- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

Together again

“General Hospital” is giving fans much to talk about: the reunion of Luke and Laura Spencer, the ABC soap opera’s most popular couple, Associated Press reports.

Genie Francis, who originated the role of Laura nearly 30 years ago, will return to the show — and to the fictional town of Port Charles — to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Luke and Laura’s wedding, which was seen by 30 million viewers on Nov. 16, 1981, ABC announced Tuesday.

Miss Francis, 44, will appear in a series of episodes beginning in the middle of October, the network said.

“I’m very happy to be returning to my ‘General Hospital’ family and look forward to portraying a role that means a lot to me as well as the fans who have supported the character throughout the years,” Miss Francis said.

She has left the show several times; her most recent departure was in 2002.

Buzz surrounding the fictional couple’s 1981 wedding was so intense that Miss Francis and Anthony Geary, who plays Luke, appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine. In the episode, Elizabeth Taylor made a cameo as the malicious Helena Cassadine.

No details were provided about Laura’s story line or the upcoming anniversary. Four years ago, the character suffered a mental breakdown after she killed her father and has been living at a psychiatric hospital in a catatonic state.

American classics

Cable’s Turner Classic Movies explores two very different themes this holiday weekend — although both, like the Fourth of July, are decidedly American.

Starting tomorrow at 9 a.m., the movie channel kicks off the first of five back-to-back films about the national pastime with Busby Berkeley’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949), which stars Esther Williams as a beautiful woman who takes over a turn-of-the-century baseball team. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra co-star.

Other baseball films on tomorrow’s TCM lineup:

• 11 a.m.: Angels in the Outfield (1951) — Paul Douglas stars as the short-tempered manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who mends his ways in return for a little divine assistance. Janet Leigh, Keenan Wynn co-star.

• 1 p.m.: The Stratton Story (1949) — The true story of Monty Stratton (James Stewart), the baseball star who fought to continue his career after losing a leg.

• 3 p.m.: The Pride of the Yankees (1942) — Gary Cooper portrays baseball legend Lou Gehrig as he faces a crippling disease at the height of his success.

• 5:15 p.m.: Fear Strikes Out (1957) — A few years before playing the demented Norman Bates, his most famous role, Anthony Perkins starred as Major League player Jimmy Piersall, who battled mental illness and remained in the game.

By early evening, TCM leaves the ball field for the Emerald City with a night devoted to “The Wizard of Oz.”

At 7 p.m., Angela Lansbury hosts “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic.” Directed by Jack Haley Jr. (son of the 1939 film’s Tin Man) directs the documentary on how MGM created one of the most beloved family films of all time. The classic film follows at 8 p.m. It stars Judy Garland as the Kansas farm girl who meets all manner of creatures good and bad (including cowardly lion Bert Lahr, stouthearted Tin Man Jack Haley, thoughtful Scarecrow Ray Bolger and a wicked witch played by Margaret Hamilton) when she’s transported to a magical dreamland.

Next up, 1978’s “The Wiz” (10 p.m.) takes liberties with the L. Frank Baum story by making Dorothy Gale (Diana Ross) a Harlem schoolteacher who somehow winds up in Oz. Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, Nipsy Russell, Ted Ross and Richard Pryor (as the Wiz) round out the supporting cast.

TCM caps its Oz night with two silent films, 1925’s “The Wizard of Oz” (at 12:30 a.m.) and 1910’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1 a.m.)

Bennett birthday bash

NBC will salute Tony Bennett’s 80th birthday with a music special, “Tony Bennett: An American Classic,” scheduled to air this fall.

The special will include performances by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, K.D. Lang and John Legend, who perform on Mr. Bennett’s upcoming album, “Tony Bennett: Duets/An American Classic,” AP reports.

Mr. Bennett, who turns 80 on Aug. 3, will take the stage alone to sing his signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the network said Tuesday.

The special will be directed by Oscar-winner Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”). NBC did not announce an airdate for the hourlong show.

Mr. Bennett’s upcoming CD will be released Sept. 26.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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