Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Family Ties": oral history of the 1980s sitcom – part 7 – favorites

Introduction to the Family Ties oral history (including the list of interviewees and links to each part). 

Do you have a favorite episode you were in?

John Putch (s1, 2, 5): I guess the episode where we pretend to be astronauts is a good one.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): I have two—Aunt Trudy's funeral and the shoe store.

The Aunt Trudy episode was so fun—it had so much heart. Gary shared the writing with a spectacular team. But occasionally he'd write an episode himself and that was one of them. He could blend humor and pathos so beautifully.

[In the shoe store episode,] Michael Fox was working in a shoe store and Michael Gross was there and [my character] thought they were lovers because there was a misdirect when they were talking in such sweet tones. I remember these huge laughs and I remember Gary being very complimentary about my ability to hold for the laugh. It was like doing a play and Gary had a great appreciation for theater.
Robert Costanzo (s3, 4, 5, 6): I don't clearly remember my episodes other than the one when I applied to be the nanny ("Help Wanted"). That one generated a line that became iconic with Gary and me: "Heels! That's why I didn't get the job." [later in the episode, his character meets the character—played by Geena Davis—who got the nanny job, and when he hears she wore heels to the interview, he laments that he didn't] The mechanic one ("Engine Trouble") is a little fuzzy. I don't remember the janitor one ("Mister Sister")—oh god I'd love to see that. [I told him all seven seasons were currently free on Amazon Prime] Always had a lot of fun on that set.

Robert, did you know from the start that you would get somewhat steady work from the show?

Probably no. I had no contract. Gary might've always had me in the back in his mind for certain roles. I never read for any of them. Which was great—that was the way it used to be and the way it should still be. (laughs) I used to like when the producers were there so I could schmooze them rather than [auditioning] on tape like today.

I worked as top of the show guest star. ["Top of show" is what you are given as a guest star. It's SAG scale times the number of days you work. Today, top of show for a half-hour show is $5,200 for the week, an hour show is more like $6,000 for the week. Sometimes you can get double top of show.] Back then top of show was probably $2,500.

What has been your favorite acting gig?

Cindy Fisher (s1): Each job was unique and special in the fact that you
1. are working
2. can pay rent
3. always [have] new personalities, good and bad, to work with
4. [are] not in an office environment, nor are you behind a desk

The business has changed a lot, but before it was factory-produced like the majority is today, it was creative. I'm sure there are some productions that still are, but they are few and far between. Visionaries like Gary Goldberg are not supported by the networks like they used to be.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): I will equate that with fun. And the most fun I ever had acting was doing the musicals at my Dad's summer theater back in Fayetteville, PA. I'd say Oklahoma! was the favorite.

Chris Hebert (s1, 2): It's hard to pick one but there are a few that stand out. Certainly Family Ties but definitely The Last Starfighter. Also Fuzzbucket, Twilight Zone. Those have great memories. 
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): I guess you mean screen acting. It would have to be the week I spent with Redd Foxx on Sanford [1980-81 series] or the week I spent with John Ritter on Three's a Crowd. Two of the funniest guys I ever had the great pleasure of working with.
Kerry Noonan (s1): Playing Charity in "A Message from Charity" on The Twilight Zone. I loved the script and the characters and am still friends with the writer.
Edward Edwards (s2): I have been blessed to have had many different character roles to play on stage, on TV, and in film. This episode is without a doubt top 3 across all venues!
Kaleena Kiff (s2): Three's Company was pretty great because John Ritter gave me a kitten when I wrapped. But my favorite was The New Leave it to Beaver because, after five years together, the cast and crew became my extended family and are still a part of my life.
Kate Vernon (s2): At this point, I would say my role on Battlestar Galactica. My character was so full of surprises. She was smart, manipulative, playful, very fallible—so many things.
Eileen Seeley (s2): Certainly
Family Ties as it was my first. It was just so fun! I also had the great fortune of doing several independent films with Poor Robert Productions, producer/director Paul Leder and cinematographer Francis Grumman. That was definitely a highlight of my time in Hollywood. I got to work with Cleavon Little, Penny Johnson Jerald, Viveca Lindfors, Gary Kroger, and Francis Fisher (to name a few) in addition to a fantastic crew that was like family. A truly unique experience.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): Definitely
Family Ties. I also like Voice in Exile [1984] because my work was subtle. It was an independent film. Marc Allan Kaplan directed and produced; it was about Marc growing up stuttering.

