On February 18, 1991, GH viewers got their first glimpse of Mac Scorpio, played by a then-32-year-old John J. York. As he marks his 30th anniversary in Port Charles, he reflected on the milestone with Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: A hearty congratulations on 30 years as Mac!
John J. York: I can’t even believe it. Thirty years! That’s a lifetime. Where did the time go? The simple truth, for me, is that I believe it’s divine intervention. I feel like God has been watching over me and my family and I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’ve been given this incredible gift. This job came at a time when [wife] Vicki was seven months pregnant [with daughter Schyler]. I started auditioning and got a callback and got another callback and was tested, and then the test went from five guys to two guys. I was working as a waiter at The Cheesecake Factory and I remember getting the phone call like it happened just a couple days ago. I was waiting a lunch shift and I’d bring someone out some cake or some coffee and then I’d go back into the kitchen area and check my answering machine and there were no messages and I was feeling sad, thinking, “Ah, I didn’t get it, I’d have gotten a phone call by now.” I remember bringing the check out to some gals who came in kind of regularly and they said, “Are you okay? You seem kind of down.” I said, “I was expecting a phone call, but it’s no big deal.” I finished up, filled up all the ketchup bottles and the salt and pepper shakers, got in my car and drove home and by the time I got there, there were like 13 messages on my machine. It was very exciting. And here we are, 30 years later. It’s crazy. I started January 14 and my daughter was born February 9.
Digest: You first met Tristan Rogers (Robert) and Finola Hughes (Anna) at your audition. What were your first impressions of them?
York: They were fantastic. I read first with Fin and she was just nothing but attention and involvement; she was right there and excited and she gave each and every actor that same energy. Tristan was a little bit gruff, let’s say [laughs] — just like my brother. He was Robert Scorpio, you know what I mean? He was strong and intimidating and part of the process as an actor was to stand up to that, and I guess I did. We had a great time, and as we started working together, it was just a piece of cake. We really hit it off. Tristan’s an awesome guy. He has a great sense of humor, very dry.
Digest: Gloria Monty was the executive producer who hired you. What do you remember about working for her?
York: Gloria was very hands-on. I believe Tristan was in his 10th year and he was thinking about leaving the show, and Gloria talked Tristan into one more year: “I’ll give you a great storyline, I’ll give you a long-lost brother.” I remember when I did my audition with Gloria, an actor would go in to read in her office while the next actor would wait in her outer office. I was sitting there and it just seemed like forever; the actor before me was in there for 15, 20 minutes. I’m thinking, “They must love this guy!” Finally, they called me in, I read the scene with Mark [Teschner, casting director] and she looks at me and says, “Good, very good.” And that was it, like, “Good-bye!” I was like, “Wait a minute! I don’t want to leave, I can do better! You just spent 20 minutes with that other actor!” But I guess she meant it when she said, “Good, very good.” Gloria was always very supportive.
Digest: In 1992, your storyline moved in the direction of the lovely Kristina Wagner (Felicia), who remains your leading lady.
York: An absolute and complete blessing. When Mac came on, I was more or less a bad guy, a rogueish figure who was in Robert’s face. I think as they saw more of John York and my energy, they were like, “Well, he’s kind of a good guy,” so we transitioned Mac into this good guy, and I always say I was the Robin to Robert’s Batman. And then the Felicia thing happened because Jack [Wagner, ex-Frisco] was off the show and someone must have said, “Let’s try Mac with Felicia,” and the next thing you know, I’m get ting a sponge bath in a barn with Felicia and off we go into dreamy-eye land! And we had a blast. Kristina and I, wow, we did everything. We were together as a couple when the B.J./Maxie heart transplant story happened, which was so emotional and every actor in it — Brad Maule [ex-Tony], Kristina, Jackie Zeman [Bobbie] — was incredible. [Former Head Writer] Claire Labine also wrote a lot of humor for Mac and Felicia. We got to act the whole rainbow of different feelings.
Digest: Claire also scripted the Robin/ Stone AIDS storyline, which Mac was a big part of as Robin’s guardian.
York: Working with her, and Mac taking on this responsibility, was magnificent for me. Kimberly [McCullough, ex-Robin] was already this seasoned, brilliant actress, and one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done was when Robin told Mac she was HIV-positive. When they taped it, it was like I was living it, like I was at home and my daughter was telling me that she was HIV-positive. It was just like butter melting on toast, working with all these people. I just felt so comfortable working with them and looking into their eyes.
Digest: Even though Mac isn’t front and center in storyline, he’s just one of those characters that the audience is always happy to see. York: To be honest, if the fans hadn’t liked Mac Scorpio or John York, I would have been gone a long, long time ago, so I owe everything to the fans for embracing my character, embracing me on the show. Somewhere around year eight or nine, I remember seeing a soap magazine at the grocery store that had an article about, “Is John York going to be let go from GENERAL HOSPITAL?” I was like, “What?!” It freaked me out. A fan saw that and started a campaign to save Mac Scorpio, save John York’s job. She put together all these different notes from people supporting me. I was feeling kind of low, and I received this in the mail and it just lifted me up. And I stayed on the show! This was when Jill [Farren Phelps, former executive producer] had come on, and she kept me on as a recurring character. They took me off contract, and I was upset for about a day. “How can they do this? I’ve been here so long! I’m so sad!” And then the next day, I thought, “John, you’re an actor. You’ve had a job for 10 years. Be happy, be joyful.” Later on, Frank [Valentini, executive producer], in all his glory and greatness, he kept me on, as well. He told me, “You’re part of the core cast, we love you,” and here we are.
Digest: Your colleagues at GH have been part of pretty much your entire adult life. What does that part of the job mean to you?
York: The word family is used a lot in Hollywood; “They’re like my family, they’re like my family.” The truth is, my family is my family! But working with all these people, they’re like my brothers and sisters and when I see them, it’s like no time has gone by, even if six or seven months go by before I see someone at the Nurses’ Ball, or if I’m working with Kristina and Jon Lindstrom [Kevin] one day, but I get to see Maurice [Benard, Sonny] or Steve [Burton, Jason] in the hallways and we get to catch up and say, “How are you? What’s going on?”
Digest: As we discussed, you were about to become a dad when you started — and now you have two grandbabies, Elijah and Lucille.
York: When Schyler was 2 years old and starting to talk, I would say, “Where does Daddy work?” and she would say, “GENITAL HOSPITAL.” Not GENERAL, GENITAL! About a year ago, I had recorded the show and I pressed play and Elijah was looking at the TV, seeing my big face on the big TV, and then he turned and looked at me on the couch, and then he turned back and looked at me on the TV. He just couldn’t figure out, “How come you’re there on the TV and here on the couch?” But to them, I’m just Pop-Pop. It’s just heaven. I am so thankful. I am aware, every second of every day, how blessed I am. I have the most incredible wife, the most incredible daughter — she’s a real estate agent now in Santa Barbara for Berkshire Hathaway, so if you know anyone who’s buying a house or selling a house in the Santa Barbara area, call Schyler Smith! You know, I read for the Brad Pitt part in Thelma & Louise. I read with [Director] Ridley Scott and Geena Davis for that part. I remember sitting next to Meg Ryan [ex-Betsy, AS THE WORLD TURNS] at Paramount, going in and reading for the Goose part in Top Gun, which Anthony Edwards played. You think about what could have been different, what might have been different, if you’d gotten this part and now you’re working in feature films, or you didn’t do good and you never got to work again, you know? GENERAL HOSPITAL has just been such an amazing gift, and I can never live up to the enormity of what this job has meant to me. It’s very special.