Four-time Daytime Emmy nominee and fan favorite Jacklyn Zeman made her General Hospital debut 45 years ago in December 1977. Her character, Barbara Jean “Bobbie” Spencer, was a dedicated student nurse who had her eye on hunky law student Scotty Baldwin (Kin Shriner) and was anxious to put her past as a prostitute in Florida in her rearview mirror.
Bobbie was determined to send Scotty’s girlfriend — teen heroine Laura Webber (Genie Francis), on probation for manslaughter — to reform school. Despite this, Zeman still made Bobbie relatable, likeable, and vulnerable. She became a nurse, found true love, became a mother, and today, she remains a presence on the canvas. Recently, TV Insider sat down with the actress for a look back at four and a half decades on GH.
You made Bobbie someone we rooted for even though fans probably wanted to throw tomatoes at you for what she was doing to Laura.
Jacklyn Zeman: That actually happened. A woman smushed a tomato on me in the supermarket.
You joined GH after coming off a run as ill-fated Lana McClain on One Life to Live. GH head writer Douglas Marland met you and cast you as Bobbie. How did you see the character?
Douglas [Marland] was the master of creating characters. The best. His characters still live on. I wanted Bobbie to be bouncy and have a positive aura and energy. I wanted her to have intelligence, humor, and a love of people. Bobbie came from a dysfunctional background but she wanted to have kids and be a mother. I went to Gloria Monty [executive producer].
Originally, Bobbie was called Barbara Spencer. I felt that name had a calmer energy. I wanted the character to be perky and to come in like a hurricane. She suggested “Barbie” but I said no, that sounds like “Barbie doll.” I said, “How about Bobbie?” She loved it. Bobbie wasn’t always right but she wanted to do her best. She was never evil but she was naughty. She didn’t know what it was like to trust. She never got a birthday present. She never had anyone teach her anything except for Luke [Spencer, her brother, played by Anthony Gear], who had his own stuff going on. I was given a lot to work with.
How did Roy DiLucca (Asher Brauner) coming into Bobbie’s life change her?
He was her heart. Roy was similar to Luke. In Bobbie’s mind, she compares every man she meets to Luke, given how important he is to her. It’s not hard to imagine Bobbie comparing all the men in her life to Luke.
You and Bobbie played no small role in turning the show into a pop culture phenomenon. GH landed on the cover of Newsweek. It even had its own rap song — “General Hospi-Tale.” What was it like when that all happened?
We didn’t know [what was happening]… we were all young. We were going to work, learning our lines. We didn’t know any different. The scripts, stories, and dialogue were all so great. Many of us had come in around the same time — Genie, Kin, Leslie [Charleson, Dr. Monica Quartermaine], and Stuart Damon [Dr. Alan Quartermaine]. We were so lucky that we had Emily [McLaughlin, Jesse Brewer], John [Beradino, Dr. Steve Hardy], Rachel [Ames, Audrey Hardy], and Denise [Alexander, Dr. Lesley Webber], who are all so incredible, already there. They’d made the show what it was.
When I had love scenes with Kin or Asher, Gloria would come out on set and show us how to do it. We were all friends. We’re still friends today. I love Tony. I never had a brother in real life. We were together so much on set. We share so much emotional history. He’d come to my daughters’ birthday parties. We still have the gifts he’d bring to my girls. Tony is so thoughtful.
What was it like working with Rick Springfield (Dr. Noah Drake)?
I love Rick. He was a joy to work with. He came in and knew his lines. He didn’t need a script when we blocked. I think because he had to remember all those song lyrics. He’s a kind and gentle person.
Next, Bobbie married D.L. Brock (David Groh, best known as Rhoda’s husband Joe on Rhoda) and the show did a spousal abuse storyline. It was very graphic, violent, and raw.
I loved David. He came in and never even had a test. I read with him in Gloria Monty’s office. I knew him from Rhoda, of course. We did the scene. He left. I looked at Gloria and said, “Please, please, please! That’s who I want!” She laughed and said, “Yes, dear.” He was brilliant. David and I became really good friends. We loved hanging out. Years later, he named his son Spencer. David was a joy and nothing at all like his character. It was such a reach for him. It was an incredible transformation for him as an actor. I had such respect for him.
Eventually, Bobbie got a good guy in Dr. Tony Jones (Brad Maule).
