Interview with Rebeca Golden

I told y’all I would come back if there was anything important!

If it had been a reboot you’d be reading my fake obituary while I boarded a plane to Argentina to live out my days as Sr. John Smith, Subway cashier. Luckily it’s not that!

This blog has clogged up Google image search results for Perfect Strangers and its actors to such an extent that, when Rebeca Golden was searching for herself last Fall, she stumbled onto this eternal testament to my second-rate jokes.

She commented on the blog, I reached out with some questions, and she wrote me back with answers. Plus I talked to her on the phone! This makes me more special than you, but I won’t let that get in the way of our friendship.

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How did you get into acting?

I always knew growing up that I would be on television and I have no idea why but from my earliest memory I believed that was where I was going.

What was your first television role?

Lindsey Laupher, Movie Starlet, on Search for Tomorrow which was a soap opera that ran for 30+ years on NBC in New York.

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How did you get the part of Mary Anne?

I was sent for the audition for a guest spot on this show that hadn’t aired yet and the role was for Jennifer. I wasn’t given a script just the sides (pages) that I was to read. On the last page was this role of Rachel who says, “Hi, I’m Rachel, I’m a Sagittarius.”

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And Balki says, “Hi I’m Balki, I’m a Bartokomous. Would you like to go out with me?” To which she says yes. So I told the casting director I liked this role better and I want to read for it but she told me they were casting both girls from the readings of Jennifer. So, I read for Jennifer. The part was just for one episode which was “Hunks Like Us”. They did not cast Melanie as Jennifer right away. But Bronson wasn’t thrilled with the actress that was at the first read through so they went back into casting sessions and brought Melanie back in.

The scripts usually depict Mary Anne as a ditzy character, but you didn’t always play her that way. What kind of a woman is Mary Anne Spencer?

I preferred to think of her as naive and marching to beat of her own drum. Early on the writers would write in her brilliant moments but my character was always the first one cut for time so the character became one dimensional.

What was it like doing the first episode, where you meet Balki at a gym?

The first episode was such a fun and amazing time. Both of the guys were so much fun then and Melanie and I became fast friends. We just felt like at the end of that week that it wasn’t really over.

How did you find out ABC wanted you as a recurring character?

Melanie and I were actually on the phone with each other when her agent rang through and then so did mine. We both got the news that the producers wanted to bring us back for some more episodes. So we came back for several episodes still as guest stars until they made us an offer.

What was your relationship with the other actors on Perfect Strangers?

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Melanie and I were, and still are, very close. She is one of my dearest friends. We leaned on each other through those years of standing behind a door waiting to knock and we are still leaning on each other in life!

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Mark is the consummate professional and just a doll. He’s a man of very few words but very quick to laugh and a pure delight to work with. If you can’t tell, I just love him.

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Sam Anderson is the sweetest guy and so funny! He could take anything and make pure comic gold out of it. I love when I see him pop up in films or TV.

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Belita Moreno is also hysterically funny and such a great gal. She got pregnant during season 3 or 4 and I remember they just kept hiding her behind stuff and she was a riot.

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Jo Marie was also a hoot to work with could pull down a laugh with just a look. It’s really too bad they weren’t utilized more in the show because they always delivered brilliantly.

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What was your favorite episode to perform?

That’s a tough one. The earlier seasons were so much more fun but I suppose I really enjoyed The Honeymooners episode because it was so different and we shot it live making it very exciting. Loved “Hunks Like Us” for obvious reasons. “Snow Way to Treat a Lady, Part I & II” was fun also.

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Perfect Strangers was known for how quickly it would shoot episodes. What was a typical week like on the show, from getting the script to filming the episode?

It started with a network read through on Monday and usually we’d get sent home while the writers tweaked. Then the network read through got moved to Tuesday mornings and we had Monday off. Eventually we did the network read through during the week before while we were rehearsing the current script and then had two days off only working 3 days. Our shoot days also kept changing as they added other sitcoms around us.

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Perfect Strangers is one of the few sitcoms I’ve ever seen that did not give B-plots to its other characters. Do you have any insight into why there was such a focus on just Larry and Balki?

It was how Bronson wanted it.

Were there ever scenes or lines of yours that did not make it into the final cuts of  episodes?

Tons! One time I literally had one word to say in the entire script, which was “Vanilla” and although it got a huge laugh in run through, they cut it! I was the one cut first whenever they were running over time wise. I believe it was Melanie who got them to put “Vanilla” back in. I always joked that my role consisted of knocking on the door, entering and saying, “Hi guys.”, then a scene would take place, and then we would exit as I would say, “Bye Balki.”.

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In its last couple of years, Perfect Strangers saw a change of directors, from Joel Zwick to Judy Askins. Did that change affect the direction you received for playing Mary Anne?

Joel is a dear friend of mine and an incredible director. I think he just wanted a fresh view and decided to go over to Full House.

No, Judy never gave me any direction. She was basically just directing traffic when she came on. It was a well oiled machine by then.

There were some tabloid reports–and also from an interview Bronson Pinchot gave awhile back–that there was some behind-the-scenes stress during the last couple of seasons. Was there any truth to those reports? What was the atmosphere in that last year and a half?

Yes, it did get very unpleasant. I don’t know what the reports you’re referring to were but there were grownups behaving badly.

Why was Perfect Strangers cancelled?

It really wasn’t cancelled. Bronson and Mark’s contracts were up and they decided they wanted to move on. So they agreed to do the last 13 episodes without contracts to kind of wrap things up but after we all came back, the network decided to do only 6. I’m sure they didn’t want to put any more money into it since the guys wouldn’t be returning.

I’ve read that there were initially supposed to be 13 episodes for the final season. Do you remember what direction Perfect Strangers might have gone in had it continued, or any individual stories that were dropped?

Oh well, I just covered that! I’m sure it would’ve just been more of the same.

What are Mary Anne and Balki doing these days, do you think?

Living in the burbs with 6 kids.

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What was it like to leave the show and say goodbye to your costars?

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It was sad to leave all the people who I had spent a chunk of my life with at the point. I was glad we weren’t just cancelled and that we went out still pulling down decent ratings. But I was ready to go.

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Do you keep in touch with any of them?

I see Melanie all the time. She is married to Bill Bickley who was one of our executive producers. Bill and my husband get along great so the four of us get together frequently. My girls have grown up knowing them. We just celebrated my oldest daughter’s birthday at their house. Our golden doodle had puppies nine years ago and Melanie and Bill have one (who they dote on like crazy) so I guess that makes us related?

I see Mark when he comes in town and stays with Melanie. He has a daughter and our girls met a long time ago when they were little. I think they still stay in touch on social media. Now that my youngest is in New York, I get back there more often and look up Mark when I do. When he’s on Broadway, I go see him because he’s incredibly talented whatever he does

According to IMDB, you were still acting as of 2000. What got you out of acting?

Really? I don’t remember doing anything in 2000 because I spent that year pregnant.

[this turned out to be a different actress in a James Spader movie – Casey]

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After Perfect Strangers ended, I still worked but I really had lost my love for it. I got married in 1996 and in 1997 had my first daughter. I did tons of voiceover work while pregnant and for a while after having Stella. Then I went out of town for work and had to leave her. She was a little over a year old and trying to assure her I would come home soon over the phone was devastating. With acting, it was all about me but with motherhood, it was all about them so I chose them.

I went from pampered actress to slave and wouldn’t have it any other way!

I never actually told my daughters what I used to do and then one day when they were little, we were in Costco and this young man approached me and said he was a huge fan. We chatted a little and then he asked for an autograph. After he walked away both of the girls were staring at me and demanded to know what that man was talking about. (They understood the autograph thing because of getting the princesses’ autographs in Disneyland.) I realized that I had never told them or shown them any of our shows. It’s funny the way that whole thing works. You go from obscurity, to “where do I know you from?”, to “you’re that girl!”, to everyone knowing your name and what you do. Then it reverses! I just thought they knew but of course, how would they? They went home and watched every episode then told everyone their mom was a movie star.

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What have you been doing lately?

Well, I raised two humans to adulthood. Quite a run that was. I became a professional volunteer at their schools serving as president of the parent/faculty first at the elementary, then middle school and finished it all up at the high school. I have a clothing business which I really enjoy.

My oldest daughter is at Art Center College of Design studying Entertainment Design and my youngest just started her sophomore year at NYU which happens to be my alma mater.

Have you been contacted about any sort of reboot of Perfect Strangers?

There was an opportunity dangled in 2013 about a national tour with the guys doing the Odd Couple. They sent us contracts but somewhere the negotiations broke down and it never happened.

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If you have wondered why I haven’t said anything about Bronson, it’s because I adhere to the old adage that if you can’t say anything nice about someone then don’t say  anything at all.

But the truth is there are some nice things I can say about him.

