Friday, June 4, 2010


I grew up watching Gary Coleman. From age 6 to 14, I was there for every show. My 10-year old Saturday nights were all set, with "Diff'rent Strokes", "Silver Spoons" and then the "Love Boat"/"Fantasy Island" combo. So, I saw it all - the rabies epidsode, the appendicitis episode, the two-parter where they were hostages in a bank, guest shots by Mr. T, Muhammed Ali and Nancy Reagan, and that one with Gordon Jump as a creepy pedophile. Yes, I even stuck around for the last two seasons when Mr. Drummond remarried a woman (played by Dixie Carter, also recently deceased) with a cute moppet of a son, replacing college bound Willis (who appeared intermittently) and Kimberly (a pregnant Dana Plato, who had been fired).

I followed Coleman's intermittent exploits after the show. I watched the "Diff'rent Strokes" reunion on Geraldo in 1993, in which Coleman admitted to having attempted suicide. Geraldo asked Coleman if he was working on any projects. Coleman responded that he and a friend were working on a hybrid sitcom/movie review show and then asked the audience what they thought of the idea. He received some slight sympathy applause. Just recently he took his marriage woes public with an appearance on Divorce Court. Apparently he forgot to ask, "If I'm bleeding to death, will you help me or run upstairs because you don't like blood?"

I also watched Rue McClanahan in her many incarnations. While I don't really remember her from "Maude", I'm sure I saw episodes somewhere in childhood. Before her major success in "Golden Girls", I knew her best as Aunt Fran, Thelma Harper's sister on "Mama's Family". In that series' pilot, homebody Fran is the most resentful at having Thelma's son and his family move into Mama's house and disrupting her quiet routine. Though revived later in syndication, the network demise of "Mama" after two seasons was a career boon for McClanahan, as well as Betty White, who had a recurring role as Thelma's daughter, Ellen. Both moved to the sunny skies of Miami with Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty. There McClanahan had her best-remembered role, as bed-hopping cougar Blanche Devereaux. "Golden Girls" was a big hit, and continues to run a whopping 12 times a day on cable (4 on the We Network, 8 on the Hallmark Channel).
What impresses me most about McClanahan is her range. Skittish, dowdy spinster Aunt Fran is the opposite of the oversexed, confident Blanche, both of whom she played convincingly. Somewhere in the middle is Vivian Cavender, the best friend role she played on "Maude". Perhaps the name Vivian was a nod to Vivian Vance, Lucille Ball's perpetual pal. Except Maude wasn't goading her Vivian into zany schemes, and Ethel never gave Lucy advice on having an abortion.

While their paths of both Coleman and McClanahan only crossed in TV land (literally, at the 2008 TV Land Awards), both did share a series co-star, Conrad Bain ("Maude", "Diff'rent Strokes"). Also, Coleman guest-starred on two episodes of "Good Times", which was a spinoff of "Maude". McClanahan also co-starred with Dabney Coleman in a short-lived series called "Apple Pie". To my knowledge, Gary and Dabney Coleman are not related. Yes, it's a sickness I have.

1 comment:

LOLA said...

Hey Thanks Matt. I was so sad to hear of Gary's death. I was such a fan of Different Strokes as a kid. It, along with Happy Days, Dukes of Hazard, and the Love Boat will always be fond in my memories. At the age of six and seven, I was fascinated by Gary Coleman. He looked my age but was actually my sister's ( 5 years older). He was so funny and cute. I really identified with him. Anyway. I knew vaguely of his misfortunes and his wife but not much about his post Different Strokes days. To me he will always be the chubby faced kid with the big mouth and the innocent world outlook.

Incidentally, I occasionally watch the Golden Girls now. but in my youth I called it "the Golden Pervs" I guess Blanche made me think they were all a bunch of cougers.