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Remembering Gloria Monty

The soap world lost one of its last legends when director-turned-producer Gloria Monty died of cancer March 30 at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at the age of 84.

Although Monty directed and produced THE SECRET STORM and BRIGHT PROMISE on CBS, she will always be remembered as the miracle worker who brought GENERAL HOSPITAL back to life in 1978.

In 1977 Monty reluctantly took a meeting with ABC honcho Fred Silverman, who was looking for an executive to shepherd the ailing GH into the sunset of TV history “so that it would not go down in complete disgrace,” Monty once told Weekly.

After a tour of the studio designed to entice Monty backfired (“We went over and saw some appalling conditions there.”), Silverman plied Monty with alternating doses of liquor and charm, “and, by the time I finished the last drink, I was doing GENERAL HOSPITAL,” she recalled in a 1998 interview.

Exasperated by the show’s existing stories, Monty called a now-infamous meeting of the cast in which she remarked, “The only thing I can think of doing is to put you all (your characters) on a plane and crash it.”
Instead, she overhauled the sets and lighting, brought in a new team of directors and collaborated with new head writer Douglas Marland to revamp the stories. With a keen eye for casting, Monty discovered many of GH’s biggest stars. Her innovations proved so successful that the ratings rebounded and the soap was granted a stay of execution by ABC. By the end of the year, GH moved from last place to first in the Nielsens.

Monty’s controversial decisions sparked a nationwide GH frenzy, culminating in the highest ratings in soap history for Luke and Laura’s 1981 wedding, with over 30 million viewers.

Monty left GH in 1987; the show remained the No. 1 soap for nearly a decade. After a second stint with GH in 1991, Monty produced several TV-movies based on friend Mary Higgins Clark‘s novels, and chaired the New Jersey Motion Picture & Television Commission.

Reflecting on her career, Monty once said, “I think my best talent was directing. I’m basically a director; that’s what made it for me at GENERAL HOSPITAL.” Monty won two Emmys for GH as Outstanding Drama Series in 1981 and 1984; was named by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Interesting People in the World; inspired the soap producer character in the film Tootsie; and was inducted into the Soap Opera Hall of Fame in 1998.

Monty left a huge impression on the actors who, under her direction, rocketed GH to the top. Here are some memories and thoughts of some of the stars she made famous.

Finola Hughes (Anna):
Kimberly (McCullough, Robin) rang me and she told me [about Gloria’s death]. Gloria made it all so exciting. She made everything you did special and passionate and different. She had a very interesting viewpoint on everything and I had the opportunity to tell her that. I’m glad that I did. She was like this mentor for all of us when we started on GH. We were all new. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. She’s amazing with actors. She let you ad-lib. She let you do anything you wanted.”

Anthony Geary (Luke):

“I’ve been trying to process the information about Gloria passing away. It’s difficult to fathom. To me, she seemed somehow immortal. ‘The Work.’ That’s what she cared about. ‘The Work’ was her passion. It challenged her and fulfilled her need for adventure, for creative risk. She attacked ‘The Work’ with the confidence and excitement of an explorer who knows she is breaking new ground. She taught me how to work, survive and flourish. She also taught me to fight for standards, if not excellence, whenever necessary. Her lessons have sustained me for 28 years. I will miss her, miss knowing that she is somewhere out there in the world, watching.”

Ian Buchanan (ex-Duke; Greg, ALL MY CHILDREN):
“She changed my life. She took an enormous chance on me never being on a soap opera. I was doing performance art in New York at the time. She saw something she thought [viewers] would like. I loved her. She lit a fire under me when it came to telling story. She was quite remarkable. I was very fond of her. I always held her in very high regard. Like everyone else, I lost touch with her when she retired. I’m very sorry that she died.”

Emma Samms (Holly):
“She was the most extraordinary woman. There are so many actors who can say she taught them more than anybody else about their craft and the world of television. Her instincts were so astute. I was always trying to please her, because I knew that she knew what was talking about. Obviously, the success of the show speaks for itself. She knew how to get the most out of actors in so many ways. She would see what we had to offer, and use the best bits. And she would guide you with very, very specific notes in between rehearsal and taping. She would teach you so much about timing, motion and the sense of drama that you had to use to keep people watching. I just lapped it up. The more she could tell me, the better — despite the fear (laughs)!”

Tristan Rogers (Robert):
“She was the first to create a star system soap opera. The amount of firsts attached to this woman goes on and on. A lot of the firsts would not be recognized because they were subtle things in production. A thing that stood out, of course, is that she created two stars in Luke and Laura and the show evolved around those two stars. Frankly, that was something no other show truly picked up on. And she knew how to get a performance out of people. She knew if she couldn’t get it today, there was a way of getting it and that was to not to push it too much.”

John Stamos (ex-Blackie):
“She really changed the face of soap operas. She would block a scene and she would always want movement. We would start a scene standing and she’d say, ‘Why don’t you blast out of the door?’ I think she introduced fast pacing to daytime. Kin Shriner (ex-Scotty, ex-Keith, AS THE WORLD TURNS) used to get mad at me because I was bursting and running so fast and they would have to keep us in a two-shot. I was so hyper. Kin would always say, ‘You’ve got to work on a walk.’ I was a sponge. I wanted to learn so much. Gloria let me explode on that stage.”

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