General Hospital, Now In Color: The Ward Family
The 90s Brings The Ward Family to Port Charles
By the 90s, Black creators and performers, had begun to establish themselves with the general (primarily White) population with decades of work finally paying off. The loyal Black audience, long been taken for granted, was beginning to be seen as a consumer with discerning tastes that liked to be represented. And they were a profitable consumer block at that. Seeing that there was a financial up-side to diverse casting, the entertainment industry began to take notice. This included the heads of the major television networks, and the daytime television divisions were no exception.
GH had been responsible for milestone moments in Black representation like the first black female doctor on television (Dr. Tracy Adams played by Kim Hamilton) and later the first interracial wedding between the characters of Tom Hardy and Simone. All the characters the soap opera had introduced up to this point were positive depicitions of the Black community. Viewers would go on to see Black doctors, lawyers, college students, individuals running non-profit organizations, and holding elected office. GH reflected this message so often overlooked in primetime and while successful was by no means the leader in daytime diversity. More often than not these characters, even when featured regularly, existed merely to prop up their White counterparts.
Outshined By Competition
In comparison, another ABC soap opera, All My Children, featured the romance of a young Black couple, Angie and Jesse, to critical acclaim, earning bother actors Emmys. By 1990 All My Children would become the top soap opera on the network, and the characters of Angie and Jesse crossed over to the series, Loving in the hopes of boosting ratings. In 1989, NBC would attempt to bring about genuine change with Generations, which focused on two families, one white and one black, whose lives continued to intersect over three generations of characters. The fully integrated soap opera, the first of its kind, was short-lived, but NBC’s loss would be CBS’s gain. CBS added several of the show’s cast members to Young And The Restless. This casting move that solidified the soap opera’s lead for years to come by building and maintaining the loyalty of Black fans for years to come. Even someone who is not a fan of Y&R cannot deny that the soap opera has the best track record of representing the Black community.
Fall From First Place
In early 1991, Gloria Monty took over the role of executive producer after a four year absence with one goal: return the soap opera to its position at #1. The legendary producer was famous for saving GH from cancellation in 1978. Back then, Monty made massive changes that were incredibly risky. The end result? GH jumped from 8th place to 1st where it remained for the next eight years. Once again the producer made sweeping changes with the full support of the network. Among those changes a new focus away from the status quo. The Quartermaines, still popular with viewers, were moved to the back burner. In their place was the blue-collar Eckart clan. To make the change easier for viewers, Monty cast Anthony Geary as the patriarch. Geary who had played Luke Spencer, was his look-alike cousin Bill Eckart.
That shift in focus was negligible compared to the many characters entirely written off, either by chose or by force. Frisco Jones left the canvas when Jack Wagner quit (fearing he’d be fired) for competitor NBC’s Santa Barbara. Tristan Rogers and Finola Hughes were fired with super couple Robert and Anna Scorpio being quite literally terminated from their jobs as spies. Viewers rejected the changes in a very big way. Monty, who had been tasked with bringing GH up from second place back to first, was responsible for sending the show as far down as 7th place. Monty would be followed the following year.
GH’s Golden Age
Repairing the damage done to the iconic soap opera now fell to the a lesser-known producer named Wendy Riche. While GH would never regain first place. Riche oversaw the creative revitalization of the show, championing socially relevant storylines and showcasing veteran cast members in stories alongside hot new talent. The driving force behind Riche’s vision was head writer Claire Labine. As head writer, the stories became more family focused, filled with the painful truths of life, sweeping romance and the joy of triumphing over adversity. Her writing brought a sense of community to the characters living in Port Charles as the series began tackling complex social and personal issues facing America at the time. Claire Labine helped usher in a golden age of critical acclaim. She won an Emmy for writing to match the Best Drama awards the soap opera received for each and every year of her run as head writer. The creative renaissance paid off commercially with GH at number one among key demographics of female viewers. Under Riche’s guidance, GH would have the honor of winning Best Daytime Drama in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2000. During this era, Riche and Labine would lead the most substantive effort in diversity in the soap opera’s three decades on the air.
The Ward Family
In 1994, General Hospital introduced the Ward family. The Wards were a rarity, a positive portratal of a Black family, not just devoid of stereotypes but authentically (and unapologetically) Black. Introduced by intertwining their lives with the Quartermaines and Spencers the result was one of the best-executed storylines in daytime history. While Mary Mae Ward was a positive role model, she unlike previous Black characters on the show. Mary Mae was not the daughter of a wealthy Black family like Claudia Johnston (played by Bianca Ferguson), nor was she a white-collar professional like Dr. Tracy Adams or Dr. Simone Revelle-Hardy. Portrayed masterfully by Rosalind Cash, Mary Mae Ward lived in the historic Charles Street neighborhood of Port Charles, where she ran an orphanage for children living with AIDs. Mary Mae was a woman who lived for her community and put her heart and soul back into it every day. Rosalind Cash imbued an embrace of the Black experience in the role of Mary Mae Ward.
