Her staffers (who jokingly call her "Mother") have hailed her as "a genius" who knows exactly what her audience wants and reviled her as "a Hitler figure...incapable of allowing credit to anyone else." Media buffs say she has perverted a valid form of popular drama into "a trashy electronic comic strip" in which drug abuse, rape and murder are treated as—well, not very nice, but the sort of thing we all do under pressure, right?
What nobody disputes is Monty's success. When she took over GH in 1978, ratings were so low that it was on the brink of cancellation. Now the show has an edge of at least three million viewers on its closest competitors and earns upwards of $50 million a year—about double the income produced by Dallas and about one-fourth of ABC-TV's annual profits.
Monty began the reconstruction of General Hospital by tearing it apart. First she fired a pack of older actors. She brought in inventive cameramen and assigned a hot young designer to gussy up the set. To develop far-out situations and skewed characters, she put together a team of bright young writers and drove them hard. All this without a break in a schedule that produced one 60-minute program every day, five days a week, 260 days a year. If she were making feature films, Monty would be outproducing Hollywood's eight major studios combined.
The strategy worked. College kids began rearranging their schedules to make time for GH. Intellectuals blushingly confessed addiction. And in 1981 the romance of Luke and Laura, the kinkiest of Monty's many kinky inspirations, put GH fully into the limelight. The affair began when Luke casually raped Laura—on GH this is known as "an acquaintance rape"—and their passion eventually led to the altar in an episode that became this year's "Who shot J.R.?" and generated the highest ratings in soap opera history.
But by year's end there was unrest in Port Charles. Six writers had fractiously defected to NBC's Days of Our Lives. Laura (Genie Francis) is about to leave the show, and Luke (Anthony Geary) says he will depart at the end of 1982. Is Monty downhearted? Not at all. She can shift the focus to new cast members like rocker Rick (Dr. Noah Drake) Springfield and Tristan (Robert Scorpio) Rogers.
Problems are nothing new to the tough lady who made General Hospital happen—she has been a professional director for 35 of her 60 years. Born Gloria Montemuro in Weehawken, N.J., she ran a dramatic workshop at New York's New School (among her students: Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Martin Balsam, Bea Arthur). CBS beckoned in 1954, and for most of the next 18 years she directed soap operas (Secret Storm, Bright Promise). ABC hired her in 1972, at first to produce entertainment specials.
Today, Monty rolls out of bed at 7 a.m. in her antique-crammed Encino home and rereads the day's script over breakfast with her travel-writer husband of 33 years, Robert O'Byrne. Off the freeway and onto the lot by 8:30, she polishes dialogue with writers, then heads for the set to watch a run-through. More conferences while she munches a deli salad. Then back to the set for many strenuous hours of taping and retaping until the show is on the spool. At day's end, more conferences to get ready for the next day's shooting. Home by 9 p.m., Monty has a quiet supper with her husband and rejiggers the latest script until she falls asleep. Television? Never watches it.