I pursued acting for [only about] a year when I quit and worked in print and journalism. [I made this] decision after marrying my first husband (Grant Wilson) and meeting so many actor friends of his who were has-beens by the time they were in their thirties. I knew I was not a real thespian. My manager was good friends with Jerry Paris [Happy Days] and had me meet him [after the show was over]. Jerry told me that I would work because I was cute and had a big head, but he felt things were headed toward casting gals who were "edgy"—like Winona Ryder [MTN: film debut 1986]. The happy days were over. After a few dumb blonde jobs, I went brunette and was cast in a small USC film by Charlie Matthau. Now I was a dumb brunette. I met Grant on this set. Working for Charlie was a big deal for me, as I knew exactly who Walter Matthau [Charlie's father] was; for Grant it was a favor to Charlie.
Susan Isaacs (s2): Playing John Candy's wife in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. We improvised a couple of Thanksgiving dinners that ended up on the cutting room floor. Wish they'd release a DVD with those edited scenes. John Candy was a blast. I also got a fun gig on Seinfeld that is still in circulation. Most recently, I had a recurring role on Parks and Recreation. That was a blast. Comedies that are heavy with improv and sketch comedy actors do so well. I think the actors know that it's a collaboration, and that a rising tide raises all boats. I also started a sketch comedy group with Tony Hale, Jeannie Gaffigan, and Todd Wilkerson. We did a lot of live shows in New York and had a blast.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): Years ago I did a play with The Actors' Gang called Battery, and we worked in a very unique way. The play wasn't blocked. It was directed beautifully by Richard Olivier. I suppose artistically that was one of the more fulfilling jobs I've done. As far as show business is concerned, I suppose the wildest time I've ever had working on a film was doing an Arthur Miller movie called Everybody Wins.
Lenora May (s2): One of my favorites was a TV movie called Missing Children: A Mother's Story [1982], with Mare Winningham and Polly Holliday. I played a poor, illiterate Southern girl who signs away her baby without knowing what she is signing. Very emotional role and was my first job of many working with director Dick Lowry.

I also have a favorite play, Raise Me Up. I had to wear a bodysuit to [have] "larger breasts and butt." A big Italian mama.
Matthew Barry (s3): The Wraith. [Made] a lot of friends on that film and they've been my friends for over 30 years since.
Lily Mariye (s3):
Family Ties is certainly up there with one of my favorites! I can't name just one. Some of my other favorites:

