Monday, August 14, 2017

"Family Ties": oral history of the 1980s sitcom – part 9 – your family, show legacy

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

Where do you live?

Many, of course, are in Los Angeles: Kate Vernon, Susan Isaacs, Kathleen Wilhoite, Robert Costanzo, Norman Parker, Adam Carl, Sonia Curtis, Alyson Croft, Jason Naylor, Ellen Latzen, Victor DiMattia, Debra Engle, Nick Rutherford, Jaclyn Bernstein.

Other responses (some of which are specific parts of L.A.):

Cindy Fisher (s1): Not in L.A., even though I was born and raised there. We live in a coastal community not too far from L.A. where we can walk on the beach and live under the radar.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): I live in California with my wife of 28 years, Julie.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): Southern California. 
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): Lancaster, CA.
Edward Edwards (s2): Santa Monica.
Eileen Seeley (s2): I live in Aspen, CO with my husband Chip and our two boys, Luke, 21, and Jack, 15.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): Until a few years ago, I lived in Bel Air, CA. I now live in Aspen, CO with my five dogs and three horses. I have run away from Hollywood so that my children can get it real.
Lenora May (s2): Woodland Hills, CA.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): Michigan. I'm from here. I grew up in East Lansing. I teach at Michigan State. I'm going fly around so might as well live in a place where I won't get sunstroke and skin cancer. I hope to die in New York.
Matthew Barry (s3): In a house.
Suzanne Snyder (s4): Northern California.
Gracie Harrison (s4): Greater Kansas City, MO area, with my husband of 20 years.
Robin Morse (s5): New York City.
Jonna Lee Pangburn (s5): Altadena, CA, in the San Gabriel foothills. I regularly jog around the Rose Bowl and walk my dog along the Rose Parade route.
Brian McNamara (s5): Mar Vista, CA.
Stuart Pankin (s5): Near Santa Monica.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Reston, VA.
Amy Lynne (s5): I work in Aspen and live near there.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): Beverly Hills.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): We just relocated back to Riverside [CA], so our daughters—who are also deaf—can attend the same school where I grew up, CSDR. They are so happy with their peers. We just bought a 1909 cottage bungalow and are looking forward to making it our sweet home.
Susan Kohler (s6): Santa Monica.
Hilary Shepard (s7): I live in Newport Beach, CA, on a beautiful bird reserve with an ocean water canal in my back yard. I love to stand-up paddle from my backyard and surf.
Christina Pickles (s7): Brentwood, CA.
Byron Thames (s7): Bel Air, CA.

If you have children, how many and ages [as of 2016]?

John Putch (s1, 2, 5): No kids, but we have pets and treat them as our children.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): We have two boys, 12 and 9 years old.
Earl Boen (s1, 3): No, I don't have any but [my wife] Cathy has one daughter.
Tanya Fenmore (s2): No kids, no dude.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): Son Lucas Webb, age 15. Daughter Siena Webb, age 13.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): Jimmy 20, Ruby 16, and Adugna 11.
Lenora May (s2): My son is 24 and my daughter is 17.
Robert Costanzo (s3, 4, 5, 6): Two sons, Daniel, 32, and Christopher, 29. Daniel is in the restaurant business and Christopher is an actor. My wife is Annie.
Nancy Everhard (now Amandes) (s3): My son Ben is 17. My stepdaughters are 30 and 34. I also have a granddaughter who is almost 2!
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): Three sons. Two grown men, and a 14-year-old. What can I say?
Suzanne Snyder (s4): I have three birth children (Alex 23, George 18, Grace 14) and four stepchildren (Sarah 28, Geoff 26, Lindsay and Sky 21).
Brian McNamara (s5): Twenty-five-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son! My two gems!
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): I don't. I may adopt one day.
Stuart Pankin (s5): One that I know of (cheap joke), and a lot smarter and wiser than he is old…
Amy Lynne (s5): I have two girls, 13 and 7. They love to ski race. They have the performing bug as well but we don't live in a place where I could get them into it, and I don't know if I would steer them that way anyway. Being on stage is a good thing—learning to be in front of people, working as a team.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): I have two kids, 13 and 10.
Alyson Croft (s5): One 4-year-old.
Victor DiMattia (s6): No children. My wife and I do have two dogs; their ages are 8 and 2 (we think).
Jaclyn Bernstein (s7): I have two teenagers. Both are artists.

