On this day: Nov. 16 and 17, 1981
The happening: Luke and Laura’s must-see wedding on General Hospital
After three years of sparks and then smoke, Lucas Lorenzo Spencer, the self-proclaimed “king of the single life,” married young Laura Webber Baldwin in a two-part episode of the ABC soap opera. And there was no shortage of witnesses — 30 million viewers tuned in, making it the most-watched event in soap history.
The union of Luke and Laura, portrayed by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis, brought together the curly-haired bad boy and the doe-eyed good girl — well, a girl who previously murdered someone and ditched her husband, Scotty, for her truelove. Port Charles’s best-known denizens were all in attendance on the grounds of the mayor’s mansion for the “I dos,” and the wedding party arrived in classic convertibles.
It was a soap, so of course there was drama. That came in the form of Elizabeth Taylor — yes, La Liz, who was a huge GH fan — in the guest role of Helena Cassadine, who came to put a curse on the newlyweds. She blamed Luke for the death of her husband. Also, Laura’s ex-husband showed up in time to catch the bouquet, resulting in an epic fistfight with the groom. Nonetheless, the groom and bride rode off into the sunset — for that day anyway — “just married” sign and all.
The vibe at the time: “TV’s wedding of the year”
Soaps have had a tricky evolution over the last few decades — blame O.J. Simpson and reality TV — with only four, including GH, still running versus 18 in the heyday. But in the early ’80s, GH was truly must see-TV for the masses, and Luke and Laura the best known soap “supercouple.”
Screen legend Taylor was but one celebrity fan of the show. To mark the wedding, she shared the cover of People magazine with the TV bride and groom. But there was Luke and Laura mania all around: There were viewing parties for the wedding in college dorms and in bars across the country, and even a formal reception, with wedding invites, held in NYC. A song called “General Hospi-Tale” cracked the Top 40. Geary and Francis, who received nine bags of fan mail a week and couldn’t walk down the street without being mobbed in that era, were sent a number of actual wedding gifts, including Champagne from Princess Diana, who tied the knot to Charles just months earlier in what was the real life wedding of the year.
Francis, who was not yet 21 at the time of the TV wedding and still lived at home (Geary is 15 years her senior), was not allowed to drink the bubbly because she was underage, she recalled earlier this year. In the same conversation, around the celebration for the show’s 60th anniversary, Francis said the wedding, which shot remotely out of the ABC soundstage in L.A., was a tough day of shooting with her “super-spiked high heels sinking in the mud” and the headdress, which was “pretty, but it was wired and… sticking in my head. And I was not allowed to sit down because you couldn’t wrinkle that dress.”
Geary called the remote shoot “a very uncomfortable day” between the heat, all the dialogue they were trying to cram in and show brass being on edge due to the high-profile nature of the episodes. “It wasn’t a lot of fun. It really wasn’t.” Though he loved working with “bawdy” Taylor. Francis called Taylor, who had a stand-in on location, shooting her scenes in a temperature controlled soundstage, a “man’s woman — she likes the guys.” The co-stars agreed that the shoot got better when their characters danced the Virginia reel and drove off in an antique Model T.
The TV couple’s complicated legacy
At the time, GH was helmed by Gloria Monty, who took the show from a struggling serial in the late ’70s to a phenomenon by quickening the pacing and modernizing the set. Monty also launched the careers of stars including Demi Moore, John Stamos and Rick Springfield. (Stamos wrote about Monty in his new memoir, including how she told the future Full House star that he’d “never work in this town again” when he opted not to renew his contract with the soap.)
That said, Monty also was criticized for glorifying violence against women. So marring the legacy of Luke and Laura is the fact that, years before their iconic wedding, he raped her on the dance floor of a disco. Monty had quite the take on it all several years later in a 1987 interview, saying, “Some people call it a rape — we call it a seduction.”
Francis — who continues to play the character to this day — said earlier this year that it’s been a challenging legacy and one she no longer tries to defend.
“You know, as a young kid, at 17, I was told to play rape, and I played it,” Francis said. “I didn’t even know what it was. But, at 17, you follow the rules, and you do as you are told, and you aim to please. At 60, I don’t feel the need to defend that anymore. I think that the story was inappropriate, I don’t condone it, and it’s been a burden that I’ve had to carry to try to justify that story, and so I’m not doing that anymore. I think, when a woman says ‘No,’ that she should be listened to, and if you replay that scene, you don’t have Laura just saying ‘No.’ You have her screaming ‘No.'”
Where we are now
On and off since the late 1970s, Francis, 61, and Geary, 76, have continued to play these roles, both winning Daytime Emmys for their efforts. (He has a record eight in the lead actor category.)
Francis, who’s married to Star Trek‘s Jonathan Frakes, first left the show just one year after the wedding, feeling the stress of being thrust into the spotlight and struggling behind the scenes. She appeared on other shows, soaps and movies through the years, but also was back and forth to GH, where she is currently and has been for years now.
Geary, who also came and went through the years, long preferred Amsterdam (where he’s long maintained a home) to Los Angeles and declared himself “retired” from daytime in 2015. Luke was declared dead in 2022 — whatever “dead” means on soaps. In addition to his most famous role, Geary appeared in over 60 movies and TV shows, in addition to credits in over 50 stage productions.
But both Geary and Francis know what they’ll be remembered for. As he said in 1996, “Whenever Genie and I are introduced [at an event] for the rest of our lives, they’ll run that clip of us saying our vows. And every time they do, we’ll groan.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, help is available. RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is here for survivors 24/7 with free, anonymous help. 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.