On the Soaps and Off, Emma Samms Is a Hospital Lifesaver

updated 11/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Frustrated by the lack of work in Hollywood, actress Emma Samms, 21, took a technician's course in emergency medicine at UCLA last year. That could have led to a full-time paramedic's job at the UCLA Medical Center, but instead Emma signed on last June at ABC's General Hospital as the latest aspirant for Anthony Geary's affections since Genie Francis left the show at the end of last year. Along with the ability to memorize up to 40 pages of dialogue a day, the job qualifications for General Hospital's female lead include the knack of getting along with the moody, temperamental Geary. No problem, Samms insists. "He's been terribly sweet and considerate." Not that Samms is star-struck—she hardly ever watched the show before signing on. "Just as well," she observes. "If I'd been a Luke Spencer fan, I'd probably have swooned in my first love scene with Tony."

As the enigmatic con woman Holly Sutton, who falls for Luke while she's trying to bilk him, Samms has added a little sizzle to a show that had begun to sputter. After a four-year reign at the top of daytime television, General Hospital was temporarily toppled in August by another ABC soap, All My Children. The show's writers are hoping that Samms, an English-born beauty, can nurse the show back to robust health.

Despite the pressure of the soap, Samms put in two evenings weekly at the real hospital, learning about bandages, blood pressure and resuscitation procedures. "I could work in an ambulance or in an emergency room," she says proudly, noting that she's already cared for injured people at the site of a couple of road accidents. Samms' night-and-day energy was not an Rx for her broken engagement last year to composer Marvin Hamlisch, 38. "There's no animosity between us," she insists. In fact, she took the paramedic training course on the advice of her current boyfriend, a doctor in the emergency room at the UCLA Medical Center.

In her practical way, Emma also explains how her looks helped her land the coveted GH role. "I had the woman's body and the little girl's face," she says wryly, "voluptuous yet innocent." But her looks have occasionally backfired. "I got turned down for a commercial recently because they said my nose job was too obvious. I haven't had a nose job," she says with a laugh. "I must be the first Jewish girl in history turned down for work because her nose was too small."

Born Emma Samuelson and raised with an elder sister and two younger brothers in a posh London suburb, Emma seems genetically programmed for showbiz. Her grandfather was a silent film producer who married one of his leading ladies. Her father owns a movie-equipment rental company, and her mother was a soloist for the Royal Ballet. Enrolling in the Royal Ballet School at 11, Emma was on the way to stepping into her mom's dance slippers when a hip ailment at 16 ended her ballet career. "I went into a major depression for a couple of months," says Emma, who had been dancing since she was 3. After finishing high school, she decided to try modeling, though her father felt Emma's diminutive (5'3") stature would rule her out. Instead, she was signed on the spot. "I was the shortest model in London," Emma says. "I did a lot of head shots."

One year of full-time modeling left Emma bored and "frustrated at not having anything to say." She turned to acting and, despite her inexperience, was quickly cast as the female lead in a 1979 magic-carpet-and-caliph movie, Arabian Adventure. "I was 17 and I thought, 'Well, this seems fun. What is all this business about having to walk the streets before you make it?' "

She found out soon enough. After moving to Los Angeles in 1980 (she has a modest studio apartment in West-wood), Samms won a couple of small parts—and then, nothing. "I did a lot of painting, a lot of knitting, and I worked in a deli for a while," she recalls. "I was beginning to wonder if this was the right career for me."

General Hospital has changed all that. One of 12 performers in ABC's talent development program (Olivia Newton-John's love Matt Lattanzi is a member, as well as Dynasty's Gordon Thomson), she knows she can move on to another network show after finishing her Hospital tour. "I'm a lucky girl," Samms admits, and she takes her 11-hour workdays in stride. "I gave up smoking four months ago," she says. "If you're capable of doing that, there's nothing you can't achieve."

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