If your kids have seen your Family Ties appearance, what do they think?

Cindy Fisher (s1): They have not seen it. They saw The Waltons (I did a few episodes) and I think one of my Murder She Wrotes and were not too impressed. When Liar's Moon, the film I did with Matt Dillon, was on sale at Rite Aid for $3.99, I bought them each a copy for their Christmas stocking. The cashier said "Are you sure you want two of the same thing?" I said yes, it is the greatest movie of all time. I have threatened both children to answer Liar's Moon when asked what their favorite movie is, but I haven't been too effective. I also doubt the Rite Aid women rushed out to get a copy.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): My son could not care less. He prefers to follow the career of [fellow guest star in Debbie's Family Ties episode] Eileen Seeley, which is far more impressive, and now that he and Eileen's son (Jack Seamans) are schoolmates, he has IMBd'd Eileen and discusses her roles with her. When my daughter was little, she would watch me on something and then run lines. The thing is you can't get away from it. It runs in the family, so everything is "That was a good reading" even if we are in everyday conversations.
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): My grown-up boys were at the perfect age for their dad to be on a hugely successful show like
Family Ties. They were definitely pleased about it, and loved coming to watch it being taped before a live audience on Friday nights. My (let's call him) 14-year-old has seen only the episode where I am furious with my daughter for staying out so late and he thinks I was so mean on the show that he is not interested in seeing any more. I take that as a compliment.
Amy Lynne (s5): My older one has. We've moved seven times in the last five years so lots are in boxes.

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast?

Cindy Fisher (s1): Both Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter appeared recently on my husband's show and I sent hellos through him to them, but he wasn't sure they registered who I was. It was the same nod you get when someone can't hear you or doesn't understand what you are saying.
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): Only with Michael Gross since we just worked together on a film.
Eileen Seeley (s2): Several years ago my son Jack came home from school and said he met someone I [had known] in Hollywood. Seems there was a new boy from L.A. and Jack met his mom, Debbie Webb (formerly Gilbert). She said she was from L.A. and Jack said I had lived in L.A. and somehow it came around that we had done
Family Ties together 30 years prior.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): I found Eileen in Aspen! When I married Hollywood and no longer pursued an acting career, I followed Eileen's career and was so impressed (a better word was envious). She was so talented and I loved all of her work. She was a real actor, and on the set of
Family Ties, she was a tad older than I, and had this lovely way about her, and I still remember when we three girls linked our hands and Eileen pulled Kate and I onto the set with her and made sure we landed right on our marks. Thirty years later, [in Aspen], a little boy with huge blue eyes says hello to my son (the new Jewish kid in town) and shares that he is from L.A., too, and his mom was an actress…Eileen Seeley. My mouth dropped!

These last few years, Eileen has taken me by the hand, same as she did thirty years ago, and guided me through some tough times—bershert [MTN: Yiddish for "soulmate"], I believe. Sometimes when I am dumbfounded by something, I email Eileen and sign it "Buffy" (the name of my character on
Family Ties).
Nancy Everhard (now Amandes) (s3): No, but I see Justine around the neighborhood.

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?

