This is the twenty-fourth in a series of examinations of legends about television and the people involved in TV and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous TV urban legends.
TV LEGEND: Michael J. Fox had a clever “revenge” for Brandon Tartikoff’s early doubts about whether Fox would be popular enough to star in a regular TV series.
The original actor cast in the role of Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties was Matthew Broderick, but Broderick ended up backing out of the show. You can only imagine how much that irked show creator Gary David Goldberg. It was pretty clear, even then, that Broderick was going to be something special, so the idea of having him and then NOT having him was pretty rough, and Goldberg seemingly took his frustration out on the hundreds of young men who auditioned to take Broderick’s place.
Eventually, though, his writers and co-producer had him take a second look at one of the actors that had auditioned earlier, Michael J. Fox.
This time, Goldberg was converted.
However, he had to sell the idea to the network, particularly NBC Head of Entertainment Programming, Brandon Tartikoff. Before the pilot was even filmed, Tartikoff took issue with Fox’s height. He felt he was too short for the role of the son of Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter-Birney. However, he let Goldberg have his way for now.
Once the pilot was filmed, though, NBC loved the show itself, but Tartikoff, once again, tried to have Fox replaced. This time, his argument (in response to Goldberg’s argument that Fox was quite good) was “Maybe, but this is not the kind of face that you’ll ever see on a lunchbox.”
Eventually, though, Tartikoff relented and let Goldberg have his way.
And, of course, Family Ties was a big hit and Fox, in particular, became a star.
Tartikoff was friendly with Fox, and he told Fox about his earlier issues with his casting (Fox obviously had a general idea that Tartikoff did not want him on the show, but Tartikoff told him his specific objections).
Well, a couple of years passed, and Fox (now perhaps at the height of his popularity) starred in the major motion picture Back to the Future (once again replacing a notable 1980s’ teen actor, Eric Stoltz).
The movie was a gigantic smash hit, and, naturally enough, they made, you guessed it, lunch boxes for the film.
As I mentioned, the pair had become friends, so they’d often meet up for lunch. At one of these lunches, following the success of Back to the Future, Fox presented Tartikoff with a custom-made lunch box. On the cover of the lunch box was a picture of Michael J. Fox’s smiling face. The box was inscribed:
“To Brandon: This is for you to put your crow in. Love and Kisses, Michael J. Fox.”
Tartikoff kept the box in his office for the rest of his career in television.
Great story, no?
Sadly, Tartikoff passed away in 1997 from brain cancer.
Thanks to Michael J. Fox’s Lucky Man: A Memoir for the information!
TV LEGEND: Joe Penny forced Jake and the Fatman to move filming from Hawaii to Los Angeles because of his health problems.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Jake and the Fatman starred Joe Penny and William Conrad as Jake and the Fatman, respectively.
Jake was an investigator who worked for J. L. “Fatman” McCabe, a Los Angeles district attorney.
As you may or may not know, Magnum P.I. was originally created to put to use the Hawaiian sets CBS already were renting for use for Hawaii 5-0.
Well, at the end of the decade, Magnum P.I. was also coming to an end, and CBS still owned a lease on the Hawaiian sets.
So, to avoid wasting money, CBS decided that Fatman would retire and become a lawyer in Hawaii (Fatman, apparently, was from Hawaii originally – useful, eh?) and he would bring his investigators with him, just in time for Season 2!
Some have said that CBS had actually CANCELED Jake and the Fatman after Season 1 when this idea was offered up as an alternative to cancellation. That might very well be true (it sounds logical enough), but I haven’t seen anything definitive to back that assertion up.
During the fourth season of the show in 1991, two things happened.
One, the show moved from Hawaii back to Los Angeles.
Two, Joe Penny lost a lot of weight.
“Shockingly,” when a never-married actor in his mid-30s suddenly started losing weight, rumors began popping up that Penny was gay and now had AIDs.
