Remember how I said I would never look at the interviews given by the actors in Perfect Strangers?
A few months ago, Phil sent me the Alcott Farm 2017 Calendar Featuring the Work and Wisdom of Bronson Pinchot with Photography by Beth Yarbrough. There are fifteen of these left as of this writing, so please do purchase one. You may want to quibble over the fact that you will have “lost” two months of its utility, but the wisdom and the works within will return blessing and success to your life for years to come. Why, January’s wisdom alone has changed my worldview: “Time-altered things retain their loveliness. Their beauty lies in the intention of their maker, whether artist, artisan, or deity.” Finally, the perfectly-stated rejoinder to the whole idea of the “death of the author”. Barthes can suck it!
February’s wisdom is almost a continuation of that idea: “If the context of a work of art is knowable, it is one’s duty to consider it as part of the whole; if it is unknowable, it is one’s privilege to exult in the surviving artifact.” In other words, I haven’t been carrying out my full duty in creating this blog. So I find it necessary to look at the various extant video surrounding this show: interviews, game show appearances, and a smattering of commercials. Many thanks to Linda Kay for her curatorial efforts. Just think, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have so many things at my disposal to put down this show.
The only lie I have for you–in fact, the only one I have ever made–is that there would be sex in this week’s post.
So strap on, tune in, and get turnt, let’s look at interviews and such through the end of season 4!
Season 1 & 2 (March 25, 1986 – May 6, 1987)
Not all of these videos have specific dates on them, so I’m lumping some of those together here that simply claim to be from the “late 80s” or “1986”, etc.
I am honestly surprised there weren’t more interviews with Bronson Pinchot for this time period. That is, I’m certain there were, I’m just surprised that they aren’t included on Linda’s YouTube page. I think we can all agree it was just tons of Bronson interviews where they asked him about Beverly Hills Cop.
Of special note is the fact that in this timeframe, we have the only double appearance by the cousins, on Hour Magazine at some point in 1986. Hour Magazine was hosted by Gary Collins (you all know Gary), and appeared to be a talk show with an added conceit: each celebrity was the “person of the hour”, and would stick around to be a part of the host interviewing other guests.
Left: me at 6 years old; Right: rare pre-production shot from Mac and Me.
Linn-Baker and Pinchot hang out while Gary talks to a woman who had four sets of twins (one kid excitedly says she watches Perfect Strangers). They also participate in an interview with a Karen Dean Fritts, a psychologist who was there to discuss whether bachelorhood was on the decline (due to men becoming more selective because of STDs). Mark is uncomfortable talking about his then 3-year-long relationship, but Bronson’s words are more revealing. Sometime around 1982/1983, Bronson had been engaged. After that went south, Bronson says that he think he’s “not even going to get close for, like, another eight years”.
This interview is also noteworthy for being the last time either one of these actors would touch an animal that wasn’t dead poultry.
I suppose it would have been a safe bet that Bronson was on Hollywood Squares at some point. I’m going to admit something about myself, something I’ve never told anyone else: Hollywood Squares is one of those shows that I’m aware of, but it was never a part of my childhood. I feel like most people in my general age range must have seen it; it was on during the time period when I would have first started seeing gameshows. Whether it was because my parents mostly watched ABC, or because I never really saw daytime shows, I felt like I had missed out. It usually came up as some sort of joke or punchline, so I’m hoping someone out there can situate Hollywood Squares for me in the greater pop culture context. Was it a good show? Were the celebrities generally well-loved? A-list, B-list, etc.?
At any rate, Bronson was on there at least three times. He’s not very funny here, and even doesn’t understand a joke the host makes. I suppose he was out of his element here, since there weren’t any old women to talk to about constipation.
Hey, Bronson Pinchot and Brigitte Nielsen presented an award at the People’s Choice Awards in 1987! Certainly they’ll engage in some witty banter about how she was in Beverly Hills Cop 2 and he wasn’t, right?