He was a true Jekyll/Hyde. In the beginning, he was so sweet and fun to work with but as we got further into the success of the show, he morphed into a monster. I was the one member of the cast that seemed to draw his wrath. It was quite the paradox living my dream of being on a sitcom but subjected to being sexually assaulted by him regularly. At the time, there was nothing I or anyone else could do about it. He held all the cards.

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[Rebeca offered to answer any other questions I had over the phone, and there was no way I was passing up an opportunity to talk to Mary Anne over the phone. Below is our conversation from October 2019.]

One kind of bigger question that I’m really surprised I’ve never seen anyone ask in an interview about Perfect Strangers–and I figure you might know since you were there almost from the beginning–why did they switch from a discount store setting and an apartment setting to the newspaper?

Oh, because they felt that the guys couldn’t be seen as just staying in one place. They had to advance in their lives. As opposed to just staying working in the Ritz Discount shop. They wanted them to be more successful, so it was more uplifting. So they weren’t just two loser guys. They did follow their dreams and try to have a career, that sort of thing. Because we knew that, we were like “Why are we moving to a newspaper? What happened?”

And then, when they got rid of Ernie Sabella as Mr. Twinkacetti, that was kind of sad.

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I enjoyed having Belita and Sam added to the cast, but I hated to see Ernie go. 

Yeah, I know, and Belita was originally Mrs. Twinkacetti. And so she had to go through, all those–it was quite a lot of makeup and stuff to turn her into a redhead. (laughing) It was just funny. She had to be two different characters.

Right. I mean, it was a very drastic change, I thought. Because, you know, I would see her, I’ve seen her in other shows from the same time, and she looks very different. I mean, just from the hair color alone.

Yeah. Oh, she’s a hoot. Funny lady.

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Another question about behind the scenes. This was–I had heard stories from other Perfect Strangers fans who had interacted with, I think had talked with some of the actors at different times online. But it was always things I couldn’t report on my blog, because it was kind of unsourced. But I really have only ever heard great things about Mark. Someone was telling me that they had heard through word-of-mouth that any time there was an actress who was on the show for maybe just one episode, it was always his dressing room that they felt comfortable leaving their purses in, things like that.

(laughing) That’s funny. Yeah, Mark is just a teddy bear. He’s the sweetest guy. He just is a really, really nice man.

All I can tell you is I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like him. He’s just always just super, super sweet.  He’s quiet, though. He’s not a big talker. It’s just not his thing.

Well, that was another question. Because I guess I still have hopes I might get to, you know, interview him and some of the other actors, even though I’ve finished the review blog. But if I ever do get the chance to interview him, what’s the best way to get him talking? Because he’s always so quiet in interviews. 

(laughing) You know what? You just have to wait til he has something to tell you. Then he talks! He’s not one for small talk. He’ll listen to small talk and laugh, but he’s just not chitty-chatty.

He’s so funny, he loved my little dog Emmy. And Emmy had known him since she was a tiny puppy. And so every time he would see her, he would go “Emmy Emmy Emmy Emmy” in a really high, squeaky little voice. And she would pee. (laughing) She would just get so excited to see him.

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But he tended to do this on shoot nights. Because we’d be coming back from the commissary, and he’d be in his wardrobe. And it used to drive the wardrobe guys crazy because then Emmy would tinkle on him. And they’d have to change his costume. (laughing) And I would be like “Mark, no!”

And one time he went to Venice Beach, and he came back, he was so excited. He bought this little pink hat for Emmy. I mean, he was so excited about this little pink hat that he bought for my dog. So my dog had a total aversion to wearing clothes. If you put anything on her, she just sat down and looked at you like “You’re kidding, right? I am not wearing this.” And even in the show, when she played my dog, she was supposed to wear this little outfit that looked just like what I was wearing. And we put it on her. She was only 10 months old at the time, and she sat down and she just looked at us like “Yeah. It’s not happening. I’m not walking, I’m not moving, I’m doing nothing until you get this off of me.”

They ended up just putting a collar of the same material that I was wearing. Because she would have none of it. You couldn’t dress her up. So she would not wear the hat. I still have it, though. Because he brought it to me on a little stuffed dog, so that I could see how it worked. It was so funny. We put it on her. But she wasn’t going anywhere in that hat.

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And he’s so incredibly funny.

I remember when we did that episode, the “Black Widow”, where he thought I was going to kill Balki. (laughing) I think it was the first time ever we had a scene together alone. And it was just so funny because he was supposed to be tying me up. And just to mess with him–he tells me to hold the piece of rope, and then he’s going to go around me in circles and tie me up. And I just started turning with him. And it just cracked him up. He started howling. I was like “What?” And he goes “Do that! Do that!” “Sure…”

But I had so much fun with him.

He brought his daughter to Melanie’s, and we had this quasi-reunion. Because of course Bronson showed up the night before, he didn’t come on the right day.

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But we had the kids, the girls were all in Melanie’s pool. And Mark (laughing) Mark only has the one daughter, and it was so funny, because every time they would scream, he would jump up and start to run over there. And look at me like “They’re screaming!” And I would just look at him and go “Yeah? Well do you see blood? If you don’t see blood we’re good.” He was such a nervous Nellie about it, “Is she okay? Are they okay? Okay then why are they screaming?” And I’m like “They scream all the time. Don’t worry about it.” But he was cute.

He’s a cute daddy just as well as he was a cute everything else.

I got the sense just watching him and reading a little bit of reporting from the time of the show, that a lot of the little touches for jokes were his. And so what you were saying about “Black Widow”, that makes a lot of sense. That fits with what I’ve read about him. 

(laughing) Yeah, I always envied Melanie getting to work with him. Because he’s just such a doll.

You had mentioned in the responses you had given me that the earlier seasons were different from the later ones. So, you were on the show for six and a half years? Did you feel it was, like it was changing from year to year with the writing, or the sensibility? 

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Well, our writers changed. Because basically we kept the core group, but… towards the end we didn’t. Well, I guess we did. We would get a couple of new ones here and there. I don’t know. I think attention got split. There were other shows in the making. So they got the attention. When we first started, our show got all the attention. And then as the producers were adding more shows, it started to change a bit.

And it was really a collaboration, because we would sit for hours in notes with the writers at the end of a day. Trying to find our way through some of these scripts, towards the end.

I think it was a little smoother in the beginning. Not really sure why.

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I had read something about that, that in the early years the process, maybe at least the filming, was quicker, but then towards the end it got a little longer? 

Oh, well, the filming, with Joel Zwick, yeah. I mean, that was like doing theatre. You were just doing live theatre and you were done. I mean, occasionally he would have maybe a pick-up shot here or there. But he could usually get the entire show while we were doing it in front of the audience.

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Now, if we had special effects or crazy stuff that could go a little longer. I think the plumbing episode, we had to shoot from the one scene with the shower going crazy, that wasn’t done in front of an audience. But the part where the whole ceiling caved in, and the water falls on us, that was in front of an audience. But, yeah, we never went very late at all. If we went to 10 o’clock that was unusual.

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We were always really quick with our shoot night. And then after Joel left, it got longer. A bit.

Because he was doing other shows at that point, correct?

Yeah, he decided to go do Full House. I don’t know how long he was over there, but yeah, that’s when he left us. I think it was after five years he went over to Full House. And then we had some guest directors that were all just pretty nice. And then Judy Pioli got the regular director.

[The call is dropped, when we reconnect we commisserate about technology woes. – Casey]

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I didn’t even know what it meant when you said that I had left you “on seen”. I had to ask one of my daughters. (laughing) I said “What does that mean?”

I think sometimes Facebook acts like the other person has seen the message, when they really haven’t.

Facebook keeps on notifying me that I have messages, and I don’t! So I just turned it off, I was like “stop notifying me!” So now, of course, I miss stuff… because I got a message, and who knew?

Anyway we were talking about Joel. Joel is a dollbaby. Love Joel. He’s just the sweetest guy, funny, hysterical. And it was like having three crazy men to work with when he was on the show. I’m surprised he doesn’t talk about it more, but… I don’t know.

He had a biography book, it was kind of in the form of a long-form interview. He only mentions Perfect Strangers in passing a couple times. Mostly in terms of reining Bronson in.

(laughing) Yeah… well, that was the issue. “Who could wrangle Bronson?” But he did a pretty good job. He was able to somehow balance it. It wasn’t easy, but he was able to… I just think Bronson, in the beginning… Bronson was like a big overgrown kid, and you needed to rein him in or he’d go crazy. Fortunately, that job fell to Joel. And Joel’s like kind of reining him in. Joel’s famous line is “Well, it’s not in my movie!” (laughing) That was the best.

Going back to talking about the writers, and hammering out the scripts with the writers, I’m curious to know: were there ever any scripts or stories something that existed in script form that never made it to the screen, that y’all never filmed?