This led to Penny doing a pretty depressing (in the sense that it was “necessary”) “I’m not gay and I don’t have AIDS!” tour on the various chat shows (plus doing a number of television interviews).
As it turned out, Penny had a gastrointestinal virus that turned any food he ate essentially liquid (if you know what I mean). Effectively, he had dysentery.
Diseases like these are difficult to treat absent a hospital stay, but eventually he was cured and the weight returned, and he’s been in fine health ever since.
So his problems did not really require a move to Hollywood.
No, as it was, with the show running down its run (it only lasted one more year), CBS just did not feel like renewing the (expensive) lease on the Hawaiian sets, and since the show had begun in Los Angeles already, they shifted filming back to L.A. for the rest of the fourth season and all of the fifth season.
So it was cost, not any health problems of Penny (his treatment would not have been changed from being in California instead of Hawaii, anyways).
TV LEGEND: When she was a little girl, Crystal Bernard was part of an Evangelical Christian singing act with her older sister.
Crystal Bernard has had an impressively long career in television.
After one season on Happy Days, she co-starred in TWO long-running sitcoms, keeping her on the TV screen for over a decade, with the waitress sitcom It’s a Living and her most famous series, Wings.
However, Bernard has been in the entertainment business for years before she got into television.
Bernard’s father Jerry was a traveling Baptist evangelist preacher, who would sing and perform all over Texas.
So Crystal and her older sister, Robin, grew up singing.
In the early 1970s, the sisters were “discovered” by singer Bobbie Gentry (who will forever be known for her classic song, “Ode to Billy Joe”)…
Gentry had the girls perform with her during her popular Las Vegas routines.
Well, in 1972, Jerry Falwell released an album called Feudin’, Fussin’ & Frettin’, it was a recording of a “typical” Sunday at Falwell’s church.
The Bernard sisters performed two songs for the album, and as far as I know, they are the only two official recordings of the Bernard sisters that exists.
The song were “The Monkey Song” and “The Ecumenical Movement.”
The first song mocks the theory of evolution while the second song mocks the ecumenical movement (the “movement” that suggested that religions should try to stress the things that all religions have in common rather than their differences).
I bet you folks would like to see the lyrics, wouldn’t you?
THE MONKEY SONG
I’m no kin to the monkey, no no no
And the monkey’s no kin to me, yeah yeah yeah
I don’t know much about his ancestors
But mine didn’t swing from a tree.
Although it’s so ridiculous
They’re teaching us now that it’s true.
The teachers that came from a monkey
Would be better off in a zoo.
It seems so much more believable
And surely, surely it’s true
That God made man in his image.
No monkey story will do.
This monkey business has got to go
Because it just isn’t true.
It’s such a disgrace to the monkey
A disgrace to the human race, too.
THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
We hear a lot of talk about
The Ecumenincal Movement.
They say we should all get together
And be one big happy family.
Catholic, Protestent and Jew,
Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu
I guess they want the Devil, too,
In the Ecumenical Movement.
They always talk about the Golden Rule
And the Sermon on the Mount
But whether you’ve ever been born again
Doesn’t even seem to count.
I know my sins are all forgiven
And I am on my way to heaven
My trust is in the Lord and not
The Ecumenical Movement.
‘Tis modern now to talk about
The Ecumenical Movement
The old ways are not good enough
They all must now be forgotten.
Virgins birthed the Trinity
The blood of Christ on Calgary
They’ve made a better way, you see, through
The Ecumenical Movement.
(Repeat Chorus “They always talk…”)
These folks they always talk about
The Ecumenical Movement
That we all travel different roads
But they all lead to Heaven.
But God’s words plainly say
That Jesus is the only way
So put your trust in him today, not
The Ecumenical Movement.
Well now…that was certainly something, wasn’t it?
Bernard (who is now 48) still occasionally sings with her father, although I imagine that she sings more traditional Gospel songs than stuff like the above.
Thanks to Retro Low-Fi for the picture of the Falwell album!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org