Cindy Fisher (s1): When I arrived on the set of Casualties of War, Michael Fox and Sean Penn were in a tent filming. I was wearing a nightie under my coat as Brian De Palma had to approve the nightie so wardrobe could make several copies since I would be raped by Sean Penn in the movie and it would get torn. I wasn't sure if either of them knew I was cast since I did not read with them, nor was I sure where their heads/egos were since both were big stars by then. Sean was married to Madonna [at the time] and Michael had been a household name for years. Perhaps both would not remember me or play the star trip like they didn't. I did not know what to expect. When Sean heard I was on set, he yelled my name and came looking for me. I got a huge hug, an invite out to dinner. Michael Fox gave me the same star treatment, raising a big stink. The crew was staring at me wondering who I was. I said to both of them, in my best Kimberly Blanton style, "Like, my career took off…what happened to you two?"
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): I stopped by their set when we were at the studio for something else about a year after. They were getting ready to shoot with an audience but we were able to go back and say hi to Michael J. Fox. He remembered me and was very nice. At that time they were breaking the top 10 in ratings so they were a huge deal.

I remember seeing Justine Bateman on the Paramount lot a few years later while I was waiting for an audition. She walked by with somebody and my mom and I said hi. She said hi but she didn't remember who I was. I honestly didn't expect her to remember me, but my mom was kind of offended. My mom sometimes thought that her own strong memory was the same as everybody else's. But I love my mom anyway. :)
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): I haven't seen any of them since.
Edward Edwards (s2): I see Meredith occasionally at the farmers' market and see Michael occasionally at parties. We all remember this episode very fondly. Gary once told me it was in his personal top three of all the episodes.
Tanya Fenmore (s2): I [ran] into Marc Price many years later—but still many years ago—maybe in 2000? He was up in Laurel Canyon at this eccentric house with wild animals and birds and I was looking to rent out the guest house. I said, "Skippy, yo, it's your little sister, Arlene!" and he sang, "Girl…you'll be a woman soon." He's so cute. I think he was working with the founder of The Improv or The Comedy Store at the time and housesitting for him up there.

I haven't seen any [other of the] cast since, although Gary David Goldberg's daughter went to my high school (Harvard-Westlake) and also to my college (Harvard University). She was a few years older [and] we didn't know each other, but I remember seeing him at one of those two Harvards many years [after
Family Ties].
Kate Vernon (s2): I haven't but I've auditioned for [fellow guest star] John Putch. He's a wonderful director.
Eileen Seeley (s2): I see my fellow guest star Debbie Gilbert on purpose as often as schedules permit. She recently housed me when my home was overrun with rugby players in Aspen for Ruggerfest.
Susan Isaacs (s2): I run into Lenora May at auditions. [That] is calculated chance in that we're the same age range and go up for similar roles. Though it's not often, I enjoy seeing her. I've tracked the progress of her life and her children. And we're always amazed that these many years later, we're still here and still at it.
Kathleen Wilhoite (s2): I had Justine on my podcast, Suck the Joy.
Lenora May (s2): I do run into Susan Isaacs and Kathleen Wilhoite at auditions. At one point, Kathleen's child and mine went to the same middle school. I did run into Justine Bateman at a dance class.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): I saw Michael Gross. I just did a play with some of his college mates from Yale and he came to the show. Bobbie Costanzo and I have stayed friends. We'd go opposite—audition against each other—for many years. I love him, I think he's a spectacular actor.
Timothy Busfield (s3, 5): I think Michael Gross most recently. I haven't talked to Michael Fox in a long time. You start raising a family and there goes your social life. We live in the different parts of the country. I saw Meredith once years later and I think she didn't know who I was. (laughs)
Lily Mariye (s3): Michael Gross played Anthony Edwards's father on ER. I was going to mention that he owed me $5, not because I wanted the money but because I thought it might be funny. But Michael seemed consumed with making sure he was doing a good job on our show, so I didn't think he would take the comment in the spirit in which I meant it. So I reminded him that I was on
Family Ties (which I don't think he remembered), Anthony Edwards told him that he was in the studio audience that day, and I told him how happy I was to have him on our show. Which I was!
Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): I was delighted to stumble upon Michael J. in the lobby of a little movie theater in Malibu several years ago. All the affection was still there which was so lovely.
Adam Carl (s3): Sad to say, I don't think I've seen any since 1985, when I worked on the show. Though I have seen Michael Gross pop up a couple of times in some mutual friends' Facebook threads. I've often been tempted to message him and tell him how much I enjoyed playing mini-him, but I also don't want to be a weirdo.
Peter Scolari (s4): I never crossed paths with them again with the possible exception of seeing Michael J. Fox in a restaurant and saying hi. He was always lovely recalling the brief amount of time we'd worked together.
Robin Morse (s5): I've bumped into Michael a few times over the years, but no one else from the show.
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): I saw Justine Bateman by complete fluke a couple of years ago. Justine and her family ended up parking immediately next to my friend and me when we stopped at Salt Creek Lake on the way home from Mammoth. Justine was very nice, as were her hubby and kids. We talked about how we both went to UCLA and how tough it can still be to get steady work as an actress over 30. Not the same for men (her brother's career has never been better!). We also talked a bit about our directing careers, but she seem[ed] to be putting that on hold to get her degree at UCLA.