Oh, tons of stuff. I mean, sometimes (laughing) the way it was originally written and the way it ended up in the end would be like two totally different things. Because things are different on paper than they are on their feet. And then sometimes it just didn’t whatever was written didn’t ring true with the characters, or something had to be changed, but… I don’t know. I remember the two writers who wrote “Snow Way to Treat a Lady”–that was way back in the beginning–I think it was their spec script? And it was so good that they–the producers–made it a two-parter.

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It was originally one script, but it was so good, and they just got us so well. And then they got hired on. And they were just wonderful guys.

It looks like that’s Howard Adler and Robert Griffard.

Yeah. Howard and Bob. Yeah, they were so young then too! Well, we all were. (laughing) But… we were all young then. Their script was so good, and it ended up being stretched into a two-parter.

Also the baseball one, that Paula Roth wrote. That was another really good script. I think she wrote the Honeymooners one also.

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Right, she was with the show the whole time, correct?

Yes. Yes. She was there from the very beginning. And of course there was Bill Bickley and Michael Warren, and… oh my god, I have no memory anymore, Casey.

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Speaking of people who were there at that time… there was an actress who, she was in the background, and she was in–anytime that an episode was at the newspaper set, she was always working in the background. And even some of the people who are the Perfect Strangers superfans have never figured out who she is. I was just curious if you happen to know. She had dark hair.

Janet.

Janet?

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Yeah, Janet. Just one of our stand-ins. Janet and Corey. They were our stand-ins, and they would also frequently be in the background. They were actually–Janet and Corey were stand-ins for Mark or Bronson. And they were there since the beginning, we always had them.

Funny thing is Corey now works at my Costco. That Costco is the weirdest place. It’s like it keeps trying to take me back to Perfect Strangers. (laughing) Because that’s where my kids first found out that I had done the show. I hadn’t seen Melanie in several years. We had lost contact for whatever reason. We moved out here to the boondocks, and (laughing) I’m in Costco on Christmas Eve, it had to be 2004. And I look over, and I was in the wine section and I’m like “That’s Melanie. And look, there’s Bill.” And I was just like… I’m in a large, cavernous place, like a soundstage, and there they are! It was just so weird. And so Bill said the same thing, he’s looking at the two of us standing there together, he goes “I feel like I’m back on the set!” It was just so weird. And then come along here’s Corey. Corey’s always the guy at the door who checks off your receipt. (laughing) I know people think it’s weird that every time I go by him I have to hug him. And it’s just so funny that’s how we keep up with Corey. And he’ll say “Oh yeah, Mel was in last week.” It’s just funny, my Costco is my Perfect Strangers meeting grounds.

I’m trying to remember, just from the background actors, was Corey, was that the African-American gentleman? 

No. No, Corey’s not very tall, probably about as tall as Mark. Just a little Caucasian guy. Quiet. Very quiet.

I think I can think of his face. Was he in… because there were a lot of people that came to, you know, the Cousins’ apartment in the Christmas episode, I feel like he was in that one. 

Probably! I’m sure they were, yeah. Whenever we needed a crowd, they’d be in there. They would be our friends.

That brings up another question for me. I know we’ve talked a little bit about some of the secondary characters not being used very much, because there’s so much of a focus on the Cousins. There were some episodes where I got the suspicion that some of the actors–like Belita and Sam especially–were maybe brought in for just one line, just to fulfill the contracts. Because they didn’t really have anything else to do with the story. And I know nothing about contracts, so I’m curious–is that how it would work? That it would be a contract for a certain number of episodes, or would they figure that out after doing the scripts?

Yeah, everybody gets a guarantee. So it’s either pay them or play them. So it’s one or the other. It was unfortunate that they didn’t use their supporting cast more, because I think… I mean, look at the talent they had. With Sam, and Belita… that’s some serious talent that they just kind of… let… lay there. (laughing) In my opinion I think that they are very, very accomplished actors, and I felt that I would have liked to… I just really enjoyed working with them. I think that they’re extremely talented, it just was unfortunate, we had 22 minutes, and I think they–the producers–felt that the objective was to keep Balki and Larry front and center the whole time.

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But as you see on any of these other sitcoms that even would start out with one major character, they’d still… it turns ensemble. Because that’s what keeps the interest. It keeps it fresh. And I think that also was the reason why we started to get stale. There’s only so much, you know, (laughing) you can put these two guys through! You’ve got to have something on the outside, it has to have more stuff, more input from the outside, than just…

It was a strange show. In my experience of working on sitcoms, I’d never seen a show that was so hyper-focused just on two characters.

Especially when you compare it against the other shows that ABC was running. Because Full House… it was always an ensemble, and it’s been a long time since I’ve watched that show, but I’m sure that every character had something to do in those episodes.

Yeah, and then they would put somebody else in. As the years went by, they would even add in another supporting character. And that’s the whole point, you have supporting characters to hold the show up and keep it going. And when you don’t use your supporting cast, you just kind of let it languish there. It’s not going to improve your show. And I think that’s part of why it was getting kind of stale.

Yeah, and I think Family Matters is also an interesting case, because it started out with a strong ensemble cast, but in some of the later seasons it focused mainly on Jaleel White and Reginald VelJohnson.

Right! (laughing) They kind of did the flip of what we did. That’s true.

I never actually got a chance to really watch Family Matters and Full House. I was still young and going out then. (laughing) I didn’t stay home on Friday night and watch our lineup.

You see, I was still just a kid, so that was the big thing for my Friday night. 

Had to watch that Friday night lineup. I know when I was a little kid we had a Friday night lineup, that I used to love, so I get it. But, yeah, no, I didn’t stay home and watch them.

You had talked about losing your love for acting, or for that business, after Perfect Strangers. And I’m sorry to hear that because, of all of the actors on the show, you seemed to be doing the most outside of it. Because you were appearing on talk shows, on a lot of game shows, you were on Circus of the Stars.

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Do you know that I did Circus of the Stars for four years? (laughing) I loved doing Circus of the Stars. And you might go “Why?” because that’s kind of weird. First, I truly believed that they were trying to kill me for four years. But they weren’t successful, so I just kept going back for more. But it was an incredible experience. And the funny thing is, is Bronson did it first. He did it the year before me. I think it was the year before me, and maybe two years before I did. He did the trapeze.

And I was so taken with it because I had been a gymnast. So to this day, if I can just get upside down, I’m happy. But I really wanted to do Circus, and then I went (laughing) I went there… oh my god, what a nightmare! I was so terrified. And it’s three months of grueling training. Six days a week. Even if you’re working, you have to go there, and still train every day. And, with LA traffic, it’s just a nightmare. Trying to get there, you know, home from work, get there, learn something. It was just–it was brutal, but I loved it. So I was like a repeat offender on Circus of the Stars.

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I loved working with the Circus people, because obviously the only ones that could train you were people who really knew how to do it. And they were fascinating. And three months of the year, I would get in great shape, and I’d be like “Yeah, I want to do that again!”

I remember the last year, we did a bungee jump. It was (laughing) I was not supposed to be doing Circus of the Stars that year. And the producer called me, and he was a friend of mine, and he said “They’re going to call you and ask you to do this because so-and-so chickened out.” And he said “Make sure they pay you this amount of money, because that’s what they were going to pay her.” And I’m like “Okay!”

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So I ended up saying “yes” to this bungee jump. So that is one time when Mark was not short on words. All day long at work, he’s like “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to do this?” Now, because I had done all this stuff with Circus, I wasn’t afraid anymore of heights. But this was a whole different animal, because they were taking me up on a crane 200 feet to bungee jump to concrete, basically. Because there was nothing under me. And I’d never done it before. So, Mark was (laughing) I just remember him on the soundstage going “You see the top of that rafter right there?” And I say “Yeah” and he goes “That’s only 40 feet.” I was like “Oh.” He goes “Yeah. You’re going up 200 feet. Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure?” (laughing) I said “Well, yeah, Mark, I’m sure it’s safe.”

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I got the worst case of whiplash.

Because the person that they tested the camera shots with weighed about 10 pounds heavier than me. So I ended up coming down and then ricocheting like I was on a rubber band. Oh my god. I got thrown all over the place. It made for good TV, but ow.

And then the next night we had to do a scene. That was on a Thursday. I think we were still shooting on Friday then. The next day was our shoot night, and I had to stand with Bronson and I had to do these takes back and forth between Melanie and Mark while they were arguing about something. And I couldn’t move my neck, my head. So I had to move my whole body. These takes back and forth because I had such bad whiplash from my Circus of the Stars.

I would do anything, like a gameshow, or a show, because I figured it was all fun. To me, it was fascinating. All the opportunities. But everyone else on the cast were very reticent. They wouldn’t go out and do all this stuff.

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I remember Disney World flew me down there, paid me $10,000, flew in my friends and family. I flew down my mom and her boyfriend. And we had a whole week, and all I had to do was a question-and-answer on a stage here, and every day be in the Mickey Mouse parade, or at the MGM studios. That was it. And they’re like “Would you please ask Bronson if he’ll come?” And I’m like “Yeah! I don’t know why he wouldn’t.” I mean, it was amazing. I had what I called the “Disney Secret Service”, because they stayed with me all the time. And they were in their their little grey suits, and they took us everywhere. Just took us everywhere. I knew more about Disney World… They filled it full of facts, took us through back doors and showed us all kinds of stuff. It was incredible!

