Recently I discovered some dedicated soul had uploaded a ton of old General Hospital footage of Luke and Laura from the late 70s, early 80s on Youtube. I promptly got lost in a nostalgic black hole watching clip after clip, because there are hundreds… I’m already up to 1981 and the Ice Princess storyline now. I was a huge fan of L&L back in the day, and to find this stuff was a bit of a goldmine.
It was also an eye opening, almost therapeutic experience. I realize that all my relationship problems can be traced back to the controversial origin of these daytime legends. Instead of watching Disney princesses fall in love, I was introduced to human relationships via a soap opera. This is part one of my problem. That this was one of the more dysfunctional relationships ever written didn’t help matters any.
For those of you who don’t know, Luke and Laura were the first soap “super couple”. It happened quite by accident, really. Tony Geary was cast as Luke Spencer, a character that was supposed to grace the screen for just a scant few months and then exit with, quite literally, a bang.
The writers spun a story around Luke and the young, impressionable Laura Webber, as portrayed by Genie Francis. Producer Gloria Monty figured the key to success was attracting younger viewers, so she brought those storylines to the forefront. By the time Luke rolled into town Laura was 17 and already in love with (and engaged, I think) to yuppie to be, Scott Baldwin (Kin Shriner). Innocent, however, Laura was not. She had already had some major ups and downs, including being a runaway and even killing her older lover. Needless to say she was primed for the events that were about to take place.
As were we all, I guess.
Bobbie Spencer (Jackie Zeman) had her sites set on Scotty and decided Laura had to go. She called upon her brother Luke to make it happen. As kids of the streets, Bobbie and Luke were scrappy characters who didn’t see the law or the world as black and white as Laura or Scotty did, and Luke was all too happy to intervene on behalf of his little sis.
Especially when he met Laura – whose blond-haired, blue-eyed innocence left him thunderstruck.
The storyline marched on with the intention of having Luke become obsessed with his “angel” – the girl he believed he could never have – while his life was spiraled out of control thanks to the local mob run by Frank Smith (played by a pre-Punky Brewster, pre-Tootsie, pre-Police Academy George Gaynes). Luke ran the local disco for Frank (where plucky Laura decided to work despite the fact she was underage), and all too soon Luke found himself in the unenviable position of being chosen as gunman for a hit on a local politician. His allegiance would then prove his loyalty to the “organization”.
For those current General Hospital lovers, you might not know that there was a time that being in the mob in Port Charles was *not* a good thing, nor anything you would be considered almost an untouchable super hero for being. Back in the 1970s, it meant you were throwing your lot in with a bad crowd and it meant nothing but bad things for you AND the people you loved.
Luke understood that this assignment marked him as a dead man as well. Back in those days Luke was still a bit of an idealist himself, and was not too keen on the idea of killing a man. But he knew that if he didn’t go through with his orders, he himself would be killed. This led him to a moment of drunken desperation that would forever change the course of daytime.
The writers decided to have Luke rape Laura on the floor of the empty disco in a fit of unrealized frustration and emotional despair.
Originally it was planned Luke would exit the show after being killed during the failed hit on the Congressman. Only rumor has it the powers that be decided they liked the look of actor Asher Brauner, who played Luke’s best friend Roy DiLucca, and wanted to tap his talent for prime time programming. The writers quickly switched Luke for Roy to be killed during the botched hit.
That the audience had responded well to Tony Geary’s portrayal as Luke Spencer and wanted him to stay probably didn’t hurt. This meant Luke got to stick around Port Charles after the traumatic event that was originally supposed to be his second act turning point from which there was no return. This meant the powers that be had to figure out what to do with him BEYOND the attack. With his crazy chemistry with Laura, they did the only thing they could do in the 1970s. They made them fall in love.
As a staunch feminist it remains one of my shameful secrets that I both watched this show back in the day as well as rooted for them to get together, despite the dark and dirty rape storyline. My excuse was that I was roughly ten years old and didn’t know any better.
Watching these clips again, however, makes me wonder.
Especially since this storyline virtually saved General Hospital itself from life support, right when it was on the verge of being canceled. Viewers responded in a big way I’m not sure daytime has ever been witness to since, and it clearly made no rational sense at all… on paper.
If you didn’t watch the show, you might not understand that these events happened over the period of a year or more. She wasn’t brutally attacked by someone she barely knew and *then* fell in love. The entire thing was written to address acquaintance rape in a seduction gone out of control scenario, where the assailant in question was someone that the victim both knew and was even attracted to.
