photo Jim Warren
Kin Shriner, Jane Elliot and Anthony Geary
Drinking! Deceit! Debauchery! And some of it even happened on screen. General Hospital was one wild and crazy place in the late ’70s and early ’80s under the command of the brilliant yet oh-so-lethal exec producer Gloria Monty. In honor of the ABC soap’s 50th anniversary, TV Guide Magazine gathered three survivors of the era — good friends Tony Geary (Luke), Jane Elliot (Tracy) and Kin Shriner (Scotty) — for a raucous lunch near the GH studio. Shriner shows up at the restaurant in a bright cherry-red shirt, the exact same color as Geary’s pants. “How weird is that?” says Shriner. “If we put your pants with my shirt it would look kind of clownish.” Says Geary with a laugh: “I hate to tell ya, but we’re both halfway there now.” Elliot, for reasons to be revealed later, is wearing a large smock. Geary orders pasta. Shriner and Elliot get the fish tacos, with Elliot noting, “Kin, who has way too much time on his hands, called me yesterday to discuss in detail the fish tacos he was going to have here today.” Soon enough the memories are flying. Who quit the show in a tiff over $50? Who got arrested on the way to work? Who had a steady stream of sexmates coming in and out of the dressing room? It’s all here and lots more, so get ready for the full Monty!
TV Guide Magazine: It’s such a joy to have the old guard back together on GH these days. Jane, I saw you on Access Hollywood asking a great question: “Why did these people ever go away?”
Elliot: I’ll tell you why! It’s a writing issue. Writers dry up. They can’t think of a place to go with the older characters. It’s easier for them to do an old story with a new character than do a new story with an old character.
Geary: And let us not forget that writers get residuals for every new character they create as long as that character is on the air.
Elliot: It’s my belief that The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful are the highest-rated shows because they use the same people decade after decade. That’s what this audience wants to see — their old characters in new situations. And that’s what our current executive producer and head writer, Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati, are delivering.
Geary: Usually, new producers and writers want to put their stamp on a show. They don’t want to continue what’s working. They want to reinvent the wheel. It’s an ego thing. And once they’ve gotten rid of characters that were well known and deeply loved, they think they can create that same magic with new characters. Frank and Ron did the exact opposite and it saved our ass. Things were pretty rough there for a while, but they got better as soon as [ABC Daytime chief] Brian Frons left. He hated the soap medium. He hated it from the beginning. He wanted reality TV.
Shriner: It’s weird how it all changed overnight. Everybody was firing everybody. Brian fired [head writer] Bob Guza. Then [exec producer] Jill Phelps got fired. Then ABC fired Brian. “You’re fired!” “No, you’re fired!” It was crazy. But, then, out of the ashes came Frank and Ron.
Geary: The timing was so right.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you even have to think about playing your characters anymore?
Geary: Not at all. You get to the point where the character just lives inside you. You don’t have to struggle. It’s just always there.
Elliot: It’s true! The first day of shooting the Nurses Ball, we all had to walk the red carpet, something I, Jane, have never done in my own life. I always go in the back door. So I was very uncomfortable with the whole idea but then we get the count — 5-4-3-2-1 — and out of me comes this person who is prancing and posing and preening, and I’m thinking, “Who the f–k is that?” It was Tracy Quartermaine! The next day, Dee was doing my roots — Deidre Hall…she does my hair — and I was telling her about what I’d done on the red carpet and she says, “Show me.” And I tried but I couldn’t recreate it, not if my life had depended on it, because it wasn’t me who’d done it to begin with. It was Tracy.
Geary: Jane once said something to me that was so profoundly true. We were getting ready to do a scene and I said, “God, I am so bored.” And she said, “Don’t worry, Luke isn’t.” And she was right. It doesn’t matter if I’m bored or sick or tired. Luke is never bored. He is ready to kick ass at any moment.
TV Guide Magazine: Kin, you were one of the last to be asked back. What’s up with that?
Shriner: Good question. All my pals are going back to work and I’m sitting on my sea wall down in Florida wondering, “When am I gonna get a call?” I really wanted back in the fold because we’ve all really stayed tight. I’m on the phone with Lynn Herring [Lucy] all the time. I stay in touch with Genie Francis [Laura] and Jackie Zeman [Bobbie]. I also talk to Tony and Jane from time to time but they don’t like to talk to me as much as Lynn does. They’re hard to get on the phone.
Elliot: I heard you woke up Lynn’s husband, Wayne [Northrop], at 6 a.m. the other day. Kin loves to talk on the phone.
Geary: [Laughs] Hey, it’s not that we’re hard to get on the phone. It’s that it’s hard to get you off the phone!
