ABC’s “General Hospital” has come a long way from when Dr. Steve Hardy spent the entire 1963 inaugural episode of the soap reassuring a melodramatic teenager that her face — reconfigured in a car crash by her boozing boyfriend — would heal. As television’s longest running daytime drama prepares to celebrate its milestone 60th anniversary April 1, the show’s writers, directors, producers and cast demonstrate daily why the show has racked up 15 Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series, most recently in 2022.
For starters, Laura Collins (Genie Francis), now the mayor of Port Charles is working with Anna Devane (Finola Hughes), Robert Scorpio (Tristan Rogers), Lucy Coe (Lynn Herring) Valentin Cassadine (James Patrick Stuart) and Felicia Jones Scorpio (Kristina Wagner) to bring down Victor Cassadine (Charles Shaughnessy) and solve Luke Spencer’s murder using the legendary Ice Princess as bait. Meanwhile, Bobbie Spencer (Jacklyn Zeman) and Maxie Jones (Kirsten Storms) have teamed up to oversee the Nurses Ball as
coffee distributor mob kingpin Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) and his new enforcer Dex (Evan Hofer) dodge sniper fire from a mysterious new threat.
As part of its 60th celebration, the show will also honor longtime cast member Sonya Eddy and her beloved head nurse character Epiphany Johnson (Eddy’s unexpected death at age 55 in December following a surgical procedure stunned the show’s cast, crew and fans).
Thankfully, through all of the drama, Lynn Herring, now in her 37th year playing mischievous cosmetics magnate Lucy Coe is keeping viewers laughing as the presumed-dead architect of the Nurses Ball secretly micromanages the hospital’s iconic HIV/AIDS charity fundraiser via a burner phone at a safe house. Ironically, Herring was originally cast as Coe for just a handful of episodes back in April 1986, basically to flit into town, commit perjury in court to help exonerate a serial killer and leave. But as she did earlier with Anthony Geary, trailblazing “GH” executive producer Gloria Monty saw something intriguing with Herring and Coe and had the writers cook up reasons for the character to stick around.
On an early morning call with Eldredge ATL just before feeding the animals on her California ranch, Herring discussed “General Hospital’s” landmark 60th, why spotlighting HIV/AIDS via the Nurses Ball matters and why she — and viewers — still love Lucy after all these years.
Eldredge: What was going through your mind this month when Lucy (who is faking her death) went rogue and showed up at the Metro Court in her old librarian look she donned way back in 1986?
Herring: It was such a nod to our history. I was so excited when I got the script that I called everybody and thanked them. For the people who watch, it was letting them know we acknowledge our past. I added the glasses this time because it’s a little obvious who Lucy is by this time in Port Charles (laughs). We went through all of the old cardigans and sweaters, skirts and shoes. Finally, our wonderful costumer Shawn Reeves said, “Perfect! This is as drab as we can get!” It was wonderful.
Eldredge: The people who have been watching this character for decades know Lucy’s mental processes. This is kind of her default disguise, isn’t it?
Herring: Yes! (laughs). Lucy is so passionate about the Nurses Ball she’s oblivious to the obvious silliness of how easy it is to figure out who she is. She doesn’t see that. She’s blinded by this passion to get the ball done.
Eldredge: I’d love to get you to discuss Lucy’s unexpected trajectory on the show. The part was originally conceived for just a few days and Gloria Monty expanded it, right?
Herring: It was simply to move the [Brownstone] murder story forward. My husband Wayne [Northrop] had moved over from “Dynasty” to do “Days of our Lives” and I had no idea how amazing daytime actors were. The scripts and the words he got to say made me realize the acting was incredible. When I got the chance to read for this part, I thought, even if it was just for a couple of days, I’d love playing this transformation. In the audition, you had to go from the mousy librarian and then put on lipstick and transform within the audition. I was addicted to the part as soon as I read it. Then it kept growing! Gloria would come in and say, “This is really good!” and she’d add a couple more weeks. After about six weeks, they said, “Let’s give you a contract” and I was over the moon.
Eldredge: I know you have a B.A. in psychology. Weren’t you studying for your master’s back then?
Herring: Yes! School was still a big part of the parental push as a kid. I was doing commercials to pay for school.
