Confessions of a TV-holic: 5 Cases of Unwanted Fame
Actors are a mercurial bunch, to say the least. They can land a career-making role, only to spend the rest of their lives complaining about it. A few cases in point:
1. The guy who didn't want to be Mike Brady
Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed had been was a thorn in producer Sherwood Schwartz's side since Day One. He always maintained that he'd only signed his Brady Bunch contract because the pilot was lame and it wouldn't get picked up as a series. The show had also been described to him as a serious look at blended families. Instead, the serious dramatic actor who'd trained at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts found himself "trapped on Gilligan's Island with kids."
2. A very reluctant Radar
Gary Burghoff appeared as Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly in every episode of the first three seasons of M*A*S*H. By season four, he was disenchanted with the direction his character was taking. He'd started out as crafty and sneaky, and not averse to helping himself to Colonel Blake's brandy. But the writers eventually turned him into a naÃ¯ve farm boy who never sipped anything stronger than a Grape Nehi. Burghoff only appeared in about half the episodes over the next three seasons, and the CBS brass convinced him to stay long enough to play the focus of a two-part send-off during sweeps week in season eight. M*A*S*H writer Ken Levine notes that Burghoff partially expressed his disenchantment during his last appearance by refusing to wear his "Radar hat" during those final episodes, making him look less like the twenty-something company clerk he was playing and more like the balding, middle-aged man he was.
Gilligan's Island, Good Times and more all after the jump...
3. A Prayer for Mrs. Kotter
Marcia Strassman landed a plum role as Mrs. Kotter on the hit sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, but she wasn't happy about it. "Every day I pray for cancellation," she moaned in several interviews at the time. While some of us would shrug and think "a paycheck is a paycheck," Strassman made it clear that smiling indulgently while Gabe Kaplan droned on about his great-uncle Schlomo and saying "Then what happened?" didn't satisfy her artistic needs. Ironically, series star and co-creator Kaplan left after the third season, making Strassman the de facto star of the show. Such was her drawing power that Kotter was canceled promptly after season four.
4. Bad times on Good Times
When Good Times premiered in 1974 (as a spin-off of Maude), it was the first sitcom to attempt to portray a realistic nuclear African-American family. Despite struggling financially, James and Florida Evans remained wise, loving parents who brought their children up with strong family values. John Amos portrayed the patriarch, a proud man who refused handouts and worked hard to support his family. But shortly after the series premiered, the producers noticed that Jimmie "J.J." Walker received the biggest audience reaction and the most fan mail. The writers quickly took the focus off the elder Evans and made J.J. the star of the show, and the plots became more outrageous and unbelievable. Amos was unhappy with the new direction of the show, and described Walker's pop-eyed, grinning character in the press as a "minstrel show." Not surprisingly, Amos' contract was not renewed, and his character was killed in an off-camera automobile accident.
5. The castaway who wanted off the Island
When Tina Louise signed on to play Ginger Grant on Gilligan's Island, she was under the impression that the series was going to be about the trials and tribulations of an actress stranded on a desert island, and that the show would revolve around her character. (I suppose we could pick a nit and wonder if the show's title didn't somehow clue her in, but why split hairs?) Louise was known for being difficult on the set, and dismissive of her co-stars. After all, her name and scantily-clad bod had been a staple of society page gossip columns and magazine pictorials for the past 10 years. She was a star, dammit, not an ensemble player. Of all the castaways, Louise has remained the sole holdout in most reunion projects and promotional gigs related to the show.