Season 6, Episode 19: See How They Run

Welcome back! I hope you all avoided putting your foot in your mouth about historically black genres of music this past week.

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It’s fitting that we once again open with a shot of the top of the Chicago Chronicle building. The cousins have a history with rooftops. Tall buildings, symbols of priapic capitalism, are something the cousins have never been comfortable with, finding shattered psyches, divine judgment, profit maximization or, as we explored last week, the double meaning of the term facade. The cousins travel briefly up buildings, long enough to choose whether to uplift a failing spirit or to cast down scoundrels.

From a simulated rooftop, to the basement are we again sent, underground, amongst the grass roots.

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Balki shows Lydia the poster he has created for his campaign for student body president at Dial College. Balki, who has known how to write his own name for two decades now, couldn’t figure out how to fucking turn a piece of posterboard 90 degrees.

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Or so I thought at first glance! But look closer, my friends: the episode may be giving away its own resolution here.  Consider the dichotomy of portrait vs landscape. A portrait typically limits the focus of the viewer onto an individual, and fittingly within the realm of political races, begs the viewer to consider them as an icon. (I know that you all have already picked up on the aspects of vertical orientation signifying hierarchy, as well as the religious implications, so I won’t go into them here.) Balki, however, comes from the idyllic fields of Mypos–a landscape orientation that decidedly does not fit neatly into the American cult of political personality. We sense already a suggestion that Balki will need to cut away some aspects of himself, that a foreign name alone is bar enough to success in America.

Anyway, look at that shitty drawing of Dimitri. Am I really supposed to believe that the man who painted this

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drew this?

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And look at Dimitri’s head, facing away from the viewer. I assume Balki’s slogan is “A chicken’s cloaca in every pot, and a dick in every sheep”.

Lydia tell Balki that perhaps he should get some help from a character that they actually bother to write dialogue for, like Larry.

Balki says that he’s been trying his damnedest to keep his campaign a secret from Larry, using effective tactics like working on it five yards from Larry’s desk, and telling Larry’s other coworkers about it. Seriously? We know that Larry probably goes to Jennifer’s apartment once or twice a year; that would be the perfect place for Balki to be working on this. Especially since there’s no reason for him to be doing this at work, other than for Larry to find out about it! Lydia adds nothing to the scene; she was brought on just so she could say “I don’t want to be in this story”.

On her way out, Lydia says she wants to fuck some cowboys.

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Anyway, Balki doesn’t want Larry to take over the campaign because he’s afraid Larry will ruin it, and suddenly I’m interested to see what Balki might do on his own! We haven’t had an episode in two whole seasons (see “That Old Gangbang of Mine”) where Balki’s approach to something went over the top and disturbed Cousin Larry’s life.

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Cousin Larry walks out of the entirely empty room that everybody still pretends houses the archives and, when he sees Balki’s campaign poster, wishes him luck.

Balki has an emotional-allergic reaction simply to Cousin Larry’s presence, shouting at him to butt the fuck out, true revolution must come from the people, don’t bread on me, no taxation without dentation, liberté, fraternité, enola gay!

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Balki is so shocked at Larry not giving a shit that he lets slip one of his fantasies:

Balki: Well bang my bongos and call me Desi!

Larry tells us that he lost every single student body race that he ran in, and that he understands Balki’s fear that he will try to live vicariously through him. Balki asks him if it’s really true, that finally, after all these years, that Perfect Strangers will not only feature a Balki college story, but also that it will make an attempt to comment on—perhaps even rise above—its own patterns, pushing everyone’s overall character arc forward?

Dear reader, the show is deeper than you ever hoped for. Larry explains that he has been listening to self-help tapes—120 hours’ worth, roughly correspondent with the current number of episodes—in order to repair his own failings.

We started this season with the image of a torn, mangled chair unsuccessfully taped back together, and three weeks ago Larry turned himself to face Larry, re-discovering his memories, only to find a damaged person. Do you see it? He has been trying to tape himself back together using his own memories (perhaps with Memorex?), and this season has already told us how well this is likely to pan out.

Larry goes on to tell us that tapes 1-43 have taught him how to be at peace with his body, which he pictures now as a hollow reed through which troubles blow like the wind, that he—

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Yeah, okay, I’m going to stop the symbolism stuff at this point, because it sounds like these tapes just told Larry how to finally gain control of his bowel movements.

Balki tells Larry that his platform consists of one issue: reinstating the foreign-language requirement at Dial College. Larry agrees with Balki, saying that higher education is one of the final self-selecting processes of success in America, whereby the true edge is given, not in dedicated focus to one discipline, but in rounding out social science knowledge with the hard sciences and a soupçon of humanities, that such a broad landscape of knowledge will eventually give someone the edge, likely in the workplace, but certainly in the social spheres.

Nah, j/k, Larry says it’s a shit platform and Balki Ricardo comes out, saying much the same thing as he did in “Speak, Memory”:

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Balki: Oh, popopo, bolingo moniki, desporiki yoogi App-le-toniki babasticky Bartokomouki challabalouki….

Here, it translates to “I’m foreign.” When he learns that Balki is going to hand-out spleen-chip cookies to prospective votes, he finally can’t keep himself from taking over Balki’s campaign.

Larry: The writers aren’t really going to push us—or themselves—outside of our respective comfort zones this week, are they?

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So we got a promising setup taken away from us; but as consolation, the show gives us a goat scrotum.

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If you ever needed proof that Larry isn’t getting laid, look no further:

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Larry—who is still making payments on a $140,000 house—has purchased banners, extra phone lines, posters, strawboater hats, and disposable miniature flags for the disposable miniature personages whose votes Balki needs.

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You’d think, perhaps, that Larry has recruited Balki’s friends from Dial College. But Balki doesn’t say hello to a single one of these people, so I assume that they’re all students who just don’t know what to do with all that free time between their full-time jobs and their full-time course loads.

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Or maybe that old woman is Mrs. Falby, silently filling her Go-Aheads brand diapers while she stuffs envelopes.

The show, I believe, is finding its way back to some variation on the theme of “Balki encounters America”, and I’ll get to that in a second, but I feel that a little more could have been done to establish why Larry is doing what he is doing.  Is this any different from his tactics in the student elections he lost throughout his life? Or is it the same tactics, but more of it? Does Larry simply think that he can now afford to win an election? Hold that last thought, I’ll come back to it in a minute.

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Cousin Larry has recruited Jennifer and Mary Anne (Suffragist) to help with the women’s vote, knowing that Balki’s approach would have been to offer oral footrubs.

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Jennifer is so excited to get some lines in another episode that doesn’t need her at all!

Somehow this rinky-dink city college has both a football team and cheerleaders, so Mary Anne starts doing a cheer to spell out Balki’s name.

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The joke is that she knows “their language”, so I guess you can just spell out a word to a cheerleader and they’ll do it? I can honestly no longer tell if Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks stump speeches are only given by amputees.

Larry asks Balki if he can come up with a terrible campaign slogan.

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So let’s talk some more about Larry’s Error of the Week.  Larry putting all this together serves as a punchline to Balki telling him not to go “overboard” with the campaign. But up until this point in the episode, Larry seems like the perfect person to do it: he’s financed the campaign and gotten a number of people to throw their support behind a candidate. This narrows the space for what he can do “wrong”.

Balki asks Larry what he should wear to the debate that his opponent challenged him to. Larry explains that under no circumstances should Bronson Pinchot be allowed to improvise and moves on to Press Junket Balki B’s appearances to speak with college groups, such as athletes, the science club, and the fraternities which this city college somegoddamhow has. Larry’s error, we find out, is that he is pushing Balki to give these groups conflicting messages about his platform priorities.

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Going back to the possibility that Larry believes he can buy an election, let’s put it together with the underlying idea here that an American electoral process is different from what you’d get on Mypos. We can assume that Balki’s assumption would be that he could talk to every single voter to accurately convey his position on the issues. Larry appears to hold the assumption that there are simply too many people; and he almost-explicitly says that you have to make tradeoffs to reach your important goals, a lesson that Balki has never learned, no, not even once, NEVER.

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If this kind of multilayered statement was something that the writers had in mind for this episode, it’s as close to brilliant as this show ever comes. I’d put it right up there next to “Karate Kids” in terms of having a solid implicit intellectual conversation.

As aside: in terms of explicit conversation, Balki’s accent and pronunciation have gotten fucking weird this season.  He keeps saying something close to “mweepwos” and is over-enunciating the “h” every time he says “dishonest”. However you’re imagining him saying “dishonest”, trust me, it’s worse.

Balki says he wants to do the debate, but Larry shouts in front of all of the campaign workers how little trust he has in Balki to speak publicly.

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Jennifer says that she has the results of their poll: Balki is trailing by 15 points.

Perfect Strangers Reviewed will be right back after I brace myself for just how hard this show is going to un-earn that comparison to “Karate Kids”.

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Why the sudden need to put a timeline on everything, show?

An angry Cousin Larry is thrown out of Balki’s room, shouting that Balki’s not going to wear a hat, they’ve done like fifty hats by now, and he already did four food jokes this week, no fucking hat.

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Larry throws the demon pope hat in the closet and, when Balki tries to retrieve it, barks at Balki. It makes me laugh every time I watch it, so here, you can laugh too.

Larry has staged a mock debate in the living room. The only things set up by this scene are that Larry has instructed Balki to smile, to not mess with his necktie, and to not rest his arms on the podium.

All of this could have been covered in maybe 20 seconds right before Balki went on stage.

It’s a pointless scene, and they don’t even try to do anything funny with Balki forgetting Larry’s directions.