Eldredge: I love that you have a psychology degree. What better equipment to have to play Lucy Coe for almost 40 years!
Herring: It definitely has helped, along with being an Air Force brat we moved around so much, you watch people and you figure out how to fit in. That also geared me toward psychology, being a people watcher.
Eldredge: Lucy is a character that you can throw into any character configuration and it’s going to work but it’s been really fun to see you in this current storyline with James Patrick, Finola, Kristina and Genie. About a year ago, you mentioned in an interview that you and Genie had discussed wanting a story together. Mission accomplished!
Herring: The great thing about comedy and playing these hijinks as Lucy is you need your straight man and if you like each other, you feed off each other so well. The last scene we shot together at the safe house, Genie just couldn’t keep a straight face a couple of times and it was so much fun. She is so good and so professional, when you can crack her up, when you get that twinkle in her eye, it’s a win because you’ve amused her to no end. Finola is the same way. Anna is such a serious spy girl and here comes Lucy, the fashion girl and we just bounce off each other. It’s so much fun.
Eldredge: With a cast this large, it’s difficult to satisfy everyone but what I’ve loved about the last year or so is how wonderfully the show’s vets have been showcased. This genre of television is unique because it allows viewers to watch and the actors to play out multiple decades of a character’s life. I remember as a young viewer watching Jessie Brewer and Dan Rooney and all they ever seemed to do is sip coffee and discuss what the younger characters were doing. In 2023, you all are in the center of the mix.
Herring: Yes, that’s the beauty of it. The viewers and the actors know each other almost from osmosis because we’re in their homes five days a week and also, because we feel what they feel and they feel what we feel. I don’t think people who work on nighttime shows or film know how special that is.
Eldredge: Laura isn’t just sipping coffee and talking about her grandson. She’s the freaking mayor.
Herring: And think of her trajectory also. That’s what’s so much fun. We go through all these growing pains and developments. Before I was ever cast, I watched Kin [Shriner], Genie and Jackie so it was huge for me just to be able to step on stage with them.
Eldredge: The show’s 60th anniversary starts on a somber note as “GH” pays tribute to Sonya Eddy. Lucy and Epiphany shared a lot of Nurses Ball scenes together over the years. What are some of the memories you have of working with her?
Herring: It’s hard because it’s still very fresh for all of us. When you have such a life force, that when she’s on the set or down in our in our dressing rooms laughing and talking, her joy permeates the whole building, it’s hard. It’s something that is missed. We had a lot of fun during the Nurses Ball because she would sing of course and do a lot of movement. She would get tired so we would lean back to back, with me in those crazy high heels and she would be dancing her heart out. We would literally lean on each other watching the other numbers. There was such a contentment being around Sonya. The talent that exuded from her was amazing. She could do anything. The looks Epiphany would give the other characters didn’t even require words. She could just look at Lucy and it was perfect. She was the absolute best comrade in arms.
Eldredge: The Nurses Ball returns this year and as the actor most associated with it I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk a bit about its legacy. It started in 1994, before the HIV cocktail treatments were available and we were all still going to memorial service after memorial service. Taking a week of daytime television on one of the highest rated shows to discuss HIV/AIDS made an impact.
Herring: It struck a chord with all of us. Many people in our business had been impacted by AIDS. I knew a lot of actors, make-up artists, scenic designers and so many others who had been impacted so when they said let’s make the Nurses Ball about HIV/AIDS awareness, it was really powerful. It was a time permeated by fear and worry and caring for people with HIV and we got the opportunity to be right out front. I still remember when people still weren’t sure about the facts and were concerned about touching people or hugging people. The fear was still there. We gave everyone permission to talk about it. I still get emotional talking about this. Our writers created an HIV positive character, Jon Hanley, and he was played (from 1994 to 1996) by Lee Mathis, an actor who had AIDS. Jon came in to help Lucy with the ball. On camera and off, he discussed some of what he was going through and the prejudice he experienced. The Nurses Ball was theatrical but it was also real. And then, the year the AIDS Quilt came, we were so honored. It was like a holy grail had arrived. In those early Nurses Balls, all of the emotion on screen was real. We would usually film for a week and it would take over the entire soundstage. Every space was filled with costumes and rehearsing. Many of us would spend the nights in our dressing rooms because you would finish at 2 in the morning and need to be back for a 5 or 6 o’clock call. No one ever complained.
