Celebrate General Hospital’s 59th Anniversary With a Tribute That Gets to the Show’s Still-Beating Heart — Plus, Pore Over a Massive Photo Album That Goes All the Way Back to Day One
When Nurse Jessie Brewer checked us in to the hospital in that first episode, we never imagined that we’d never want to check out!
No, it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke — today really is General Hospital’s 58th anniversary! The show was released into the world back on April 1, 1963, the exact same day as NBC’s similarly themed The Doctors and its utterly forgettable Ben Jerrod.
Poor Ben Jerrod lasted less than three months. The Doctors made it 19 years. General Hospital, on the other hand, is still here 58 years later, keeping us glued to our TV sets as we watch the folks of Port Charles make beautiful messes of their lives.
Of course in those earliest days, no one was watching the residents of Port Charles, because General Hospital’s city didn’t have a name! Nor was there a Corinthos family. They’re weren’t even any Quartermaines, Spencers or Webbers.
There were, though, the Hardys and the Brewers. Jessie Brewer delivered the show’s first lines, along with the ever-important virtuous-heroine factor. When General Hospital began, she was married to a younger man, Dr. Phil Brewer. He was a handsome doctor who had a problem keeping his stethoscope in his pants. Phil also had a problem with consent. When Phil eventually turned up murdered, no one was very surprised. (Or very upset.)
Jessie’s good friend, Dr. Steve Hardy, meanwhile, cut a more heroic figure. He was engaged when the show began, but his problem was leaving his stethoscope at the hospital. His actual stethoscope, we should specify. His fiancée grew tired of competing with his work for his attention and walked out. Even the eventual love of his life, Audrey, had a hard time getting him to focus on anything besides his beloved hospital.
The drama spread out from them, but it never wandered too far from the hospital and its staff. A family whose lives revolved around corporate intrigue? Perish the thought. A clan of mobsters and “coffee importers”? Heaven forbid! No, no, all drama flowed from General Hospital in… well, that wasn’t important. The town was somewhere east-ish. It was called General Hospital for a reason. Heck, it wasn’t until 13 years later in 1976 that the town finally got its name: Port Charles!
That name was really the beginning of the soap as we know it. In that same year, we met the Webbers, brothers Rick and Jeff, and Monica — though she wouldn’t be played by Leslie Charleson until the following year. Seventy-seven was a big year for recasts, with Genie Francis coming in and taking the world by storm as she took Laura from childish plot device to headstrong teen.
Still, none of these changes were quite enough to save the flagging show with its glacially-paced stories about… malpractice? Thrilling. The ABC bigwigs knew they needed a pretty strong jolt if they were going to bring General Hospital back to life, so they hired Gloria Monty as its new executive producer. They then told her she had a lucky 13 weeks to turn the show around before they were calling its time of death. Gulp.
Monty brought in Douglas Marland to serve as headwriter, and together they sped the storylines up and refocused on the younger cast. (Read our tribute to him here.) Laura took center stage, playing teen angst with Scotty Baldwin, making us squirm as she was seduced by her mother’s friend, and blowing up daytime following her explosive pairing with Luke Spencer. The showrunners then asked if viewers would like to get to know the Spencers and the Quartermaines and got a resounding “Yes!” in return.
And once the show discovered a world outside of the hospital, it seemed there was no place it couldn’t go. Globe-trotting adventures, world domination, mobsters, superspies, supervillains, supercouples — General Hospital didn’t just set the soap world on fire, it set the entire world on fire.
Over the years, ABC’s sole surviving soap has been put on life support a time or two, but that’s the way pretty much all shows go. And whenever General Hospital starts to fade, the resulting infusion of fresh blood brings it back better than ever. That’s certainly what happened in the early ’90s, when Wendy Riche took over as executive producer. She gave us heart-wrenching topical stories like the HIV/AIDS crisis, a new tradition in the Nurses Ball and morally-ambiguous action courtesy of everyone’s favorite mobster, Sonny Corinthos.
In the end, General Hospital the show isn’t that much different from General Hospital the, er, hospital. The building’s had a few wings added over the years, it even burned down once and was rebuilt from scratch. But after 58 years, that nurses station is still there, still creating drama and still giving us all a place we can call home.
Don’t worry, that isn’t the end of our celebration of all things General Hospital! Check out our gallery of the show through the years and relive decades’ worth of drama and excitement, all personally curated to scratch that nostalgic itch we know you’re feeling!
Video: YouTube/General Hospital