Santa Barbara attacks General Hospital

 By Susan Morse, Soap Opera Digest, 1988

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On October 5, 1979, General Hospital did a rape story line that has since gone down as a controversial classic among soap plots. It involved the characters of Luke and Laura, and it was termed a "seduction" rape, an oxymoron if there ever was one, since seduction and rape have nothing to do with each other. But, because the characters fell in love and eventually married, General Hospital had to call it something. This, understandably, enraged many viewers : rape is a violent - not a sexual - act. The actors who portrayed Luke and Laura, Tony Geary and Genie Francis, found themselves in the position of having to defend their characters - in a controversy that still incited anger in people today.

Santa Barbara, a soap known for taking risks, presented viewers with a realistic rape story line when the character of Eden (played by Marcy Walker) was brutally attacked. In the aftermath, she appeared on a talk show to describe the horror of what she had been through. On the show with her were two soap stars, "Link" and "Laurie", who had acted out a rape scene on General Clinic. An appalled Eden told these actors that they didn't have any idea what it was really like to be raped. The irony of this statement was not lost on us, nor was the thinly veiled reference to General Hospital's rape story. Here's what three people involved with this episode had to say :

Susan Lee, Vice President, Daytime Drama, NBC :

"The original idea came from Brian Frons (vice president of daytime programming) during a story line meeting. We wanted Eden to appear on a talk show - to go out and say to the world, "Let's not let this guy get away with what he did to me... if you're a woman who has been a victim of rape, go out and do something about it." We tried to get Gary Collins (host of Hour Magazine) but when we couldn't, Brian Frons suggested that we create our own talk show. Of course, we understand the irony of having Eden, a soap opera character, say to two other soap opera actors that they don't know what it's really like to be raped. We tried to compensate for that by having Marcy Walker appear as herself at the end of the show, and basically say that, yes, she's an actress portraying a rape victim, but we don't take the issue of rape lightly so don't think any less of us. We haven't had any backlash from anyone connected with General Hospital and the fact that Santa Barbara is General Hospital's competitor certainly had something to do with the fact that we did it."

Frank Salisbury, Santa Barbara scribe who wrote the episode :

"I wrote (General Hospital's) Luke and Laura story in the late seventies. The purpose of (Santa Barbara's) episode was to tell viewers that rape is an act of violence, and that there's no such thing as a seduction rape. That message was implicit. However, I didn't write the script with any great social conscience. It was my chance to write something serious - but to also have some fun with it; to write a parody of something that I did years ago... to be a little outrageous. It wasn't written out of some kind of revenge. I admit it was kind of a chancy thing to do. I guess we'll never work for (former General Hospital Executive Producer) Gloria Monty again."

Marcy Walker (Eden Castillo) :

"I remember reading the script and the first thing I thought was, "I hope that the irony of what we're about to do doesn't make fun of soap actors." I'm not an authority on this type of violent crime and the amount of people who responded is unbelievable. A friend that I've known for five-and-a-half years came out and told me the same thing happened to her four years ago. This is a positive reaction. It makes people aware.

I watched the Luke and Laura story (on General Hospital) years ago and I believe we've excelled in society since then in terms of realizing that rape is a violent - not sexual - act. The way General Hospital portrayed Laura's rape was like that old adage, "She says no but she really means yes." I've seen other shows deal with rape, too, but never before have they focused on the violence. I feel Santa Barbara did a very realistic portrayal. We didn't take it lightly and we didn't say, "Oh, the audience wouldn't be able to take it." It was irresponsible for General Hospital to ever portray rape as a seduction. Still, I don't think our social conscience was as aware back then as it is now. I think (in Santa Barbara's episode) we were basically saying that presenting rape in an irresponsible way is not OK.

Yes, making a reference to the General Hospital story was somewhat risky, but leave it to Santa Barbara to climb out on a limb. And thank God we do, because we grab the brass ring when it comes to hitting things right on the head. We forced people to look at rape for what it really is, and that has value in it because for every nine people who say that, "Oh Luke and Laura were so in love so it was OK," there's that one person who says, "He raped her." A few years ago, abused women wouldn't come forward and talk about what happened to them. I think doing a show like ours helps put a stop to this way of thinking."