Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Family Ties": oral history of the 1980s sitcom – part 5 – rest of the family

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

What was your impression of Meredith Baxter Birney?

Cindy Fisher (s1): Didn't really know her. She did not extend herself to me as an artist.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): Everyone had a crush on her. And she was super professional and caring about all of us in the guest cast.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): She was very complimentary and accommodating of my personality. I had come in with a few ideas to add to the script for our scene—honestly not to pad my part, but I thought would be fun—that weren't accepted, but the producer was very nice in at least hearing me out. I remember her complimenting my mother about my professionalism and my coming with creative ideas—it felt great to be affirmed at such a young age.
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): Very nice person. Very straightforward. I once brought my daughter, who was three or four at the time, to the set and have a picture of her somewhere sitting on Meredith's lap. Meredith warned me never to try to put my kids in show business because it ruins their lives.
Kaleena Kiff (s2): She was very patient and super groovy in her hippie night gown.
Kate Vernon (s2): Super nice and warm and sweet. Not intimidating.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): Meredith invited me, Katie, and Eileen to exercise with her in her dressing room. I was not sure if she was a real human being. I was floating in her dressing room, not knowing how to behave so close to a television star I had watched and admired for years before on other shows.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): Spectacular. More beautiful before makeup than with makeup. Whip-smart. Kind and inviting.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): Growing up, I was a fan of hers. She had a great spirit, came to play. Slightly detached—it was very much "the adults are the adults and the kids are the kids," and we were the "kids," even though she probably wasn't much older than me. Felt that way to me, at least, in my short time there.
Lily Mariye (s3): Meredith was pregnant with twins while we were shooting! At one point, I sat down on a chaise lounge that was set up just off the set. Meredith came rushing over after she had rehearsed a scene and said, "Excuse me, may I lay down?" I jumped up and said, "Of course!" The production had put this beautiful couch there for her to rest on! She was very sweet and very complimentary.
Robert Costanzo (s3, 4, 5, 6): I liked Meredith. We didn't have much to do with each other. She was professional. Most sitcoms, you'd get notes after. Usually Gary would give them rather than the director. Sometimes Gary and Meredith would get into some discussions on motivations. She was kind of a serious actress.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): A total sweetheart, on and off the set. A lovely actress and a kind and present lady who it was always nice being around.
Peter Scolari (s4): I was just in love with her, really, quite honestly. I was a married man but I found her enchanting. Humble, extremely talented. One of my all-time favorite people. I had not met her before that.
Gracie Harrison (s4): Lovely, very approachable, friendly, and easygoing. I remember her bringing her two-year-old twins to work.
Robin Morse (s5): She was just like her character on the show. Very warm, funny, and maternal. She treated me with great respect and as a peer.
Margaret Nagle (s5): She was the only person who seemed prickly. Maybe she was having an off day. Or maybe she's shy or claustrophobic in a large group.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Very kind and welcoming. Down to earth. Very friendly.
Amy Lynne (s5): She was the one I got to know the least. Other than our scenes together, we didn't have much contact. Going back to my first instincts about her, she looked sad a lot. I think she was going through some tough stuff at the time. She had [new] twins so she was tired.
Alyson Croft (s5): She was always attentive, focused, and friendly.
Jason Naylor (s6, 7): I have an amusing recollection of working on a crossword puzzle with Ms. Baxter, possibly answering some clue involving a lesser-known Beatles cut or some such thing. I happened to see Ms. Baxter many years later at a small local art school in West L.A., where [I] was a student and being amazed that she seemed not to have changed at all in the interval.
Christina Pickles (s7): Great to work with. Lovely. Quiet. Helpful.
Byron Thames (s7): Especially warm and complimentary.
Jaclyn Bernstein (s7): She was smart and had impeccable timing. I remember her suggesting to cut [one of her] lines in the kitchen because it didn't work in the flow of the scene. Actors have a bad rep for being egotistical and always wanting to be on camera, so it was significant for me to witness the lead actress of the show put the needs of the scene first—a real learning moment. And it was absolutely normal for the cast to flow like that.

What was your impression of Michael Gross?