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Aren’t you glad we got a scene with Balki needlessly spasming, though? Bronson is taking an incredibly scattershot approach to Balki here, and it’s downright jarring. I don’t even know how to describe this:

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Dial College: Pick up! Your Future is on the Line

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Before the debate begins, Jennifer warns Larry that she had news that might upset him. Look, honey, there is no combination of syllables that wouldn’t upset Larry Appleton, quit padding your part.

Jennifer says that “the athletes” found out about Balki plan to reinstate a language requirement

Oh no! They’re going to vote for Opponent!

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Larry and Jennifer kiss in a careful way that makes sure that only two or three atoms touch.

Larry tells Balki they need the Athletes’ votes back to win the—

no, Larry—

you see, if—

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You were already losing when you had their votes! What group were you trying to sway with the debate, and are they a bigger portion of the student body than the Athletes? Anyway, what the fuck, this show doesn’t care, Larry tells Balki to drop the language platform. Balki says he’s going to stick with it, as though he alone was going to have the power to change the intricate course curriculum that was the product of heated, meandering, years-long debate in faculty senate meetings.

Here’s one of two shots you’re going to get of Balki’s competition. Trust me, this isn’t a spoiler.

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Remember how this was going to be a debate? Nah, fuck that, Maria Grandmantessori or whoever comes out and says that each candidate will make a statement and take questions from the audience.

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In a role-reversal from “Speak, Memory”, now it’s Larry visibly giving Balki prompts from three feet away, instead of from the audience. After having watched so many episodes of The Honeymooners last month, I can say that both this and “Speak, Memory” have the same kind of setup that the other program’s “Better Living Through Television” had: poor practice followed by worse execution. The difference is that The Honeymooners wanted the leads’ in-world audience in the forefront of your mind. Perfect Strangers asks you to forget it every 10 seconds.

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While Balki’s rattling off whatever bullshit he’s rattling off, there’s the other shot of Opponent (it’s the woman; kudos to whomever chose a taller Larry for her campaign manager).

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Lisa Morgan* calls Balki out on his conflicting messages to various groups, and then calls him out again when his answer doesn’t make any sense.

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Arthur A. Athlete: I don’t want to learn a foreign language because it would disturb my long-held belief that Americans are better than everyone else.

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The cousins touch each others’ lips and then Balki tells the audience the truth about his single-issue platform.

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At least one of these people was in the earlier scene in the apartment. I’m not going to back to check how many, just trust me.

This is either a total mess, or not at all a mess.

Ultimately, Larry’s approach was not what kept Balki from winning. It almost certainly played a part, but I’d also guess that college students (many of them of “non-traditional” age) have come to expect a portion of double-talk from politicians. And if we’re going to ascribe real-world characteristics to them, certainly George Bush’s recently-broken promise of “no new taxes” was fresh in their minds. What set them off was Balki’s goal to force them into something they didn’t want to do (as though colleges didn’t only hold students to the graduation requirements in the course catalog being used when they enrolled, but whatever).

Goddam it this is so close to a good lesson for Balki! Shit, a lesson for both of them! The lesson, as it reads to me, is this: America is a representative democracy. Larry understands that people will vote for what they want, but that they must be tricked into voting for what they don’t want. I mean, hell, you could say that’s a practice even at the top levels of government, what with unrelated riders on legislative measures. Balki wants a higher-level goal of a melting pot country: that all its people can communicate with each other. On the one hand, America itself occupies the middle ground here, too smart for Larry and not yet on Balki’s level. On the other, Balki has not taken the time to find out what the predominant, or even most urgent, desires and needs of the people are.

I’d like to think that at least part of all this was intentional on the part of the writers; at the very least, what they put together supports that reading.  The problem is, though, what the problem so often is with Perfect Strangers: I’m having to do all of the assumptive work, and I’m having to look past every poor choice the show makes.

Why the fuck did we not get to the fireworks factory the debate after so much of the episode was spent worrying about how Balki would do? Why did we bother to have (I ASSUME) a school newspaper reporter call Balki out on something and he wasn’t taken down by the press, a story that could have naturally put Larry in the wrong? Why have Balki agree to give conflicting messages to campus groups, to lie, or if we compare it to last week’s episode, to be more upset about a different voice than different words being put in his mouth?

“See How They Run” is a great episode of Perfect Strangers that got ruined by the show’s habits. It saves a few bucks by having its women characters say lines that could have been handed to anybody. It asks us to believe that nobody sees Larry and Balki interacting with each other. It promises a variety of ways that Balki and Larry could fuck up Balki’s campaign, and then doesn’t deliver on any of them.

And just as we pondered in “The Break Up”, was that actually the idea? That these two men will go to crazy lengths only to find that none of it went anywhere because none of it really mattered? (Is that the lesson waiting for me at the end of this blog?)

If that’s the case, the final scene sure doesn’t  admit to it.

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Back at the Caldwell, we find that—just as he wanted to claim a win for himself—Cousin Larry claims the loss.

Balki tells Larry that he’s taking the loss in stride, because Opponent told him after the “debate” that she liked the foreign language requirement and is “going to push for it”. What? After she saw that everybody hated it? Also, show, you can’t ignore how college curriculums work and then suddenly understand them at the last minute. Also, jeez, Balki was wrong to give promises in private to different interest groups, but it’s okay when she does it?

Before I give this episode one final “fuck you”, Larry starts crying about how he’s now lost 13 elections. Show of hands: how many of y’all had a student body president in 5th grade?

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Fuck you, show.

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Catchphrase count: Balki (2); Larry (0)

Boner count: Balki (0); Larry (0)

Appearances left: Gorpley (7); Lydia (7)

Cut for syndication: Tess spraypaints “Go back to Mypos” on prominent campus buildings

N.b. Over the credits, Rick Dees entices you to ignore your bedtime to watch The Wonder Years and Into the Night.

*Roger Morgan’s daughter, perhaps?

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Season 6, Episode 18: Out of Sync

Retrieved from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, snapshot of www.rapnroll.com taken Wed 28 Sept. 2008 01:42:06 GMT

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An oral history of “Fresh Young Balki B”, the rarely-seen music video that touched off the biggest defamation lawsuit of 1991

25 years later, the video’s eponymous star is still a mystery

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Lita Howard   February 20, 2006

Unlike the current pop music atmosphere, no one sought out viral infamy in 1991. Bad press was just that: bad press. There was no Total Request Live a quarter-century ago, and it didn’t take much for MTV to not play a video in its rotation. Critical opinion, not fitting their demographics, showing two women kissing (Madonna’s “Justify My Love”), girls on crosses (Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose”), or according to David Bowie, simply being made by black artists. With up-and-coming Web 2.0 sites like MySpace and YouTube, any video can be shared regardless of critical opinion; “banned” no longer has any meaning. Rap N Roll stands behind its repeated declaration that last year’s “My Humps” is the worst song of this millennium; and if it weren’t for the Internet, we think it would quickly have fallen out of the collective memory by now. Scandal doesn’t work the same as it did 25 years ago–Ashlee Simpson’s and R. Kelly’s album sales remain steady, and Michael Jackson remains the undisputed king of pop, with two albums out in the past year (we believe you, Michael, really we do).

Ask any Generation Xers or Gen-Yers what the biggest pop music scandal of the early 90s was, and they’re likely to give you one name: Milli Vanilli.  Ask enough native Chicagoans, however, and you’ll start finding different names: Lionel DiVinyl. Untamed Jane. Fresh Young Balki B. If you weren’t living in Chicago in 1991, you may not have heard any of these “musicians”, at least by their stage names. If you were paying attention to the news then, you would only have heard Lionel Dickinson, Janet McKinney, Balki Bartokomous, Clive Enright, and Larry Appleton.

From its humble origins as a music video that almost no one saw when it aired once on a local Chicago network in February of 1991, “Fresh Young Balki B” has enjoyed a legacy that included the destruction of a minor record producing company, the biggest class action defamation suit in the music industry to date, and a new life, getting play on college stations, parodies, remixes, and even a stop-motion recreation in Lego.

Here, in the words of some of the people behind the music video, and its resurrection, is what really happened with “Fresh Young Balki B”. Before we begin, here’s the original video as it aired in February 1991.

 

 

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Larry Appleton (cousin and “manager” of Balki Bartokomous, defendant in Dickinson v. Appleton, now editor-in-chief of the Chicago Chronicle newspaper): Balki was–is–was my cousin, yes. We were working in the bas–in the reporters’ suite of the Chronicle in 1991, yes. I don’t really know why you–you news sites really don’t get it, do you? Oral histories are one of the laziest things a reporter can do! It’s like I’m writing the article for you. Huh. I know what that’s like. But I want to set the record straight. My relationship with Clive Enright was comp–entirely professional. I, uh. Really I don’t even know why he had even come to the Chronicle. We didn’t even do music reporting back then.

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Clive Enright (former president and CEO of Rock’N’Right Records, now owner of wholesaling website www.theenrightstuff.com): Sure, the guy–what, Larry or something? Yeah, sure, babe, he was cute. Had that kind of baked jheri curl look going on but–hey, look, I mean, yeah, there was something there. I know when someone is checking me out. But, look, I had a lead, right? I was following a lead.

Carter Sanders (former second-in-command at Rock’N’Right Records, director of “Fresh Young Balki B”):  Oh Enright was a total whore, honey, listen.  I don’t know where he had the energy for it! He scouted the talent, he hit the streets scaring up backing, he oversaw the sets, the production, the… oh, everything. Some days I was just there to play damage control, hold hankies for the talent. Enright was off chasing one of his crazy leads again. He knew that there was this, she was like a Dear Abby or something, at the main newspaper. I read her column, seen her picture. Dear “Shabby”, if you ask me.