And so when somebody would call up and say “Would you like to do this?” I’d go “Sure!” Why not? Why wouldn’t I say yes?

I said “yes” to the Azalea Queen in North Carolina. No idea what I had said yes to. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever heard of. Because I had never heard about the North Carolina Azalea Queen before. So I get this call from my manager, saying, you know, “They had another Azalea Queen, but they had to replace her. So they want to know if you’ll do it.” And I’m like “…I guess so. What do I have to do?” And they said “Oh, you just have to ride in a parade.”

Well, there’s a lot more to it than that.

But, anyway, that’s what they said. “You just have to ride in a parade.” Like, “Okay. I can do that.” So then they sent me a list of all the actresses who had been the Azalea Queen before. And it was kind of a… interesting list. So but it turns out that was the year that Julie McCullough from Growing Pains, she had been their original choice for Azalea Queen. And then Kirk Cameron was making a big stink about her having posed for Playboy.

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And they ended up, I guess, I don’t know what happened. But they ended up cancelling her as Azalea Queen, and that’s when they came and asked me to do it. But I didn’t know all the backstory. And that night, on Entertainment Tonight, was this whole thing about poor Julie McCullough being booted off of being the Azalea Queen. And I’m sitting there going “Wait. Is that that thing I said yes to?”

And then they were speculating about “who would be the next Azalea Queen? Would it be Vanna White?” And I’m like “Huh?”

So anyway… that was totally strange. Anyway I went to North Carolina, and I was their Azalea Queen, and it was lovely. And it was interesting, because they took me everywhere in a police escorted motorcade. And I kept thinking we were getting pulled over, because of the sirens and the lights. And I’d be in this limousine going “Oh my god! Are we getting pulled over?” (laughing) No.

And then I would be in the hotel room with my mom, and we would turn on the TV, just to catch up with what was the news. And it would be me! I was the news in North Carolina. We were cracking up. We’re like “I have no idea what’s going on in the world. I just know that I’m here being the Azalea Queen.”

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And then, that summer, I was doing Circus of the Stars, and that was my first year on Circus of the Stars, on the trapeze. And Julie McCullough was doing the highwire. And I was so nervous that she would find out that I had replaced her. Because she’s so nice. So sweet, so nice. And so I thought “Oh, she’s going to hate me. She’s going to hate me.”

And so we had started to kind of become friends, and I was really, really cautious, because I thought “This girl’s going to hate me.” And finally I said to her one day “Do you know who replaced you?” She goes “Oh, yeah, I know it was you.” And I was like “You did? You knew all this time?” She said “Yeah! It’s okay.” So sweet. She’s the sweetest girl in the world.

So there are lots of really awesome actors that you never… but he did a disservice to his show by getting rid of her. I think. But she was a doll. She still is a doll.

So, my last question. There is still a very committed Perfect Strangers fanbase. There is a fan group on Facebook, it was started by a woman named Linda Kay, who was there for many of the tapings. I think starting with season 3 or season 4 of Perfect Strangers. So there’s still a lot of very committed fans who still watch the show pretty regularly. And whenever I get this interview ready to go on the blog, I’ll post it there so I know a lot of them will see it. Do you have any message you’d like to send on to Mary Anne fans?

I think it’s awesome that people still enjoy the show. Because I don’t know a lot of people who do still remember it. They’ll say “That’s the one with Tom Hanks?” (laughing)

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And it’s understandable they mix us up. We had the same director, and it was a buddy comedy. But yeah, I think it’s great if people are still loving the show. You know, often times I always wondered how it translates in other countries. Because it was all about Balki trying to learn the customs and the languages, the language here. And then it was dubbed into another language. I kind of go “How does that work?” I’d only ever seen it in Mandarin, which was fascinating.

Oh, do you speak Mandarin?

No, but on the show I do! (laughing) They had dubbed me and I was like “Oh, look at me go!” Who knew?

So somebody got a tape of one of our episodes. I can’t remember which show it was, but it was funny. I don’t remember what episode it was, but it was us speaking Mandarin.

It must have been a trip.

It is! There’s one point where I do a take, and I’m–the person dubbing me–made a noise. (laughing)-Balki says something, and I kind of do one of those “What…?” looks, and she went “Uh?” (laughing)

Like, oh, okay! I never thought she made that little sound!

Some of those things don’t translate as well as you’d like them to. I lived in Germany for a few months years ago, and I saw Full House on television there, with Dave Coulier, he would do Bullwinkle and Popeye. And the German voice actor did not do the voices. So a lot of that did not carry over at all.

Yeah, because you do wonder how will that translate.

So how did you get into doing this blog?

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_______________________________________________________

That’s it! Or… that’s all I’m going to share here. Rebeca and I spoke for another 15 minutes or so.

Just… chatting.

She was curious to hear more about me, this blog, and the work I do at a university. And just like every other person who’s seen this blog, she asked would I be doing another sitcom. And I’m just as grateful for that chat as for her willingness to answer my questions.

It’s heartwarming to hear that–by and large–the actors on Perfect Strangers were great people who enjoyed working with each other. (For further proof of this, see my earlier interview with Jo Marie Payton.)

We should all be so lucky to have colleagues we love so much.

So, Mark, Melanie, Belita, Sam, Ernie, Tom, Joel, Judy, Janet, Corey… if you’re reading, I’d still love to interview you and hear all the great memories you have of Perfect Strangers.

Until then, thanks again for reading.

-Casey

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: 1988

If all of those articles we looked at two weeks ago were telling the truth, everything Perfect Strangers touched turned to gold, and its actors would see nothing but success from 1987 onwards. I mean, after all, it and Full House built the powerhouse of TGIF. And Bronson was so sexy. I mean, those lips! That hair! The promise of being his girlfriend for only three weeks!

*mops sweat from brow with the corner of a Myposian tapestry*

Sorry, I’m getting off-track here.

Last time, there wasn’t much to say about what our actors did to get paid the rest of the year. Let’s see if 1988 is any more fruitful.

Melanie Wilson (Jennifer)

nuthin’

Okay, well, that one’s not a surprise, certainly Pinchot was–

Bronson Pinchot

nuthin’

Okay, well, he said he was going to be in a movie come Christmas ’89, so he was working, movies take a lot of time. Let’s move on to *ahem* established actors.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson already had a decade of television work under his belt by 1988, so it’s no surprise that he showed up in an episode of 21 Jump Street as “Dan Finger”.

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I’ve never watched 21 Jump Street, but I watched one of the scenes with him in it. I’m going to guess (and part of this comes from his IMDB page) that Anderson got a lot of work as guys in suits. He definitely pulls off the air of someone who would comfortably occupy an official role as some part of a bureaucracy.  After all, we first saw him in season 1 as a guy in a suit working at a bank.  In both cases, he’s been a frustrated-bordering-on-suppressed-anger kind of guy, and that’s how I like my authority figure characters. It gives the kids something to rebel against, and the parents something to identify with.

And hey, look at that, he was guy in a suit on Growing Pains, working as a frustrated part of an educational bureaucracy!

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I don’t know how in the world I forgot that Sam Anderson was in Critters 2: The Main Course. This lets me talk about Critters!

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The Critters series of movies is one of the better thought-out, better written, and most cohesive of the 80s/90s horror series I’ve watched (and I’ve watched a lot). That’s really not saying much, especially for what began as a Gremlins clone, but what makes Critters work is that it has a lot of heart, and what gives it that heart is the character of Charlie, played by Don Keith Opper. I could talk all day about Critters, but anyway, Sam Anderson plays Mr. Morgan, who oversees the publication of a small-town newspaper, the Grover’s Bend Gazette. Not a suit, but working in an established, official capacity.  I probably forgot him because you’re supposed to forget this type of character. He makes the newspaper real, has a little bit of personality (here, dealing with the minor headaches of placing rural “news” stories in order of importance), and then the movie gets down to business with killings.

Eugene Roche

He did a bunch of stuff, and then he died. From the looks of it, he may have been well-known for his role on Dave’s World. I really felt like breaking the law today, but I can’t find that show for download.

R.I.P. Eugene Roche, and R.I.P. Harry Burns.  I hope he finally got ahold of Lance’s column.

I’ve saved my favorites for last:

Jo Marie Payton

I couldn’t find Payton’s appearance on The Slap Maxwell Story or Frank’s Place (haha, what’d she do, stand on a grave and dispense wisdom? god it’s fun to make jokes about suicide), but she was also in a film called Colors. She played “2nd woman in recreation center”, so you decide whether that one’s worth tracking down to hear what “Mm-hmm, baby” sounds like with different acoustics.