Cindy Fisher (s1): He was extremely focused and always raising questions. He wanted to be good and wanted the show to be better so he was constantly contributing. Really worked hard on it and I admired his abilities. I think comedy was new to him but don't know for sure. Approached it like a dramatic studio actor. He was my favorite to work with.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): The secret weapon actor. The Swiss Army knife of actors. He can do anything. And to his credit, a few years ago I hired him to be in the cast of a film I was directing and he actually remembered me! I now look to put him in any cast I can. He is terrific and still going strong.
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): Maybe the mellowest human being I ever met in the business. Just a sweet guy, and he loved trains.
Kerry Noonan (s1): I arrived on the set and was looking for a production assistant or the assistant director to find out where they wanted me to be. As I was rather awkwardly looking around, this nice man came up to me, asked me my name and who I was playing, and put me at ease as we chatted. Then it was time for a table read—when everyone sits around a table and reads through the script. To my surprise, the nice A.D. was reading the father's part…it took me a while to realize that was actually Michael Gross! He was unassuming, kind, and very welcoming.
Kaleena Kiff (s2): I honestly can't remember him…maybe because he was dressed like Santa?
Susan Isaacs (s2): He was polite and warm. I kinda crushed on him that week.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): Great. A theater guy. He went to Yale. He did not know this but my wife auditioned for Yale Drama School the same day as Michael.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): Kind. He told me to keep stuff that was funny. We liked playing. But again, he was part of the "adult" group. By then, Gary had turned the reins over to Michael J. Fox and that seemed okay with everybody. I felt like I was part of the A-team (Michael's team). I've seen him again later in life and we go back. There's actors from shows I've done that you wouldn't necessarily go up to and talk to now [because they weren't/aren't open to that].
Matthew Barry (s3): Michael was the kindest person I had ever met. No ego whatsoever. I recently ran into him in my casting office and thanked him for being so kind to me.
Lily Mariye (s3): Michael was eccentric and he usually rode his bike to the set every day. Our dressing rooms were all across from each other in a long corridor, and one day he came across the hall and knocked on my door. He said that he had driven his car to the studio that day and that he was out of gas, could he borrow $5? I was puzzled that a series regular would be asking to borrow money from one of the guest stars, but I loaned it to him anyway. On the last day of the episode, on shooting day, I gave him a gas can as a gift. He never paid me my $5 back. I found out later that he had done that to other guest stars as well!
Robert Costanzo (s3, 4, 5, 6): I liked Michael. He was warm and humble. I think very underrated. We talked about theater once in a while, made some jokes. He was never above anything. Sometimes you go on these sitcoms and no one wants to talk to you.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): Such a nice guy and fine actor with a deep and subtle understanding of comedy. It was easy believing we were brothers.
Adam Carl (s3): Incredibly sweet to me and easily my favorite character on Family Ties. I've always felt that Michael Gross was vastly underrated as a comic actor. He did some really fine comic work.
Peter Scolari (s4): Also very supportive. More of a contemporary, just a couple of years older than I [NOTE: Peter was born in 1955, Meredith and Michael both in 1947—same day, in fact]. He was an experienced stage actor and I had done theater. There was a bond there. He sort of guided me on the tenor of
Family Ties, a primer on how they did things there. I felt like a series regular within 48 hours.
Gracie Harrison (s4): He has to be my favorite cast member. He was charming, very funny, and so welcoming. I felt like I'd known him for years.
Robin Morse (s5): A really sweet man, a lot like his character as well. Very grounded and down to earth.
Margaret Nagle (s5): He came over and introduced himself to all the guest stars.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Incredibly sweet. Very curious. Asked me lots of questions and seemed genuinely interested. I happened to run in to him about six months later at Odyssey Theatre. I saw him from a distance but didn't approach him because I thought he wouldn't remember me, but then he saw me and came right over to say hi, greeting me by name. He even asked about a project I was working on that I had mentioned to him during
Family Ties. I was stunned given how many different guest stars have been on Family Ties.
Amy Lynne (s5): Sweet as can be. Probably my favorite next to Justine. Naturally funny. During down time he would have really funny one-liners. I don't think the show captured how funny he was. It was stuff after the tape ended. But that puppet show—I was almost peeing my pants.
Alyson Croft (s5): He was hilarious and jovial most of the time.
Nick Rutherford (s7): I very vaguely remember thinking he was funny.
Jaclyn Bernstein (s7): Michael and I had worked together before. We did a movie for television with Raquel Welch. They were my parents and it was a very emotional project. Her character had multiple sclerosis and gradually loses all of her motor skills, ultimately choosing to end her life. It was an intense shoot and Raquel was amazing in it. I was even younger on that project. It was great to work with Michael again. I think it was Gary's idea to have me surprise him on set (Michael didn't know I was working that week). So in the scene where I come knocking on the back door in the kitchen, he opened the door and there I was, his former daughter! It was a big laugh to surprise him like that.