I [also] recently saw Marc Price. Marc was also sweet. Much taller than I remember. He is friends with a friend of mine so I met him again briefly with her at a coffee shop.
Stuart Pankin (s5): I saw Michael J. Fox years ago at a Comic Relief benefit. We talked fondly and remembered the moment in the episode when I picked him up. What a nice, talented man. (I do run into Mary Gross [Michael Gross's sister] once in a while at parties and local restaurants. Does that count?)
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): Michael Gross, about six months after I did
Family Ties.
Amy Lynne (s5): Back when I was in my twenties. I saw Justine at some interview or restaurant, one of the two. She recognized me before I recognized her.
Ellen Latzen (s6): Unfortunately, I have not seen any of the cast members since filming. The one exception is Lee Garlington, who played my mother. We stayed in touch for several years afterward, but I haven't seen Lee in over 20 years.
Victor DiMattia (s6): Quite on purpose. Brian Bonsall is my (step)brother. He was the best man in my wedding. I see him all the time. The funny thing is we weren't stepbrothers when I was on
Family Ties. I don't think we even met the day or two that I was on set.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): I have not seen any of them since I fell out of the Hollywood loop. I'd love to meet with some of them and even though it was only one episode it was pretty memorable for me. I'm not sure if they will recall my role on the show; they did a lot of episodes over the years.

Hilary Shepard (s7): I love to knit and Justine and I used to go to the same knitting store in L.A. where we'd hang around, gossip, and knit. She even started a knitwear clothing line from her designs!

When was the last time you watched Family Ties? How did you think it held up?

