Credit: ABC (2), Chris D/JPI, Sean Smith/JPI, Howard Wise/JPI

It’s funny now to think that there was ever a time that General Hospital didn’t have big plans for Ava Jerome. But when As the World Turns Emmy winner Maura West was cast, the character was only expected to stick around for five episodes. Clearly, the actress’ name on the dotted line changed things — and fast. The powers that be realized that the fates had smiled upon them and stuck a longer contract beneath their new hire’s pen before the ink could even dry.

Ever since her May 8, 2013, “arrival” in Port Charles, West has — and we don’t use this word lightly — dazzled, turning in performances that have taken Ava from the heights of seductiveness to the depths of despair, from stunning opportunism to stunning-in-a-whole-different-way vulnerability. For her efforts, the MVP has added a bunch more Emmy nominations to her long list of ’em as well as a third victory, in 2015.

Maura West ava drinks "General Hospital" SetThe Prospect StudiosABC StudiosLos Angeles07/11/13© Howard Wise/jpistudios.com310-657-9661Episode # 12960U.S.Airdate 12/23/13

A toast… to West and Ava!

Credit: Howard Wise/JPI

It bears mentioning, too, that there is no star in daytime currently — perhaps not ever — that better than West embodies the enviable cool of Old Hollywood goddesses like Rita Hayworth and Bette Davis. It’s a treat to get to watch her every afternoon on General Hospital, but if we had to pony up to see her on the big screen, we’d do it in a heartbeat. In fact, when we say “They don’t make ’em like that anymore,” her inimitable presence never fails to remind us to add, “Except for her.”

More: Ava Jerome and more characters who cheated death [PHOTOS]

Watch West below in her first General Hospital scenes — with no less than Anthony Geary as Luke Spencer — and see if you don’t agree that the sizzle coming off of her could’ve made even Lauren Bacall go, “Wait a minute, who’s this dame?”

West knew from the start that she had her work cut out for her playing Ava. As she told TV Guide way back when, viewers are “supposed to hate [her], but what you want is that they love to hate her. Still, you can’t worry about it. You play what they give you, and, hopefully, let the viewers see that if you scratch that surface, there is a heart and soul somewhere under there.”

Mission accomplished — repeatedly. On this special occasion, as you raise a martini glass to West, relive some highlights of her roller-coaster ride as Ava in the photo gallery below.

Video: YouTube/DaytimeDrama