What was your impression of Justine Bateman?

Cindy Fisher (s1): She was funny in person, and seemed nice.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): What a nice girl. I remember her being so energetic and happy about the show. Especially the taping nights with the live audience.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): She had Elvis Costello posters all over her dressing room/school room.
Earl Boen (s1, 3): [We didn't interact much.] You don't want to come across as the dirty old man! (laughs)
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): Very nice. Kept to herself, for the most part. She was always reading when she was off set.
Kerry Noonan (s1): Oddly enough, a few years later, I replaced Justine Bateman in a role for the new Twilight Zone [1985 revival], part way through its shooting. Luckily, I seem to have worn the same size as Justine, so I just used her costumes.
Kaleena Kiff (s2): I thought she was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen, which was awesome because I was playing the younger version of her. My only concern was that she had bright blue eyes while mine were hazel. I hoped no one would notice.
Eileen Seeley (s2): I was later part of a company at Richmond Shepard Theatre that was founded by Justine's dad and I would occasionally set sit for Jason when he was doing Silver Spoons.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): WOW!!! After the show was over, there was a small cast party on the set. I watched from the side of somewhere as a couple of women came up to her at the same time, one lined her eyes with a smoky stick pencil, the other made a braid so it could tie back her long, shiny, straight black hair. I could not believe what I was seeing—this is what it must be to be famous. Much later in my life, I spotted Justine at Hillcrest Country Club, where Elliot and I were members; she appeared drawn, thin, tired, and worn. I was not disappointed as by then I had seen plenty of these shiny '80s stars become dull. I was grateful for the excitement I had as a young girl.
Susan Isaacs (s2): Justine was in our scene and always made us feel comfortable. Offstage she seemed very shy. I can't imagine what it was like to be a teenager thrust into the spotlight, especially if you're an introvert. A few years ago, we were both at an audition for Curb Your Enthusiasm. She loaned me her sides [lines you must learn prior to an audition] and was very kind. She didn't remember me from Adam; she just treated people with respect.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): All of my scenes were with her, so I got to know her the most. We've been friends ever since—not hanging out friends, but she did one of my favorite podcasts.

Lenora May (s2): Very friendly, down to earth. Open to suggestion. Not a prima donna.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): I loved her! God, I loved her! She was so sweet. We [later] did a movie together called The TV Set. I've seen her twice since, and her brother Jason. I've done two other shows with Jason including an episode of Arrested Development. My recollection is that Justine was young, grateful, really professional, and incredibly beautiful.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): She just made me laugh. I thought she was really cool. She was really comfortable by that point. Absolutely stunningly beautiful.
Matthew Barry (s3): Justine was a bit standoffish. Not as friendly as the others…and here I was playing her boyfriend.
Lily Mariye (s3): She was an introvert, mostly kept to herself. I thought she was very beautiful and a very talented actor.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): A serious actress. I was always impressed.
Peter Scolari (s4): Just beautiful. I got a sense that she was sort of growing out, aging out of the role. She seemed mature beyond her years. She did seem like a kid [on screen], so credit to her—when the camera rolled, she transformed.
Gracie Harrison (s4): Pure professionalism, amazing work ethic, giving, very talented young lady. During my breaks from rehearsal, I would sit in the empty audience section and watch her and Michael Fox rehearse together. There was so much talent between them; it was wonderful seeing them work together.
Robin Morse (s5): Very sweet and easy to work with. Funny, too.
Jonna Lee Pangburn (s5): Ms. Bateman was a teenager with all the bumps and prickles that come with that.
Brian McNamara (s5): She was fantastic! I had a huge crush on her!
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): Justine was nice but more reserved.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Very nice but a little more standoffish. Not that she wasn't friendly—she just wasn't a chatter. I had worked with her before on an after school special called First the Egg, which she remembered. I had just seen a TV movie that she had done where she played a blind girl, I can't remember the name of it, but I remember telling her how much I liked her performance in it, which seemed to really make her happy. I really did like her performance very much and she could tell I was genuine.
Amy Lynne (s5): Really fun. And really nice. Like your normal teenage girl. She and Tina would hang with the guests when they didn't had to. Every once in a while [after I appeared on the show], I used to talk to Justine, but that was a long time ago. I bumped into her a couple of times, we exchanged phone numbers, but we never hung out.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): Very professional but kept to herself.
Alyson Croft (s5): She was the coolest and we would do dance moves when we had some downtime before scenes.
Jason Naylor (s6, 7): I don't recall it myself, perhaps by dint of being to wrapped up in my dashed hopes at the moment, but my mother tells the story that Ms. Bateman, who was friendly with the hairdresser on set, was deep in conversation with her while she was cutting my hair for the second episode—so deep, in fact, that my mother, with sympathy for my plight and a parent's concern, felt that the haircut was suffering and gently and politely asked if they wouldn't consider continuing their chat at another time.
Danielle von Zerneck (s6): We had some friends in common but she seemed standoffish at the time. Part of that was I was intimidated by her. Funnily enough, she subsequently was in a movie my brother wrote and directed and I produced. I would now consider her an old friend. Saw her a few months back and it was nice to catch up. She's really lovely.
Hilary Shepard (s7): My scenes were mostly with her and she couldn't have been nicer. I had just worked with her little brother on It's Your Move, and she remembered me from that, which was sweet.
Christina Pickles (s7): We talked ballet.
Jaclyn Bernstein (s7): I thought she was just the coolest chick in the world! This was right after her movie Satisfaction—about a group of young women who formed a band—came out, and I loooooved that movie. I had it on VHS and watched it on repeat! I may even have had the soundtrack, ha ha. I remember sitting in the living room set (we were waiting around to rehearse, something like that) and she just started talking to me—asking me about my weekend, about school. She was so friendly, warm, and cool! And gorgeous.

