Monday, August 7, 2017

"Family Ties": oral history of the 1980s sitcom – part 2 – shooting anecdotes

Introduction to the Family Ties oral history (including the list of interviewees and links to each part).
Any funny or unusual anecdotes about your Family Ties experience?

Cindy Fisher (s1): The pilot was new which meant a lot of the cast were exploring. A lot of talk with producers and ideas were thrown around a lot so the set was loose and creative. I loved Gary Goldberg and felt he was a creative vs. a boss.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): I remember it was always a fun experience when you had Crispin Glover on set. He would wander off during the scenes and play his lines from unlit corners of the set. Will Mackenzie, the director, would have to remind him that once it's blocked, he can't change it 'cause it would not get captured on camera. We were all young and it was probably one of his first TV jobs. I think he had just done the short film The Orkly Kid.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): Michael J. Fox certainly was not the beloved modern legend he has become in the last few decades, and being new to acting (I had been in the business a little over a year and was only 9 years old), I was still getting used to the common practice of using older actors who look younger to play teenagers. (I understand it from a producer's perspective as it allows you to work them longer because they're not dealing with child labor laws, but it also makes it difficult for teenage actors to get steady work, but that's a different conversation.) Anyway, I remember sitting on the edge of the audience bleachers watching the crew work and Michael and came over and starting chatting with me. After all, I was playing a younger Alex Keaton so I think he wanted to make a connection. He was genuinely polite and I remember asking him how old he was and his replying "Twenty-one." My mouth dropped because that just didn't seem possible. "Really? No way!" "Yes, 21." Yes, I was young and naive.
Cristen Kauffman (s1): I remember feeling like they were a real family. They were very comfortable with each other and I felt their closeness. I remember Justine being wise beyond her years. The scenes did not take long to shoot and it was very emotional. I felt very respected by the cast and the director. It was a very pleasant experience.
Lisa Lucas (s1): When I did An Unmarried Woman, the hardest for me was crying [on camera]. The other hard thing was making out with Matthew Arkin, Alan Arkin's son. The crew was teasing me and I was so embarrassed. When I read the Family Ties script, I saw I had to kiss him. I wasn't into him but I thought it was cool. Then I thought "Oh no, I'm going to get teased again!" In the scene when we're making out, the whole audience was woo-wooing. I had never done anything with a live audience. It was weird for me to have an instant reaction. I didn't want to break character. It wasn't like a play so we could redo it, but that alone was scary.

He was a good kisser. I was a little nervous because at that point I had very little on-screen experience in the kissing department. I didn't want to ask but didn't want to be surprised so I asked Michael if we're supposed to use our tongues. He laughed and said "What do you think?" and I said "Fine with me" and he said "Let's go for it." It was a serious, real make-out moment. And he was committed to this so I assume he wanted it to look realistic.

It was my first curtain call. I was on the end at first and they moved me next to Michael.
Earl Boen (s1, 3): I really don't remember any of them. I was a very busy working actor, especially with voice acting. There are a few shows I remember. I know it was a very pleasant set to work on. Michael Fox was easy to work with and a sweet guy. I really enjoyed him—very talented, of course. Everyone was very free with their encouragement.

My second episode was just chaos because of the kangaroo and so many people. It was a female director [Lee Shallat Chemel (as Lee Shallat)], who was a delight. Michael was very welcoming when I came back. The cast was super. They listened well to each other. Sometimes at table reads, when a line gets laugh they decide to give it to one of the leads. But this cast didn't always have to have the punchline.

I got some Sudafed on the last day because I came down with a sinus infection. I asked if they wanted to recast so I wouldn't spread it to the cast [but they said no] so I rehearsed for the first four days of the five-day shoot with a box of Kleenex under my arm.
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): Shooting hoops with Gary outside the studio.
Kerry Noonan (s1): One of my good friends and another UCLA alumni—Carlos Lacamara—also had a part on that episode. He and I were part of a group who founded a theater company in L.A. after we graduated. We are still good friends, to this day. He is a wonderful actor and director, and a good playwright as well. He is bilingual in Spanish and English, and the writers that week kept going back and forth as to whether he would speak his one line in Spanish or in Portuguese (as if he were from Brazil). They finally settled on Portuguese, and I remember Carlos on the phone with a Brazilian friend of his, getting pointers on saying his line correctly.