Enright: Wanted me to wave pompoms during… look, it was weird, right? But she was a gun, baby, she was a diaper, I mean this redhead was loaded! It was pure luck, pure luck that she happened to mention these two clowns she worked with. They’d do musical numbers in the basement, she said. Yeah! Like Cop Rock or something! Kind of a guarantee, I mean, either I’d find some talent, or, you know, some ass, right?

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Appleton:  Balki was always dancing around, having, uh, fun, dressing up like a poor man’s–like in all those rap videos. I… I humored him. I didn’t think much of it until Balki started dancing and singing for the ma–Mr. Enright. I had learned not to be embarrassed by his bizarre mating rituals, and I apologized to the, uh, Mr. Enright for my cousin’s, ah. Well, you can’t call it that anymore. Cognitive disability is how it’s worded in our current style guide, I believe.

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Sanders: Sometimes I think he wanted to be caught, you know? Carrying around photos of boys. No lock on his office door. I caught him rubbing one out to a picture of Phil Spector once.

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Appleton: I didn’t sell out my cousin Balki.  Now, there was this little girl that lived in our building, Balki would babysit her sometimes. She sang–she must have been ten then–and she had a set of pipes! Her I would have sold out, the little… (clears throat)  Even just that morning, she had thrown a bucket of chum into my face while I was eating breakfast. But, you know, I had forgotten about it by the time I got to work that day.

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Enright: Look, I never lied to these people, right? I never lied. Most of them were fine with it, most of them were–they all knew, I mean. They were poor, I could get them money. Who cares, right? And these two bumpkins had stars in their eyes. Foreigners eat up that dream of being a big star. I should know, I was selling it back then!

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Appleton: Mutually beneficial, always mutually beneficial. My cousin and I were in it together, for everything, back when I was still trying to avoid my fi–back then. I told Enright I was his agent.  I stuck by Balki to protect him. You know how these corporate types can be. Not me, of course. Balki was happy, though, I could tell right away. He made that face. It was kind of this–like, I made the same face when I was knifed by crimeboss Vince Lucas. Balki was very happy.

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Sanders: Sweetie, let me tell you, the moment they walked on set, I could tell it was–well, I’m not going to say it was abusive, because I think they both liked it–but you could tell which was top and which was bottom. He could get that twink to do anything he wanted.

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Appleton: Balki wanted to be a star like Wayne Newton, he wanted to do the music video, I didn’t coax him. Why would I put forth that kind of effort? I was deep into researching a 10,000-word background piece on the Chicago Symphony. I’ve been accused of being, well, manipulative, and greedy, and it’s true I was paying off an expensive house at the time, but. But no. This was entirely Balki’s idea. If he were here he’d tell you the same.

Tina Dawson (backup dancer/singer on “Fresh Young Balki B”): Oh God, I knew this would come back to haunt me, I told my girl friends at the time–we were all dancers, there were five of us sharing an apartment–I told them when we watched it, I said “I’m never going to work again! Never!” I did, but–I knew this would haunt me someday. I was the one who got to open the door, and–oh my god, that video. Quickest I’ve ever been cast.

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Sanders:  Oh, the place smelled like–it smelled like death! They had been using this building for a game show–Risk Your Ass or some such–and it was just like you could tell someone had spilled rotten milk everywhere. Hoo! I’m glad we were shooting in February, let me tell you!

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Enright: I got the building cheap, you know, after some local TV show folded. The host went batshit, right? Killed his hostess after some contestants got into a fistfight onstage or something. Drowned her in chocolate pudding. What I heard, anyway.

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Dawson: The whole thing went so quickly.  Oh God, I guess (laughing) I guess I was lucky! There were like twenty of us in line and–and I had seen some of these girls before–and I was like eighth in line and if you were the right measurements, you know, you were in.

Sanders: Honey I never understood that man.  He’d spend a ton on sets, and he’d want backup dancers, he’d want fancy camerawork, he’d want to use the same musicians the big names would use. And then he’d–I think we only bought maybe a dozen outfits for the girls. We were down to maybe 7 or 8 by then, by this video. But the rooftop set, oh my god, the work he had us put into that thing!

Enright: You had to follow the trends back then, right? I mean baby rooftops were hot! That whole urban decay thing, rooftops, alleyways. Yeah!

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Sanders: Trends? Oh please. Oh please. No, Enright caught wind of some impromptu dance party put on by some black children, down, uh, Avalon Park. Avalon Park. He wanted to recreate it for a music video. He even tracked this boy down! Kept his picture in his briefcase all that month. Mm-hmm. Built an exact replica of the rooftop where these kids were dancing and singing because he was so sure this kid would sign. One day… this was the year before. He was coked up and he ran to me saying he wanted a set with giant legs, ladies’ legs, in high heels. Honey he was bent! Once I… (laughing) when I got him calmed down, I found out he had been watching that Bell Biv DeVoe video, what was it, “Poison”.

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Enright: It was all in the contract papers, you know, plain as day, man. And this guy, this Appleton.  Look, he was cute, alright, and under other circumstances, but he had no sense of how to approach a man, right? He came to me with some–I don’t know if he was making a joke or what, man–but he came to me with this shit about not having any green M&Ms in the dressing room. That thing was garter belts, it was sock hops, baby, I mean it was old then. Everybody knew that was so Van Halen could tell if a stage crew had read the important stuff, right, I mean you knew that, right? To me it meant, you know, that this guy hadn’t read through the contract at all. Who does, right? I didn’t think twice about it, baby, I could tell that I wasn’t going to get either one of these two hayseeds alone, so I just wanted to get it done and move on.

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Appleton: He told me to fuck off.

Dawson:  We did, I think, two takes of each shot? Oh my god, we were in, we were out. In and out. We all got paid well, at least I did, but. I don’t know. Doesn’t it take more than 30 minutes to shoot a music video?

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Sanders: I took the boy off to the side before we shot and I told him, I said “Honey you’re going to be fine.”  I couldn’t understand half the things he was saying, talking about “hitting his Mark Trail” and the director getting his “good side of beef” and all, but let me tell you, it was this complete change when he got in front of those cameras. Unreal. Suddenly perfect diction, no shyness. If you wrote somebody like that for TV people would stop watching.

Enright: He was decent, but look, I have a very melting pot approach to showbiz, right? Very melting pot. We had one of the most diverse groups of backup singers for that video, but do you hear anyone talk about that?

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Appleton: Of course I knew he would be dubbed! We–come on–we spent a few minutes in the studio and Balki laid down a vocal track! And he lip-synched to it during the shoot! Come on!

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Sanders: It really should have been Balki’s voice on that video, not Jay Jay Jay.

Enright: Look, nobody was asking us for art, right? People didn’t want art, they wanted personality, I–they wanted a pretty boy to look at in a magazine, on a poster. Little girls want this idea of a Prince Charming or something, some safe, you know, ingress into sexuality.  Fresh Young Balki B was a pretty boy, and just like with Lionel DiVinyl we would tell them, you know, in the magazines and all that he was single, right? Wives are gross. To the teeny boppers.

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Sanders: I’ve seen better hackjobs in Friday the 13th! Ooh, honey, we didn’t do more than two takes of each shot. Enright, he was–he wanted to be on to the next thing. We had so little actual footage, we had to slow it down, run it in black and white. Like I said, it was feast and famine with Enright. All these re-used shots and he still pays a few thousand to have effects put on it, animation and all. I was debating whether to tell you this, but I better just get this out of me once and for all: I wrote those lyrics. (laughing) I can say it was a hackjob because I know! Leonard Cohen I’m not!

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While most fans of “Fresh Young Balki B” have only seen the low-grade VHS copy that surfaced on eBaum’s World in 2002, Carter Sanders has provided Rap N Roll with a copy of the original music video, with Balki Bartokomous’s vocals.

Sanders: Hoo! Look at that! When he’s walking on that ledge, you can see that fabric rippling. Ha! That was my job. I forgot to weight the backdrop.  Oopsy! (laughing)

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Appleton: I do remember when it aired. We had sat down to watch it–the four of us always had fun when we got together. It was me, my then-fiancée, Balki, and… wow, you know it’s been so long, I can only… I can think of her zodiac sign but not her name.

023

Sanders: The whole video was ready to go, we had the vocal track, we had the effects. But you couldn’t tell Enright to use a spoon for soup. Can you believe it? A whole year or something after Milli Vanilli, and this man’s whole business model was still to put these immigrants in front of the camera and hire the real singers separately.

Enright: Like I said, a very melting pot approach, very American.  Henry Ford got it right a century ago, baby! It could have been the next big thing, right? Democratizing the music industry! You don’t need some guy to write and sing and look good. I was turning one job into two or three, you know?  I was a jobmaker! And you journalists didn’t want to look at that.

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Dawson: Oh god I can’t even tell you. I am so glad that video only aired once or twice. My girl friends and I watched it, and this was 1991, remember, so you could know exactly when a specific music video was going to come on. When it came on, and when I saw they kept showing this shot just of me blinking, I nearly died! I was so embarrassed, I turned so red.  Aaahhh!!

Sanders: You have to understand, there was no creativity there. Did I mention I wrote all the lyrics for all of them? (laughing) I remember thinking to myself “Oh, this kid is made for Enright” because he was spouting off stuff like “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” like that was some clever turn of phrase. No clever twist on anything, no innovation. Just parroting the same junk until the next new thing came along. So why should he have cared if we were putting other people’s words in his mouth?

