General Hospital's Genie Francis Addresses Luke and Laura Rape Controversy in The Story of Soaps

"It took the country by storm," Genie Francis, who has portrayed Laura Spencer on General Hospital since 1974, said of her character's iconic relationship with Luke

After more than four decades of portraying General Hospital's Laura Spencer, Genie Francis is opening up about her character's controversial, yet iconic relationship with Luke.

In The Story of Soaps, the primetime documentary special presented by PEOPLE and ABC, the actress — who took the role as Laura in 1977, gets candid about her character's storyline — and how it impacted the soap world.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Laura and Luke (portrayed by Anthony Geary) were dubbed a "supercouple" in the soap world, but attention got wary in the years that followed due to the nature of their relationship: Luke had raped Laura, but the two fell in love and eventually married.

"It was such a big deal in the media and it took the country by storm," Francis, 57, says in the special. "I’ve had to justify it for so many years and I have to say, it feels good to sit here and say I won’t justify it. It’s awful. They shouldn’t have done it."

According to Abigail De Kosnik, author of The Survival of Soap Opera, the executive producer at the time was pressured by the network to create a storyline that would "save the show."

General Hospital
Maureen Donaldson/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

"Gloria Monte, the executive producer of General Hospital, essentially was told she had two weeks to save the show and ABC was going to cancel it if she couldn’t bring ratings up in that time," says De Kosnik. "In Luke and Laura, she saw potential there to maybe make things happen that shouldn’t happen, and that was electric."

"Then the question became, 'Why did Luke do that?'" she adds. "And the answer the show’s writers gave was that Luke did it for love. They became popular not despite the rape, but partly because of it."

Now, in the ABC special, Francis is addressing the moment the writers had initially called "rape-seduction."

"Gloria Monte tried to deal with it by calling it rape-seduction," Francis adds. "The term now would be date rape. The night of the rape, Luke’s last request was to dance with him, and the dance became very seductive. He took her down to the floor and that is the rape."

General Hospital

"Before movements like #MeToo, almost 20 years after the rape happened, General Hospital, for months, for almost the whole year, addressed rape head-on in a whole new way. And for the first time, Laura confronted him about having assaulted her. That was remarkable. To say to Americans, 'We were wrong.' And to, in essence, allow Luke and Laura to finally confront head-on something that had been repressed, not just in their relationship, but in a lot of fans’ memories. And that’s the power of soap operas.

The Story of Soaps also features some of today's biggest stars, including Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Susan Lucci, Carol Burnett, Andy Cohen, and Vivica A. Fox, and highlights the massive impact soap operas have had on television over the years.

The Story of Soaps airs Tuesday, May 19 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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