What was your impression of Tina Yothers?

Cindy Fisher (s1): Young!
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): Very young and sweet. Her mom was always there, too, 'cause she was a minor.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): She was young and quiet. Justine and Tina are still friends. Justine says Tina has a great singing voice.
Lenora May (s2): Not a brat.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): I liked goofing with her.
Lily Mariye (s3): Tina was about 11 when we were shooting, and she became my best friend for the week! We hung out at lunch and in between rehearsing and shooting, she would take me around the set to see the inner workings of the backs of all the "rooms" at the Keaton house. We had a lot of fun. She was adorable and smart.
Adam Carl (s3): I feel like we had a very "bantery" relationship that week, a lot of faux teasing. Even though we didn't share any scenes together, we probably did school together every day, though it's all a blur now. As a result, I probably spent more time with her than the other regulars.
Peter Scolari (s4): She was open, impressionable, vulnerable. She stole your heart right away.
Jonna Lee Pangburn (s5): Even though Tina and I did not have any work together, I found her to be a charming and approachable young woman. I did not interact with her much, but a very dear friend who was helping me out one day and came to the set was absolutely giddy with how funny, friendly, and down-to-earth she was.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Very, very nice, but kind of quiet. She seemed very mature and wise beyond her years. One conversation I had with her has always stuck with me. We were sitting next to each other in the audience section waiting to be called to rehearse our scene [and] watching Brian Bonsall rehearse a scene. Brian was being difficult. He didn't want to do it and was throwing a little bit of a tantrum. They had to call his mom in to see if she could get him to cooperate. Tina was rolling her eyes and mumbling "Here we go again." [She said it happened] "all the time." She said Brian shouldn't be acting because he clearly didn't enjoy it. She was surprised he was cast. She told me that when she was that age and acting that she loved every minute of it. She believed you couldn't force a kid to want to do it—they just have to love it innately. She said she knew from day one that Brian was going to have trouble because she could see he didn't really want to be there. It was his parents who wanted him to be there.
Amy Lynne (s5): Sweet as could be. One of the sweetest girls that I had played a part with. I was amazed at how sweet she was for all the fame she had. Very caring, worried about each of us playing her friends. She took the time even when we weren't working to hang out with us. Maybe she found it refreshing that she had so many kids her own age there for once.

Nicole Nourmand (s5): Very sweet but shyer than I expected.
Alyson Croft (s5): She was very friendly and nice. 
Jason Naylor (s6, 7): Regrettably, in the not insubstantial interval I seem to have mislaid any particular recollections regarding our interactions. Certainly, the entirety of the both shoots was a delight, and I recall the stunt scene in the second episode with particular fondness; it may be that Ms. Yothers was so integral to all those moments as to have become blurred along with the rest into the generalized memory of the experience itself.
Ellen Latzen (s6): Tina was a doll. She was very engaging and made an effort to get to know us off camera. I just remember feeling very comfortable with her and wanting to chat with her about whatever I could. I might have even asked for her phone number so we could keep in touch, though we didn't.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): She was sweet and nice and [came] to me to learn some sign language. For some reason I remember her the most, probably because she was a cute blonde? Maybe I was starstruck by her…

Part 6.

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