020

Dawson: Oh god, I remember this, oh he smelled. Turn it off. Please. Oh god.

024

Appleton: I truly did worry about Balki’s, ah, his cognitive disability in those days. He thought–he seriously believed that if he became a music star that it would bring his grandmother back, but she was still, ah. Well, you see he had lost touch with his island, and I think over time he. Well. He–it–it’s all gone now. But I remember I said

024b

because, you see, I knew this would push him further over the edge.

Enright: Why use some other little white punk’s voice on a rap record? Fuck you, baby, that’s why. Vanilla Ice was big, I don’t know. Fuck you.

Sanders: Ooh that voice! Look, it’s not even a good synch! (laughing) We got Jay Jay Jay, one of our other talent then, to do the dub. Oh god! This guy who’s supposed to be a shepherd from Europe or whatever and he sounds like Pete Nice? Oh no. This should have been on America’s Funniest Videos, not MTV.

026

Appleton: Of course I was supportive of his decision. I was always supportive of Balki. He wanted to do the video, we did the video. He wanted out, I helped him get out. No questions, no shaming. Listen, when you realize that your family member can’t handle knowing that Mr. Ed’s voice was dubbed, you do whatever you can to make reality work for them again.  I remember when I was 4, or 5, my older brother would pester me by making drawings of me eating, ah, well unsavory things. It was real to me then, and I knew that anger. And that pure child’s anger in a man’s… a man’s body. (clears throat) Thank god he couldn’t read the newspaper back when Jim Henson died.

027

Enright: I could tell this Appleton guy was on the same wavelength with this mix-and-match approach, right? If it hadn’t been for this–well, let’s just say I knew right away, you know, he was a bottom. These yoyos, man, they tried to grow a backbone when it was time to start talking promo tour. I was doing all the work, man! I had to come to their office and set up Balki B’s appearances.

Appleton: You would think that someone from a monarchical, agrarian nation would kowtow to anyone wearing a suit, but Balki.  Well, he had gotten this very stubborn streak when it came to people in power, ever since the raisin… well. Balki tried to back out, but Enright pulled out the contract, and. I really should have read that thing. What can I say? I was young.

028

Enright: I told him he’d be in court until his dying day, yes I did, baby. If I couldn’t own that ass, I’d own those lips, by god. And, hey, you know? Which one of us is still around? You tell me.

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Ray Cameron (reporter for Rap N Roll, 1990-2001): Yes, the video was garbage. I was on the garbage beat back then, I was still wet behind the ears. But I was trying to do my best. They had all of us reporters on the same stage where they shot the video, and as I understand it, this was only two days after the video had aired. Mr. Enright showed us the video, and then brought out Balki Bartokomous. Fresh Young Balki B. And he introduces this other guy who comes out, MC Cousin. I swear, this guy was pushing 40. The best way I can describe–do you still have access to my old photos? I don’t know what they were trying for with their outfits. Ice T by way of Teddy Grahams?

031

Sanders: Oh, I can’t believe you found any photos of that! The doughy one, Appleton, the newspaper man. Oh honey look at that! No, that jacket was from Jazzy Jake’s first video in 1988! I had thrown that rag away.

032

Cameron: I honestly thought it was a stunt when Balki B and MC Cousin started rapping. Enright comes up to them with a sheet of prepared answers and I thought to myself “no one’s operation is that slapdash, this must be a bit” because MC Cousin kept saying “yo” to all of us.

Sanders: No, don’t you worry about that. Can’t nothing happen to me now. Enright can’t do nothing. No, look: I wrote their little “fuck-you” song about Enright. When they came to me–and I knew the one was a reporter–I figured it was all over then, so why not? So, if you’re reading this, Mr. Appleton, thank you for not including me in your countersuit! Thank you doll! (laughing)

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Cameron: I thought to myself that it was a pretty bold move at the time, to do a diss track as your second song. They were dropping names left and right–Jazzy Jake & the Jukes, Lionel DiVinyl, Untamed Jane, uh, Neon Leon, Jumpback Jimmy Mack–and then I thought “these guys have balls! They’re dissing every other act on their label! And their producer too!”

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Enright: Even their fucking song about me, all the vocals were on the tape. Damn hypocrites. I don’t know why I didn’t stop their damn tape during the thing, you know. I was… we all have our Achilles’ heels, right?

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Cameron: And then it hits me that it’s real. And once I heard these two in court, yeah, I realized how wrong I was to think that it was any sort of post-modern bit. These were just two guys, one of them in my own line of work. I don’t think they deserved–fully deserved, I’ll say–what happened to them. And I’m not saying that just because Larry Appleton got me copies of all the contracts for my own piece in Rap N Roll. The only guy that came out of it unscathed was Jay Jay Jay.

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In Part 2, we look at the two-year-long class action suit the other Rock’N’Right musicians brought against Larry Appleton and the Chicago Chronicle; how a small college radio station introduced Fresh Young Balki B to a new generation; and what might have happened to Balki B himself.

Continue to Part 2          View on single page

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Interview with Jo Marie Payton

Two weeks ago, I had the unequaled privilege of speaking with Jo Marie Payton about her time as Harriette Winslow on Perfect Strangers. Jo Marie and I discussed her early career, working with her Perfect Strangers co-stars and producers, and the undying popularity of Family Matters. We spoke over Skype, and I have lightly edited the transcript and audio to hide how terrible an interviewer I am.  Listen to it or read it–or both!

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Casey: What I’ve been doing for the past couple of years–I’ve been doing review of Perfect Strangers in blog form. So I’ve seen at this point all the ones that you were in. And I just have to say, before I ask you any questions, I think you were one of the best, consistently funny parts of that show. I do think the show suffered when you, you know, went to Family Matters. So my first question: what is your understanding of who Harriette Winslow was in those two seasons of Perfect Strangers?

Jo Marie: Well, you know what, initially, when they were searching for Harriette, this is the story I was told. They were looking for somebody like Selma Diamond. You know, in our industry, we have a copycat mentality sometimes, and Selma Diamond was the little Jewish lady that was on Night Court, the little… whatever she did over there.

selma diamond

[Selma Diamond played bailiff Selma Hacker on the first two seasons of Night Court – Casey]

Anyway, they were looking for somebody like that, is what I was told. And they needed somebody that they thought had perfect timing. So Joel Zwick, who was our major director for Perfect Strangers and then Family Matters said “No, this lady”, him and Jim, oh god, I can’t think of Jim’s name right now. There were two producers, they said “No, this lady… we don’t know this lady, we don’t know her real name, we know we’ve worked with her on The New Odd Couple with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson, and her character was ‘Big Mona’.”

newoddcouplebigmona

So, I was told that Miller-Boyett–Tom Miller and Bob Boyett–said go to–and we did it at Paramount–said go to Paramount, go to the archives, pull up the credits and find out what her name is. And that’s how they called me in. And I went in, and I had just left Miami, as a matter of fact I’m in Miami now. I had just left my Mom’s house with my young baby, and I told my mother, I said “Listen, I’m going to give this another five years, and then I’m just going to hang it up and I’m going to take one of these good jobs that everybody’s asking me”–because at that time I was sales administration manager for a wholesale touring company. But I had still been doing my career, you know, doing different things, but I told my mom, I said “I need something. I’ve got this baby, I need a house, and to come out of the apartment, and something’s got to pop in the next five years, or I’m going to take one of these good paying jobs that everybody keeps offering me that I keep turning down!”

And so I left that Sunday, I got–and I was sick–I had gotten sick from traveling, and I had a bad cold. And I got in that Monday to Los Angeles and my agent called and said “You have an interview at Warner Bros. in Culver City, that’s when we were at the, you know, at the studio, in Culver City. And I said “Okay…” And I didn’t feel good, but I went anyway. So when I left there, I asked her, I said, “You know, there were quite a few people in there. This was a recurring role and why you didn’t tell me” and she said “Well, I know you didn’t feel well and I didn’t want you to get false hopes and stuff, I just wanted you to go in there and do the best you could.” And she said “But they’ve already called back and asked you to come back again for producers and writers the next day.” I said “Oh! Okay,” you know. So I went back, and I only worked about 15 minutes from there, so I went back the next day. And when I went back the next day it was Tom Miller, Bob Boyett, Paula Roth, oh my god, Bill Bickley, Michael Warren, all the producers were there. And I read for them. There was one other lady, I forgot what her name was, there was one other black lady there, I don’t remember what her name was. And I auditioned and everything, I spoke to everyone, and then I left, and when I left, prior to my coming to Miami I had… my Mexican girl friend was sick. And she didn’t live far from there, so I went to see her. And my husband had picked up the baby, and about 9 o’clock I called him, because it was a late rehearsal. And I said “Is everything okay?” and he said “Yes,” he said, “but your agent’s been trying to reach you. You have some contracts, she had to negotiate your contract without you!” I said “What?” He said “She’s sitting over on Sunset Boulevard, you need to get over there right away and sign these contracts because you have to be at work tomorrow!” I said “What?!” So anyway…

I went in and I signed the contract and, oh my god, more money than I’ve ever seen–a week, you know!–and I said “Oh my God!” So anyway, she said “Well, this is the best I could do, I had to get it for you, they want you on set tomorrow.” So I went in there Wednesday, and she was Harriette Winslow for ten and a half years, you know. That was really crazy how that happened.

And I continued working on my job. I think I stayed there, like, three to six months, something like that. I know I stayed there, because I didn’t want to just cut out, you know, and like I said, I was sales manager. They let me take my work home, the computer home, and then I had an assistant at the job, and they were all elated, everybody, my boss and everybody, which I still talk to today. They were so elated, and they knew I was in the business. Although, I almost left that job a couple of times, and my boss said, “You know what? We’ll work around it.” And they did!