Many of my friends found it very funny that my character got her answer wrong on the quiz show; I am a trivia buff. One of my friends has said, "Before there was Google, there was Kerry." I was later on Jeopardy!, Win Ben Stein's Money, and some other game shows.
Tanya Fenmore (s2): I [asked] my mother who remembers more about
Family Ties than I do since I was so young. She said that it was my first big speaking role and my first sitcom experience. The script was delivered on a Sunday while I was [out] entertaining live, [so when I got home at night, I had to] memorize all the lines for the read-through Monday morning.

Prior to that, I had just done commercials via my tap dancing and violin playing. I was in a commercial for Doublemint Gum with the star of The NeverEnding Story [Noah Hathaway, who guested on
Family Ties in season 4]; we hardly looked like twins but when you're 6… ha! I appeared opposite Jack Black in a [1982] Pitfall! commercial. And in Steve Martin's movie "Pennies from Heaven" where I was tapping and fiddling with Bernadette Peters.

On the weekends, I was performing (singing/dancing/fiddling) live at a kids' cabaret called "Let's Put on a Show" where Marc Price [whose sister I played on
Family Ties] was the M.C. and did stand-up for a while, so coincidentally I already knew him! If you find him, please say hello—he's such a doll and talent!
Kaleena Kiff (s2): There were two teachers/social workers for the three Keaton kids, one for Tina Yothers and Justine Bateman and one for Michael J. Fox. On the girls' schoolroom door it read "We devour education" while on Fox's door it read "We digest it."
Kate Vernon (s2): There was John Putch, Crispin Glover, Michael. We laughed…I don't have any specific memories. The guys all seemed to know what they were doing. The girls were kind of like our characters, little airheads—at least MY character was an airhead!
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): Yes. It's embarrassing but true. When I sat down in the tiny chair they provided, I faced the writer (Michael…?) [MTN: yes—Michael Weithorn], and behind him on a couch sat a row of others, including Gary David Goldberg. When I said my first line—"Are you a colonel?"—Gary and the others fell off the couch cracking up, and Michael turned around and said "Cast her, right?" I couldn't believe it. The moment became surreal—my first job, and I was funny!

When I left the audition, I went straight to my agents, Pervis Atkins (the football star) and Edgar Small (the character actor). They were thrilled [about my
Family Ties audition] and wanted me to read for them—after all, I got cast on the spot. I read [that] first line; both their mouths dropped. "You said that?"

"Yes, I did. Just like that." I was real proud!

Edgar said, "Well, that's just wonderful, young lady, but when you show up for work, make sure you say it right. The word sounds like 'kernul,' not 'colon' (the organ) then 'el.'"
Tom Byrd (s2): Justine Bateman, who was very polite and unaffected, forgot her line after we kissed in a scene. The audience loved it. It wound up on that Dick Clark bloopers show [TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes]. I found that out after I got a mystery residual in the mail.

[My] episode was the directorial debut of Lee Shallat (now Lee Shallat-Chemel), who has gone on to an excellent ongoing career. That has always made me smile.
Susan Isaacs (s2): They brought in extra hairstylists to cover us guest stars [but they] obviously didn't know the show. The stylist who did our hair looked like she'd retired to Palm Desert in 1950 to work on her tan. The way she did the hair on [Kathleen Wilhoite, Lenora May, and me], we looked like trashy extras from Beach Blanket Bingo. I think she did my hair first. I was so mortified. But it was my first job. I didn't know I could protest. Lenora and Kathleen got the same janky hairdos. When Kathleen came back from hair, she looked at Lenora and me and said something to the effect of "No way in hell am I doing this with this hair." When we got sent to producers to check, Kathleen spoke up. I think they were already thinking the same thing, but I was impressed that Kathleen spoke her mind.