Elliot: Jack Wagner [Frisco] calls Kin a PTW.
Shriner: Yes, it’s true. I am a Professional Time Waster. What can I say? My brother has thrown me out of his house for that a few times, even in the rain. But I don’t waste people’s time talking about me. I have a couple of secrets in my tool box. If you go out with somebody and get them talking about themselves, you’re in! That could be good for hours! And it really helps if you give ’em a few drinks.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you remember the first time you laid eyes on each other?
Elliot: I was already on the show when Tony came along. I tested with him and six or eight other guys who were up for the role of Mitch Williams. When you test, you’re doing the same scene over and over and so often the actors will give similar readings. But when Tony came in, it was [her jaw drops open] “Wow! This is a horse of a different color!” In your audition you improvised something with a pen. What was it?
Geary: I was sitting at Tracy’s desk, picked up a pen and started playing Tic Tac Toe, and Jane walked in, grabbed the pen out of my hand, finished the game and said, “I win!” And that set the tone for our entire real-life relationship. [Laughs] Nothing’s changed.
TV Guide Magazine: Were you shocked Tony didn’t get the part?
Elliot: No, because Gloria Monty created the Luke Spencer character right then and there. She saw a much better role for him.
Geary: And it took them 30 years to put Luke and Tracy together. Until then, we hardly ever shared scenes.
Elliot: I’m done with the relish storyline. I want my Luke back.
Geary: Me, too. I want my Tracy.
Shriner: Geez, why don’t you two get a room! The first time I saw Tony I was watching him shoot this scene where Luke was sabotaging Scotty’s car, but he didn’t just sabotage it, he was whistling the whole time he was doing it. I’m thinking, “Who is this guy? Where did he come from? What a great actor!” Of course, I should have known, right then and there, that the days of Scotty and Laura were over.
Geary: Jane, when did you first encounter Kin?
Elliot: I don’t remember the first time we met but I can never forget sharing a wall with him. Our dressing rooms were right next to each other, and he was constantly slipping girls in and out. And I mean constantly! They’d come out of his room pulling up their skirts, zipping up their pants. I’d be, like, “Really, Kin? Really?”
Shriner: Ah, those were my young Errol Flynn days!
Elliot: And he’d always leave the water running in the sink! Back then, we’d lock our rooms and wear our keys around our necks because there were a lot of robberies, and Kin would leave the water running, lock the door and go up to the stage. It drove me crazy knowing he was wasting gallons and gallons and gallons of water. It would torture me! “Goddammit, Kin, would you turn your water off when you leave the room? Is that too much to ask?”
Shriner: I still always wonder if I’ve left the water on. It happened today while I was driving to see you guys.
Elliot: Kin and I had a little thing back then…our characters, that is.
Shriner: Remember the scene where I had you spread across my desk?
TV Guide Magazine: Gee, why didn’t that blossom into super-coupledom?
Geary: [Laughs] Yeah, what a mystery!
TV Guide Magazine: Jane, how come you only lasted two years back then?
Elliot: [Hesitates for a moment] Is Gloria dead? Oh, yeah, that’s right, Gloria’s dead. Is her sister, Norma, dead?
Geary: Norma just recently died.
Elliot: Okay, then I can tell this story. I quit because Gloria insulted me. I was making, like, a dollar and a quarter a week — horrible money, so little money that I asked for a $50 raise and Gloria told my agent I was unprofessional. Now, you can call me a lot of things but you cannot call me unprofessional. I was so insulted she applied that word to me that I said, “I’m not working for her anymore!” I finished out my contract and left. I went to Knots Landing for a bit, then Guiding Light. I didn’t return until after Gloria was gone.
TV Guide Magazine: Ever regret leaving?
TV Guide Magazine: Not even once? Seriously?
Elliot: Okay, yes, once. When I was on All My Children, I went over to see Julia Barr [Brooke] for lunch at her house in New Jersey and her place was so beautiful. She had these incredible lighting fixtures and every piece of furniture was functional art — just exquisite! And I sat there thinking, “So this is what you get if you stay on a show!” That’s the only thing I regret — that I missed the ability to create a really stunning environment for myself. But artistically? No regrets whatsoever.
Geary: Had you already done that great, iconic scene where Tracy keeps the heart medicine from her father, before you made the decision to walk?
Elliot: Yes, but I was off the show by the time I won the Emmy. That’s another thing! Gloria didn’t want me to be nominated. She picked the people she wanted on the ballot. One day I got a call from her secretary who said, “It’s time for the Emmy submissions and Gloria refuses to nominate you. I think you should come down here and nominate yourself.” I said, “I’ll be right there!” And that’s the only time I ever did that. The Emmys are not my thing.
