An exhausted, bleary-eyed Anthony Geary, sleepless for two nights and fortified by Jack Daniel's, weaves along the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk. It is near midnight, and he is flanked by an entourage of security men, agents and friends. His trademark curly locks tied back in a bow, Geary looks little like Luke Spencer, the "Port Charles" Lochinvar he incarnates daily on ABC's soap sizzler General Hospital
. But the show's viewers (up to a record 14 million) are hard to fool. Despite his appearance, the hour and the chilly Atlantic breezes, followers buttonhole their hero in a steady stream. "Hey, Luke," squeals a middle-aged matron, "where's Laura?" Raising his head a fraction, Geary mumbles, "I dunno, darlin'. I think she died." Then, from the corner of his mouth: "Who is this Luke, anyway?"
More to the point, who is Tony Geary, and is he starting to weary of the show that rocketed him to national prominence? No, says Geary. "I'm very proud of the show. But it's only part of what I want to be." The self-definition is more complex. At 34, he is eager to stretch his wings while GH still has him airborne. Indications are that he is already losing altitude: GH
's ratings are slipping, and this month Geary will be replaced by co-star Tristan Rogers in fan magazine polls as the favorite male actor. So a fortnight ago Tony appeared at Atlantic City's Playboy Hotel "to sing a few songs, dance my ass off, and tell lies about my personal life." The show is his own concept, produced at his own expense. "I'm egotistical," he admits. "I don't think it's a bad word. I can do more than just be Luke. My stage show tells these people, 'You ain't seen nothin' yet.' "
Indeed. Onstage with dancers Patti Nelson and Lisa Durazo (dubbed "the Smut Queens"), Geary bumps and boogies like a male stripper's version of his pal Richard Simmons. Few vulgar gestures are left unmimed. What he lacks in voice and stage presence (which at this point is considerable), Geary makes up for in frenzy. The audience—90 percent female, ranging in age from 17 to 45—jumps, screams, raises banners. There are a few ballads, but more flash. Donning shades and a black leather jacket, Geary tears through such oldies as Just Like Romeo and Juliet and Teen Angel, but Tell Laura I Love Her predictably provokes the loudest squeals. His salty patter frequently spills over from camp to crude. When a fan requests the return of a hankie he used on his sweating brow, Geary bitches: "Darling, you're so cheap." Later he insinuates, "I'm glad you came. Oh, you didn't come yet. Too bad." Then, as the curtain descends, he chants repeatedly: "Get laid tonight."
The act, deliberately, is as shocking as Luke's rape of Laura. "I'm sick of being acceptable to ABC or any other network," Tony says. "This is me. This is why I put on purple tap shoes and ask the Smut Queens to dance with me. I'm outrageous in terms of what the audience expects," he confesses, "but I'm not as outrageous as I'd like to be." In preparing his act, Geary says he wanted "a cross between a Daffy Duck cartoon, Ann-Margret at the MGM Grand and Bette Midler at the Baths."
He comes close. After the show, he is closer to exhaustion. Safe in his hotel room, having avoided a gaggle of groupies, Geary tries to wind down over whiskey and wisecracks but admits he'd rather hit the Boardwalk or the casino. "Luke would be okay in that crowd," he conjectures. "I get frightened by the reality of it." He relies heavily on his entourage for moral support. With an estimated $200,000 a year, a three-bedroom home in the Hollywood Hills and a Porsche in the garage, he wouldn't seem to need any. But that would discount the rise on the show of Tony's two Aussie co-stars—Rogers and moonlighting rocker Rick Springfield. To his credit, Geary doesn't pretend to be oblivious. "Tomorrow it could be someone else. I know that," he says. He is also quick to separate his position from that of Genie (Laura) Francis, who left the show in January with no new job then in sight. "She's 19, she has time," says Tony. "I'm nearly 35. This isn't a dry run anymore. This is my life."
For an ambitious kid from Coalville, Utah, the eldest of three children of a contractor, Tony is defensive about the years it's taken him to make it. "I spent a long time suffering for my art," he says archly and self-mockingly. "Frankly, suffering is highly overrated." At one point, in 1968, he even toiled as a Vegas chorus boy with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. (The scar on his chin is a souvenir of a miscalculated dance leap.) The breaks were few. "I've been an actor for 16 years," says Geary. "I'm a good actor. I always was. But nobody gave a damn.
"I truly think I have been one of the major elements in upgrading daytime TV from a geek show to something respectable," he adds. Of his own feelings about the show today, Geary will only comment that when producer-mentor Gloria Monty is absent, "I'm not a happy man to work with."
That displeasure sometimes extends to the press, which has sniggered at his receding hairline and less than rugged looks. "I've been called a cross between Olive Oyl and Bozo the Clown, also a freak, a fad like the Hula Hoop," explains Geary. "That hurt my feelings. I don't consider myself Cary Grant, but I'm doing such good work that America buys me as sexy."
Caveat emptor. Speculation about Geary's affairs with various women has become a tabloid cottage industry. The most notorious example was the fabrication of his fling with Elizabeth Taylor after her GH guest spots last year. "Totally created," snaps Geary, who did try to scotch the rumors despite their publicity value. "I mean, she and I do a scene together. We go to dinner, she invites me home for a drink, we become friends. And all of a sudden I have interrupted a Senator's marriage to an international superstar." When those lies paled, the tabs tried another fiction, tying him to his hairdresser, Kathie Kotarakos. GH director Marlena Laird, a close friend (and also falsely linked to him romantically), told Tony that the speculation "comes with the dinner," i.e., is part of his celebrity. He now repeats the words often, and bitterly.
Clearly, Geary's life has a dark side, which he chooses not to explore. "If people ever get to find out what I'm all about, I'll give up acting," he says. In the meantime, he has been signed by Clive Davis for an Arista Records LP ("They didn't even ask if I could sing") and has accepted an advertising deal for Members Only clothing, his first commercial. He plans to expand his stage act into a major Vegas-type show. There has been talk that he will sign daytime's first $1 million contract when his present GH pact expires at year's end, but his agent, Edgar Small, confides that Tony will leave the show if a suitable movie comes along. "I've got enough good sense to say, 'Hey, Geary, all this is coming because of your success,' " admits Tony. "I'm an actor, but I'm a showman too," he argues. "That's why I went to Atlantic City. As a kid I learned to tell lies so people would believe them. Well, I'm proud of that kid. He didn't give up. It's my time," adds Geary defiantly. "I'm into success—anytime, anywhere."