Another anecdote: I'd always been cast as the smart-mouthed character, never the straight man. I couldn't help feel envious of Kathleen playing the sassy friend role. I did get one shot at it with my line "He's not the one that's going to get pregnant." [NOTE: this was actually Lenora's line; memory plays tricks all the time!] It's a good thing I didn't audition for Kathleen's role. I never would have been cast. She killed it.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): My car broke down and Justine Bateman drove me to work. We've been friends ever since.
Lenora May (s2): I was working with Kathleen Wilhoite, Justine Bateman, and Susan Isaacs. I remember Kathleen was blowing her lines so we did many retakes. I guess that wasn't really funny, just different.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): I remember Michael J. Fox was shooting Teen Wolf and he was learning to dribble and shoot. He'd walk around the set dribbling.

The set was so warm and kind. The family and friends of the regulars and the family of the guest cast were always invited to a dinner in between shows.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): They let me add a line—I think in the "Best Man" episode. My character is trying to speak Italian; at the end of the scene, Michael Gross added "Arrivederci" and I say "Huh?" like I didn't understand it. Michael Gross said keep [the line]. That was not the case on the next Gary David Goldberg show I did (Champs) where they didn't want us to suggest ideas because they were afraid it would run long. In today's TV world, it's delicate how much you can contribute.

Justine Bateman, who is really great, and I were having a conversation. I was taken with her being really beautiful. I was awkwardly talking and put my hand on the base on the beam pole that was covered in grease. She said "You might want to wash that." It was one of those funny moments that would've been in the show. All those leads were so relaxed.

In the "Best Man" episode, I played cards with Billy Campbell, Tate Donovan, and Michael Zorek. The four of us were all kids at the time who went on to be leads in later shows. Sort of like Fast Times when you see Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, Sean Penn—fun to see four unknowns together who become fairly successful later. When that episode came up, I recorded it and showed Melissa [Gilbert, his wife]. Tate and I would later work together again when I directed Damages. It was great [recalling] back to some of our earliest work. But now it's just depressing because it was 100 years ago. I'm 15 years older than Michael Gross was when we did that show. I look older now than he did then. But he was too young to be the dad of those guys, I thought.
Matthew Barry (s3): It was the worst audition I had ever had. I had been in a slump since arriving in L.A. and hadn't booked a job yet. For this audition I went into the casting office wanting to try something different, and I played Scott "goofy." After, I called my agent and apologized for such a lousy audition. He laughed and said, "Well, you must have done something right, 'cause you got the job."
Lily Mariye (s3): The wedding dress I wore on the show was the dress that Debra Winger wore in Terms of Endearment. I'm a couple of inches shorter than she is, so the wardrobe seamstresses had to hem it for me. One of my day jobs as a struggling actress was selling tickets at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Apparently, I got my job because Debra Winger had quit when she started getting a lot of acting roles. I guess that job at the Comedy Store was good luck!

My character married Tim Busfield's character on the show a month before I actually married my real husband, saxophonist Boney James, in real life. I was wearing a lot of wedding gowns for a minute there!

