After putting herself on the daytime map with a 1976-77 run as ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s troubled Lana McClain, Jacklyn Zeman was tapped to move across the country Bobbie Spencer, who arrived in Port Charles 45 years ago this month. Zeman chatted with Digest about the milestone.

Soap Opera Digest: Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve always thought it was so special that you landed on GH given that you grew up watching the ABC soap lineup, GH included.

Jacklyn Zeman: It is! And I feel like that’s part of why for all these years, this has been more than just a job to me. When I say “my GH family and friends,” I really mean family because my co-workers have become my family. These people made baby blankets for my daughters when they were born! We have so much history. And same with the fans; when I go to events, I see a lot of the same people over and over again and we’ve grown together over these 45 years. It’s very sentimental to me and I just feel a lot of gratitude that it’s lasted as long as it has. It means a lot to me.

Digest: Can you try to put me in your head the day you first set foot in the studio?

Zeman: I was totally excited. You know how they say, “I was walking in the clouds” about falling in love? I was soaring with this excitement and appreciation and this incredible, happy, positive energy. [Former Head Writer] Douglas Marland had created this character and it’s wonderful to feel valued, to feel that you have the respect of the people that have hired you, and GENERAL HOSPITAL was such a big influence in my life because I watched the show and loved the show. Kin [Shriner, Scott] told me that he had tested with quite a few actresses who had auditioned for Bobbie, they just hadn’t found the one that Doug felt was really going to be the character. I honestly don’t know if Gloria [Monty, former executive producer] approved [my hiring] or not, and to this day I regret never asking her that because we were close, we spend a lot of time together, but I never actually said, “Hey, when Douglas Marland came to my apartment in New York and we sat for the whole afternoon and talked and he called the network and said, ‘Yes, I want her,’ did you also have to approve that?”

Digest: The timing was that she took over as EP within your first few days on the show, right?

Zeman: Yes, and she decided the storyline would be me, Genie [Francis, Laura] and Kin in the triangle; that was the first big [Bobbie storyline]. And I got to work with Emily McLaughlin [ex-Jessie] and John Beradino [ex-Steve] and Rachel Ames [ex-Audrey] — I mean, I was working with the principal, big stars! I had enough confidence from having a lot to do as Lana on ONE LIFE to feel I could do the job as an actress. ONE LIFE had been live on tape; there were no stops, no editing, because we had to give our cameras to the news [at the completion of filming]. We started the show and finished the show within an hour and changed our wardrobe on the commercial breaks! So I was very well-trained in the soap opera genre.

Digest: Bobbie was very naughty in her early days. Did you have any inner panic about being able to embody that?

Zeman: You know what? I loved it! At first I was a little bit wary because to be the villainess means you get a lot of negative energy directed at you, not only on set and in the storyline, but also from the audience. In those days, there was no social media, so you didn’t get any feedback from the viewers except at the grocery store or if someone recognized you at a restaurant. But I went into it with an open heart and an open mind and I was very aware that nobody is all bad. I really tried to look at, what are the reasons that somebody’s a bad girl? And I loved the backstory that Douglas created for the character — the dysfunctional family, the abusive father — and I tried to find the psychological things in the scenes that she was being bad, Bobbie wasn’t evil; she was just so empty when it came to love and anybody taking care of her and her whole life, she never felt safe.

Digest: Gloria injected an action/adventure element into the show and also a good amount of outrageousness. When those stories were going on around you, did you ever think, “I wish I could be in a sarong on Cassadine Island with a weather machine”?

Zeman: I loved the fact that I was given what we called the B storyline. I loved the fact that Bobbie was a nurse. I like the reality-based stuff and felt I could relate to it. I had to do a little research along the way; Bobbie was a prostitute and I had a lot of conversations with women who had been in that profession so I could learn how that worked and how they felt, and when I worked with David Groh [ex-D.L.] and we did that storyline where he was being abusive and pushed me down the stairs, that to me was a very important storyline because it was so real. And my God, the story with B.J. [Bobbie’s adopted daughter, who was killed in a school bus crash in 1994]. When you’re given storylines like that and my stories with the men over the years — Bobbie Spencer Brock Meyer Jones, almost Jacks, and Scotty Baldwin and Noah Drake and a bunch that Bobbie didn’t marry — it was just such a gift. So, yeah, going on an island and getting frozen or looking for diamonds? No, no, no, I like the reality of what Bobbie was doing. Everything was from the heart. When I had B.J. on the show, it was before I had my own kids, so when Brighton Hertford [ex-B.J.] would draw pictures and give them to me, I’d hang them up on my refrigerator because to me, it was like my own kid drew it for me! She was my kid for 12 hours a day on set, you know what I mean?

Digest: What do you consider to be your proudest acting moments on the show?

Zeman: Oh, gosh! I was given so much opportunity over the years, it would be hard to just pick one, but obviously the B.J. storyline, because it was so real and so emotional. Just living with that and playing that part, I don’t know that I can even communicate what that was like. It was really hard to watch because it was so real, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything negative about that storyline. That’s great writing and to have great writing, as an actor, that’s what we live for.

Digest: You do realize, Jackie, that you marking this anniversary also means that Kin Shriner has been in your life for 45 years!

Zeman: Yes! We have worked so closely together and spent so much time together and we’ve never had a fight, never had even a poke or a jab or a moment where I thought, “Oh, he’s annoying.” I just love him. We get along and we laugh and never has a cross word been spoken between us. I don’t get scenes with him anymore, which makes me really sad, but we still get together a few times a month. He and Trish [Ramish, his girlfriend] just last week for spaghetti and meatballs.

Digest: What do you think was Bobbie’s healthiest romantic relationship?

Zeman: Oh, that’s interesting. I think Tony; they had 10 years together and working with Brad Maule, oh, my God, what a gift. That marriage was good until the storyline [of its crumbling] happened and that was so real — how that relationship ended, I can’t have any complaints about the writing there! It was beautiful, gorgeous. And I loved what they did when Jerry Jacks came along, because for the first time, Bobbie was with someone who treated her like a queen. I mean, that was before Jill Phelps came on [as EP] and turned the character into a terrorist! But when Julian Stone played him, it was a beautiful love story. [In the lead-up to being taken off contact in 2007] I knew that my days were numbered; a lot of things happened to kind of let me know that. Tony was killed, they made Jerry Jacks into a terrorist. All of a sudden, there were just a lot of things going on in the storyline that were … unsettling. But that’s life! You gotta accept that what is, is.

Digest: I feel that longtime GH viewers feel deeply bonded to Bobbie and to you, and that bond is unbroken whether we see Bobbie 100 times a year or 10 times a year.

Zeman: I think that’s true. I’ve been on six shows this year; every couple of months, I come in to do a show and have catch-up scenes, so, yes, Bobbie is still there and available to her daughter, and I think that’s great. When they call me to come in, I’m always happy.

Digest: Is there anything you’d like to say directly to the GH fans reading this?

Zeman: Mostly, I want to just say, “Thank you.” The people that have been watching long-term have my heart, my heartfelt appreciation and my gratitude. Thank you for those that continue to watch and continue to feel that GENERAL HOSPITAL is important to them. And to those I’ve had personal interactions with over the years in various ways, it really means a lot to me. It’s very emotional, it’s very sentimental and it’s much appreciated.


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