They were married, with ratings, in 1981, but in daytime dramas, well, you know, things happen

EVEN FOR SOAP OPERA CHARACTERS, their relationship has come a long way. Catered Hospital's Luke Spencer first met Laura Baldwin when he raped her on the dance floor of a deserted disco in the mythical town of Port Charles, N.Y., 13 years ago. Then Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis) fell in love. Their TV wedding, which aired Nov. 16 and 17, 1981, achieved the highest ratings ever for a daytime drama. But within a month Laura had stepped out onto a foggy pier and vanished. In 1984, to fans' dismay, Luke exited too, headed for a ranch in the Southwest.

And now, in the grandest tradition of soaps, the great comeback. The May 26 telecast of the Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony included the surprise announcement that beginning next fall, Luke and Laura will reappear in Port Charles. Although GH's executive producer, Wendy Riche, says, "I can't reveal the story," the two will return with a 10-year-old child. "We want to focus on people who've got this great history," Riche says. "We want to see if they've grown or not." (Undoubtedly Riche also wants to see if her ratings will grow; the 30-year-old ABC soap, once No. 1 among daytime dramas, has slipped to fourth place.)

When last seen together, Luke and Laura were an afternoon delight, at least to each other. He was a former hoodlum who had become mayor of the town, while she was the sidekick who stuck with him through improbable plot twists. But there was trouble behind the scenes, and Francis wanted out. "I was on the verge of having a total emotional breakdown" from the pressure of the show, she later said. "I would go out to my car at the end of the night and just sit and cry." Geary, meanwhile, wanted to pursue a film career. Why are they reuniting now? Francis, 31, who made two brief reappearances on GH in '83 and '84, was featured in two miniseries (Bare Essence, North and South) and worked briefly on several other soaps, says, "I just felt that it was time. I really wanted to come back and finish it the right way."

For Geary, 45, who went on to a string of unmemorable feature films (Penitentiary III, The Disorderlies), his reincarnation as Luke had one requisite. "Basically, I didn't want to do Luke without Laura," he says.

Scriptwise, there are a few wrinkles to be ironed out, not the least of which is that Geary, who returned to GH in 1991, is playing Luke's look-alike cousin, Bill Eckert. Does that sound like a plot twist from the old Patty Duke Show—or just a bad dream? No matter. As Riche says, "We're looking forward to taking the characters into their second decade."

SUSAN SCHINDEHETTE
SABRINA McFARLAND in New York City

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  • Sabrina McFarland.