Articles and Interviews
Paying the Scorpios
a House Call
"In one corner of the football field-length enclosure where General Hospital is taped, Tony Geary (Luke) and Jeanna Michaels (Connie) are rehearsing a scene. The set of Luke's apartment is brightly lit, and technicians scurry about, making sure that no unwanted shadows fall across the actors' faces. To the professionals who put in four, five, sometimes six days a week at work here, the cavernous landscape seems quite ordinary.
But to a visitor, afforded a very rare opportunity to explore the GH set, the scenery takes on magical dimensions. Over to one side, the Quartermaine mansion, even while partially dismantled, is impressive in its grandeur. And perhaps nowhere do chunks of painted wood and pieces of furniture come to life more than in the split-level townhouse of Robert and Holly Scorpio. One of the most elaborate sets ever constructed for a day or nighttime serial, the Scorpio townhouse blends the glamour of a luxurious dwelling place with the intrigue appropriate to the Police Commissioner of Port Charles' exciting and dangerous lifestyle.
According to Jim Ellingwood, General Hospital's emmy award-winning art director, it took almost two months to complete the townhouse- a very lengthy stint by set design standards. Once executive producer Gloria Monty came up with the original suggestion to incorporate a computer console into Scorpio's secret communications room, Ellingwood took over and applied his remarkable sense of detail. The end product is amazingly true-to-life.
With a generous budget, made possible by their top-rated stature, General Hospital's art staff was able to go on a spectacular shopping spree for this set. Actual panels from CB and police-band radios were purchased and slotted into the console. A secret phone (for those classified calls to the WSB, maybe?) rises out of an innocent looking desk top, then sinks back underneath, sheltered from enemy eyes. Scorpio's map of Port Charles (adapted from a real city in upstate New York) lights up to shop crimes in progress. And the moment the Commissioner is informed of some illegal activity, he can call Burt Ramsey on his videophone and relay instructions for catching the crooks. To simulate computer banks, typewriter keyboards were used. Even Scorpio's infamous exercise machine is a first rate brand.
Left to explore on my own, I open a manila folder that sits on Scorpio's desk. The papers inside are a surprise- real copies of a murder report from the Los Angeles Police Department! Even thought it's highly unlikely that the documents would ever appear on camera, Ellingwood explains that such small touches help everyone connected with the show believe in its authentcity, while the tape is rolling. Despite the fact that Tristan Rogers and Emma Samma, who play Robert and Holly, have the day off, the Scorpio's state-of-the-art communications room may be the townhouse's most attention-getting spot, the structure is crammed full of other painstakingly-crafted rooms. Even the kitchen sink is equipped with running water when necessary. Hidden throughout the house are secret passageways- escape routes- should the Commissioner have to flee for his life! Where are they and to what do they lead? Ellingwood smiles and informs us that we'll just have to keep watching the show.
Scorpio's control center, with its high-tech, no-nonsense furnishings, is in keeping with its business function. The rest of the townhouse, however, appears to have been furnished with Holly's refined British tastes in mind. Ellingwood indicates several unique pieces- a mirror, a plant stand- and mentions that they are indeed antiques. All items in the rooms were custom made for the show and upholstered in fabrics which would be flattering to the camera. Pointing to a large metallic turtle, the artist explains that several viewers have gone as far as contacting him, wanting to buy the beast. Though he wasn't able to fulfill those requests, Ellingwood did assist one viewer who pined for a sofa exactly like the one in the Scorpio's living room. He put the prospective buyer in touch with its manufacturer.
But such imitation isn't really surprising to Jim Ellingwood. Everything from the textured wallpaper to the leather-covered telephone is the best that money can buy, so why shouldn't discerning General Hospital viewers want to equip their homes with similar well-made items? Ellingwood, who has been creating GH's sets for 4 1/2 years, considers such reactions flattering to his abilities.
While General Hospital's talented cast learns their lines, the technical crew keeps an equally demanding schedule. Between moving sets into place, lighting them properly, storing other sets for use within the next day or two, and constantly maintaining all of them in camera-ready condition, it takes 48 hours of shift work to create one hour of edited tape which appears on the screen. Obviously, for millions of GH viewers as well as its cast and crew, such high pressure demands are worth the end results."