An Appreciation of Jacklyn Zeman

Posted January 11, 2015 by Meoskop in Media Reviews, Television / 0 Comments

A picture of the general hospital character Bobbie Spencer in her nurse's uniform circa 1978While this didn’t seem to fit in at LITM I decided it was worth dusting off IMGB to discuss.  I don’t have a well thought out point or a major theme but I was really struck by Jacklyn Zeman on General Hospital this week. I’ve watched Zeman’s entire run as Bobbie Spencer, from her student nurse days to her iconic grieving mother, to her current rarely seen grandmother. When Zeman decides to go for it, she’s untouchable. If you don’t watch General Hospital the backstory you need for this is pretty simple. Well, by soap standards.

Bobbie Spencer is a formerly abused child  with a long lost sister she hated (Patricia) and a currently kidnapped brother she adores (Luke) who is being held in their childhood home by a man who may or may not be their cousin, the long dead Bill Eckert. My money is on the doppelgänger (commonly referred to as Fluke) being Patricia, but whatevs. The point is that in a scene on 1/9/15 Zeman pulled over 30 years of history into an unscripted (at least verbally) moment that was so very emotionally accurate that if I handed out the Emmy’s she’d be a lock.
At the four minute mark of this clip, Bobbie is approaching her childhood home in the company of her grandson, Michael. He’s determined to turn the property into a tribute to his own dysfunctional childhood, wiping away the memory of early trauma for both of them. Bobbie is determined to support him but less certain about returning to Elm Street, where almost every wrong turn in her soaptastic life began. Watch from 12:36.

The way Zeman pauses and looks away indicates that what seems to Michael like a happy memory is actually a nightmarish one, and one she’s not inclined to share with her oldest grandchild. There are many reasons Luke would have pulled Bobbie into a tree and many of them involve hiding. The fierce loyalty between Bobbie and Luke is so layered that seeing Bobbie on the Elm Street porch without Luke reinforces to the viewer how isolated Bobbie has become with her brother unknowingly absent. If Zeman’s sad pause wasn’t directed, her instincts to include it prove she’s one of the most under-appreciated lions of the genre working today.
Here, for perspective, are two other clips dealing with Elm Street. In the first Bobbie is a happily situated career woman exploring an exciting opportunity with (future ex husband) Jake Myers. The Bobbie of this clip is far enough from Elm Street that returning seems possible, a chance to reclaim her past without damaging her future.

In this clip, Bobbie is a student nurse. Her lost sister Patricia is mentioned around the 4:20 mark and it’s clear from Bobbie’s reactions that she wants no part of family memories. Later in the 2015 episode I started with, Bobbie revisits the events alluded to in this 1978 clip. This is the strength of storytelling we’re losing with the end of daytime dramas, the power of the multi-generational story lines carried forward by the same actors and actresses. Young Bobbie is running from a life of childhood prostitution and an abandoned child (although she doesn’t know about the kid yet). She’s come back to town to get the life she should have been given by a stable upbringing and a supportive family. For 1978 Bobbie, everything is possible as long as she can keep Elm Street behind her.