Mary Mae Ward could have been relegated to the background as a type of diversity window dressing. The writer and her team had no intention of wasting the talened Rosalind Cash. Mary Mae Ward was placed immediately in the orbit of the hugely popular Luke and Laura, ensuring the character had screen-time and that viewers would take notice. With the Spencer Family moving into the former home of Mary Mae the groundwork was laid for a mystery. There was much more to the life of Mary Mae Ward, her history and her connection to the people of Port Charles than they could ever imagine.
Mary Mae Ward
Mary Mae’s Beginnings
Mary Mae met musician Bradley “Buddy” Powers when she was 16 years old, the young lovers connecting over a passion for music. In 1944 Mary Mae and Buddy were married with the couple settling into Virginia where with Bradley continuing to work a musician and Mary Mae herself singing the blues. The marriage cut short by Bradley never returning home from the war. Mary Mae continued to sing the blues, channelling the loss into her music.
While performing one night, she met eyes with a young, and white, soldier with the Navy and over drinks made a connection over missing loved ones and a deep love of music. They may not have had much in common but for a mutual attraction and longing hearts, however, the music drew them together. They began a brief affair until the man shipped out overseas and continued to write letters to one another during the war. Mary Mae would find she was pregnant from their affair and sent him word that she would be raising their child on her own. The man from the navy was none other than Edward Quartermaine.
Mary Mae gave birth a healthy baby boy whom she named after her late husband, Bradley. She met a man named Dan Ward and found love once again. The two married in 1946 and relocated to Port Charles, New York. Mary Mae had no idea that Edward Quartermaine and his growing dynasty lived just a few hours away in Long Island. Together with Dan Ward she raised Bradley and the couple had two more children, living happily until Dan died in June 1969 of a stroke.
During this time, Bradley Ward had grown into a young man matching his mother’s passion and father’s tenacity, except instead of music or business, he dove into the civil rights movement as an activist. Bradley had become a prominent civil rights activist and by the early 1970s had a reputation for openly calling out injustice most notably against systemic racism. The focus on systemic racism met with resistance from the corrupt establishment in Port Charles, who used their connections to organized crime to intimidate Bradley. Bradley became increasingly worried about his safety and began to fear there was nothing he could do to keep from getting killed.
The danger forced Mary Mae to reach out to Edward and the two met for the first time in nearly thirty years on July 1st 1974. One of Edward’s business partners in Port Charles had been involved with the mobster Frank Smith, whose organization was upset by Bradley’s movement to rid his Black neighborhood of their damaging influence. Mary Mae told her former lover that their son was in trouble, and he promised to keep him safe. But Edward could do little to stop Jack Boland from murdering their son that same night leaving the murder weapon in Bradley’s hand. Mary Mae would return home to find her firstborn dead from a shot to the head and believed he had committed suicide.
Mary Mae buried the body in the backyard of their home at 24 Royal Street in Port Charles. Edward blamed Jack Boland and Frank Smith for driving his son to suicide and Mary Mae begged him to end things before they escalated further. Mary Mae made Edward to promise, knowing that the investigation would not bring about justice even and that it would only destroy Edward’s legacy, to stop the investigation into Bradley Ward’s “disappearance”. Edward would use his money and influence to quell any attempts made to investigate what happened to the civil right activist.
This would remain the case until June 1994, when the Spencer family came across Bradley Ward’s body in their front yard. The investigation was reopened and due to his meddling in matters decades earlier, Edward was put on trial for the murder of his son. The extended Ward family came to town for the memorial service and later the trial. The truth about Bradley Ward’s death would come out in dramatic fashion as Mary Mae Ward took the stand and revealed that Edward was, in fact, the victim’s father. Edward would be acquitted for the crime.
Mary Mae Ward would make a very deep connection with Laura Spencer and Laura worked to help preserve the Ward House. She would also catch the attention of Lois Cerullo who ran L&B records and immediately signed the Blues singer. Mary Mae was the star of most nights down at Luke’s club. Mary Mae was larger than life and lived life to the fullest, both in her ability to entertain with her talents and with the kindness and love, she put back into the community.
Unfortunately, Mary Mae Ward’s time on screen was short-lived. In October of 1995, Rosalind Cash passed away at Cedar’s-Sinai Medical Center after a private battle with cancer. The actress kept her illness a very guarded secret, even from those closest to her. Her co-stars were taken by surprise by the by the hospitalization, and shocked by her death. Fellow cast members, Rena Sofer who played Lois Cerullo and her real-life husband Wally Kurth (who played Ned Ashton) gave birth to a child the following year named for the actress.