Cindy Fisher (s1): It was a great show. Issues are a bit old. Mostly I can't get over how long my hair was. :)
John Putch (s1, 2, 5): Aside from the old videotape look and the bad sound, I think the subject matter holds up pretty darn good. The writing still hits the issues.
Chris Hebert (s1, 2): I watched the show a couple years ago to show my kids the two shows I was in (around Christmas time). It obviously brings back fond memories as an actor but like many others, I was a fan, too. I think it has held up although its style is characteristic of many '80s shows where vulgarity and obscenity were limited to pay-cable shows. I know it tried to build a lot of its comedic elements on stereotypes (liberal vs. conservative, ditzy girl who is only into shopping, goofy neighbor who likes the pretty girl but needs to be content with being valued as a friend), but I think it's still enjoyable. 
Terry Wills (s1, 2, 5, 6, 7): I never saw it again after it was cancelled.
Kaleena Kiff (s2): It holds up well and is still thought-provoking in the vein of All in the Family, but kid-friendly and kid-relevant. And if you refer to Alex Keaton, everyone knows what kind of guy you're talking about.
Kate Vernon (s2): I have not shown my daughter so it's been at least 16 years.
Eileen Seeley (s2): Honestly, I have not seen it in ages. Occasionally, someone will send a clip from our episode and it continues to make me smile.
Debbie Gilbert (now Webb) (s2): It has been in this last year. My kids will show a friend or I will pop it [up] on the internet because sometimes I wonder if it really happened.
Susan Isaacs (s2): I catch it on reruns. While it feels dated in terms of a time and genre—three-camera sitcoms all but dried up—the humor is still great. Especially anything MJF does.
Alan Blumenfeld (s2, 3, 4, 5, 6): My son put my name into TiVo and it records [whatever show features that name]. I watch the "Lady Sings the Blues" episode when it comes on because it was the first one. I had hair. It's very nostalgic.
Lily Mariye (s3): I had insomnia one night and started flipping channels. I suddenly heard Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams singing the famous theme, "Without Us" and saw that it was my episode, so I stopped to watch. The episode was really sweet and funny. Our cast had a lot of guest actors who went on to become very successful: Billy Campbell, Tate Donovan, and of course, Timothy Busfield. I thought it held up very well.
Nancy Everhard (now Amandes) (s3): We found my episode on YouTube yesterday so my husband and son watched it with me. I think my son was shocked at how young I was. He also didn't know that Michael J. Fox was so short. It's funny how I remember all the lines from the show. I think it held up very well. Michael J. Fox was always so good.

Norman Parker (s3, 5, 6): I came upon a rerun of my first appearance as Robert Keaton ("Remembrances of Things Past") and was so impressed with the beautifully handled flashback episodes to our childhoods. I liked myself well enough, but I loved the young actor who played me in the flashbacks. The conflict between Steven and Rob was so beautifully written. It still holds up for me as a very touching piece of the Family Ties storybook.
Adam Carl (s3): I haven't seen the show in many years, but now I'd like to. In particular, I'd like to see if my long-held beliefs about Michael Gross's superior comedic timing hold up to scrutiny. But despite not having seen the show in God-knows-how-long, I can still sing the theme song by heart. Sha-la-la-la.
Gracie Harrison (s4): A few years ago a friend called to say my episode was on. That was the last time I watched it. It held up beautifully. It's a classic.
Sonia Curtis (s5, 6): So long ago. I still think the show is fabulous. The writing, acting, chemistry of the cast, etc., were all so good.
Dana Andersen Schreiner (s5): I can't remember. I never actually watched the episode I was in after its original airdate. I don't think my kids have ever seen it.
Nicole Nourmand (s5): Well! I think it is a timeless sitcom about how you raise a family with children with wildly different personalities.
Ellen Latzen (s6): Outside of watching my own episode, it's been a while since I've seen
Family Ties. But there's something about it that can be said of a lot of sitcoms from that time. The humor is solid, albeit a little cheesy at times. The scenarios can be hokey, but there are usually real lessons to be taken away. And the family unit is one that a lot of people find lovable and relatable. There may be different issues now, but the dynamics of the show are still pretty relevant.
Victor DiMattia (s6): It's been a while, but I'll catch an episode on rerun every so often. Obviously the styles and the look of the whole thing are dated, but the stories, the jokes, the messages are all still relevant.
Darrell Thomas Utley (s6): To be honest, I didn't watch it again after it aired on TV. Someone sent me a link of [a] scene I was in and it sure brought back memories. Someday maybe I'll get to watch it with my daughters. Even my wife hasn't seen it.
Susan Kohler (s6): I've seen reruns through the years. They still hold my interest. It makes me think of those "decades ago," as you put it. They were sweet times. The honesty of the subject matter in the episodes was well communicated in its simple three-camera format.
Hilary Shepard (s7): I haven't seen it in years, but great writing and acting never goes out of style.
Nick Rutherford (s7): I didn't watch the show when I was on it. (Too young.) The last time I watched was probably just my episode to try and jog some memories.

Part 10.

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