The day after my episode aired, I was in Rite Aid and I saw a group of young girls gathered in the makeup department. I heard one of them say, "Oh my God! Do you guys watch
Family Ties?" They all looked at me and I made a beeline for the back of the store. They ran after me, yelling "Eleanor! Eleanor!" I stopped and gave them my autograph. It started out a little frightening, but in the end, it was very flattering. They were very sweet.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): At one point, after having done the show often enough to have developed warm relationships with everyone, including, with much respect and affection, Michael J., Michael, when learning that after doing the show this time I was going to stay for a while, suggested that it would be fun to "batch around together." It never happened, but after all these years, the thought of "batching around" L.A. with Michael still puts a big grin on my face.
Adam Carl (s3): I remember once making a reference to Macbeth in front of Michael J. Fox. As you may know, that's a big no-no in the theater or on any kind of stage. It supposedly brings bad luck and, if you must refer to it, you're only supposed to call it "the Scottish play." But I said
Macbeth (even though I knew better) and Michael's eyes got really big. He said, "Don't say that!" He may very well have been half-kidding, it's hard to say all these years later. But he certainly wasn't unkind about it.
Peter Scolari (s4): I was so anxious to impress that I memorized all my lines before I got to the stage. On the very first run-through day, I think a Tuesday, I was working off-book. Gary David Goldberg did a beautiful thing I'd never seen before: after a run-through, instead of [the usual setup of] writers facing actors, he gathered everyone to sit in chairs in a circle. I had never seen anything like that. He opened up what on other shows was typically a notes session and instead asked if anyone had any questions or concerns. I was flabbergasted. Michael J. Fox immediately raised his hand and said "I got a problem with this guy Peter Scolari working off-book, it's embarrassing to watch." Everyone loved it. I thought "I would like to stay around here."
Gracie Harrison (s4): After my last line during the first read-through of the scene where Mrs. Hillman comes down pretty hard on Mallory, asking her how long it be before she decides to be true to herself as a confident, smart, young woman, the room fell silent. Michael Gross looked across the table at me and said "Well, thank you Nurse Ratched." It caused much-needed laughter. It's a pretty intense scene. He was so nice to work with, great sense of humor. My favorite.

At the after party, I dropped an open can of Diet Pepsi on Michael J. Fox's foot. Very embarrassing. He took it very well.

A few weeks after my episode aired, I ran into Marc Price at the Improv in Hollywood. He said that the producers had heard the episode won a Women in Film award due to the message of empowerment that it held for young women. I had an interview with Gary David Goldberg a year later and he confirmed. I have researched it, but unfortunately cannot find any documentation that it happened.
Robin Morse (s5): Not really, except that I had a friend who got cast in the episode as well and she ended up playing a friend of mine from college in one of the scenes.
Julie Cobb (s5): It was fun! I loved doing comedy and
Family Ties was funny with a punch. I adored Gary Goldberg and worked with him again on Brooklyn Bridge. Norm [Parker] was terrific as was the whole cast. Michael J. Fox was adorable. I remember having my little girl on set with me and how nice everyone was.
Jonna Lee Pangburn (s5): Filming was a wonderful experience. There was nothing really funny, but I was warmed to my heart when just a few weeks after filming I was invited to their "family holiday party." The production team was unbelievably gracious and I got to hear a few Ubu stories.
Margaret Nagle (s5): This was my first TV job. I had no clue as to how a sitcom was shot. This episode had a massive scene with music playback and dozens of extras. They literally filmed and used our rehearsal. I had no chance to relax or figure out where the camera even was. I am clearly very nervous and not very good. But it was really fun and we shot the rest of the scene until 11 p.m. that night. Tina Yothers, Justine Bateman, Michael Gross worked hard and were focused but relaxed. It was an unusual scene for that show in terms of its size and complexity and very demanding for the cast and crew. There wasn't the usual downtime and room for casual conversation that I found on other sitcoms I did later.
Brian McNamara (s5): Only that Michael [J. Fox] was fantastic with the live audience! If we ever messed up he would make it even more fun for the audience.
Stuart Pankin (s5): Aside from Meredith coming on to me, not much. I do remember being welcomed, and treated well—that's not always the case with guest stars. Everyone on the set was sweet and generous. And since I was a fan of the show, it was cool working with those actors.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Not really. I was really happy to working on a show I actually watched and liked, but it was a regular job.
Amy Lynne (s5): I remember both Michaels [Gross and J. Fox] telling me I was a legend in my own time because they'd been hearing the name of Jennifer's friend Chrissy since the beginning of the show, but she hadn't yet actually appeared. She was a phantom friend.

I knew some of the other girls in my episode from other things. The head bitch, I knew her from a previous thing we'd done with dancing. We did a variety show [on stage] with Bonnie Franklin called Freedom.