TV Guide Magazine: So that’s why you didn’t allow yourself to be put on the ballot this year — a year when you had the award in the bag?
Elliot: As I said, not my thing.
Geary: And that’s such a sore subject with me. Jane and I have had this conversation so many times over the years. I think she’s crazy not to submit herself, especially this year. It’s so irritating.
Shriner: You could have had as many Emmys as Tony has.
Geary: Yeah, hell-oooo…
Elliot: It’s not a party I want to go to. Period.
Shriner: Tony and Jane are like that great old acting team that used to be on Broadway. What was it? Funk and Wagner? No…Wagnall?
Geary: Uh…Lunt and Fontanne?
Shriner: Yeah, that’s it!
Elliot: Frank keeps promising us that Tracy and Luke are getting back together. But, right now, Luke has his hands full. Is Laura back on the air yet?
TV Guide Magazine: I take it you don’t watch the show?
Geary: She doesn’t watch — and that’s why she doesn’t realize she should be nominated.
Elliot: I did see them make fun of one of my Pickle-Lila scenes the other night on The Soup. It was very funny.
TV Guide Magazine: Give us another Gloria Monty story.
Geary: Wow, there are so many! The first thing that comes to mind is this trip a bunch of us took to a Native American reservation in Arizona or Utah somewhere. Chris Robinson [Rick] was opening a little shop at a museum there and he got me, Jackie Zeman, Lester [Leslie Charleson, Monica], Susan Brown [Gail] and Gloria to fly out with him. For some reason, the big thing there was tossing cow chips — otherwise known as dried cow s–t — and the winner is the one who can toss it the furthest. We all had to do it, including Gloria, who says in that grande-dame voice of hers, “Oh, Lester, dear…would you choose one for me?” — like she was talking about hors d’oeuvres on a party tray. So Lester went and got a very special one and handed it to Gloria who said, “I don’t think this one is going to go very far, Lester dear. It’s still wet.”
Shriner: I have a fond memory of driving with Gloria in my open jeep over Mulholland Canyon with her almost spilling out. She was screaming, “Kin! Slow down! Kin! Stop!” Another time I was on my way to work on my motorcycle and drove past Chris Robinson on the side of the road in handcuffs. He said “You need to tell Gloria I won’t be into work today!” I said, “I’m not gonna be the one to tell her! She’ll kill me!”
Elliot: Those were the days when you never missed work. They would put out a barf bucket next to the stage and if you had the stomach flu…
Shriner: Or a bad hangover…
Elliot: You’d finish your scenes, barf in the bucket and come back and continue working. There was no such thing as calling in sick.
Shriner: They also had a doctor who’d show up with shots for whatever ailed you.
Geary: For those who showed up too drunk to work, they’d sober you up with vitamin B.
Shriner: The partying never stopped. We’d leave work at GH at 9 p.m., head over to Flippers Roller Disco, down a few kamikazes, skate until 2 a.m., then be back on the job by sunrise. Then the next night, we’d do it all over again!
Geary: It never seemed decadent. It all seemed so natural to us. We thought that’s what show business was all about.
TV Guide Magazine: And you weren’t scared of Gloria’s reaction?
Shriner: She was very scary but she also had a great sense of humor. If you could get her to laugh you were in business, so I always played that angle on her and then she would not be so angry at me. But we all got yelled at quite a bit.
TV Guide Magazine: Even Mr. Geary, the superstar?
Geary: Oh, yeah, I got it, too. But I loved Gloria. I didn’t have the same problems a lot of people had with her
Elliot: [Laughs] Because you were drunker than the rest of us!
Geary: I was drunker! But she could be brutal and say, “You gotta do that scene again. It was horrible!” You did it to her satisfaction, not to your own.
Elliot: And you didn’t get to argue. With Gloria, it was her way or the highway. And, damn it, she was always right. She was so smart but also very vicious, and we all felt we were in the trenches together. We were young, we really liked each other and those friendships have prevailed. We go to the movies together, we travel together. We’ve cheered each other’s wins, mourned each other’s losses. We’ve gone through marriages, divorces, births, deaths. Kin was with me the night my father died. He was the person I most needed to call. And I was with Tony the night his mother died. We share such a rich history and a very abnormal one. Sometimes we’d be at the studio until 2 a.m. and had to be back to work at the crack of dawn so we just slept in our dressing rooms. There was no union protection. Nobody was taking care of us. Overtime was, like, $5 an hour. There was no penalty to work us long hours, so Gloria had free rein and could do whatever she wanted. As a result, we formed really close bonds. God, she was mean! But she also was a really great talent picker. She picked Tony, she picked me. She could see who had something different.
Shriner: I was already on the show when Gloria got there, so what are you saying — that she got stuck with me?
Geary: But she never got rid of you, so there’s a compliment. She had no shyness about firing people.
Shriner: One time she sent a hurricane through the town and wiped out all the actors she didn’t like. The writers had Scotty and Laura locked in a shed during the storm so they could survive.
Geary: [Laughs] One day, Gloria turned to me on the set and said in dismay, “Look at all these children. We have too many kids on the show right now. I feel a school-bus crash coming on…”
Elliot: We used to have this Styrofoam egg…[she stops abruptly and looks down at her smock]…Kin, you just spit food on me! Unbelievable! I had hoped to make it through the whole meal without this.
Shriner: Did I get fish taco on you?
Elliot: Yes, and that’s why I wore my smock to this lunch. For this very reason! He’s the sloppiest eater on the planet.
Shriner: So that’s why you’re wearing that smock? When you showed up in that thing I was thinking, “Hmm…is this the new fashion? Is it maternity wear?”
Elliot: No, it’s my Lunch-with-Kin wear! Unbelievable! So, anyway…we used to have this Styrofoam egg on the set, like the kind you find at the craft store at Easter, and we called it the dinosaur egg because, well, Gloria was a dinosaur. When it was your turn to catch hell from her — when no matter what you did that week was wrong and she’d really hammer you for it — you’d return to your dressing room and there would be the egg. It was this compassionate reminder that there’s nothing wrong with you, that it was just your turn in the barrel and that this, too, shall pass. And then that person would hand it to the next innocent victim.
Geary: There was this actress on our show named Mary O’Brien — she played Heather before they cast Robin Mattson — and she was having trouble crying in a scene. Gloria came out of the control room and said, “You’ve got to cry! We need you to cry!” Mary tried it again and Gloria came back out and said, ‘You’re still faking it! I want real tears!” After another three or four trips to the stage, Gloria finally went ballistic. “You must be the worst actress I’ve ever hired! I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me! The whole scene is hinging on this! You are ruining General Hospital!” And she went on and on until Mary started to cry. Then Gloria said, “Yes! That’s it! Shoot it!” And she walked off the set. There were times when I was embarrassed for people, when Gloria humiliated somebody beyond the pale. But I did love her eccentricities.
Shriner: You gotta have a Captain Nemo at the helm — like a Frank or a Gloria — who sees the big picture. When we shot the Luke and Laura wedding and Scotty made a surprise appearance and caught the bouquet, Gloria had me hiding out in a trailer on the set so the word wouldn’t get out — and this was decades before people were spoiling things by Googling. No, that’s not it. What do they call it? Tweeting! That was the first time I met Tristan Rogers [Robert]. [Laughs] He was in the same trailer sleeping one off. Hey, remember those public appearances we’d all go on together? Remember when they actually paid soap stars to show up somewhere?
Geary: Once I was hired to go down to the Grand Ole Opry for a series of appearances, and Kin was there too. We hung out together and got so carried away we didn’t make it to one of the shows. They came after me — not Kin — and said, “The only reason you’re here is to make sure Kin makes it to the stage.” I thought, “Oh, really? In that case, Kin, why don’t we skip the next show, too?”
Elliot: They were so rowdy back then.
Shriner: Tony, remember when we got lost in Canada one night? And that time you were up on the roof ready to take a swan dive into the pool? In those days you’d end up in some pretty weird spots, because the appearances would be in some mall in some far-off part of the country and they happened every weekend, so we were never quite sure where we were. And the drinking didn’t help. Leslie Charleson has a whole bunch of pictures of her and me on one of those trips, and neither one of us can remember a single moment of it. We have the evidence — there we are posing with people, doing this, doing that, and looking like we’re having fun. But we’re, like, “How come we can’t remember it?”
Elliot: Kin! Kin! [Brushing more fish taco off her smock] You did it again! Why aren’t you spitting on Tony! Why is it always in my direction? Un-be-lievable!
Shriner: I’m always annoying Jane. Remember that time I ripped a couple of pages out of your script because I had to look at something really quickly?
Elliot: I went crazy!
Shriner: Not just crazy. She went monkey crazy!
Elliot: You know, I really, really hate it in interviews when actors say, “This cast is like a family.” But this is my family!
Geary: It’s like we’re a club, a posse. And we all have similar memories though very different stories to tell. [Laughs] And, as you can tell, we never tire of telling them!