No. Bronson makes a joke, Brigitte doesn’t get it, and Bronson tells her she didn’t get it. I’m not sure whether it would be better or worse if they had come up with their dialogue beforehand.
Evidently, in late 1980s France, television was undergoing deregulation. This meant that networks needed to (heh) fill some slots quickly, so they started importing American shows. Like, who cares, really, but I know at least one of you out there will be into the footage of two French voiceover actors moaning while watching Perfect Strangers.
Season 3 (May 7, 1987 – May 6, 1988)
All right! We’re halfway done with th…
*sees that I am on page 3 of 19 in this Google Drive document full of notes*
If you think I’m to do a paragraph or two for each of the remaining 40+ videos I watched, you’re nuttier than squirrel shit. So let’s talk trends. Previously, Bronson had been the star; but now that Perfect Strangers itself was a bonafide hit, it’s just interviews all over the place.
You’ve got your morning talk show interviews:
Bronson Pinchot appeared on Good Morning America a few times that year. The first I have (from September 1987, right after Bronson received an Emmy nomination) doesn’t give us much information. Bronson deflects the host’s praise about the nomination, as well as the good reviews, as he claims it does no good for him: he doesn’t even get free shoe shines. And there’s the Bronson we all know and love!
Host: So you’re doing great and people like you!
Bronson: This is not enough to make me happy.
It appears he did have a girlfriend that week–he makes some sort of finger-based inside joke to the camera. At one point, the host asks him about trouble on set, and we learn that Linn-Baker was essentially a class clown–making Bronson laugh, but becoming pure innocence when the teacher notices. I do want to highlight one thing Bronson says here, in the context of coming up with “don’t be ridiculous”:
Bronson: It came out of… this constant thing, which I think a lot of people have, which is, “I really don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I want you to still like me, and I want not to be stared at right now, so I’m just going to deflect it”.
Deep. My psychology sidebars have nothing on that.
The other Good Morning America interview gives a couple of tidbits: one is how much he and Mark come up with lines for Balki, and how much of the physical comedy they come up with. There’s also a mention of the movie Second Sight, no kidding here, two years before it came out. Bronson is annoyed by the types of things women want to do when they travel.
He was also on AM Los Angeles a couple of times. In one, he talks about flea bites on his ankles. In another, he’s promoting the show’s move to Friday nights. But this is also where he starts exhibiting a pattern of behavior. He comes out early before the hosts are done talking about the day’s program, he steals their question cards, throws away the ones that I assume are about Eddie Murphy, and he keeps deflecting questions about his personal life. Second Sight, according to Bronson, was to come out in November of 1988.
But sometimes, Bronson would be allowed to stay up past his bedtime and be on prime time. He showed up again on Hollywood Squares, where he pretends to call Ronald Reagan as Balki (in the grand tradition of jokes Bronson comes up with on his own, it’s almost a good idea, but ends up going nowhere). He made some small appearances on Entertainment Tonight, sometimes just for quick quotes, like when he shared a memory about how his bosses on Perfect Strangers took him to task for breaking character; and when Bronson thought Harvey Korman would back him up, Harvey Korman did not back him up. One clip from March 1988 gives us a couple of tidbits about Bronson: he was miserable when he’d go 8 or 9 months without a job; and that his goal in playing Balki is to make “you look at things the way you looked at them when you were 5”. But God I love Mary Hart’s reaction to hearing about Bronnie’s role in Second Sight.
Let’s pretend this one is also from Entertainment Tonight so I can lump them in here. January of 1988: Cheryl Washington interviews Bronson and leads into the clip by saying that Perfect Strangers enticed him to put movies on hold.
*pauses YouTube video and laughs for three minutes straight*
To his credit, though, he does say that he turned down a lot of movies because he didn’t know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. He was developing “a few movie projects”
*three minutes pass*
but hoped that he could be on a great, innovative sitcom, like Mork and Mindy.
like, look, man, did you watch it or not
From something called Hot Quotes!, and I’m paraphrasing slightly:
Tabloid interviewer: Are any women trying to date you?
