per the Academy of the Holy Angels. Not only did she save the franchise; the series thrived under Monty's leadership. She was instrumental in all aspects of the show as a producer, director, and even a writer. 

By 1981, Monty completely turned "General Hospital" around, as indicated by the show winning outstanding drama series at that year's Daytime Emmy Awards, Soap Central recapped. It also became the number one rated soap opera thanks to her efforts. The show's popularity plummeted once Monty left "General Hospital" in 1987, especially against competing series like "The Young and the Restless." Monty returned in 1991 with no fear in her plans to bring back success, including firing actors and writers left and right, Entertainment Weekly recapped.

Once again seeking a new direction for the show, Frank Valentini came on as executive producer for "General Hospital" in 2012. Previously, Valentini had worked on the ABC soap opera "One Life to Live," CNN reported. "Not only does it need to be entertaining, but it also needs to be relevant. It needs to be a part of everyone's life in 2012," Valentini explained about his goal to make "General Hospital" more contemporary.

Real life romance started on set

Romantic relationships are at the core of any soap opera, especially "General Hospital." Often, these characters find love multiple times throughout the series. For example, costume designer Lori Ann Robinson explained on "The View" that she had designed a third wedding dress for Tamara Braun's character, Carly. The same dress could have come in handy for other couples that met on the show and continued the romance off set. In 2016, actors Bryan Craig and Kelly Thiebaud announced their engagement on "The Talk," with plans to get married the following year, SheKnows' Soaps tweeted. As is often the case on soap operas, the couple didn't last. Craig ended up with Daniela Lopez Osorio, who posted a video of her kissing Craig on his 30th birthday.

Similarly, actors Chad Duell and Kristen Alderson both met on "General Hospital" in 2012. The two dated until splitting up in 2015, via Soap Central. Later, an Instagram post hinted that Duell was cozy with Courtney Hope, a star of "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful."

Other stars from "General Hospital" to link up included Rebecca Herbst and Michael Saucedo. Herbst was famous for playing Elizabeth Webber as a teen on "GH" starting in 1997. Saucedo joined the show and spin-off "Port Charles" in 2000. While he didn't last long on "General Hospital," he made quite the impression on Herbst. The couple married in 2001 and have since had three children together, per Soaps.

Actors who have grown up on screen

In 2018, actor Leslie Charleson reminded fans how long she had been on daytime television. "41 years ago today, Elvis Presley died and I started on GH. Little did I know something so good could come out of such a sad day," she tweeted. Charleson is the longest-running member of "General Hospital," per Soaps. According to Charleson's IMDb page, the actor appeared in over 1000 episodes of the soap opera between 1977 and 2022 as Dr. Monica Quartermaine. However, fans wondered if her time on the soap was nearing an end after Charleson was recast in 2022. 

Fortunately, replacement by actor Holly Kaplan was only temporary for one episode, Soaps reported. (Charleson had previously been recast in 2018 while recovering from an injury.) In 2021, viewers also wondered if Charleson's character was leaving "General Hospital" after a preview showed her character Monica in a precarious situation.

Genie Francis has been a regular on the series as Laura since she was just a teenager. The actor debuted on "General Hospital" in 1977 and had appeared in nearly 800 episodes of the show by May 2022. "It's gone through different generations of people," Francis told ABC7 about her time with the show. "I'm very happy with how the character has grown and changed. In the beginning, of course, she was very, very vulnerable. And now I focus much more on her strength," Francis added. Some actors can't stay away from the series, like Finola Hughes, who made her 1985 debut and returned after a break, per CNN.