In January of 1996, Mary Mae was written to have died peacefully in her sleep. Her death hit Port Charles incredibly hard and her funeral was attended by the entire community. Her service was held in a Black church amongst her family and friends with many touching eulogies.
Justus Ward (along with his cousin Keesha Ward) arrived in Port Charles from Philadelphia for his late father Bradley Ward’s memorial service after his body was found in Luke and Laura Spencer’s yard. Bradley Ward had been murdered, and an investigation would point to Edward Quartermaine as the murderer. The ensuing trial would end with Mary Mae revealing the truth behind Bradley’s death and disappearance, as well as his paternity. With the revelation that Edward Quartermaine is his grandfather, he offers Justus a position as ELQ’s head council and shares the company infuriating AJ and Ned. Despite getting along, Ned later blackmails Justus to gain control of his shares.
The lawyer began a romance with the recently divorced Simon Revelle-Hardy despite the protests of Audrey Hardy. Despite the return of Dr. Tom Hardy from Africa looking to rekindle a relationship with his ex-wife. Justus and Simone would eventually get engaged. Tom’s return does make it difficult for Simone’s son to accept a new man in his mother’s life. Justus’ insecurity over Tom’s return manifests as impatience with the young boy, and Simone ends the relationship and leaves Port Charles.
Upon Mary Mae’s death, Laura Spencer becomes the owner and administrator of the Ward House, which Damian Smith had hoped to bulldoze for a shopping mall. Laura’s refusal to give up Mary Mae’s legacy does not deter Damian Smith. Damian breaks into Ward House, and is Justus catches him just as the house was set on fire. Justus knocks Damian unconscious with a baseball bat, calls the fire department, and attempts to save the unconscious man. The fire spreads quickly and destroys the Ward House, and Damian Smith was presumed dead. Edward Quartermaine figures out the truth and convinces Justus to keep quiet just as Laura was charged with Damian’s murder. Edward hired a lawyer to defend Laura, but Justus, riddled with guilt, defends her successfully against the charges, and she is acquitted. And while Laura forgives him for letting her go through the whole ordeal, the friendships are never the same. During this time, Justus also begins a relationship with Assistant District Attorney Dara Jensen, much to the chagrin of Detective Marcus Taggert.
Justus resigns from ELQ, and goes to work for his cousin Jason Morgan who is running Sonny Corinthos’ territory in Sonny’s absence. Justus gets Jason acquitted for assaulting Tony Jones in retaliation for kidnapping baby Michael Corinthos and jeopardizing HIV-positive Robin Scorpio’s health to keep her quiet. The lawyer would later defend Carly Roberts for shooting Tony in an open courtroom. Upon Sonny’s return, he asks Justus to remain his lawyer and offers him the penthouse across the hall. Dara Jensen is very uncomfortable with this turn of events, but they continue to see each other. This connection to Sonny and proximity to danger that Justus now brough Dara led Taggert to extreme measures.
Taggert learned of Alan Quartermaine drug addiction, set him up to be busted for drug possession, and confronted Monica Quartermaine. The detective attempts to blackmail Monica for information on Justus and Jason. While she refuses to turn on Jason, she turns over information connecting Justus to the death of Damian Smith, and Taggert arrests Justus. Alexis Davis can get him out of jail by arguing the evidence was obtained illegally. Justus decides to leave Sonny’s organization and runs for District Attorney. Sonny agrees to keep his murder of Damian Smith a secret as long as he does not use any knowledge from his time working for the organization against him. With both Sonny and Edward Quartermaine’s assistance, Justus becomes DA of Port Charles and Dara’s boss, although this and his overall moral ambiguity spells an end to their romance. Justus later resigns as District Attorney.
2003 – 2006
We do not see Justus Ward until late 2003. Now living in a monastery after having taken a vow of silence. He is visited by Jason, requesting that he return to Port Charles to defend Sonny Corinthos for the attempted murder of Lorenzo Alcazar. Justus breaks his vow of silence to refuse but eventually takes the case arguing that Sonny was acting to protect his family. Thanks to jury tampering, Sonny is acquitted. It is revealed soon after that Justus had a past relationship with the mobster Faith Roscoe. Her attempts at using this to her benefit are met with Justus threatening her physically. Justus meets the psychiatrist Lainey Winters, and the two begin dating, although the relationship is cut short by violence. Justus is ambushed after going in place of Jason for a business meeting by Manny Ruiz. Ruiz murders Justus, and his body is found in the trunk of a car.