Like I said, Laura had been long written to have mixed up crazy reactions to men. Scotty was supposed to be her fairy prince, but even he had his problems – like being a typical 70s husband who expected his wife to do what he said because he said it. His being such a pompous ass probably fueled the fire under the audience to have her spend more time with Luke. Luke was exciting, and even though she knew he was probably a little too fascinated with her she continued to move closer and closer to him like a moth to a flame.
No still means no and what happened was still technically and legally inexcusable rape – but how she processed the entire thing was what ultimately turned the tide from a violent crime to an crime of passion (literally.) She sought to take care of him and protect him even after what happened simply because she already had feelings for Luke which confused her and blurred the events considerably.
It was because of her need to protect him that saved his life and put the ill fated Roy in the line of fire.
Rape is about violence, about control, not about sex – and that was not how this storyline hit the screen. Gloria Monty made the executive decision to cut the violence from the iconic scene and shoot it with a softer edge. Otherwise there would have been no way anyone would have fallen for any kind of long term pairing between them. And clearly a tide of viewers did, as evidenced by the phenomenon General Hospital came to be thanks to the L&L storyline.
Truthfully many in the audience were probably just as confused as Laura herself. They already felt the connection between her and Luke, and wanted to see them act on the sexual tension between them. This made matters deliciously complicated and rife with dramatic possibilities.
From a writer’s perspective, it was very fertile ground.
You also have to take into consideration what romance looked like in the 1970s. Pick up any Harlequin novel from that period and you’re going to have the chaste girl manhandled by the good looking rogue with a heart of gold – someone whose bold advances made it possible to be seduced without sacrificing any socially valued virtue.
It also helped considerably that Luke was very contrite about the rape, and in a lot of ways just as tormented with his guilt and regret. He proceeded to do all he could to protect her from the likes of Frank Smith when she accidentally stepped a little too far into the organization (remember – 70s… mob bad.) This ultimately included an engagement of convenience with Frank’s daughter Jennifer in order to keep Laura safe.
As a very young girl I was drawn in by Luke’s captivation with Laura, and now I can see that it laid the groundwork for the relationships I’d have that followed. I find flawed men far more attractive than those who have their stuff together, and I will probably always fall victim to the bad boy with a heart of gold.
And it all starts with the eyes.
One thing that Tony Geary did very convincingly was pour every ounce of feeling he could ever have for another person into how he looked at Genie. There was no missing it. When he looked at her his heart was laid bare – all his hopes, his dreams, his fantasies, and yes… desires, were right there on display for her (and all of us) to see.
It’s very intimate, and the connection that two people share within that look can be just as powerful as any sexual encounter.
I’ve only been the recipient of such a stare a few notable times in my life, but each time they stopped my heart and I was literally in love on the spot. This has been especially inconvenient when the look in question really didn’t belong to me (or mean what I thought it meant), yet still yielded the same effect.
To be the object of such devotion is a heady tonic. To be the center focus of someone’s world, to be the reason that they breathe, that’s that one of a kind, once in a lifetime, soul mate kinda stuff poetry and music are written about.
Does it even exist? I know I feel it for others but I have never been the recipient. It’s been 30 years since I was struck by this lightning bolt and it is with great sadness I realize that I probably never will be. I’m too old and too traditionally unattractive to captivate someone on that kind of primal level. And I’m not talking about the rape/obsessive stuff… I’m talking about utter and complete devotion and frank need and desire. I am happily married and my husband is wonderful – but it’s not the same passion as I came to appreciate thanks to my early introduction to daytime drama.
And here’s the kicker… that’s probably a good thing.
If someone wanted me the way Luke wanted Laura it would scare the bejeezus out of me. Remember in my last entry I spoke of wanting what I couldn’t have so that I could keep control? That has everything to do with my own rape experience from when I was four. Every relationship I’ve pursued over the years has had me in the position of the chaser not the chasee. If someone wanted *me*, I’d run like a rabbit as far as I could. In fact, when the few men have chased me in the past I was actually kinda mean to them to make them stop.
Don’t fall in love with me first, I’ll make you pay for it. The ultimate self preservation, I guess.
So there’s the yin and the yang of it, and probably one of the key reasons I’ve had problems staying faithful, whether emotionally or physically, to the men I married – neither of whom had this kind of burning need for me (which is probably why I married them.)
It keeps me safe… but it keeps me yearning for something I’ve made sure I’ll never have. Wanting what I can’t have so I can have the wanting. It sounds a little nutso but mostly it’s just humanly flawed in my own, special unique way that I get to work out in full view of all of you.
But I still blame you, General Hospital. Thanks ever so kindly for both a mirror to what I’ve always wanted most and what scares me the most.