Belita Moreno

When she wasn’t working with two idiots in Chicago, Belita worked with Two Idiots in Hollywood. I’ve never heard of it, which means it was a garbage movie for babies. It wasn’t released on DVD, but it would cost me four times as much to get a copy of it on VHS than it did to get Going to the Chapel (see below), so I’m sure it was at least better than that. She played some character named “Dreamhouse Barbecue Mother”, which coincidentally is also what I was planning on calling the first prog rock album I release.

As far as television, she was on Valerie, The Slap Maxwell Story, and Family Ties. I’m trying so hard to take money away from actors and executives, but I’m not finding the episodes of Valerie or The Slap Maxwell Story to download. At the very least, some degenerate soul uploaded the episode of Family Ties:

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Looks like she may have been somewhat typecast as only being able to stand beside short, fat, sleazy men. I expected a more prominent role for Moreno; here, all she does is smile, shake hands and say “I’m Norma”.

Rebeca Arthur / Mary Anne (Sagittarius)

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Finally, fuck and yes, I got to download a movie illegally! In one of those cosmic coincidences, Rebeca Arthur played a be-eyelinered character at a party named Tina in Scrooged. I was always intrigued as a kid by the skeleton hand lighting Bill Murray’s cigar but it wasn’t until now that I finally had the motivation to watch it. (Spoiler: that scene doesn’t even happen in the movie.) The script needed a sexy blonde who was hot for Bill Murray, so Rebeca Arthur was a sexy blonde who was hot for Bill Murray.

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Would that she were a sexy blonde who was hot for me.

Mark Linn-Baker

As we saw two weeks ago, Linn-Baker spent any time he wasn’t working on Perfect Strangers teaching and acting in New York. I’m having trouble finding anything about what plays he might have been in in 1988, but it’s safe to say he likely wasn’t in Cats, or Rodney Dangerfield on Broadway!.

He was in a couple of movies that summer, though. God help me: I was a model citizen and bought them both on VHS.

Me and Him (Sept. 1988)

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Mark Linn-Baker plays the voice of Griffin Dunne’s penis. It’s kind of like Stranger than Fiction, but with a penis instead of an author.  It fits with Linn-Bakers depiction of Larry–basically trying to pull someone towards their baser urges. So it’s kind of like Perfect Strangers, but with vaginas instead of Sears Tower ice cream sundaes.

Going to the Chapel (Oct. 1988, also released as Wedding Day Blues)

This movie was released mere days before season 4 began.  Here’s the front of the VHS box:

goingtothechapelcover

Look, I like Linn-Baker and all, but if his name is listed first on the packaging, then “All Star Cast” is kind of a stretch. And to give you an idea of the budget for promotional photos: they took a picture of John Ratzenberger while he was asking if he was standing in the right spot.  This movie was much harder to pay attention to than Me and Him. It’s meant to be one of those ensemble pieces where all of the wacky relatives threaten to ruin the wedding and cause stress for the bride and groom.  The problem is, no one is wacky enough, or has enough impact on the plot.  Also, no one character is meant to be particularly prominent, which makes it obvious that Linn-Baker’s role was expanded in the first act of the movie.  I have no clue what the impetus of this movie was. I can’t imagine someone wanting to write it, or then writing it and thinking it was good. I can’t imagine the actors thinking it was good. I can only see this as a paycheck for everyone involved–but who the hell wanted to spend money on it?

Anyway, this is likely the only time that you’ll ever see Linn-Baker and Max Wright on-screen at the same time. And yes, they touch each other.

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Susan

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Susan’s cowboy boyfriend comes back and almost immediately lands in jail. He’s going to be hanged, so Susan tries wearing a nice dress to help him out.

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It works, but then Cowboy Boyfriend leaves again.

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I love you, Susan, and I know that you’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over my own sadness enough to start hoping that you’ll find happiness. But will you ever find true love?

______________________________

There were no changes to the opening credits in Season 4 other than the title losing the shiny reflection effect, so join me next week for “The Lottery”, which involves Larry pulling the slip with the black spot on it.

Also, many thanks to a real-live Jennifer for the art at the top of this  post!

Seasons 1 and 2 Revisited

hamiltonontarioad

Backtrack to Both Bunches of Bygone Bulletins

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Bring Back those Bouncy Blonde Babes! (I bet they bake bodacious bibibabkas)

Normally, I’d be doing my review of the whole season, but I have a lot of stuff to talk about. A bootload. A sheep-ton. I would say beaucoup*, but that’s the sound Mary Anne thinks ghost birds make (on account of she’s so dumb). At any rate, part of what I want to discuss has to do with Season 2, so we’re going to have to backtrack. Next week you’ll get your season review.

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So there I was, looking through eBay listings for actual Perfect Strangers merchandise, when I came across a copy of The Philadelphia Inquirer TV Week featuring an interview with Rebeca Arthur. The auction photos included the interview, so I read it (hey, there was nothing else going on at work that day).  Not only did I learn that Arthur used to work for a private investigation firm, the article also mentioned that Jennifer and Mary Anne were originally only intended to be in one episode.

Let that sink in.

No really, let that sink in.

Jennifer and Mary Anne were so popular with the studio audience during the filming of “Hunks Like Us”, ABC brought them back for more episodes.

For comparison, here are other characters who had a single appearance but proved so popular that audiences demanded they come back.

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I’ll give you some time to process this.  Meanwhile, I’ve realized that if I’m going to see this review blog to completion, and if I want to actually understand this show, what it was and why it was that way, I need to read everything I can find that was written about it.  This means I need to go back and read all the stuff on www.perfectstrangers.tv pertaining to seasons 1 and 2. I know I said I wouldn’t do it.

I don’t really know where to draw the line when deciding what time period to look at for each season, I will lump in** some season 3 stuff here too.  The Laughing Love God knows I have a lot to say next week too.  So let’s see what we can find out about Perfect Strangers based on articles and interviews published through May 6, 1988, the original airdate of “Bye Bye Biki”. I figure any contemporary reviews of season 3 as a whole will do more to inform any changes made for season 4, so I’ll hold off on those.

*sigh*

I have 200 tabs open in my browser. Let’s see if I can get it down to just the hundred porn sites I have set as my homepage.

 

Season 1

The 1984 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, California. I’m pretty out of my depth when it comes to recent U.S. history. After all, in July 1984 I had only just gotten my lanugo looking good, so I wasn’t paying attention to the Olympics. But I have vague senses of what was going on politically back then.  A friend of mine told me that when she was in her teens and twenties in the 1980s, she was legitimately afraid that the nukes could start falling any moment. We weren’t exactly on (hmm what’s a good political joke ah yes) warm terms with the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, to the extent that there was a Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Olympic Games. (They had their own “Friendship Games” that same year.) At any rate, the Olympics happened here, with (I imagine) an undercurrent sense of “some of y’all don’t like us”.

Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett, the pair behind Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Bosom Buddies, noticed that during the Olympic games, Americans were open and friendly to those visiting from around the globe.  When the Olympic games were over, Americans went back to their default setting: grumpy, cynical, and isolationist. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to the world that deep-down, Americans were friendly, but were just dealing with their own issues; perhaps they wanted to send a message that Americans needed the rest of the world as much as they needed us; perhaps Joanie Loves Chachi’s ratings tanked in its second season.  At any rate, they came up with a show they were calling The Greenhorn. Says Robert Boyett: “We thought it would be great to do a series about a man who comes to America and says, ‘What a wonderful country,’ and put him up against another character who has lived here and knows the flaws.”

But their idea kept getting turned down! There were similar media in the works at two of the big three networks: CBS had the TV rights to Moscow on the Hudson, and NBC was developing a Wild & Crazy Guys show.

*takes a solid two minutes to weep silently into a stuffed sheep*

ABC turned them down as well, but their “persistence”, according to that article, paid off. I don’t know what persistence means in Hollywood speak.  Note, though, for the sake of my own take on this show and what it turned into in season 2, cynicism was built into it from the beginning.

But whom would they get to star in such a piece?  Luckily, Tommy Lee and Bobby Lee went everywhere together, even to a showing of Beverly Hills Cop, where they saw Bronson Pinchot act gay and mangle words as Serge.  I still haven’t watched the movie, but I did watch one of Pinchot’s scenes. I don’t know that he “stole” anything from Eddie Murphy. I think Eddie Murphy had star power to get things cut from his movies if he wanted. But I’ll admit it’s effective to see Eddie Murphy surprised and momentarily at a loss for words.

Here is where the narrative breaks down a little, and you’ll get a slightly different story depending on which articles you might read, and how long after the show premiered they were written. Miller and Boyett approached Bronson Pinchot, who initially turned them down.  At that time, Pinchot was the belle of the ball, and he loved telling magazines and newspapers about how, after Beverly Hills Cop, he had to tell Rolling Stone that he would call them back because he was on the other line with USA Today.  Around that same time, he had some bit parts in some other films: The Flamingo Kid, After Hours, Risky Business (from an “inconsolable” Pinchot comes the constant refrain of the bit-part actor: “my scenes were cut”), and a teen sex romp called Hot Resort that I beg one of you to buy me so I can show a clip or two of it for the inevitable Perfect Strangers Reviewed Livestream. He also was in the TV show Sara, where he played a gay lawyer. Sara didn’t last very long. And despite the success of the Serge character, Pinchot was not getting movie scripts thrown his way.