Keesha arrived alongside her cousin Justus for the memorial of her uncle Bradley Ward. Keesha remained in Port Charles and began dating the young, rich Jason Quartermaine. Mary Mae and Edward Quartermaine, both grandparents of the teens, weren’t happy about the two dating each other and even more when Edward was accused of Bradley’s murder. During the trial, Mary Mae revealed that Edward was Bradley’s father, and it was discovered that an old associate of Frank Smith had killed Bradley. Keesha and Jason’s romance grew with Keesha and Jason losing their virginity to one another while on spring break in Paris. Keesha’s happiness is cut short by several tragic events. While attempting to stop a drunk AJ from driving, Jason was thrown from the convertible passenger seat and suffered a brain injury leaving him unconscious. Ned discovered the accident scene, took the blame to spare the family the pain, and AJ remained silent but riddled with guilt. Keesha is devestated by the accident and finds comfort in AJ, who decides to keep the truth of the accident from her.
Jason’s frontal lobe had been damaged in the accident rendering him unable to remember his past. The damage was permanent and resulted in a personality change worsened by his family’s insistence and pressure to return to a life that he felt no connection to anymore. He would eventually reject his family as well as Keesha. Keesha could do nothing as Jason became a stranger turning to a life of crime with Sonny Corinthos. The pain was worsened by the loss of her grandmother, who passed away suddenly in her sleep.
During this time, Keesha and AJ, who had been cleaning up his act and had taken her cousin Justus’s seat as City Councilman, began dating him. When AJ confessed that he was responsible for the accident that injured Jason, his family and Keesha rejected him. AJ would relapse that night, get drunk at Jake’s with Carly, and the two ended up sleeping together in Jason’s apartment above the bar. Aj had no recollection of the one stand, the fact that Carly became grateful for when she realized she was pregnant.
AJ’s blackout was a rock bottom for him. AJ got sober, and with sobriety began reconnecting with Keesha. However, Carly feared his presence in town only meant he might remember the night and try to take custody of the baby. Carly hatched a plan to get AJ out of town until after the baby was born. She drugged AJ, doused him with alcohol, and left him in the alley, believing the relapse would send AJ to rehab and away from Port Charles. With Keesha’s help, AJ pieced together the memories of that night and the one-night stand. AJ told Carly he would take custody of the child when it was born but was later convinced (temporarily) that the baby was not his. Keesha supported him throughout the process clashing with Carly. Keesha and AJ would be strengthened by the ordeal at first but AJ’s drinking continued. Keesha left Port Charles to care for her ailing mother and ended her relationship with AJ.
Heart And Soul:
Claire Labine’s Legacy
By mid-1994, General Hospital often topped All My children as the top-rated of ABC’s four soap operas, due in no small part to the storylines that Claire Labine had written. The Ward family’s introduction was among a shift towards socially conscious storytelling, a focus on family and community and clever dialogue. Despite the often sad truths that the soap opera confronted, they were juxtaposed with thrilling mystery and suspense, as well as romance and a good amount of comedy. The mix of genre spanning storytelling resonated with viewers, especially a younger generation that had found soaps stuffy and old-fashioned.
The ratings’ success for GH, and all the soap operas would hit a massive hurdle in late 1994 and much of 1995. The OJ Simpson trial caused chronic preemptions for all the soap operas, with viewers pulled into the real life drama unfolding and a years-long habit broken by the constant preeemptions. In 1995, GH also embarked on its critically acclaimed HIV/AIDs storyline. This was met with resistance from many fans upon its announcement. The president of ABC Daytime television regretted announcing the storyline beforehand as many viewers stopped watching for the entire period sight unseen. In the end, GH held on to viewers from before the OJ trial, especially younger ones, better than most other soap operas.
By late 1996, with GH performing quite well in the nielsen ratings, well enough to merit a special one time only primetime episode called Twist of Fate. The network was discussing what to do with its 12:30pm time-slot, currently home to The City, the struggling spinoff of recently cancelled Loving. Jane Elliot who played Tracy Quartermaine had migrated her GH character over to the show in an attempt to boost ratings with little success. The network began discussing the possibility of a GH spin-off. Claire Labine began working on a series called “Heart and Soul”. The soap would feature Lois Cerullo, whose character had left Port Charles at the time, living in Brooklyn with her extended over-the top Italian family. This theatrical family would be right next door to a Black family with deep roots in the music scene. The show would be the second attempt at a fully integrated soap opera after “Generations”. However, this would have the GH brand behind it, an Emmy award winner in Labine’s writing and Emmy-winning actress in Rena Sofer, whose character of Lois was incredibly popular with critics and fans alike.
Unfortunately for Claire Labine, Wendy Riche also had an idea for a GH spin-off about young interns called Port Charles, and it was picked up instead. Labine left the show in 1997, but her legacy lived on. In later interviews before her death in 2019, Labine stated that she knew Heart and Soul was a long shot to get picked up. Labine left GH knowing in all likelihood it would not move forward, but remained commited to the project because she felt passionately about bringing the diverse concept to television.