Bronson: No, there are none.
Each of the last few generations have had their flashpoint moment, the moment everyone can say where they were that day: Kennedy’s assassination, the attack on Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the moon landing, but for many, it was Bronson Pinchot’s appearance on Hour Magazine in February 1988. Bronson touches Gary Collins’s leg and makes fun of his socks. Bronson slouches silently and then eats pie made by Pillsbury Bake-Off winner Mary Lou Warren. Then, he and Gary talk fashion with Sandie Newton about mesh biker shirts and Prince William’s knees. They also discuss losing the hair on their lower legs, a clever ruse on Bronson’s part to get Gary Collins to touch his leg.
But hey, the last part of Hour Magazine picks up a bit with actress Sally Kirkland!*
She talks about acting school, certainly something Bronson will have perspective on…
No, Bronson just flirts with Sally. But then the conversation moves on to doing roles with accents, certainly something Bronson will have perspective on…
Fine, moving on to season 4.
Season 4 (May 7, 1988 – May 5, 1989), or, the section with all the Pat Sajak clips
That morning talkshow/late night talkshow order worked alright for the season 3 videos, but I think it’s worth doing the rest of these actor by actor.
We’ve got two interviews here, one from A.M. Los Angeles in March 1989 where she talks about her father, Dick Wilson. Dick was not only on Bewitched, but he was also Mr. Whipple in the “don’t squeeze the Charmin” commercials. The host is unimpressed by this. Anyways, Melanie had been acting since the age of 10, going from theatre to commercials to Perfect Strangers. Also her husband makes closets and the asshole hosts of A.M. Los Angeles straight up ask her if she’s worried about him screwing lonely housewives. There’s also a lovely quote from Melanie that I just have to present out of context: “It’s true: you’ll never see me anywhere”.
Now here’s one that I found very interesting to watch. In April 1989, Melanie Wilson appeared on the Pat Sajak Show the same night that Louie Anderson was a guest.** She tells Pat the exact same story about her dad, but it’s a little punchier by now. But pretty quickly into their chat, Louie butts in and shifts the conversation immediately to how the makers of Perfect Strangers hated him, and he wouldn’t be on that stupid show anyway. He acts like he’s joking, but it sounds pretty honest to my ears. Melanie had no idea that Louie was the original Cousin Larry.
Melanie and Pat talk around the fact that Louie won’t shut up, and Melanie subtly signals to Pat that she’s uncomfortable. He’s an aware enough guy he picks up on it and goes to commercial.
Rebeca Arthur did a lot of game shows, such as Super Password, Couch Potatoes, and The All-New Liars’ Club. As far as I’m concerned–and perhaps this has to do with her hair color and figure–she fits in well in this setting. I also find that she’s fairly funny on her own. For instance, in her February 1989 appearance on Couch Potatoes (it’s basically a version of Trivial Pursuits where the contestants only answer the questions about TV), pretty much the first thing out of her mouth is a joke about how Balki fucks sheep. I love this woman, y’all. I do feel for her, though, since it’s quickly obvious that none of the contestants has watched even a minute of Perfect Strangers; seriously, they don’t even know Anyway, you find out that Rebeca auditioned for the role of Jennifer first, and that Mary Anne was originally going to be called Rachel. A moment of silence, please, for the Larry Anne (Ship) that never was.
I mention her appearances on Super Password during “Halloween Week” simply to make a few stray observations. First is that the dog seen in “Your Cheatin’ Heart” was actually Rebeca’s dog, Emmy. Another is that Pat Sajak was the second celebrity guest, which to me now becomes an indication that network lines were perhaps only drawn in the sand. ABC may have turned Perfect Strangers into a commercial for Moonlighting, but Super Password aired on NBC, and The Pat Sajak Show was on CBS.
