Gone, But Never Forgotten
Bobbie Spencer was a pivotal character on General Hospital from 1977 to 2010. And the woman who played her, Jackie Zeman, was one of the most popular women in soaps.
That all ended one day when Zeman -- and Bobbie Spencer -- were put on recurring status -- and disappeared. It was hard for the audience, who kept wondering why Luke Spencer's sister, Carly's mother, and Lulu's and Lucky's aunt wasn't around anymore.
Back in the '70s and '80s, viewers will recall that Monica Quartermaine, Lesley Webber, Holly Sutton, Anna Devane and Bobbie Spencer were the Carlys, Kates, Sams, and Olivias of their day. It's an unfortunate fact that these characters, as they matured, receded into the background. While that holds true for the women, not all the mature men reach the same fate. It's as true in soaps as it is in movies.
Nothing, however, seems to ever get Jackie Zeman down. She's as vivacious and upbeat as she was the first time I interviewed her while she was a regular on General Hospital. Back then, she was relaxing by her pool. As any fan who has ever spoken to a soap actor knows, because an actor's voice and face have been in your house five days a week for years, one feels an immediate familiarity. And speaking with Jackie Zeman, it's doubly true, because she's so open and friendly and acts as if your voice has been on her TV five days a week for years.
Today, Zeman tells me, she's just moved and "unpacking boxes as we speak. My daughter Lacey came home for the weekend, and we were unpacking kitchen boxes all morning. Now we're sitting on the sofa now looking at the ocean."
A Strange Situation
Zeman's first day on screen is March 22 (it was supposed to be March 21 but the new Pope intervened), though she's been taping for about a month. She is happy to be returning, and states "everyone asked me, 'when is Bobbie coming back? It was a complicated position to be in these last few years because I wasn't asked. I wasn't on, and it wasn't that I didn't want to be. So people would come up to me and ask about it, as if it had been my choice."
The 50th anniversary presented further problems and increased questions as even supposedly dead characters like Faison floated back onto the show. "I was aware that it was the 50th and everyone said, "You're coming back. All these other people are back." I'd answer, "'Well, I haven't been invited,' and people would get angry at me! I would say. 'It's not my choice.'"
Also, given the assumption that of course, Bobbie Spencer would show up, various publications wanted to talk to Zeman, too. "A lot of people, friends I've known over the years were calling and saying, 'Can you give me an interview for the 50th anniversary?' If I'm not on the soap or on recurring status, it's not my place to comment about the 50th, although I love the show. It's my family, and the audience still thinks of me as part of the show. I didn't want to come off as being negative, but it simply wasn't appropriate for me to give interviews. So not only was I happy to be invited back, but the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders."
Soaps in General
Despite not being on General Hospital, it's like any former job one had for years and years - one still knows people who are there, and somehow, one keeps tabs on the happenings. "I was glad when I heard Frank Valentini, [producer] and Ron Carlivati [head writer] came on," Zeman remarks. "General Hospital and all the soaps were hanging on by their fingernails. It's wonderful that they've been able to keep the show going. Frank and Ron love the medium and they know what they're doing."
Zeman expands on this. "Writers need to write what they want to write. When those kinds of talents are dictated to by network business, someone saying, this person has to stay on, this one has to go, it doesn't work. The network starts dictating and it all falls apart. The audience feels that. Somebody sent me a link to an interview that had been done by Frank saying he hadn't decided who was coming back. This was before they called, and I didn't know what they were doing yet. Kin Shriner said, 'We don't want to come in to be pop tarts.' And then oops, you're gone, sorry, and 'Where has Bobbie been? Did we just not see her on camera?'"
The above scenario is precisely what Ron Carlivati did not want, which is why he took his time not only bringing people in, but choosing which actors would be returning and when. He wanted returning characters to have something to do, an involvement in a story arc. Carlivati's strategy has worked, too.
Time Away from 'GH'
Without General Hospital, the beautiful Zeman has been keeping busy -- with her level of energy, she would have to be. She did a line of signature jewelry for Home Shopping Network, has traveled extensively, and now she's doing The Bay (www.baytheseries.com) as Sofia Madison, the mayor's wife, "which I just love," she says. "And Nicholas Coster is my internet husband. Tristan Rogers, Mary Beth Evans, all great people are on it. We shoot on location, not in a studio. My character is so different from Bobbie on that."
Zeman recently did The Celebrity Show in Hollywood (which gives fans a chance to meet their favorite stars and get photos and autographs), "and so many people came to see me. I couldn't tell anybody I was back on yet. I knew it and had talked to Michael Bruno who said, 'Don't say anything yet.' I wanted to believe it was true, but I wasn't sure.
"I can't wait to get on the set. My whole life is in transition, and it's so exciting. I've learned you just jump off the cliff and fly. I was called in one day and they said, 'you're going on 'recurring' and then I never recurred. It was like a grieving process. That's the tendency for all of us when you lose your job. Everybody gets hard stuff and the human tendency is to grab on and go no, no, like when your kids go off to college. But there's a lesson here. I have some really great stuff to go in there with."
Jackie Zeman has always had great stuff to bring to General Hospital or anywhere! We are all so happy she is back on the show, and we hope she gets a chance to stay for a long time!