Eldredge: As a viewer and on behalf of the fans reading this, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about working with Michael E. Knight and how Lucy’s romance with Martin developed. Was that as organic for you two as it felt for us watching it?
Herring: He is so much fun. Michael and I talked about this a while back. We had kind of been professionally circling each other for years. We knew of each other and I would watch his work and it turns out, he was watching some of Lucy’s craziness as well. When he first came on, I would say hello and we would just sort of twinkle at each other, if that makes sense. There was just this innate sense of admiring someone. So when they actually gave us lines together we were both so excited. I remember he said, “I’ve done this for 30 years but I’m actually kind of nervous!” And I said, “Me too!” I think we both wanted to impress the other person and be present for them. It just became this fun game. We don’t talk a lot to each other during rehearsal or sit for hours going over old times. We just have this mutual attraction that came through and the writers picked up on it. I just adore working with him.
Eldredge: Lucy was off the canvas from last October to this past January. It was a very long time and I loved that they wrote Martin’s angst as a kind of extension for what the viewers were going through, not knowing if she was dead or not.
Herring: He said, “You know, you better come back soon because I have to play all this stuff about missing you and I really do!” I told him, “I do too!”
Eldredge: The show’s 60th anniversary is getting a lot of press attention and we’re seeing a lot of highlights clips and of course, Lucy’s infamous 1990 marriage to Dr. Alan Quartermaine is among those highlights. In 2021, we lost beloved “GH” actor Stuart Damon, who had played Alan for three decades. What are your memories working with him?
Herring: I thought going to his memorial service would be sad because he was everything to so many people, a great family man, a great dad. I had admired him since I was a little girl seeing him as Prince Charming [in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”]. The love and the talent he put into his work was really special. During his memorial they explained how much he wanted to do “General Hospital.” He loved the audience and he loved making Alan Quartermaine work. He was so passionate about it, it came through. So when we were told Lucy and Alan were going to have this crazy affair, Stuart came to me and said, “OK, look, I know I could almost be your dad but we have to pretend to be attracted to each other to make this work.” I told him, “That is no problem at all!” We would laugh and laugh and laugh. If you watch some of those old clips, you can see us right on the edge, about to fall out laughing and not being able to get through the scene. He was such a professional. Nothing could throw him. They allow me to ad lib and occasionally something unscripted comes out of my mouth and he would just roll with it. That’s when you know you have the best play partner.
Eldredge: Without giving anything away, what can you tell us about Lucy’s role in the 60th anniversary celebration? She’s supposed to be stashed away in this safehouse but it’s safe to say as long as there’s air in Lucy’s lungs, she’s going to find a way to be a part of the Nurses Ball.
Herring: This has been so strange to play because as Lynn, I am so emotionally attached to the meaning of the Nurses Ball that the scenes I play over Lucy’s sense of frustration and being stuck in that safehouse have become kind of real. I’ve become kind of manic (laughs) because I am so passionate about Lucy being able to participate. Lucy’s identity becomes more noble and she feels like all of the people in Port Charles who dislike her and judge her for one night suspend that judgment because her effort is so pure and true. And Lynn feels the same way. I found myself reading some of the scripts, going, “How can they keep Lucy from the Nurses Ball?!” Viewers will see that both Lucy and Lynn are going a little over the top because we share that passion.
Eldredge: Aside from the show’s first 20 years, you and Lucy Coe has been an integral part of this show’s 60-year history. Do you ever allow yourself a moment to reflect on that?
Herring: I do. When I drive in the studio gate and I click my little pass and I see that blue and white “General Hospital” sign. I still feel so lucky and so fortunate. It’s still such an honor. I’ve never gotten tired of playing Lucy Coe. Getting to be in viewers’ homes as long as I have, is the most magical gift ever.
A special episode of “General Hospital” will air Wednesday, March 29 honoring Sonya Eddy. The show will celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning the week of April 3 with the return of the Nurses Ball and other surprises, including the return of Tracy Quartermaine played by daytime legend Jane Elliot. “General Hospital” airs weekdays on ABC and on Hulu.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.