Brad was my TV husband for nine years. That’s longer than some real-life marriages last, right? We’re friends to this day. Our kids grew up together. We’d take them trick or treating. Lynn’s [Herring, Lucy Coe] kids would come, too. My daughters came to the studio with me when they were very young. Kristina [Wagner, Felicia Scorpio] had her sons around the same time. John J. York [Mac Scorpio] had his daughter. He could relate. All the mothers would go to lunch together and we were nursing under our blankets. Kin [Shriner] would walk in and say, “I don’t know even where to look!”
We had this family element of familiarity. We were going through chapters of life at the same time. We had a producer who let us all do that. When my [second] daughter Lacey was born, my first call was to [executive producer] Wendy Riche. She was a week early. I was supposed to work that day. I said, “Wendy, I can’t come in today. I just had the baby!” She said, “Don’t worry. Can you come in on Thursday? We’ll shoot around you and you can bring in whoever you need to watch the baby. We’ll get you out [quickly].”
Bobbie and Tony fought Tiffany (Sharon Wyatt) and Sean (John Reilly) for custody of Lucas after his mother died.
That was so real. That was before B.J.’s [Brighton Hertford] heart transplant story, which people love so much. But Lucas’s custody was so real. I got so many letters from people [going through that], as I did from prostitutes who wrote to me in Bobbie’s early days. I got a lot of letters from men. I remember the scene when Robert Scorpio [Tristan Rogers] came into Kelly’s diner and said, “Hand the baby over.” I never forgot that scene. As a mother, it’s your worst nightmare.
In 1994, there was a CBS special titled 50 Years of Soaps. A handful of actors including you — out of everyone who’d ever been on soaps — were singled out to introduce a clip of their work. Do you remember that?
I do now. It’s coming back to me. That was a great night.
What was it like when Carly, Bobbie’s long-lost daughter, came to town?
That was a beautiful story. I’m grateful to have had it. That was the most real, natural story to come out of who Bobbie was. The background was all there. It was a natural progression. Viewers accepted that Bobbie had had this child [when she was a prostitute]. And Sarah Brown [Carly]? She knocked your socks off with her acting. She’s so powerful as an actress and a person. She came in and played it like an old soul. She had so much in her heart. My jaw would drop.
Lightning struck twice when Tamara Braun took over the role.
Carly has been so layered. Each actress who played her has brought different dimensions to that character in different ways. Tamara is so grounded and spiritual. She brought serenity to the character. I loved what Tamara did. She’s a dear friend and an amazing actress.
Recently, Carly (Laura Wright, who has played Carly the longest) told Bobbie she was changing her last name to Spencer. Nice.
Yes. Those scene were nice. I was very glad they put that in there. Laura and I haven’t worked together a ton over the years, but I think she’s done a really great job with the role. The audience loves what she does.
You had other leading men — Sam Behrens (Jake Meyer), Leigh McCloskey (Damian Smith), Stephen Nichols (Stefan Cassadine), Julian Stone (Jerry Jacks), and A Martinez (who played a very much alive Roy).
I loved working with all of them. Sam looked like my [ex] husband Glenn [Gorden]. People would come up to Glenn when we were together and they thought he was [Sam]. That was funny. I became friends with [Julian’s] wife. He was such a good actor.
About a decade ago, executive producer Frank Valentini brought Bobbie back to Port Charles after she’d moved to Seattle.
That made me very happy. It did. And I’m very grateful to Frank for that.
In more recent years, we learned Bobbie had Type 2 diabetes. That helped educate fans on warning signs and about the condition.
I think that was great. I’d love to see more of that. Around that time, Scotty proposed to Bobbie. [Laughs] Kin had had knee surgery, so Scotty couldn’t get down on one knee. I think it would have been fun to explore that. After my husband and I got divorced in real-life, I had exes come back to me. That happens.
Do you have any shoutouts to the fans who’ve supported you all this time?
Yes. First, I am so grateful for all the time that Bobbie’s been on the show and all the storylines that I’ve been given. I have nothing but gratitude. I also want to thank all the fans. They’re the reason General Hospital has remained on the air. This business started with a lot of soap operas and there are very few left standing. The reason GH is among them as because of our viewers. Fans sent me baby blankets for when my daughters were born. Fans have followed me for years. People will show me photos of when they met me 25 years ago. I want to thank everyone who has watched GH and continues to watch.
General Hospital, Weekdays, ABC