In the summer of 1985 (more popularly known as “the Summer of Love”), he took a vacation in Europe (Belgium, Italy, and then Greece) with his girlfriend.  But it left him broke, and he came crawling back to the Bob & Tom show. While I’m still thinking about that article I just linked (which, by the way, came out around the same time as the very first episode), note this quote from Pinchot:

“My fantasy scenario is to do the little innocent sheepherder in Perfect Strangers until I get tired of it, then sit around collecting furniture until the public forgets about him in a few years. Then I’ll just do movies.”

I’m sure that came together for him!  But come back Pinchot did, because in 1985 The Greenhorn was the best he could do. Luckily, he did have some ideas about the titular character thanks to his recent travels in Greece.  I’m jumping ahead in the publication dates of articles, here, but the name “Balki” was something that Bronson’s sister came up with: she had named her dog “Balcony” and then decided that it needed a nickname.  I’ve told you the stuff about Louie Anderson being the original “cousin”, but in my Season 1 Reviewed review, I figured that it was Anderson’s height compared to Pinchot’s that just didn’t work. But it wasn’t until 1987 that an Associated Press article would say that the original concept of the show was more dialogue-based, which I think certainly fits with what it was trying to say about the characters. The article quotes Pinchot to the extent that Linn-Baker was the catalyst that pushed the show towards physical comedy. Whether cream pies like as of fire sat upon Linn-Baker, and he was filled with the Spirit of Buster Keaton himself; or whether Pinchot took one look at him and said “I bet I could throw this fucker around some”, there you go.

But why did Linn-Baker walk into that room that day? He also wasn’t getting movie scripts! Linn-Baker, after his role in My Favorite Year, went back to the quiet, hungry life of a New York theatre guy.

By the way, turns out “Linn” is his middle name, but there was already a Mark Baker in the Screen Actors Guild, and they spelled his name Mary for his (brief) appearance in the film Manhattan. Given that I’ve been called Tracy, Stacy, Jason, Cassie, KC, Chase (by a therapist!), Robertson, Robertston, Robinson, and even pronouncing the first part of my last name as “robe” instead of “rob”, I can so fucking relate.

Linn-Baker had made a small foray into the television world himself by that point, on the 1984 CBS show Comedy Zone.  Says Marky Mark of that funny bunch:

“There were four layers of bureaucracy on that show, and I’m still not sure which one was running things.  And neither are they.  They talent they amassed on that show!  They had great actors, great writers and four bureaucracies to keep them from doing work.”

I can so fucking relate.

Aside from the regular, albeit low-paying, work in theatre, Perfect Greenhorns was the best Linn-Baker could do at the time.  But the two actors seemed to take to each other pretty quickly! “There has not been one blowup between them”, according to my man Tom Miller. Perhaps I’m reading between the lines: that article seems to be implying that friendship comedies are a little stale on television; but it does let Miller have the last say: “Friendship has never gone out of fashion”.

Again, Linn-Baker’s pretty silent overall in these articles. I’m getting the impression, though, that this is only partially because the show was made for/tailored to Pinchot. I think Linn-Baker just didn’t talk that much. Shyness? No deep psychological need? I dunno.

Let me get some tidbits out of the way before I talk more about how season 1 was made.

Linn-Baker says that he was becoming known as the cheapest man in Hollywood. Haha Jewish joke amirite?

Pinchot and his girlfriend tied for high school valedictorian. And not only that, his high school girlfriend was a male stock Asian stereotype, meaning that “The Graduate” is the closest this show has come to biographical.

Linn-Baker was directing a play the summer between seasons 1 and 2.

Pinchot on Balki’s accent and English: “The way I figure, Balki grew up in Europe, and he learned his English by sitting through three old movies a day.  That explains why he talks the way he talks.”

Oh, of course, that explains all the specific references to American television commercials. And uh, okay, Mypos is in Europe. Fine.

Linn-Baker signed a 5-year contract, and I have zero idea how that works. I’m going to venture a guess that it only binds him for 5 years, but not ABC.

There are plenty of mentions about how they both went to Yale, and just as many mentions about how they never ran into each other there, and they most certainly didn’t engage in homosexual sex, no sir, not at Yale.  This is another point where we start seeing gloss, but in the multitude of articles truth is established. Bronson did actually see Linn-Baker in a production, but note what he focussed on:

Pinchot: “But I saw him once in a performance of A Winter’s Tale, in which he wore brown tights baggier than old blue jeans, with folds in the seat that looked like a baby elephant’s behind.”

And back to Pinchot for a minute: we do get a bit about his backstory. Article writers liked to play up the fact that Pinchot came from Russian and Italian immigrants, and that his dad took the name Pinchot from a building in New York. Being named after Louisa May Alcott’s dad gives him that distant, fancy, not-as-far-removed-from-the-old-world air. Pinchot was poor, he worked as a  typist, his dad left when he was little, poor growing up. A breezy melting-pot rags-to-riches story. We yearn for narratives that we can remember; and in this case, the more that it resonates with the character an actor plays, the better.

So that’s what magazines thought about Bronson Pinchot, but what did he think about the show?

“It’s just pure comedy,” offered Pinchot.  “There’s no episodes about bed-wetting, or about rape.  It’s just funny.”

Okay! Moving on…

Many of the articles refer to the initial six episodes as “sample” episodes; so this was a practice to see if a show was something that advertisers would put money towards. Perfect Strangers took over the slot that had up to then been occupied by Growing Pains, but why there?

Maybe it’s because Pinchot dragged his feet, or maybe it was because ABC still wasn’t convinced after all of that TLMBLB “persistence”, but according to Miller, those six episodes ended up being made in a very short time, for their own “protection”:

“My partner, Bob Boyett, and I had pitched the series to Brandon Stoddard (president of ABC entertainment) for the 1986-87 season.  Brandon liked the idea but reminded us if we started in the fall, we’d be competing with a lot of new shows.  Then he said, ‘If you guys can make six shows real fast, I can put them on now’.”

More from Miller:

“ABC gave us an option,” Miller explained.  “We could either test it out in a run of six episodes in a protected time period, or we could do the standard 13, and take our chances at getting the full run.”

Let’s move on to the reviews, because good grief, I’ve written 2400 words and I haven’t even gotten to the season 2 reporting.

The articles reviewing the set of six sample ‘sodes (see? superior syllable-slinging) explicitly mention capitalism, the “frustrated” nature of Larry’s character, that Bronson gets all the good lines.  One review of the first episode assumed Susan was Larry’s girlfriend. One reviewer was even sure that the Pinchot/Linn-Baker dynamic was the key element that would get the show picked up for the fall, though he wonders whether the title will still make sense (bless you, sir).

And boy, that “America, home of the Whopper” line really resonated with a lot of reviewers, because it gets quoted–and misquoted–in abundance.

Believe it or not, there are a couple of articles that are dry runs at a review blog of this type.  First, from Robert Bianco of the Pittsburgh Press:

Balki has curious gaps in his American knowledge — he knows about Burger King, Dolly Parton and “Nine to Five,” but he’s never heard of Levi Strauss and never seen a pop-top can.  His reactions are often funny, but if the writers don’t control their tendency to go for the cheap, easy laugh at the expense of character development, the character will turn into a walking laugh track.

And the supporting characters are weak, the same flaw that helped destroy “Mork and Mindy.”  Twinkacetti (Ernia Sabella), the boys’ employer, is a heavy-handed humorless rip-off of “Louie” from “Taxi.”  And their best friend, Susan (Lise Cutter), has been given little to do but smile and say, “Isn’t he cute.”

And please, please look at this concise takedown of season 1 by none other than Tom Shales of the Washington Post.

Even if you don’t read Shales’s review, look at how the fansite puts a disclaimer on the article.

I see you, fanbase.

And how can I not give you this from 16 Magazine to end my unpacking of season 1 coverage?

16magazine1986

Season 2

“It may never be looked back on as great TV”

Audiences took to the cousins, and Perfect Strangers became a real show in the fall of 1986. ABC re-aired the sample episodes in August before showing “Hello Baby”, in order to put to rest the rumors that Balki and Larry actually did kiss briefly in one scene. The 86/87 season of Perfect Strangers was also considered its first season by those working on it.