The gimmick of Halloween Week is that host Bert Convy had to pass out bags with “tricks” or “treats” in them to the players, and it’s obvious that no one had decided beforehand what merited either one. Bert Convy doesn’t even try to hide how little he likes the gimmick, and Pat Sajak keeps lightly criticizing him for not keeping the pace going. But, hey, I’m not reviewing Super Password, right? It’s honestly kind of boring to wa–
Oh wait–there’s toys!
I can’t identify that inflatable bat, but it’s likely Oriental Trading Company or Hallmark. Maybe Russ.
In case you were looking for something undeniably 80s from these clips, Rebeca Arthur plays with Shlump, one of the Boglin toys.
On the second show, who cares about anything else, because there’s a Snarlie Narlie from the Rock Lords line.
Not enough Pat Sajak for you yet? Here’s Rebeca on his show! She’s brought her dog, Emmy, along. Pat gives her a muffin for the dog, and Rebeca jokes about how messy it’s going to be when Emmy shits it back out later on. I love this woman, y’all.
Let’s see, what’s interesting here… she can’t remember what the cousins’ jobs are… she was the Azalea Queen at the North Carolina Azalea Festival… she has a friend named Lisa…
I’ve got eight more pages of notes to condense, so let’s switch to Mark, shall we?
Mark had his interview talking points down to a science, and you basically get the same talking points covered in the articles from last time around. He and Bronson have no drama behind the scenes, he and Bronson don’t hate each other, he and Bronson “have good chemistry”.
Again, because I did such a thorough and perfect job creating a narrative of these actors and their relationship to each other, the show, and their own lives, I only have a list of tidbits here.
Mark: The simpler the stories are, the funnier it gets.
Well, I’ve definitely found my season 5 running joke!
Pat Sajak: They’re starting to call you guys Laurel & Hardy, and Norton & Kramden….”
don’t give ‘em any ideas, Pat
Mark: We try to be funny.
Damn! Two running jokes for season 5 and I haven’t even started watching it yet!
It wouldn’t surprise me if people stopped interviewing this guy after awhile. Anyway, Mark seemed to be a go-to guy whenever someone needed a safe white guy who was associated with comedy, who would show up on time and not mess up any lines.
For instance, he co-hosted Here’s to You, Mickey Mouse with Soleil Moon Frye. This TV special celebrated Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday*** by having Mark hang out with a teenage girl in a dressing room and solemnly watch old Mickey Mouse cartoons. I love you, Mark, but fuck this snoozefest. I’ll stick with Totally Minnie, thank you very much.
Ah, crap, I knew I’d regret this endeavor at some point. I’m going to have to watch the 1988 McDonald’s Charity Christmas Parade in Chicago, hosted by Linn-Baker and Uncle Jesse.
This whole thing is far, far more boring than you’d think. I watched the whole thing just to bring you these juicy details. John Stamos and Jana Davies keep making jokes about Mark, possibly to throw him off, but Mark sticks to the script like shit to a shovel. Now that he’s spent years on screen correcting pronunciation, he makes sure the home audience knows that you’re supposed to say “pom-pon”. We learn that Stamos and Mark were in high school band, playing drums and clarinet, respectively. I was in high school band, and yes, their personalities are an exact match for those instruments. I also would have believed that Stamos played trumpet. Bob Evans Restaurants had mascots named Biscuit & Gravy; John Stamos’s favorite movie is Wizard of Oz; Jana Davies tries to get the guys to make jokes about her breasts; Jana Davies laughs at what she thought was a fat joke; Jana Davies sounds like a jerk, huh? They also make up canon for Mac Tonight, which I really don’t appreciate. They’re saying he’s from outer space. I don’t believe it. Guy played a piano on a cloud. I believe in genetic convergence and all, but come on.
Santa is explicitly religious when he talks, which you damn sure couldn’t do these days.
Lastly, because he didn’t mind another $200 bucks in his savings account, Mark hosted the Moscow Circus special (sometime between August 15 and October 9, 1988). Evidently Perfect Strangers had repaired US-Russian relations!