Casey: From what I can tell, just looking online, for ABC in 1987–for their weeknight primetime blocks–you were just one of three black actresses on ABC that year. Was that significant for you?

Jo Marie: I didn’t know that until I read it in your notes! I said “Oh my god!”  Isn’t that something? I’ll have to put that on my resume. My bio, that’s where I need to put it. Isn’t that amazing? And I said “Oh, wow!” So anyway, thank you for that! But, you know, I didn’t know it at the time. I was just working. So it had to be Phylicia Rashad–was this ABC you’re talking about or just talking about networks?

Casey: Yeah, the other ones on ABC were Robin Givens and Kimberly Russell, and they were both on Head of the Class.

head of the class

Jo Marie: Okay, then, okay, okay. When you mentioned that, I said “Okay.” That’s why, when the season started, I was the rep. I don’t know, I guess that’s why I was the rep for ABC. We went to Canada, and ABC had one rep, NBC had one rep, and CBS. It was myself from ABC, Howard Rollins, I think from CBS, because he was doing In the Heat of the Night, and it was Nicolette Sheridan, I think it was, was doing a show after Dallas or something, the one after that.

And they flew us in to Canada, and put us up at this beautiful hotel, and we were the only one representative from each one of the networks. And when we went into the studio the next day they had these huge pictures on the sides of the wall, and I said “Oh my god!”, you know. It was magnificent, so I kind of knew I was special then.

Casey: I looked through all the shows, on Wikipedia, and even when you take into account CBS and NBC, there were only a dozen black actresses at that time, and a third of them were on The Cosby Show.

Jo Marie: Wow, isn’t that amazing! I’m so glad you told me that! That’s real interesting. Yeah.

Anyway, I do know – I think it was back in 1977 – I do remember, I think I was the only black actress in Hollywood at that time that had two contracts. I was on a holding contract for ABC for a project the whole year. The whole year, every week they paid me a check to have to sit, so they could try to find me a project. And that was after I had done, I think, the old… Redd Foxx had a variety show after Sanford & Son called The Redd Foxx Variety Show. And Blye-Einstein, who were the casting people in… oh my goodness, what was the city outside of Bel Air, out near the valley? anyway, but they were out there, and they needed a jazz singer. And I sang, but I wasn’t like a singer singer, you know, I was an actress that can sing, that can carry a tune, that’s what I say. I went out, and I didn’t have any music or resume, the same way I got into my first equity show. No music, you know, no bio, no resume, I just went in there and sang. I had an agent, though, in Los Angeles. They told me to sing a song, you know, I didn’t have any music or whatever, and they said “What do you want to sing?” and I said “Ain’t nobody’s business if I do” They said “okay, let’s hear it.”

If I should take a notion

To jump into the ocean

Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

They said “That’s enough, we’re just over at CBS.” I went on to CBS to work with Redd Foxx, Slappy White, Prince Spencer, Gerald Wilson’s band. It was a phenomenal group of people. And I was Georgia Brown the jazz singer! And I did, like, instead of one episode, I did six episodes.

alphonzeandvictoria2alphonzeandvictoria

And they liked the character, and so what they did was they took the character and put her and Redd together as a couple. He was Alphonze and I was Victoria. So they did seven episodes of that, I’m saying pre-pilot, you know, for another situation comedy. They fell in love with that, and that’s when ABC said “Okay, let’s do a holding contract.” They did a holding contract for me, but at the same time I had gotten a deal from Paramount to do The Plant Family, a pilot that Jimmy Burrows directed. Jimmy Burrows, from Taxi and Will & Grace and all of that, actually directed my first international pilot, you know. Normal Alden was up for an Academy Award that year, and Joyce van Patten was in it, I was third lead and I helped to sing the theme song also for that show. Jesse White, the Maytag man, was in there, and it was great.

So anyway, I had that contract, and I had the ABC contract, and what happened was they came in the same day. And my agent said “Oh my god. The one with Normal Alden who’s up for Academy Award is being directed over at Paramount. It stands a chance of getting picked up. The ABC is a holding deal, what are we gonna do?” Well, I didn’t know, I had only been there two years, I said “I don’t know.” “So what do you feel like?” I said “I don’t know.”

So my agent said “Well, you know what? We’re going to sign the Paramount deal, it’s a bigger deal than the holding contract that you may not get anything out of. They already want you.” So she signed that deal, oh my god, when she signed that deal, ABC hit the ceiling! They said “No! She can’t do that! You know, you guys have already promised that she would sign the deal” and, oh, I can’t think of it, the big guy, he was kingpin over all the networks, but for ABC, I’m trying to think of his name, his name was Fine or something like that. He said “Calm down.” He said “This young lady, she doesn’t know this, just leave her alone.” He called me and he said “Listen. Go to Vegas or something, just take a break, you know you anybody in Vegas?” I said “I have family.” “Go out there and take a break and we’ll work it out.” So what they did was, they both of them made me sign the contract. But the ABC contract, they broke down some of the money on it, because they couldn’t get a compromise on it. And they stepped into second position. But they still wanted the deal, and I had the deal for twelve months, and they sent me a check every week for twelve months, just to stay in place.

Then The Plant Family didn’t go. It wasn’t a go. And after the twelve months, I was looking, and they were looking, and after it ran out, I said “Oh god, I gotta get a job.” I said “But who’s going to hire me?” I remember crying, I said “Who’s going to hire me?” People are seeing me on TV every week, they saw me on the Redd Foxx Show and I do these other things, like The Carol Burnett, on The Merv Griffin Show, I was jumping back and forth on different things. And I said “Who’s going to hire me, oh my god, nobody’s going to hire me. They’re going to know me, know I’m an actress, they know I’m going to leave the job”, you know. And I know I was smart as hell, but I said, “I don’t think they’re going to take me.”

So I saw this ad in the papers said “We need this terrific attitude, this-that-and-the-other blah blah blah blah, can type 65 words a minute and so on so on so on.” And I said “Well, hell, that’s me, I can’t type 65 words a minute, but all the other stuff they need, that’s me.” So I went in for the job and I actually got it! I was sneaking out of–I had a girl friend–and I was sneaking in and out to do my auditions. Sometimes as far as Culver City all the way to North Hollywood! I was flying in my ‘57 Chevrolet that a friend of mine gave me, you know.

1957 chevrolet

And one day the elevator was broken, and we were on the third floor, and I was a lot heavier than what I am now. And I shot out of there and God was with me. I got every light. But in one hour I left from Culver City, twenty-something miles, to get out of my car and go do the audition, get back in my car, get all the way back. But by the time I got back to my job, I was huffing and puffing and I was breathing so hard I felt I was to have a heart attack. I just had to stop for a minute and catch my heart and breathe. So when I got upstairs, I said “Oh, I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t. I just need to tell these people, you know, what I do, and what’s happening.” So I went in and knocked on my boss’s door. His name was Rob Underhill, beautiful, beautiful gentleman, English, used to work on the QE2 cruiseliner. And I said “Rob, I need to talk with you.” And he said “Come on in, sweetheart, what’s the matter?” And I said “Well, I just left from here and went all the way to North Hollywood, and came back, and the elevator was broke, and I just feel like I’m about to die right now.” And he said “Well why did you do all that?” I said “Well, because I’m in show business.” He said “We already know that!”

He said “But please tell me you’re not going to quit.” I said “Well I may have to!” So he said “Well sit down and let’s talk a little bit. Tell me about it.” So I told him about my family and my career. And he was the vice president of sales, so he said “You know what? Yes, let’s try it out! Let’s see, let’s work around it.” So I did, you know, and then my other boss was the president of the company and we were a wholesale touring company, selling the Olson’s European tours, and there was nobody in the world that had a better tour than Harvey Olson. They were, you know, pricey tours, and Travel World was up there with him. I was working for a company like that. We worked it out, you know, I started out as, like, you know, the assistant, and all, and then the gentleman whose job I took was Bob Barton’s, and his father was the CEO and president of Parker Brothers toys, and he went to Dartmouth. And they gave me his position when he left! And I said “Oh my god! I don’t have a college degree, but I got good people skills”, okay?

I remember, I’m telling you, I didn’t even think I’d go back into all of this, but I’m going to tell you anyway, then I’ll stop and let you ask me another question. They left to go on a–there was a lawsuit or something came in–and they all left town. They said “Jo can handle it. She’s an actress, she can handle it.” And I did, you know, and then I started singing for them, every time my shows would come on, everybody would meet in the lunchroom and they’d have a TV there. And they really supported me. So I was there for seven and a half years, and when I got Family Matters, they genuinely and truly were elated with it. But I did almost quit two times. My boss said “Don’t quit,” and then the next time I did kind of walk out and say “Well, you know, I really can’t do it.” And then the other president of another department came to ask me to go to lunch. I went to lunch, and she said, “You know, it’s not the same thing.” It was Henny Osgrove, I never will forget it. She said “I need to talk with you, can we have lunch?” and I said “yes.”  And because it was that kind of travel company, you know I had put together potlucks and all that stuff because it was so many different people from different nationalities and different countries and things, you know. And the sales reps, I knew all the sales reps and tour guides and stuff like that.