My very first library job, back in the summer of 2002, between my freshman and sophomore years, was at the Berry College Memorial Library.  This was the summer of Enron, the summer of Attack of the Clones, the summer of me shelving magazines and academic journals and getting dizzy from the smell of book glue.  Advertising Age is this floppy folio-sized magazine that they send to you folded and it never wants to stand up straight on the journal shelves and only people in the advertising business and people who work in library serials departments know about it. Here’s what they had to say about the ratings for the Perfect Strangers reairings: “Perfect Strangers” (ABC); 8/31 (minus 2); 8/24 (plus 6); 8/17 (minus 5).”

A few mentions are made here and there about the show going up against Highway to Heaven in the same timeslot, and that it wasn’t expected to beat it in the ratings. One article in particular indicates that the new timeslot Perfect Strangers went to on Wednesday nights was a courageous move.  Many of the articles do acknowledge the leg-up that the show got thanks to its “protected” time between Who’s the Boss and Moonlighting, but only to quickly brush it away, because of course it was the chemistry between the the two leads, how could anything else explain it? The reviewers do protest too much, methinks.

But kids loved the cousins!  Oh wait, it says they liked ALF too. Kids are stupid

But girls got wet over the cousins! “Is Bronson sexy?  Fans say ‘Yes!’”

But is Mark sexy? I beg you, please buy me a copy of the movie Bare Essentials, and after I’ve rehydrated, I’ll let you know.

A review published the day that “Hello Baby” aired, about the character of Larry:

“As scripted, though, there’s a lot of ‘ugly American; to the part, and the show might lose a bit of its appeal if the character doesn’t evolve a bit more into what Americans would like to think they are, rather that (sic) presenting a fairly unflattering, if realistic, picture of the true American character.”

And Linn-Baker on Larry in the full season:

Initially Larry was written as a very knowing guy, almost cynical, says Linn-Baker [himself born in Missouri and raised in Connecticut].  “The thought was to have Balki, this total innocent, paired with someone who was really jaded — the ‘Odd Couple’ idea.  But what we finally came to was that Larry — while immersed in the culture and a little more thoughtful — was finally just as much of an innocent in his own right.”

Well, that explains the shift from Larry actually knowing anything to Larry breaking down in tears in the final act because he was a bad little boy.

Larry was originally supposed to be wearing Balki’s clothes. But Pinchot got to the set that day first and took Larry’s clothes because he liked them better. When Linn-Baker got there he said he didn’t like those clothes anyway, they were garbage clothes for stupid babies.  Also, when Linn-Baker saw the apartment set for the very first time, he said he didn’t like the “fussy” way it was decorated, that it looked like his grandmother’s house, get it out of here, it’s stupid, where’s my antacid. Nah, j/k, Linn-Baker’s a pretty calm and collected guy:

“If Bronson is frustrated or unhappy, you hear it immediately, though he’s not always that capable of explaining his frustration.  But whatever, he lets it all out.  Mark keeps it all in,” Miller says…

And if Cousins Larry and Balki were, indeed, “halves of one person”, then Linn-Baker and Pinchot mirrored this internal/external divide. While Mark’s major purchases were a convertible and a co-op apartment, Bronson was buying up Scandinavian furniture.  Magazines loved taking photos of that one bed that cost $9,000.

tvguide092786b

Pinchot’s backstory is now told in shorthand, the details of the past wiped away in favor of tight narrative. Now, it’s a short story about the producers seeing Beverly Hills Cop, asking Bronson, Bronson taking a trip to Greece, and thus Balki is born.  Plus Pinchot took another trip to Greece in the summer of ‘86 to get more steeped in the culture of people who fuck sheep. So now that trip was talked about instead of the broke-on-his-ass trip the previous year.  Pinchot gripes about not having much luck in the girlfriend department anymore now that he’s famous. The familiar details show up again: growing up on welfare, the absent father. He boasts about his lack of pop culture knowledge: he didn’t know who the Beatles were, he never saw Laverne & Shirley or Mork & Mindy.  Gone were mentions of the film Hot Resort. Completely forgotten were the lack of roles coming in after Beverly Hills Cop.  But not all of the ill-fitting details of Bronson’s story got swept under the rug: the mythology of “Balki” had shifted from the personal to the character:

“Balki is short for balcony,” he explains, “which is where Balki’s father first saw his mother.”

Canon if you want it to be, just like Samuel L. Jackson saying Mace Windu is alive and then getting George Lucas to agree with him about it. Also I guess they all speak English on Mypos?

Here and there, Pinchot lets slip that he was adjusting his mindset: he previously assumed it would take him ages to get a leading role in a movie, and the sudden success surprised him. But in many cases, he just reads as total detached braggadocio. Take this interview from 1987, where Bronson boasts that “the show has got to be the pinnacle of physical comedy”.  That’s right, y’all, fuck the Marx Brothers! Fuck them lame-ass Stooges, too, however many of them there were!

The narrative of Bronson Pinchot actor (USA) was now one of success, and both the press and Pinchot himself were eager to tell it. I mentioned previously that Pinchot claims to have recorded a comedy album that never got produced, but there were other things, bigger things!   Bronson hoped to one day do a one-man show, and he was also writing a movie with Mark Kaufmann and, uh…

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3731811/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

yeah, that didn’t happen either

But Bronson did do commercials for both Maxwell House

and Pepsi

and he hosted Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1987. So he was getting work. And I’m sure he was doing tons of interviews on talk shows, but I’m *ahem* certainly never going to watch all of those…

I give you also this tiny article about Pinchot, because again we see the fanbase being fiercely protective against a “majority of the media”, which here is represented by Gaultier, Falwell, and Zappa.

I see you, fanbase.

menslook0887a

Now that we’ve established that Pinchot was hot shit in 1986 & 1987, it’s worth noting that, just as I’ve been impressed with Linn-Baker’s acting, so were some of the critics. A “bystander” in this article says that Linn-Baker is the funnier of the two; director Joel Zwick also notes that Linn-Baker would work on jokes at the detail level to make them go smoothly.  Again, I like this because it mirrors the characters: Balki’s broad comedy of swinging a hammer at Larry vs. Larry doing the tiny shake of the head to convince Balki to stay up all night studying. Linn-Baker also says in that article that he turned down roles for a bunch of “dumb comedies” after My Favorite Year. Such high standards for what films he’d pick no doubt led to his roles in Going to the Chapel and Him & Me.  Men’s Look magazine published, right before the premiere of season 3, a longer piece on Linn-Baker, replete with plenty of steamy photos for girls to clip out and put above their headboards, or stick into the corners of the mirrors.  But the article is pretty breezy again, trying to build that narrative of being born into the acting life (both of his parents worked in theatre).  But really, come on. Probably the best-known play that Linn-Baker had done to that point was Doonesbury, which I didn’t realize until reading these articles had not fared well.*** The article also cites Mel Brooks as having said (out loud!) during the production of My Favorite Year that Linn-Baker was good. That explains why Brooks cast him in Spaceballs, Life Stinks, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  Oh, and: Mark had a girlfriend named Jennifer back then.

And hey, let’s not forget Dmitri! Someone on the crew saved little Dmitri’s soul by refusing to let him be clothed in a wool vest. This article spells the name Dimitri, which is also how the fanbase spells it, but fuck that. Curly was spelled “Curley” on early Three Stooges shorts. It’s not my fault if those who write history aren’t well-read enough to know what the common ways of putting foreign names into English are.

And now we come back again to Rebeca Arthur, and how she and Jennifer were brought back after audiences loved how they left the room in “Hunks Like Us”. Arthur signed a five-year contract as well. Her success led her to boast that she would someday have a lead role on a show, because she “knows what the formula is now”. She also gives us some insight into why Mary Anne acts differently from the way she’s written sometimes:  “She’s a little dizzy, but then she’ll come out with something that makes perfect sense.  I’d say she’s naive.”

If you want to read more about Tom Miller, read this article, because it seems that he had much more to do with the show’s creation than anyone else. Here I’ve been picking on Dale McRaven all season; but that’s my fault for only reading a few articles last time. Tom prayed that the show would reach five seasons so it could go into syndication; if the math doesn’t sound right, just remember he’s not thinking of the first six episodes as a season.

And here’s one more fun fact about season 2’s production: ABC spent $20,000 on wood and white carpet for the skiing 2-parter. ABC also hired people to train the actors how to ski. And then they didn’t ski. How much did the footage of some other guy actually skiing cost? Cripes.

Okay, 4500 words now, and we’ve still got:

Season 3

birminghampunch080787-1

*sigh*

It’s more articles about Bronson Pinchot.  When the narrative gets trotted out, it’s shortened further still.  But by this point, most people knew it anyway; and the article writers were coming up with new questions. There’s actually a really good article on Pinchot that I want to end this post with, so let’s get through these other tabs first.

