What the Doctor Ordered

updated 02/10/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1992 01:00AM

IN THE MID '80, EMMA SAMMS WAS IN her prime time, cavorting as Fallon on highly rated Dynasty and its short-lived spin-off, The Colbys. But when the Carringtons ran out of Nielsen steam in 1989, Samms' career started winding down too. "It's not as if I haven't been working," says Samms, but her film appearances (such as a role in last summer's forgettable Delirious) were hardly wearing her out.

So on Jan. 16, Samms, 31, joined the back-to-the-soaps movement, following in the footsteps of Deidre (Days of Our Lives) Hall and Genie (All My Children) Francis. Like Anthony Geary last year, Samms returned to General Hospital, where she made her earliest TV splash in 1982 as con woman Holly Sutton.

It wasn't hard to lure Samms back to her roots. "Stability is very important to me at this point in my life," says the actress, who filed for divorce from British lawyer Bansi Nagji, 26, in November after eight months of marriage. The two met through her brother Richard, 28, Nagji's best friend. She remains tight-lipped about the breakup, observing only, "I'm very sad that it didn't work out."

Clearly she is hoping for better luck with GH, which after 28 years is itself in intensive care. Executive producer Gloria Monty, who ran the show in its glory days in the early '80s and was rehired last year to juice it up, was out again in January as GH, once No. 1, sank to third in the soap ratings. Also leaving later this month is Tristan Rogers, who played Robert Scorpio and is Samms' former on-and off-screen love interest. "Bottom line is, the real-life relationship had run its course," said Rogers, who shares a few scenes with Samms before his departure.

Cast members have given Samms a warm welcome back. "I told her I'd get her the dressing room right next to mine," says Kin Shriner, who plays Scotty Baldwin. "I'm hoping to get mixed up with her character again." That character, Holly, supposedly perished in a plane crash when Samms was written out of the show in 1985, though now—gasp!—it turns out that Holly never got on the plane.

Samms is no stranger to genuine tragedy. Born Emma Samuelson in London, she became an actress when bursitis of the hip at age 16 halted a promising ballet career. Earlier, when Emma was 9, one of her three brothers, Jamie, died from aplastic anemia at age 8. His death spurred her in 1982 to create the Starlight Foundation, which seeks to make the dreams of critically ill children come true. Last year it granted 1,500 wishes, ranging from Barbie dolls to Hawaiian vacations. "My brother's death taught me to make the most of the time I have," says Samms.

And how. Marvels friend and former Dynasty costar Heather Lock-Lear: "She writes screenplays on her computer, she's a medical technician, she ice-skates, she signs [for the deaf]." The 5'4", 110-lb. Samms also builds furniture in the garage of her six-bedroom, English-country-style L.A. home, which she shares with her three dogs. She will not comment on any possible new romances.

Samms isn't worried about the old Hollywood saw that says once a daytime actress, always a daytime actress. "I don't give a damn what people think about my career," she says. "I'm not an acting snob. I'm happy, and that's all that counts."

ELIZABETH SPORKIN
TOM CUNNEFF in Los Angeles

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