She said, “You know what, since you left it just… ooh, please consider coming back, we’ll put you wherever you want.” I said “Well, can I go on the phones, then, so I can take a break?” and all this kind of stuff. “Can I get some seminars?” because I had like 250 seminars a year and I had to take the breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and all the meals, and the wines. My boss taught me how to do all this stuff! And I was doing the payroll for all the sales reps around the country. The only hotels we did was the Ritz-Carltons and the, whatever, the finest hotels in that city, that’s what we used. And it was very testy for me, but in order for me to be able to do, you know, continue my acting, I just had to make myself very valuable to them, and I did, and they wind up giving me the key to two buildings, you know, we had two buildings side by side, and giving me the combination and all, and trusting me. And they said “You know what, just get it done whenever you can get it done” and that’s what I did. I took my work home, and it was a lot! But you know what, when I look back at it now, it all paid off. It paid off very well, because I was able to continue my career. I was able to leave that job the way I wanted to leave it, in good spirits and in good shape and everything and all with those people. And we’re still friends today, whenever I see some of them. And I just always wanted it to be a win-win situation, and it was. And my continuing to work like that put me in a position to max out my pension before I was old enough to take it. It was good.

Oh, I gotta tell you one other thing, though. I’m gonna give you a little bit more trivia, because I give it to everybody. When Redd and I did the Alphonze and Victoria skit on his show–on the variety show–those characters, when Redd and Della Reese were doing The Royal Family? Those were the same characters, and the same character names that Redd Foxx and I created in 1977. And before Redd did it, he contacted me and asked me if I would do the show with him, The Royal Family.

theroyalfamily.jpg

And I think at that time I had just finished doing, like, six Silver Spoons with Ricky Schroeder; that’s how I knew Joel Zwick and Jim Geoghan, and all of those. And I couldn’t do it, because something else was coming up. I couldn’t do that with him, and I tell everybody, I say–those two characters, if you go back and find any of that footage on the old Redd Foxx Show, you will see Redd Foxx and I doing Alphonse and Victoria. And there was a gentleman that wrote a book about Redd Foxx, and he had another actress’ name there, and I contacted him. When I saw that excerpt from his book, I contacted him, and I told him that that was me. I said “And if you want to, I can have the contracts pulled up and you can see it, it actually was me.” And when he thought about it and he saw my face, he said “Oh my god” he said “oh, Ms. Payton, I am so sorry. That was you. I am so sorry, I apologize. I hope there won’t be any legalities.” I said “No,” I said “But I just wanted you to know it.” Because he had done books and everything on it.

Casey: I’ve read some old interviews with you about your time on Family Matters, and I definitely get the strong sense that you and the other castmembers were kind of a family behind the scenes. And I’m wondering: how does that compare to working with the other Perfect Strangers cast?

Jo Marie: Well, you know something, I got in, and I loved my Family Matters cast. As a matter of fact I just talked with Kellie last week–that’s Laura–I just talked with her last week, and I talk to Reggie all the time. They were my family, but, you know something, my working experience with Family Matters was totally different than it was with Perfect Strangers. Mainly because working with Bronnie–that’s Bronson Pinchot–and Mark, and those. They were all adults, so we didn’t have to make adjustments in time, you know, for their schooling and all that kind of thing, you know what I’m saying? It was just different then, and they were so professional. I mean, Mark Linn-Baker, Bronson Pinchot, and it was Melanie Wilson, and what’s the other little cute blonde girl, I forgot her name–Rebeca. Rebeca. Ooh, I don’t know where Rebeca is, she’s the only one I haven’t seen anywhere. They were wonderful to work with, but I’m telling you I was amazed at the chemistry between Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot. Because they were so sharp, and their timing was so good, well, I knew I wasn’t a spring chicken either. But I enjoyed working with them because we would get in and out, and Joel Zwick is the fastest-directing director I know. He studies, he knows exactly what shots he wants to get, he knows, he allows you the space to do what you want to do in the short time that you have to do it because that show was, what, 22, 23 minutes long, something like that. He allows you the creative space to do what it is you feel like you need to do because he’s already done his homework, so he knows where the camera shots are. We had an incredible crew.

But I have really–I worked the longest on Family Matters, and I loved them the dearest, but the experience–the working experience–I enjoyed more because it was all adults. I didn’t have those lag times, you know, in between schooling and have to wait until the kids finished school and stuff like that. Because Kellie and Darius were 11 years old when we started the show, going on 12 or something like that. Jaleel was 10, because he’s a year behind them–that’s Urkel.* And then the others were smaller than that! You know, where there’s lots of time with the counselor, you know, and Tom and Bob, bless their souls, and Bill and Michael were very strict about rules being, you know, adhered to and all. And so we kind of worked around them, but they were the nicest, sweetest kids, and I loved them. But anybody that knows me, they know I always talk fast, I walk fast, I do everything fast. I didn’t want to spend all day there, because I had my daughter and my husband I wanted to get home with. Sometimes that kind of, you know, got–I don’t want to say “got in the way”–but that is the biggest difference when I went into Perfect Strangers. And also my part was smaller, you know. I’d just go into work and shoot out. I was in and out! In and out, and that was it.

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Casey: I really enjoyed the times when you and Belita Moreno got to play off of each other, got to squabble with each other. What was it like working with her?

Jo Marie: Ooh! That’s my girl! Oh my god, she was like my sister. She was like my sister from another mother. Okay? And Belita Moreno, when I saw that–and I contacted Belita a couple times when she was doing The George Lopez Show. Belita–I will always remember her til the end of time because she was the one that gave me an experience that–I was just flabbergasted and I still use it til today. She took me to Bed Bath & Beyond on a lunch break, and I’ve been crazy ever since.

I didn’t know–being a poor girl and not being able to buy things like that, come on, at that time Bed Bath & Beyond was even more fabulous than it is now. It’s gotten, you know, kind of commercial but at that time it was the place to go outside of Brooks, Macy’s and all of that. Bed Bath & Beyond had it going on! So she took me there one day and we were–I was in my money then, you know. And she took me there and I lost my mind. I was there last week! I will always remember Belita for that. We would laugh a whole lot, waiting on our scene to come up, after our scene’s finished, we’d be practicing what we were going to do, or whatever. She was the funniest, sweetest, sweetest person. The same way she was on George Lopez and crazy, she was crazy (laughing). When I think about it–when I think about Belita, I have to laugh, but she was so little and short. She was amazing. She was amazing. I should try to contact her, because I loved her so much. I loved her, and even though when I left the show and I would run into her, I loved her so much.  She was a sweetheart.

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Casey: There was one episode of Perfect Strangers in your second year there where you and Reginald VelJohnson appear together. How long had the two of you been working together? Were they already developing Family Matters?

Jo Marie: No, listen, I didn’t even know Reggie, I had never seen Die Hard, I had no idea who he was. I know at the end of the first season [season 3 – Casey] Tom and Bob told me that–they called me in on a meeting. And when they called me in, they told me that they were going to–they were thinking about spinning off the character into a situation comedy–a family–giving me a family, putting it all together, and, you know, spin it off. So I said “Oh my god!” I was all excited, of course, and I went home, I stood on hiatus, and I said “Oh my god, they’re going to spin off this character!” you know, “And they’re going to find me a husband” and stuff. So when I went in the second season [season 4 – Casey], it hadn’t happened, you know, I didn’t see it. Well, nobody came to me about it. But just before the second season was over with, they called me in. And when they called me in, I said “Oh god, this is going to be my pink slip,” I said, because they didn’t mention anything else during the season, you know. It was just before Reggie came on to do that episode. I said “They’re going to give me my pink slip.” And they said “No, we’re spinning the character off, so we’re going to bring in–and we’re going to start auditioning now–your husband.” Oh my god, there were quite a few men that came in there. I remember, god I’m trying to think of his name now, he played Muhammad Ali–no, he played… Elijah Muhammad, whatever.  He said–Al Freeman, Jr.! Al Freeman, Jr.–and I heard he said “I’ll pay my own ticket just to go in there and audition with this lady.” I had a group of really wonderful men that came in!

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But that Reginald VelJohnson… When Reggie came in, and we did it, it was instant. And so when he walked out the door, and they said “Jo, we need you to come back in.” So I came in–because I was having coffee, or something–and I said “Who is it?” And so, they said “You know who it is, don’t you?” And I said “Yes I do.” I said “It’s Mr. Die Hard, it’s Reginald VelJohnson.” They said “Oh! That’s it!” He said: that energy, that chemistry–today people call it “that Harriette Winslow and Carl Winslow energy, we need that kind of juice,” that’s what they call it. But he was absolutely wonderful. I can honestly say–saying let God strike me–Reggie and I never had an argument. From that day to this day we have never had an argument. And I remember Reggie, when he, when we first–the pilot, when we were doing the pilot, and I said “Reggie, you need to stand right there.” And he said “Where?” I said “You need to stand on your mark.” He said “Where’s my mark?” I said “Well my color’s green, this is your color.” He said “Oh oh oh oh.” So Reggie will tell people today–and he’s done it in so many interviews, “I didn’t even know where my mark was, Jo taught me how to hit my mark.” (laughing)

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But we became very good friends, and I don’t know if you know it, but we did a Lifetime special again about three years ago. [The Flight Before Christmas, 2015 – Casey] And when we did the special, we were called in because they were looking for a couple that was running this bed and breakfast. And somebody suggested “Say, why don’t we call Reggie and Jo Marie, Carl and Harriette, and let them run the bed and breakfast?” And they did, and it was wonderful. And Mayim Bialik, who played Blossom, and Ryan McPartlin, they were the main characters. And we had such a great time with them, but I think they had a better time with us. And Mayim said “Oh my god, you know we can’t let you guys get out. We have to take a picture! Can we take a picture with Carl and Harriette?” We took a picture and I think it went viral! My face all over the place! It’s all over the place. But it was great.