This is the worst spoof of News for the Hard of Hearing that I’ve ever seen.
Mark gives us a very short history of circuses, and talks about how many people are in the Moscow Circus and they also have bears and there’s some sort of mythology about cranes and who fucking cares I’m tired of watching all this shit now I’m tired of this show I’m tired of these actors I’m tired of the whole world do you understand me our whole country is turning into a Moscow Circus and Pinchot spelled backwards is Putin nobody knows conclusively why the term handbasket is used but that’s what we’re in or maybe the more appropriately temporally-localized metaphor is that we’re going to hell in a Hummer or we’re going to hell in a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine we’re going to hell or it’s a Mohamed and the mountain idiom kind of a thing and it’s here we’re in HELL and
oh, the video ended
Bronson Pinchot (pronounced “pinch-ohpopo”)
Of course I left Bronson for last. And of course most of the interviews were with him. And of course he keeps touching feet and shoes. Let’s do these in chronological order.
During the summer of 1988, Bronson appeared on both Good Morning America and Entertainment Tonight to promote his big upcoming super-great-sure-to-be-a-blockbuster-hit Second Sight. Joel Zwick (that’s him above), director of 49 out of the first 50 Perfect Strangers episodes, was set to direct Bronson as a “psychic virtuoso”. It’s been most of my life since I watched anything like either one of these programs. I have vague memories of these shows being on the set of whatever movie, but I don’t know if I remember them happening a year and a half out had more to do with how slowly time passed for youngsters.
Mary Hart (Scorpio): Pinchot, known for his interpretation of offbeat characters such as Balki on Perfect Strangers, says that developing a role for a film–
Wait, Mary Hart, STOP
Shouldn’t you list, like, a second character he interpreted? That he’s known for? Maybe????
Bronson says that it’s high pressure because he has to come up with new comedy all the time during the film.
Makes sense. Larroquette mentions that he finds Bronson funny because he’s always doing something unexpected. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out for him. In his appearance on Attitudes (a talkshow you’re more likely to remember from the Saturday Night Live parody with Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn), he got the audience to agree to not applaud for him when he comes out, just as a goof on the viewers at home.
What? Why?? Anyway, he mentions Moonlighting, so I stopped the video and went on to the next one.
Bronson showed up again on Good Morning America in November 1988 to talk about how “Up a Lazy River” was some grade-A funny shit, but that the quicksand was made from “fine gravel” and he got an ear infection from it.
Bronson please give Joan Lunden her shoe back.
At this point, I assure you you’re not alone in wondering if Bronson has some sort of fetish. Sure, the first time, he was making a logical joke about his success not getting him “shoe shines”. Later, when he was on Hour Magazine, Gary made fun of Bronson for zoning out, and Bronson responded by making fun of Gary’s socks; they later made a callback to it and touched each other’s legs.
But here? He grabs Joan Lunden’s shoe before she’s even done with her first question and holds it up in front of him while he says hello to family at home. Is there something here? Was it some sort of ill-planned joke on the references to Balki having the prettiest legs on Mypos? (Question just for people who like men’s legs: does Bronson have nice legs/feet?) Is it just Bronson trying to buck formula again, either to play the role of Bronson Pinchot, or maybe amuse himself? At any rate, I’ve got three running (ha) jokes ready for season 5 now. And I thought it wouldn’t be worth watching these interviews.
I want to apologize that most of this post has been nothing but fodder for your next Perfect Strangers trivia party, but I did finally get some insight from these two interviews. Let’s get the morsels out of the way first.
–Bronson says he keeps Balki fresh by using his own “rhythm” rather than that of the character. Yeah, and it fuckin’ showed this season
–Bronson’s family was on food stamps when he was young
–In case you needed more reasons to dislike him, Bronson did not know who Debbie Gibson was
–There’s a bit missing from the portion with second guest, Michael Gross, who had just finished up a 7-year run on Family Ties. I wish I could have seen more of him and Bronson together to know if they talked about their different perspectives on their shows. But mostly during that section, Bronson just pipes up once to make a joke about watching porn.
