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Why She Checked Out of ‘General Hospital’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After playing Anna Lavery for nearly seven seasons on the popular ABC daytime soap “General Hospital,” Emmy-winning Finola Hughes decided it was time to check out of “GH” and play different characters.

“I knew Anna like the back of my hand,” Hughes said in a phone interview from Aspen, Colo., where she was filming the feature “Aspen Extreme.”

The British-born former dancer first came to the attention of U.S. audiences in the 1983 “Staying Alive,” starring John Travolta in the sequel to “Saturday Night Fever.” During Hughes’ stint on “General Hospital,” she had ventured into prime time by guest-starring on “L.A. Law” and appearing in the ABC made-for-TV movies “Haunted By Her Past” and “The Bride in Black.” She also had a cameo in the feature film “Soapdish.”

Since departing “GH,” Hughes has been busy. She is starring with Hal Linden and John Dye in the six-week ABC series “Jack’s Place,” which premiered last week. She plays Chelsea, a transplanted Brit with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball who works as a cocktail waitress at the restaurant/bar/cabaret owned by Linden’s Jack.

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Hughes said she told ABC last year of her plans to leave “General Hospital” when her contract was up.

“ABC started to talk about me maybe staying on”, she said. " One day. I met with the heads of ABC and they were talking about what they would like me to do and then ‘Jack’s Place’ came up.”

Hughes was called back to read for them and the network. She said to start work on “Jack’s Place” the next week, which meant she immediately had to leave “GH,” which was in the throes of losing producer Gloria Monty.

The new producer told Hughes if she ever wanted to return back, they would write her in. Hughes’ quick departure in November left “General Hospital” high and dry. For the next month, actress Camilla More played Anna.

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“They decided that wasn’t going to work,” Hughes said, so Anna was killed off. In typical soap opera fashion, Anna’s body was never found.

Though she felt it was time to move on, Hughes’ decision to leave “General Hospital” was, she said, “the most awful thing. I was scared.”

And she still is: “There is nothing cast in dye. I have always said I will be unemployed for the next five years once I left. I thought that would be it. I wasn’t particularly optimistic about what would happen. It was wonderful to do ‘Jack’s Place.’ I have been lucky. I will just keep plugging away and doing my thing and just fingers crossed, really.”

Would she ever return to a soap? “If I had no food on the table or if I didn’t have any money.”

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“Jack’s Place” airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on ABC, but is preempted this week.


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