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And then the first time I ever went to Broadway, because my first union was equity, I had an equity card before all the rest, because I was touring with Robert Guillaume, that played Benson, and a whole bunch of other really wonderful people. But, when I actually stood on a Broadway stage, it was maybe four or five years? No, no, it was longer than that. After Family Matters had ended, and we got a request from the city of New York, because they were doing something on home whatever, and all, and family, and stuff like that, and they asked for Reggie and I. They said “We would love to have Reginald VelJohnson and Jo Marie, for the real Harriette, to come and be the host emcees for the program.” And then they called in Stephanie Mills because she was on Broadway doing Purlie, and she had done the song “Home”.**

So they wanted “Home” and they wanted that family feel. I want you to know: that entire venue–standing room only–came, and those people, so amazed, said, that people called and said “We just want to see them back together.” I almost cried. Reggie and I were standing backstage and we just lost our breath. He said “Do you believe this?” Then the gentleman came and said “Those people bought tickets because they said they just wanted to see you and Harriette back together.” I said “Oh my god.” And then when we finished hosting, we went back and we just hugged and said “Is this amazing or what? This show has been off the air how long?” Oh my god, it was incredible.

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Casey: What was it like leaving Perfect Strangers? Did you feel a strong connection to that show was being broken?

Jo Marie: No. I never felt like it. Let me tell you why. I don’t want to cry. I loved Tom Miller and Bob Boyett so much. I respected them so much. I liked Bill and Michael also, but I had a special feel for Tom and Bob, because they–I feel like they cuddled me, you know and I feel like they generally cared about me. And Tom–which I never will forget it–Tom Miller, when we did the pilot for Family Matters, and I think we were, like, three or four shows inside of it, but they were always very, very nice to me, and accommodating, and they made sure, you know, I had a nice dressing room.

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They didn’t treat me like I was African-American or whatever, they just treated me right. But I think one of the biggest compliments I got that somebody told me Tom Miller said, “You know what, I just love her, because when she what she does, regardless of how much material you give her, she’ll come in and do two lines like it’s the end of a hundred.” I said “What?” They said Tom said, “Whenever you hit that stage or hit those cameras or whatever, your monologue could have been, or whatever you had, could have been a hundred lines long, you only got two lines and you’ll just zap ‘em,” you know. And said that he loved that about me.

But, when we actually did, I think we had done, like, the pilot and a few episodes, Tom Miller called me one Saturday morning. I will never forget it as long as I live. He said “Hi, honey, it’s Tom.” I said “Hi.” He said “I’m not a phone person, I don’t talk on the phone, but I wanted to talk with you.” So he says “Well, you know you’re never coming back to Perfect Strangers, right?” And I said, “Yeah, Tom” because they had given me a deal, a guarantee. They did the pilot and a guarantee of half of all the shows of Perfect Strangers if Family Matters didn’t work out. Well, Family Matters worked out. So Tom had said “You know you’re never coming back, right?” And I said “Yes”. He said “Well that’s why I wanted to talk with you. I just wanted to tell you to always stop and smell the roses, and stay as wonderful as you are, and all these–because you’re getting ready to take a ride now.” And I see he was trying to, you know, really just comfort me and let me know to just out there and do what I do. And I remember somebody told me, even with Reggie, with our chemistry and everything, even if we had, like, banter, said “You can’t be mean to her, because you can’t–it can’t come off mean because people like her, she’s strong, you know.” And they said “But you can’t be mean to her, then it makes your character not look right.” But then, you know, I felt like the entire time that they were there, and then after we got into Family Matters–I think maybe 2 or 3 years after we did it, then they turned it over to David Duclon, you know, with Bill and Michael and them, but with David Duclon, I think it might have been, eh, it might have been a little longer than that.

But at any rate, I still always felt like they were there because I knew I could always contact them. And I remember one year, they gave me a gift and I still have it right now. A Christmas gift. And I opened it up and it was from Tiffany’s. They always gave wonderful gifts, but this particular gift was a harlequin clown that went to a harlequin circus set. And Bob Boyett called me in the office, and they gave me that gift, and the paper–when I opened it up, I said “Oh my god, it’s a clown!” And he said “It’s not just a clown, it’s a special clown. It’s the only clown in this particular harlequin circus. So it can be very, very valuable. If somebody wants to put that circus together, remember, you have the clown.” He said “But we gave it to you because we think you’re the most beautiful clown. We think you’re the most beautiful clown we’ve ever seen.” And they had a note in there, it was absolutely beautiful. I think it’s the best gift that–outside of my God-given–my daughter–I think that the best gift that anybody gave me was that darn harlequin clown.

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[In a follow-up email, Jo Marie described a clown like this Tiffany & Co. piece from the 1990s Gene Moore circus collection]

And it made me want to do–always do my best for them, you know. It didn’t matter, all the other stuff, I always wanted to pay them back by giving them the best that I had. The best that I had to make sure that–I didn’t give them 100%, I gave them 200%–because that’s what they expected out of me. To just do it, regardless. And I think when Tom was talking to me, he was telling me that shows don’t always go the way you want them to go, and we know that happened, that way. You know, the show was created for me, it was licensed on my character, and Urkel popped out.

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But by the same token, and when I was asked about it, I said “Well, Perfect Strangers was treated for somebody else and I popped out of that too, but that didn’t matter, you know.” And it doesn’t matter today. The show was a success. And what it was to me, was that I was supposed to stay in my lane, do my job. And that’s what I did, you know. And when I left, when I walked out of that door on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, I went home to my family, and I tried to keep a balance on it. Even though, sometimes I was not happy with certain things. I still, because I respected and cared so much–not only about myself and my career–but I loved and cared about Tom and Bob because I knew they cared about me. And I just want to–and that represented them. You see what I’m saying? They took a chance on me. And it paid off well, not only for them, but for me. But I’m going to tell you: when I left Miami–and I’m telling you the story about when I told my mom I was going to give it five more years–I prayed for a project. Family Matters, Perfect Strangers was it. I prayed for a project, and it was Perfect Strangers, and it didn’t matter who came in that prayer with me, we still made it to the top.

Casey: I’ve read somewhere–and I’m not sure where this information comes from–I’ve read that Balki and Larry were supposed to make an appearance on the first episode of Family Matters.

Jo Marie: Right.

Casey: So what led to the decision of not doing that?

Jo Marie: I don’t know! I don’t know. I always heard they were coming but I don’t know. But I do know that I wasn’t going back there because, you know, like I said, Tom had said “You know you’re never coming back.” And before the conversation ended–the phone conversation ended, he said “a messenger will be coming to your house today.” I said “He will?” He said “Are you going to be home?” I said “Yes.” “Because you’ll need to sign for it.” I said “Okay.” He said “Because we’re sending you a big check for all of those shows that you’re not going to do. I said “What?!” He said “We’re sending you a big check,” and they did. It was thousands of dollars. I almost lost my mind!

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But they didn’t come over. You know something, Mark Linn-Baker did do one of our shows, Bronnie never did one. Mark did one, and I think Melanie Wilson did do one.

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Casey: One of the things that I’ve noticed as I’ve been reviewing Perfect Strangers–it had a very unique, committed focus on just two characters.

Jo Marie: It did.

Casey: It seemed weird to me that they didn’t work you, or Belita, or Sam Anderson into many of the stories, more than just a few lines.

Jo Marie: Right.

Casey: Do you have any insight on that direction?

Jo Marie: No, but I’ll tell you what. They were so darn good, I didn’t even worry about it. They were so darn good, especially when they did the Gleason and Norton thing. You know, they just had good comedic timing. They could do that–what do you call it–that slapstick stuff, they were so talented. They could do anything!  I enjoyed them myself to tell you the truth. (laughing) It didn’t bother me. I was in my element, I was working, I had excellent producers, and a good camera crew. I still talk to my camera crew right now, those guys, and I see them on different shows. But it never bothered me, and then especially I have to say that it didn’t bother me because I got spun off into another character, well, another show. But it was wonderful working with them. They were very nice to me, and I appreciated the fact that they were so doggone professional. They really were. It was no horsing around and fooling around.

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There was a little incident one time. And Bronnie and I went in the elevator and, you know, we talked it over, and we have been beautiful, you know, castmates and friends since then. We just had to have an adult conversation and we did and they allowed us to do it. And I never say it.

And nobody knows what that conversation was but myself and Bronson Pinchot. That’s it.

Casey: How did the Perfect Strangers cast feel about you getting spun off?

Jo Marie: Well, I believe they were happy. I know Bronson was, because he talked about it all the time. I’ve seen him on different interviews and he talked about it, you know. He would mention it, even if they didn’t mention it he would mention it. And I think there was a little bit of–I’m not going to say I think, I know it was a little bitter–a little jealousy that popped up with Melanie Wilson, because I did have a little snit with her. And this only happened–I didn’t know she held it like that, but she did. When I came–there was one particular time when I came, because we would always come out and, you know, do our bows to the audience. And the audience would ask questions and everything, and all, and they started asking me questions, you know. And on this particular day an audience member asked two times, I think it was, you know, that “I’d like to hear from Harriette” and she wouldn’t give me the microphone. When the Q&As were over with and all, I said “Why didn’t you give me the microphone?” And she said “Because I was busy talking on it!” And I said “But the lady asked two times.” I said “Please don’t do that again.” And I think ever since then, she and I kind of–there was a little cloud there. We spoke, you know, and even when she did Family Matters, we were cordial. I’m just telling you the truth. But she was the only one. I think–well, I don’t think, I know–you know, Melanie was a little bit of a prima donna, you know, she was very beautiful, but I think it was just her. You know, it’s always somebody. But like I said, I don’t carry grudges, I don’t carry hate, I understood, you know, where she was with it. But it is what it is. I don’t want to go out–I’m famous for shooting straight from the hip and just telling the truth. And that’s what it was. But like I said I didn’t hold it, you know, against her. She probably held it against me, but I didn’t. But I remember it, you know, and I remember it well. And that did kind of put a little thorn in the side, you know, with us.