This article, an interview with–

haha, whoops, wrong set of tabs

This article, an interview with Linn-Baker, reveals some new details, like how he co-wrote a play, and like how sometimes he has a mustache. He talks about this being the longest job he’s ever had, and there are faint hints of griping when he talks about ABC moving their timeslot a second time.  Said Mark: “Our numbers are going to drop, but I suppose the network knows what it’s doing”.  He was also teaching acting at Vassar, but that wasn’t the only place his skill was being affirmed. A couple of articles praise Linn-Baker’s acting ability in terms of the range of faces he can make; one published in 1987 went so far as to describe his nose as “prehensile”. (I realize that the fansite says “circa 1986” for this one, but look at the context clue of the final paragraph of the article, where it mentions the cousins’ new jobs.

And speaking of season 3 changes, “…we’ll also be moving into a larger apartment”, [Pinchot] said. “Balki will be able to have his own room.”

Again, this is Pinchot saying this. It was never stated on the show that they had a new apartment, and even the writers, later on, still referred to them being on Caldwell. This article (among others) talks about how the leads had a fair amount of leverage in adding to the scripts. Evidently, the episode with Fast Eddie was, according to Linn-Baker, “too sad”, so Bronson threw in Boochi tag. So why didn’t they play Boochi tag with Frank?

Despite how flawed that solution ended up being for the story that episode was trying to tell, note that it was tag-teamed (hee) by the actors. Linn-Baker identified the problem, Pinchot came up with a solution. They did seem to have a good rapport, and I find all of one mention of any discord between them.  They fought for a half-hour over a gag in “The Defiant Guys” that Linn-Baker thought didn’t work.  I agree–just read the article, you–that would have been taking the other hands bit slightly too far, and they were already making tiny breaks in the show’s reality by that point. Things were fragile. But then, yeah, if I had to be handcuffed to somebody I liked for a few hours, yeah, that would suck.  I try to keep myself hydrated, and I go by the rule of C²P² – “clear and copious pee-pee”, meaning over the course of two hours, someone would have had to see or touch my wiener.

Fun fact: Linn-Baker “performed a solo mime show” when he was in college. So that’s what they called it at Yale in the late 1970s! Speaking of…

Eddie Murphy calls Balki gay

A Florida newspaper calls Balki gay

Pinchot trained for trapeze stunts for CBS’s Circus of the Stars; an article makes reference to his “catcher”, so now I’m calling Pinchot gay.

But what does Bronson call himself?  A fat loser.  The RockLine! interview isn’t the first time Bronson has said he was overweight until his 20s.**** That interview probably has the shortest (and most misleading) history of the Balki character, but we do get more about his teenage years. Basically, Bronson was excluded from just about everything in high school for being fat; he says that it led him to focus more on his academics, and on drawing.  So now, in addition to wanting hear the spoken comedy album, I wish I could see his art. But I do now wonder how Pinchot felt about the (missing) lesson of “Weigh to Go, Buddy”.  He has lots of praise for his mother here–how she encouraged her children to be creative and original, and turned their focus away from pop culture, which Pinchot says he hates. Remember how he said he didn’t know who the Beatles were? He’s still talking in 1987 about how he had to tell his college classmates he didn’t know who Mork was.

Instead, he was spending his money on his favorite parts of real culture like Wizard of Oz memorabilia and 500-year-old French play manuscripts.  That’s probably the most consistent thing about him from what I’ve read so far. Moreover, from an “Unknown Publication”, we get a sense of an unknowable Bronson Pinchot.

“Like any butterfly with a brain that should someday be preserved in a jar of formaldehyde, Pinchot is both easy and hard to identify and pin down.  He can deliver the devastating quip, the generous compliment, the complex analysis, the introspective tidbit, the damaging revelation, the self-promoting remark, the loony look, the helpless giggle.  In a way, he is what he’s doing at the time.”

And how can I resist reading the isolated high school experience into this behavior? Does he flit and joke to distract interviewers from something else (criticism)? Or has he abandoned that, and this is just who he wants to be? Pinchot had, by that point, seen that some of his peers hit their peaks in their teens and early 20s, allowing him some perhaps long-overdue downward social comparison.  Anyway, there’s also this quote from him:  “I can’t watch two seconds of television.”

unless

wait for it

unless it’s Moonlighting!

Speaking of talking as a puppet for an unseen entity, Bronson’s favorite Muppet is Janice. And what the hey, go read his interview in Muppet Magazine. Who cares about Pinchot in it, but damn do I miss the writing style in those old kids’ magazines. Gonzo is more real to me than Bronson Pinchot ever will be, especially when fiction gets mingled with truth even further:

“…for years he toiled in obscurity with heavy dramatic roles for various theater companies.”

Oh? Do some fucking research, Deeb; it’s so obvious you’re just parroting what Bronson told you. My buddy Stu over here says Pinchot was just playing bit parts during that time.  At any rate, there were still big things in Pinchot’s future, because I begin to see mentions of the movie he’s going to–*gasp*–star in come Christmas 1989.  I’m sure it’ll be great!

And lastly, that Playgirl interview I’ve been alluding to. This is the one I’m strongly encouraging you to read in full before you read the rest of my post; this is probably the most revealing look at Pinchot we’ve gotten yet.

playgirl

Sorry, I realize now you probably thought you were going to see his penis. Anyway, please don’t think I’m buying every bit of what Bronson says.  There’s a tiny bit of illogic that he’s unaware of–note that he’s probably been talking about how poor his family was that it’s just a spiel he gives at this point. He mentions it being a thrill just going to a restaurant, mere paragraphs after talking about how restaurants can really fuck up a meal if they don’t get the tiny details right on the mile-long list of specifications you give them for your giant vegetarian meal. Here’s what I think: that young Bronson, shunned by his peers, had a scattershot intellectual upbringing.  He knew quite a bit in a lot of different areas, certainly not enough to make him an expert, but more than enough for him to realize that he knew more than those around him.  Note how Bronson criticizes actresses who want to only talk about film, but not about other types of art. I’m sure Bronson could (at that point) hold his own (to a point) with experts on most topics; and I’m guessing he certainly beat most of those around him for breadth, and likely (slightly) depth on most of the intersect, too. I realize I might be saying more about me than about Bronson that this is my interpretation of him, but I feel that I can relate.  This jack-of-all-trades path of intellectual development means that at some point, in some area, you may all of a sudden reach a tipping point of skill, leading to some sort of success. You get rewarded, so you do more of that thing.  A few years later, you get a sense of your place compared to others around you, and you make assessments–about them and about yourself.  Bronson is telling us (through the discussion of hunks) that you have to figure out what your specialty within that field is and go with it.  But buried inside that is more criticism of the standard:

“I’m very close in age to most of these people,” he begins, “and about a million light years away from them in what I’m trying to do….My first and last responsibility is to completely fulfill a character.  That’s just a different approach.”

And again, this is me talking about me, but I feel that disappointments lie behind criticisms like this.  It’s a tension of knowing you have something special, but that it doesn’t fit with most of what’s going on.  Part bluster, part reality, part… idunno, part trying to call out in the darkness for others who think the same way.

Also, we find out that Bronson used to straight up grab women’s asses to try to get them to have sex with him; he claims that he met with success often enough. You can say that sometimes some women want that, and want to be pursued that way, and I’ll believe you more if you’re a woman. But not knowing whose asses he had access to, I think immediately of the aforementioned actresses whom he didn’t think highly of in the first place, and who likely weren’t as “big” of a star as he, or assistants or crew members on the Perfect Strangers set, or on Saturday Night Live: people who could risk losing a part, or a job, if they didn’t play along.

Of course, Pinchot was talking to Playgirl magazine, and he winkingly tells you he’s playing a part for you at the end of the article, so season with salt to taste.  Perhaps the message is simply “hey, I don’t lounge around topless showing off my hairy pecs like some idiots, but I’ll still grab your ass, and you’ll like it”; which is not too far off from messages endemic to such publications.

Lastly, Pinchot tells Playgirl that he doesn’t consume caffeine (or drugs, or alcohol, wotta saint). So, uh, Bronson, let me ask: why the percolating fuck were you selling Maxwell House and Pepsi?

I find no interviews with Melanie Wilson for this time period.

Melanie: —

_________________________________

Boner count: come on, did you see those photos of Bronson and Mark?

*I’m from Georgia; if you’re from a northern state, Mary Anne is so dumb she thinks that beaucoup is the sound male birds make.

**Not to be confused with lumpen, as in lumpenproletariat

***I mean, I read the play when I read through all 40 years of the Doonesbury comic. It wasn’t great, but then I don’t know what theatre audiences like. The best thing to come out of that play, though, was the Rap Master Ronnie video: https://youtu.be/-PETIr_4c1c

****He actually says that he was overweight until he was 20, but one article quotes him as saying that he couldn’t stand to look at how fat he was (at 24) when he watched Beverly Hills Cop.

P.S. The fact sheet that Pinchot would send out to fans spells the baked goods as “bibibabkas”. I’m going to assume he knows what he’s talking about since he read the script. The correct spelling is bibibabka, not bibbibabka. Fight me.

P.P.S. All images come from http://www.perfectstrangers.tv. My thanks to Linda Kay for letting me put them here amongst all my swears.