*shit, I almost forgot to make a joke about watching porn this week, gotta come up with something fast*
Ahem. I watch porn.
–in the May appearance, Bronson takes off his shoes right away (Jesus…)
–we learn that Bronson talked about his mother’s feet in his February appearance (…Christ)
–At that point in time, Second Sight was supposed to come out in August 1989
–Bronson used to turn up the music real loud when he would bring home girls when he was 17
Yes, that’s right, you heard right, that tender age of 17, when he was in high school and depressed and overweight and barely social…
There’s a couple of ways that you can sort Bronson’s talkshow appearances. One is the daytime/late night axis. He likes to goof around in the mornings, steals question cards, steals shoes, tells the audience not to laugh, but on Arsenio, he’s quiet. Waits for a good opportunity to make an adult joke. Shows off his legs to the ladies. Talks about gettin’ that high school poonanny. Perhaps Bronson’s keenly aware of the audience demographics, and modifies his behavior appropriately.
But another axis is male vs. female hosts. It always seems to be the women hosts that he goofs around on. Sure, there were both male and female hosts on AM Los Angeles, but he stole their interview cards. Sure, when both cousins appeared on Hour Magazine in 1986, you could argue that Bronson hadn’t developed his quirky “what’s-he-gonna-do-next” persona, but in the 1988 episode with just him and Gary, he barely talks through most of the segments. He takes Joan Lunden’s shoe, but he’s remarkably laid-back on Arsenio.
Here’s the thing about Occam’s Razor: not only does it need to be the simplest explanation, it needs to be the simplest explanation that covers all the pieces. Maybe Bronson legitimately loves everybody’s feet, including his own. Maybe his fiancée left because he only wanted to suck on her toes.
He was not the most social person in high school, even if he did bring girls home sometimes. Maybe he did date a different woman every few weeks after finding success, and maybe he did grab secretaries’ butts, but he was engaged, and they did break it off, and he did go on national TV and say that he didn’t think he could ever “get close” to marriage for another eight years. And–spoiler alert–we know now that he never has gotten married.
To try to be fair, I’ll acknowledge that this can’t possibly be the totality of Bronson’s television interviews to this point. We can’t get a full picture right now of how he developed over the years 1986-1989, and the foot stuff itself could be overshadowed by some other recurring thing–or lost in a sea of no recurring things, if we could. But that previous paragraph is made up of facts, and here’s my interpretation of these interviews seen through these facts. I get the strong impression that Bronson is more comfortable talking to men. When there’s a chance of a woman asking him questions, he seems to need to deflect it by being goofy first. For whatever reason(s), the Bronson I see in these interviews does not want to have no power in a situation with a woman. Let’s take the attention off of my interior by looking at my exterior.
On the other hand, Balki did try to shine Susan’s shoes with his heart…
Did it–am I done? Did I watch them all?
*collapses into a heap in Yaya Biki’s chair*
I hope you enjoyed this dive into the world of TV appearances; and if you didn’t, please tell me so I won’t waste everybody’s time for the next four seasons. I’m curious to hear if anyone else has a different take from mine on Bronson and feet.
To end, though, I’ve got one more video from this time period for you. Bronson Pinchot was in a Temptations music video
for some goddam reason because the Temptations weren’t that popular anymore, and Bronson was, which just goes to show you how much justice there is in the world. Also, surprise surprise:
Join me next week when I’ll look at articles written during season 4, and also what our actors did during the summer of 1989. After that you’ll get your season 4 review, I promise.
*At one point in this interview, Gary asks Sally who just came in the door behind the audience; it was Paulina Porizkova. Mere coincidence?
***Does this mean he was still wet with afterbirth at the beginning of “Steamboat Willie”?
****Thanks again to Linda Kay’s curatorial efforts.