And to tell you the truth, when you–I’m going to tell you the truth, because this is how I am–when I got your request for this interview, I had mentioned to my husband, I said “You know, not everybody wanted this reboot of Family Matters. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if they rebooted Perfect Strangers instead of Family Matters?” I said “Because I think, I don’t know what happened to”–god I can’t even think of her name now, that little cute little blonde girl, you called her name.

Casey: Rebeca.

Jo Marie:  Rebeca! I don’t know what happened to Rebeca because I never saw her after this. But I know that Mark is still here, Bronnie’s still here, Melanie’s still here, Belita’s still here. I think Sam Anderson–who was Sam Gorpley–I think Sam’s still here, out in the valley…. I said “Wouldn’t it be a hoot if those guys still owned that newspaper?” I mean, where they owned it not as opposed to working there. That they owned it, and they had people working for them. There’s always, you know–we call it “Show Business”. You show ‘em, and it’s good, you got a business. I said “Wouldn’t that be a hoot?” And then Harriette did come back there.

Casey: I would watch that.

Jo Marie: Oh yeah!

Casey: Are they talking about a reboot?

Jo Marie: Nobody’s mentioned it to me. I know that the only people that have mentioned it to me are our fans. (laughing) Our fans are begging for it every day. They’re begging for a reboot. “Are we gonna have a reboot?” I said “I don’t know, nobody’s talked to me yet. If you wanna see it, you gotta go to Hulu, Hulu’s got the entire line-up if you still wanna see it.” Because it’s never been off the air, it’s always been somewhere, I know that for a fact because residuals come in. I say “You can see it.” And then some people say “Well I don’t know if I want anybody to mess with it.” But by the same token, when Entertainment Weekly threw us in last year, November we were there. And they put that big spread on all of the networking sites and they did the one-hour special.

It went viral and so people are still asking right now, “Are we going to get a Family Matters reboot?” because they know we’re all here except for the grandmother and Myra. And I remember Kellie saying to me–that’s Laura–she said “Ms. Jo Marie, why won’t we hear anything about a reboot? Why don’t we have a reboot? All of us are still here except for the grandmother.” I said “Guess what, Kellie? I’m the grandmother now, you’re the mother.” She said “Oh my god, I never thought about it, Ms. Jo Marie!” I said “Now, you’re at the age where you’re the mother, and I’m the grandmother.” She said “Oh my god, that’s right.” I said “So you won’t be without a grandmother, because they’re not gonna give me any young kids, they’re gonna give them to you.” She said “Ms. Jo Marie, we got it all. We got it all.”

Casey: I would love to see it, personally, because I was watching Family Matters from the beginning. I didn’t catch much of Perfect Strangers, I was a little too young.

Jo Marie: Well you know, speaking of Family Matters and people watching it, you know that Australia had Family Matters for the entire 9 seasons that we were on. As a matter of fact, Australia flew me out there to work at the Royal Children’s Hospital. And then we got a letter back and said that the year that I came there to work with the Royal Children’s Hospital was the biggest money-making year that they had. But I do remember that when I was on the phones, and doing the telethon and all this stuff, that people started calling in to say “If she answers the phone personally, I will double my pledge!” you know. And so I was jumping all over the place! I was jumping, I was tiny then, I was about a size 10.  And I was jumping all over the place, and they thought it was the cutest thing, but they made a lot of money. And then I went to Africa and I went to Paris, and when we got to Paris because we did–we went over to do a two-parter, it actually turned out to be a three-parter.

But they had the show. People were flying me everywhere. And then Jerusalem wanted me and I was scared to go, I should’ve went to Jerusalem. The show was there, so people loved it. When I went to Europe–when I went to London–Perfect Strangers was there and they were calling me the lift operator. “Harriette the lift operator! The lift operator!” That was before Family Matters, so it was all over the world and I heard people speaking it in Chinese. And I was at a casino one time and I unloaded the bus because they saw me with my husband, and all of them are on the bus, and somebody said “Oh! Harriette! Harriette!” They jumped off the bus and they had their cameras and they were taking pictures.

I’m telling you, it’s been wild! On the freeway one time, traffic was slow and I was in my car, and I had the big black Mercedes at the time and there were a bunch of prisoners in this bus. And it was hot so they had the windows down, and one of them started to say “Hey, man! That’s Harriette! It’s Harriette driving!” So the people on the bus went crazy. I said “Oh my god, this is wild. This is wild.” I’m so happy that people liked us, and Reggie did try to come up with a project one time for us. But I’m going to tell you something. There’s somebody out there that’s real smart–I hope it’s our producers, because I do believe that they cared about us–I don’t know what the issue is, I really don’t, honestly. But whoever decides that maybe they want to do this, it’s gonna make a lot of money this time, the same way they made a lot of money the first time. Because I know people want to see us, I know they do. And we’re ready. Like Jaleel and I said–it would only take them putting a script in our hand, and two or three days we’ll be there and the show will be shot. Period. That’s how we worked, we had the chemistry. I know exactly what they’re saying and how they’re going to say it out of their mouths and the same thing with them with me. We know exactly what it is. It’s not like they have to work at it. All they have to do is pay us.  Have the set done up, get in the good directors and just pay us, we’ll give them what they need and more, you know, and bring it up to date.

Casey: After nine years I imagine you just know everybody in and out.

Jo Marie: Aw, yeah. We do.

Casey: Well, I have one more sort of general question about Perfect Strangers. What were your favorite moments or favorite stories?

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Jo Marie: You know, I liked the sexual harassment one, I really did, with–oh my god, she was so great on that, I think she was nominated for an Emmy for that particular show. Her and Bronson Pinchot were just magnificent in that show. Because she–what is her name–she’s a great actress, she still is. That one on sexual harassment was fabulous. And then the one where–there was one where we went to a Christmas party, or something, and it was hysterical.

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And the one they did Jackie Gleason, I wasn’t in even that one. But when Mark-Linn Baker and Bronson Pinchot played Jackie and Norton and the girls played Trixie and Alice, oh man, it was fabulous!

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My favorite parts of Perfect Strangers wasn’t the parts that I did. When me and Belita Moreno was together, I loved everything we did when we had an opportunity to work together. But my favorite really was Mark and Bronson. It was always–for me it was always a joy for me to watch them work. I don’t know if they practiced together off the set, at home, or whatever, but damn, they were good, you know? They were just that–for me–they were just that on it.

Casey: I was just looking it up while you were talking. It was Holland Taylor.

Jo Marie: Yes it was! Holland Taylor, exactly. That was a good episode, I will always remember that episode. And in today’s, you know, climate of what we’re having and everything and all–you see I already knew about it, because I was in the business, so, I mean there’s some stories I could tell myself–but that episode was done so beautifully. The levels on it–Holland’s levels on it were great. But we had good writers–both of the writers we had on Family MattersPerfect Strangers and Family Matters. We had the best writers, we had great directors. Rich Correll was our director–I don’t know if Rich–I think Joel directed all of the Perfect Strangers. Rich Correll came in and he and Joel were the top directors for Family Matters, along with John–I can’t think of John’s name [John Tracy – Casey]. we had quite a few of them on Family Matters, but Joel Zwick was the major one. There was a reputation–if Joel Zwick directed a pilot, the pilot was going to sell!

So if I had to answer the question again–my favorite moments on Perfect Strangers were the moments that I enjoyed so much watching Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot. Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn Baker. Those are my favorite moments. My favorite episodes were the ones I did with Belita Moreno.

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Let me tell you this: you have really lightened my whole week, my day especially, because you took me back into memory that I don’t often have a chance to revisit. So for that I thank you so much. There’s so much in between all the other stuff, and I know my answers were very long. But I got paid–I always tell people I get paid a lot of money because I got a very good memory. And you just made me go back and remember some of the things that make me happy and excited to continue on being in my element and doing what I truly love to do. And that is making people happy, and it makes me happy to be able to have them enjoy what I do. So for that I thank you so much.

Casey: Oh, well thank you so much! And I really appreciate your answers, especially the long ones, because there’s not a lot of–I couldn’t find any other interviews with you about Perfect Strangers.

Jo Marie: Well, I appreciate that. And if you talk to any of them, please tell them I’m sending them love and blessings, and that I miss them, okay?

Casey: Thank you again so much, Ms. Payton.

Jo Marie: Take care, and you have a wonderful holiday season, okay?

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*Jaleel must have been 12 when his first episode was filmed, but he is around half a year younger than Darius McCreary and Kellie Shanygne Williams. If Jo Marie met Darius and Kellie any time after June 1988, they were 12 at that time. As thorough as Jo Marie’s memory appears to be, I am disinclined to attribute any error to her or to suspect any age misrepresentation on the parts of the younger actors (and even if so, cf. Charo). I would suspect that the two were eleven when they first began talking to ABC. If you want a more thorough picture, please, start a Family Matters review blog.

**In a follow-up email, Jo Marie clarified that this program was from ~2004, part of the New York City Commission’s Promotion on Home and Family.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Jo Marie Payton, who was a delight to chat with, and who is a much better person than I am.  I mean, I’ve never kept in touch with any of my cameramen. If you enjoyed this, please flood all of the other actors’ social media with demands that they let me interview them!

Join me next week for “Out of Sync”!