Happy Days are Here Again

By Robin Echt

See if you can recall the following GENERAL HOSPITAL moment: Shrink Tom Hardy, sauntered by resident gold-digger Katherine Bell. Although their storylines had yet to cross and the characters had little in common, a brief flash of recognition passed between them. “Tom did look at Katherine kind of strange,” confirms Matthew Ashford (Tom, GH; ex-Jack, DAYS) of the blink-or-you’d-miss-it-exchange. “It’s as if he said, ‘Geez, don’t I know you from somewhere?’ “

The answer, of course, was yes. Ashford and Mary Beth Evans (Katherine, GH; ex-Kayla, DAYS) played ex-spouses and members of the extended Johnson clan on DAYS OF OUR LIVES for almost five years. The Johnson family tree included eldest son Steve, known as “Patch” (played by Stephen Nichols, now GH’s Stefan), his wife, Kayla (Evans), little brother (and Kayla’s first husband) Billy/Jack (Ashford), and Jack’s romance-minded baby sister, Adrienne (Judi Evans Luciano, now ANOTHER WORLD’s Paulina), who was married to Justin Kiriakis (Wallace Kurth, now GH’s Ned). These days, the Johnson clan is together again–on GH.

It’s not exactly like old times, though–at least not yet. “Everyone here is very friendly, positive and believes in the product,” praises Ashford. “But for some new people, it’s like you’re coming in mid-conversation. “There are people who have been here 10, 15, 20 years, so it takes a little while to get up to speed with them.”

Evans can relate. “When I was on DAYS, I was sort of in with the ‘cool people’ because everyone was family,” she smiles. “When I came to GH, they had all been here for so long that I felt very much on the outside. As more DAYS people came over, I felt more comfortable.”

Although six years have passed since he worked with his former DAYS kin, Nichols agrees that familiar faces made it easier to adjust to the new show. “I’m happy my DAYS [co-stars] are here. It does feel a little more comfortable.” And helps bring some levity to the set–a welcome commodity when you’re portraying a character as dark as Stefan Cassadine. “It makes it easier when you already know people; their work habits and personalities. You can be looser with them and have fun.” Besides, Nichols adds with a laugh, “As his big brother, I saved Jack’s life more than once. Maybe Matt will remember that when we work together here…..”

GH’s block and tape schedule leaves little time for actors to experiment with every nuance of each interaction, which is where the shared pasts of the DAYS alumni come in handy.” Stephen and I had a scene together where I come in blustering and blowing and he’s sitting there like a Cheshire cat,” offers Ashford. “It’s a bit of a turnaround, because on DAYS, he was the character who came in hot-tempered and I found my power in acting cool. Both of us have recognized, through experience, that it doesn’t help the scene to have one character lose his cool and the other one just sitting there. So I dug deeper and found more than just a dislike for Stefan. I tried to find something in the character that attracts Tom….as well as repels him. It make it more interesting.”

Kurth also brought a piece of his DAYS character to GH. And to Ned. “DAYS is a show with a lot of heart. The characters are very earnest, and say what they mean. You do it exactly the way it is written,” reports Kurth. “Looking back, I could have made a choice to take things beyond face value [at DAYS], but I followed the way I was directed. So when In came to GH, I was excited at the prospect of bringing Ned some of the qualities and characteristics that were somehow lost in Justin. I was able to use the [script] as a beginning point and add a little twist to Ned–put my own stamp on him.”

Apparently, there’s only one downside to their GH reunion: Sometimes, they have too much fun. “Wally and I used to laugh hysterically during our bedroom scenes,” confides Evans. “It was so silly to be doing that when he was almost my brother on DAYS. We had known each other for so long, and we were just old pals.”

“When you have a history with people, it’s easy to get silly and goofy when you really have to sit down and get into these new characters,” agrees Ashford. He speaks from experience. Recently, Nichols’s antics cracked up his ex-little brother. “I worked with Matt today, and as I said my line, ‘Our families have more in common than you might think,’ I put my hand up over my left eye [referring to his trademark eyepatch on DAYS] and he fell on the floor,” relates Nichols. “Of course, it was in rehearsal. I couldn’t blow a take with that!”

Did GH purposely set out to take what worked on DAYS in the ‘80s and capitalize on it in the ‘90s? No, says Casting Director Mark Teschner. “Although a small section of our large canvas of actors come from DAYS, it was never any strategic move or conscious decision in terms of casting or the network,” says Teschner. “It’s an absolute coincidence. These actors arrived on the show based on the feeling that they were the best and most interesting actors for the role.”

Clearly, these actors are taking what worked on DAYS and are using it to enrich their work on GH. “Everyone loved watching Tim Conway make Carol Burnett laugh because it felt like two old friends trying to crack each other up,” recalls Ashford. “But that’s not what we’re doing on GENERAL HOSPITAL. Our audience is saying, ‘Here are these DAYS people, that’s nice. But I want to see them as GH characters.’ So it’s our job to use what we have if it’s [appropriate] and leave the other stuff in the wings.”

To Salem And Back

Ashford, Evans, Kurth and Nichols moved from DAYS to GH, but these three GH actresses went from GH to DAYS and came back:

1. Genie Francis–From Laura Spencer to Diana Colville and back to Laura. Spirited Diana won the heart of local cop Roman Brady (aka John Black), a global romance that heated up Greece, the Bahamas and Peru. After postponing their wedding three times, Diana left town; Francis eventually move home to Port Charles.

2. Jane Elliot.–From Tracy Quartermaine to Anjelica Deveraux and back to Tracy (now on THE CITY). Once a bitch, always a bitch, says it all about Tracy and Anjelica. In a strange twist, when Elliot departed DAYS, Shelly Taylor Morgan (ex-Lorena, GH) and Judith Chapman (ex-Ginny, GH) took turns playing Anjelica.

3. Lynn Herring–From Lucy Coe to Lisanne Gardner and back to Lucy. Conniving Lisanne set her cap for wealthy bad boy Lawrence Alamain. But Lawrence and Carly’s son, Nicky, accidently pushed Lisanne, who hit her head and died. Small world, isn’t it?

Soap Opera Digest, December 17, 1996, pp. 50-53. Photos: p. 50, bottom Gary Null/NBC-TV, from Top Left-Craig Sjodin, Jonathan Exley/Gamma Liason. Jonathan Exley/Gamma Liason. Photos p. by Alice S. Hall.