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April 05, 2006

Daytime Pioneer Gloria Monty Dies

Iconic General Hospital Producer

Rancho Mirage, CA – Gloria Monty, a producer whose stewardship of the daytime drama General Hospital, which she joined in the late 1970s, helped to transform the cultural relevance and overall image of the soap opera genre, died on March 30. She was 84.

Monty, who was the model for the matriarchal soap opera producer in the 1982 film Tootsie, died of cancer at her home in Rancho Mirage.

In 1978, when Monty took over General Hospital, it was experiencing a ratings slump that reportedly had ABC contemplating cancellation. Monty, who was given less than six months to salvage it, devised a strategy to attract teens and college students to fill the gap created as increasing numbers of its core audience of women joined the workforce.

Breaking from the conventions of the genre, Monty infused elements of action adventure and even science fiction into the usual roundelay of betrayals, illnesses and infidelities. She also hired younger performers in key roles and modernized the sets with the assistance of a Broadway designer.

In her most audacious and controversial gambit, Monty introduced a story line in which Luke Spencer, played by Anthony Geary, and Laura Baldwin, played by Genie Francis, began a relationship after he had raped her. The narrative strand drew vocal criticism from rape victims, counselors and other victims’ advocacy groups.

Luke and Laura’s wedding drew an estimated 30 million viewers, a daytime drama record. The nuptials were attended by Elizabeth Taylor, who played a wedding guest, and Luke and Laura made the cover of Newsweek magazine.

Under Monty’s reign, General Hospital became the top-rated daytime series for five years, and won two Emmy Awards as outstanding daytime drama series. At its height, the show was estimated to be responsible for approximately a quarter of ABC’s annual profits.

After nine years Monty left the show to develop prime-time programming. In 1990, she returned to General Hospital, which had been supplanted at the top of the ratings heap by CBS’s The Young and the Restless. In her second stint with the show, Monty did not fare as well, and she left the series in 1992.

Born Gloria Montemuro on Aug. 12, 1921, the New Jersey native earned a master’s degree in drama from Columbia University, after which she married Robert O'Byrne, a theater producer and writer.

O'Byrne, to whom Monty was married for 39 years, died in 1991. She is survived by her sister, Norma, a former head writer on General Hospital.

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