  • A play at the Manhattan Theatre Club called Tea. That was the first play I did in New York…what a thrill!
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I was and am a big Star Trek fan! I totally geeked out being dressed in a real Star Trek uniform, operating a ship from the bridge.
  • Extraordinary Measures, a film with Harrison Ford. We had a read-through before we started shooting. When I met Harrison, all I could think was, "Oh my God, I'm shaking Han Solo's hand!" Some of the actors weren't there for the read-through, so I read a few scenes with Harrison. That was super fun!
  • ER. I was on that show for 15 seasons, made lifelong friends, saw births, weddings, and deaths. And got to act with some of the most amazing actors in our lifetime.
Robert Costanzo (s3, 4, 5, 6): I wouldn't say Family Ties because they were only fun little vignettes. I did a movie called With Friends Like These… [1998] which for reasons I'm not clear on was not released in theaters. Penny Marshall produced it. It was about the life of a character actor—like myself. It's a beautiful film with an amazing cast. I played the lead. I loved [being on] the first year of NYPD Blue. It was a breakthrough series. I love doing theater. I did American Buffalo in a small theater out here.
Nancy Everhard (now Amandes) (s3): I've had a few…Reasonable Doubts [1991-93] with Mark Harmon and Marlee Matlin, Everwood [2002-06] with Chris Pratt, Treat Williams, and Tom Amandes, but the best was The Untouchables [1993-94], where I met my husband of 20 years, Tom Amandes! I was cast in L.A. and had to move to Chicago for the series. The very first line I had was as a college student watching Eliot Ness giving a speech. I turned to my friend and said, "I'm going to marry that man someday." And then it happened for real a few years later!
Everwood shot in Utah so we spent five years living in Park City. My son started school there and we all learned how to ski. Emily VanCamp, Greg Smith, and Chris Pratt were just kids. We became a big family because we all moved to Utah from somewhere else. And now I am so proud of how well they are doing in their careers…and they are all still the nicest people to be with.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): Working for several months with Sidney Lumet while filming Prince of the City.
Adam Carl (s3): That's a tough one. As a journeyman kid character actor, I got to bounce around and work on a lot of great television shows and work with some of my idols. On Hearts Afire I had the joy of working with the great John Ritter, whom I worshiped. On Newhart I got to work with Bob Newhart, who is one of my all-time comedy heroes. Those two alone and I could've died happy. But I also got to work with the likes of Ed Asner, Charles Durning, René Auberjonois, Tony Danza, Judith Light, Katherine Helmond, Bess Armstrong, Mimi Kennedy, Cloris Leachman, Harry Morgan, Judd Hirsch, McLean Stevenson, Tim Curry, the cast of Cheers, Mickey Rooney, all the amazing women on Designing Women, Billy Bob Thornton, George Gaynes, Markie Post, Richard Lewis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Teri Garr…I mean, I could go on, but it would just be annoying. Suffice it to say, I was incredibly lucky and it was a privilege to have the opportunity to act alongside—and learn from—so many talented performers (and writers! and directors!). This was a very long-winded way of saying that I don't think I could pick just one.
Gracie Harrison (s4):
Family Ties was written so well and the message of empowerment Mrs. Hillman gave to Mallory made it by far my favorite TV role. But I'm so proud to have worked on Hill Street Blues, and, of course, Star Trek [Next Generation]. Working with stars from my childhood, Michael Landon in Highway to Heaven and Andy Griffith in Matlock, was a dream come true. I had written both of them a fan letter when I was in elementary school.
Robin Morse (s5): There have been several for different reasons. The first was Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare, at Lincoln Center. I was in the original cast, and it's where I met my husband. I played Tess, the daughter of Stockard Channing and John Cunningham, and the play was brilliant. The cast became so close, and the play was an enormous hit at the time. One of the highlights, not only of my career, but of my life. My second favorite was a play I did at The Arena Stage in Washington DC. The play, by Athol Fugard, is called My Children! My Africa! and I fell in love with the play and the character. Also, it was a really challenging part so I learned and grew an enormous amount from the experience.
Brian McNamara (s5): Army Wives.
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): Probably
Family Ties! And recently I had a lot of fun working on a character role in Stressed to Kill. Loved the role of Vera. Finding out who she was and how she dressed and spoke and moved and what her thought life and emotional temperature were was a lot of fun.
Stuart Pankin (s5): Mostly theater. I loved practically every play I did, especially working with my wife. But in film, I'd have to say Fatal Attraction. In TV, Not Necessarily the News.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Hmmm, that's a difficult question. Maybe a TNT movie I did called Montana. It wasn't an amazing role [and] I don't think I was very good in it; I was very miscast. We shot it in Bozeman, Montana, which was beautiful. We filmed a lot of it on Ted Turner's ranch. The cast was really interesting: Gena Rowlands, Richard Crenna, Lea Thompson, Michael Madsen, and Elizabeth Berridge (who became a dear friend). I also loved the director Billy Graham and his wife. The location was gorgeous and I bought a bike with my per diem and rode everywhere. We also made lots of day trips when we weren't working. It was the first time I had ever left my son Quinn, who was then 18 months old, which was really hard but also very relaxing. I was gone for only about two weeks but it was really fun.
Amy Lynne (s5):
Family Ties was up there. Another is a show that you could never do these days because of the PC [concerns], The History of White People in America with Martin Mull. It was a satire making fun of us being white. Other favorites: Annie; working with Carol Burnett and John Huston and Bernadette Peters and Tim Curry. Those times are real special.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): Working on
Family Ties was my favorite acting gig of all time. I loved being on the Paramount lot. I loved eating in the cafeteria there and seeing the stars from Cheers. I loved having my own dressing room.
Alyson Croft (s5):
Family Ties would rank high, but working with Dick Van Dyke on Diagnosis: Murder was my favorite experience on set.
Ellen Latzen (s6): Probably National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Our cast and crew were wonderful and I grew to see them as family. So much laughter and fun times. There was always something magical about filming on a studio lot, which I first learned while working on
Family Ties. The buzz that permeates through the different stages, so many projects going on at once. Warner Brothers was my home for three months and I absolutely loved being there.
Victor DiMattia (s6): The role that was the most fun for me and with which I am most associated is Timmy Timmons in The Sandlot [1993]. I spent an entire summer playing baseball and hanging out on a movie set with friends. None of my other roles topped that experience. The film has really taken on a life of its own. I am still contacted by fans daily.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): I enjoyed staying on the set of Days of Our Lives as I had to miss a year of school (I had a studio teacher on set), but of course I missed my friends at CSDR. The cast members became a family to me. We used to do fun things there. On Danielle Steele's Once in a Lifetime, I was thrilled some of my friends from CSDR [were] part of the shooting, mostly as extras.
Danielle von Zerneck (s6): La Bamba.
Debra Engle (s7): I did some plays and [had] just moved to California when I got lots of TV shows. Hilarious how so many friends post things on Facebook when they see some of these old TV shows [I did] (Golden Girls, etc.). 
Christina Pickles (s7): All of my gigs are welcome and I learn from all of them. I loved the humanity in my
Family Ties episode and I loved the humanity in St. Elsewhere and, yes, Friends—that's why it is still popular.
Byron Thames (s7): 84 Charlie MoPic, a Vietnam film directed by Patrick Duncan, comes to mind. Seven Minutes in Heaven with Jennifer Connelly and Maddie Corman was a blast. A Brand New Life with Barbara Eden and Jenny Garth was really fun.
Jaclyn Bernstein (s7): I haven't done it yet.

Part 8.

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