General Hospital’s Black Cast
When it first aired on April 1st, 1963, on the American network ABC, General Hospital, like all its American and British competitors, was conspicuously white. White nurses and doctors walked the halls of the fictitious hospital and their families, friends, neighbours, and lovers who played club owners, police detectives, hoteliers, crime bosses, and crazed rich people who plotted to control the world with a weather machine – think the Cassadines – were also white. Although GH began to feature more black actors in more recent decades, as with other daytime soaps, those parts were often for small, supporting roles or worse, for background characters to fill out scenes in public settings like a disco, fair or hospital waiting room. Thank heavens that times are a changing!
Want to know how to quickly determine if a soap opera character is central to a show or a bit player? Besides following their story line and assessing the number of lines they have one simple way is to see where they live. For real, you know a character is a big deal in the life of your favourite daytime soap when you see where they live. That is, you see them go home at night and not just at work and out and about in Port Charles in the day. Blessedly, this is now true for many in a stellar group of black characters now living in Port Charles in upstate New York which includes Jordan Ashford, her son T.J. Ashford, her ex-husband Curtis Ashford, Curtis’ father Marshall Ashford, Curtis’ Aunt, Stella Henry, Curtis’ new fiancé Portia Robinson, her ex-husband Marcus Taggert, and their daughter Trina Robinson. (Rest in peace to the brilliant Sonya Eddy [1967-2022] who played head nurse Epiphany Johnson since 2005 and whose character had just written the MCAT exam to embark upon studies to become a medical doctor.)
The nature of a character’s job is also telling, though not as much since soap operas (like one-hour legal and cop dramas) have had a history of casting black judges who appear and pronounce in seconds only to never be seen again. But in occupation too we have improvement with Jordan the Port Charles Police Commissioner and Marcus a Police Lieutenant, T.J. and Portia medical doctors, Curtis a nightclub owner, Stella a social worker, and Trina a proud Port Charles University student and intern at the Jerome Gallery (shout out to the art historians).
Besides their abodes and occupations this black cast also has some juicy plots cooking. What’s up now? After their marriage dissolved due to Jordan’s half-truths and not-so-white-lies about work and family, Curtis rekindled an old love affair with Portia, and they seem bound for happy Valentine’s Day nuptials. But if you know your soaps like we do, you understand that wedding days are fertile ground for dramatic, last-minute revelations (think presumed dead former spouses showing up at the church just in time to respond to the pastor’s exhortation to “speak now or forever hold your peace”).
So, what’s the secret that might drive Curtis to rethink his choice of Portia Robinson as his new bride? That his soon to be stepdaughter Trina is actually his biological daughter, a fact that Portia has hidden from him since their affair some twenty years ago. What’s worse, Portia also lied about being single back when they first connected and when Curtis the straight shooter found out, he walked away. Curtis believes they have healed that old wound and that Portia has abandoned her half-truths and not-so-white-lies. What will he do if he finds out she’s denied him knowledge of a daughter for twenty years? Curtis made it clear when he walked away from Jordan that lies eat away at even the most loving of relationships until there’s nothing left. Portia girl, prepare to lose your man!