Nicole Nourmand (s5): One of the best parts was the family environment and how welcoming everyone was. This was the time when Michael J. Fox was huge! I told him that my brother was a huge fan and without my asking, Michael came over to my brother and introduced himself. My brother nearly died.
Jason Naylor (s6, 7): In my first episode, "Dream Date," the scene where my character, Simon Wickerson, first encounters Jennifer Keaton (who has agreed to be his prom date in order to gain access to his grade's event) [and presents] her prom dress in the Keaton living room called for Simon to faint dead away. In blocking the scene, the director called the choreographer/stunt coordinator in to work with me. In response to their asking whether I felt comfortable with performing the faint, I collapsed on the rug, taking care to avoid the coffee table and to protect my head and back while still appearing to go completely limp and unconscious. Some limited experience of martial arts training combined with an affection for the art of the pratfall had inspired me to practice such techniques for my own amusement and served me well in that moment—after a beat, I opened my eyes and jumped to my feet and was well satisfied to find concerned looks swiftly clear from their faces to be replaced with approving nods.
Ellen Latzen (s6): This was the first time I'd ever worked in front of a live studio audience. My previous jobs had been on location for feature films, so the experience of performing on a sound stage in front of a crowd was very different. Every time they laughed at one of my jokes I had a hard time not smirking myself. I wasn't used to delivering lines that would have an immediate reaction by a bleacherful of people and I think it threw me off. I often refer to my performance in
Family Ties as my worst, but that didn't detract from how amazing the experience was.
Victor DiMattia (s6): According to my dad, everyone thought it was funny that I was able to rattle off my rapid-fire dialogue at such a young age. Memorization always came naturally to me and I've spoken to other child actors who have said the same thing. That may be the most important trait any young actor can possess. Since most roles call for kids to just act like kids, it seems to come down to who can remember the dialogue.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): It happened when I was six years old. Basically I was a little energetic deaf kid running around in that studio. Probably made some wisecracks and had a blast.
Susan Kohler (s6): I was called in to read for the schoolteacher [but] when I got there, they asked me to read for the deaf boy's mother. I had not prepared for that role and all I could do was give it my best shot. I was so delighted to learn later that I was cast as the mother.
Danielle von Zerneck (s6): The episode I was on was a wraparound show which meant my scenes were excuses to segue into clips [from past episodes]. As a result, it was shot at the same time as another episode. This meant that by the time the cast and crew got to my episode, they were exhausted and also a little punch-drunk. Added to this, Michael was in the middle of shooting Back to the Future at night on top of having to work on
Family Ties during the day. [NOTE: BTTF was shot in early 1985; BTTF Part II in early 1989.] He spent one of the entire rehearsals making faces behind my back, for laughs. I didn't care and he was very lovely and apologized after. But I got that they needed to let off steam.
Debra Engle (s7): They were all so great and fun—I so liked being in that one. [Originally my character was supposed to cry at the end of the episode.] It [would have been] super easy for me to because no way would I ever steal something from someone, but [then] the director [changed it so] I should not cry. I was glad [because I assumed that would make] Justine happier!
Hilary Shepard (s7): Hank Azaria, who was then an unknown actor, was cast as a snippy fashionista. We were both doing crazy accents and we both found it hard to keep our accents and our faces straight. Also, in my audition I wore one of my best friend Daryl's Jean Paul Gaultier suits that she'd worn in the movie Wall Street, and they loved it. They ended up having me wear it on the show and copying it in different colors, using it for Mallory's designs. I called it my magic suit as every time I wore it on an audition, I got cast. You can see that suit on me in the sitcom Doctor Doctor and in a Lunchable commercial, too!
Nick Rutherford (s7): Other than hanging around the craft food table (which I'm sure is a [memory combining] of a bunch of jobs) and eating plenty of Cup Noodles and Red Vines, the one thing I do remember is meeting Courteney Cox and thinking that she had very, very pretty eyes. I think she was dating someone on the show at the time? Or perhaps had a role. Either way, she was very nice.
Byron Thames (s7): They wanted me to laugh like Flipper the dolphin and I couldn't do it. I did a different laugh and they decided Michael J. Fox would make fun of me for laughing like Shamu the whale.

Part 3.

No comments: