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8 Memorable TV Uncles

Extended family members always seem to figure more prominently in TV-land than in real life; in this first part of an occasional series, we take a look at some of the more memorable uncles who have graced our airwaves.

1. Uncle Joe

Prolific character actor Edgar Buchanan is probably best remembered as the gravelly-voiced Uncle Joe, who was always movin' kinda slow on Petticoat Junction. Uncle Joe Carson was one of a handful of Hooterville residents who also made semi-regular appearances on Green Acres. Buchanan was born in Missouri but moved to Oregon at the age of seven. He graduated from the North Pacific Dental College and ran a successful oral surgery practice in Altadena, California, until (at age 36) he finally gave up his spit sink and succumbed to the acting bug that had first bitten him back in college.

2. Uncle Bobby

If you were a kid in Canada during the 1960s and 70s, chances are you watched The Uncle Bobby Show (most likely you were home for lunch and just waiting for The Flintstones to come on). Uncle Bobby was Bobby Ash, who was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1924 and began acting on stage at the tender age of five. He emigrated to Canada after reading an ad for a new TV station starting up in Toronto that was looking for talent. The Uncle Bobby Show aired from 1962 to 1979 on CFTO and was also syndicated across Canada. Sadly, Uncle Bobby always remained something of a second-string children's TV host in a market that included the Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup, and he had to moonlight as a school bus driver in order to make ends meet.

3. Uncle Bill

Family Affair's Uncle Bill (portrayed by Brian Keith) was almost more of an indulgent grandpa than the bewildered uncle who was unexpectedly made the guardian of his nieces and nephew when their parents were killed in a car accident. Of course, as a successful consulting civil engineer living in a luxurious penthouse apartment on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, swinging bachelor Bill Davis could afford to be benevolent. Basic care and feeding (as well as discipline) of Cissy, Buffy and Jody were all left to his gentleman's gentleman, Mr. French, to handle while Uncle Bill was off overseeing a construction project or dating a socialite. Uncle Bill's idea of parenting was to open his wallet in case of any emergency (such as the time he hired a baby elephant to entertain Buffy at home in the family living room when she was depressed over her broken leg).

4. Uncle Jesse

TV viewers (particularly the moms in the audience) can't resist a man who goes gooey over children, so it's no surprise that heartthrob John Stamos as Uncle Jesse lured as many fans to Full House on Friday nights as did the Olsen twins. Darkly handsome, long-haired, brooding Uncle Jesse rode a motorcycle and was a staunch Elvis wannabe. When such a "bad boy" gave up his carousing ways in order to help take care of his deceased sister's daughters, what red-blooded female wouldn't swoon? During the first season, Stamos' character was called "Jesse Cochran," but by Season Two Stamos had enough clout to ask the producers to change his name to "Jesse Katsopolis" in recognition of his own Greek heritage (Stamos' original family name was Stamotopoulos).

5. Uncle Charley

uncle.jpgWilliam Demarest was hired to portray Uncle Charley, the chief cook and bottle-washer, on My Three Sons after William Frawley ("Bub") became too ill to be insured. Demarest was no youngster by the time he joined the Sons cast "“ he'd appeared with Al Jolson in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, back in 1927. Crotchety Uncle Charley was definitely the antithesis of easy-going Uncle Bill; he was famous for threatening the Douglas kids with things like the "Watusi red ant torture" if they didn't straighten up and fly right.

6. Uncle Junior

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Uncle Junior of The Sopranos was not as warm and fuzzy as your typical TV uncle, but he did have a soft spot in his heart for his nephew, Tony Soprano. In the final episode of Season Three, Junior starts singing along with a guitarist in the restaurant where the family has gathered for a post-funeral meal. It is an old Italian classic, originally written for Enrico Caruso, and the mourners are visibly moved. Uncle Junior continues into a medley of sentimental favorites, and subtly re-establishes his status as boss (even if temporarily) of the family. Dominic Chianese, who portrayed Junior, had been singing on Broadway since 1965, and music has always been his first love, so it's no wonder he was able to evince such a range of emotions in one scene via song.

7. Uncle Fester

When the bald, hunched man in the black coat appeared in Charles Addams' cartoons, he had no name. Addams himself christened the character "Uncle Fester" when his macabre family was turned into a sitcom in 1964. On the TV series, Fester was Morticia's maternal uncle, but in the subsequent films he was Gomez Addams' brother. Uncle Fester was played by Jackie Coogan, who first gained fame as Charlie Chaplin's sidekick in the 1921 silent film The Kid. Young Coogan's image was used to merchandise everything from peanut butter to dolls, and he earned an estimated $4 million before he hit his teens. Sadly, his mother and stepfather spent most of his fortune on luxuries for themselves, and when Coogan turned 21 he found that his bank account was nearly empty. An ugly legal battle ensued, with one result being the California Child Actor's Bill, which safeguards a portion of the earnings of juvenile performers.

8. Uncle Leo

It took some serious talent to stand out as an oddball among the Seinfeld cast, since every character had his or her own set of neuroses, but Len Lesser as Uncle Leo was up to the challenge. Uncle Leo was certain that anti-Semitism was behind every perceived slight, he believed seniors could get away with shoplifting by pleading senility, and he gripped folks by the forearm when talking to them just to make sure they didn't walk away while he raved about his son Jeffrey, who worked for the Parks department. Lesser mentioned in a 2006 interview that total strangers still approach him on the street with open arms, shouting "HELLO Uncle Leo!" but he doesn't mind; after playing a multitude of "faceless" character roles since 1955, he's pleased with the recognition.

Any favorite uncles we've omitted? Feel free to suggest aunts and cousins for future columns, too!

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9 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Body Doubles
Hugh Jackman and his Real Steel body double, Taris Tyler
Hugh Jackman and his Real Steel body double, Taris Tyler
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When you see the back of an actor’s head in a movie, it may not be the actor you think it is. In addition to stunt performers, most movies employ body doubles (or photo doubles) with a passing resemblance to the principal actors. While some body doubles are brought on set for specific skills—like helping an actor pass as a professional athlete—the job can often involve just being a body, whether that means being nude on camera, having photogenic hands, or appearing in place of actors who can’t be on set for some reason. Here are nine secrets of the job:

1. THEY MIGHT ONLY BE MODELING ONE BODY PART.

Body double Danielle Sepulveres has played the hands of other actors in plenty of roles in her career, on TV and in beauty commercials featuring close-up shots of her holding moisturizer or makeup. She’s drizzled dressing on salad in place of Brooke Shields. She regularly slides files across tables, makes lists, and pours wine in the place of actresses on The Good Wife. (She has also played Jill Flint's butt on the show.) “I knew only glimpses of my hands might make it into a shot, or part of my shoulder along with a wisp of hair,” she wrote of one of her jobs in Good Housekeeping in 2016. But she overheard the director complaining that her wrists looked “vastly different” than those of the principal actress in the movie, 2015’s Mania Days. “Luckily, I didn't get fired in spite of my wrists, but I wouldn't have been surprised had it happened.”

2. THEY’RE NOT JUST THERE TO SHOW THEIR BUTTS.

Yes, body doubles are often brought in if an actor doesn’t want to bare it all on camera. But they are hired for other reasons, too. For one thing, union rules mandate the actors get 12 hours off between when they leave set for the day and their next call time, so if the shoots are running long, the crew might employ someone else to stand in. Other times, it's a matter of particular talents. Most actors may be able to sing, dance, and cry on camera, but few also have the athletic skills to allow them to pass as a sports legend. In Battle of the Sexes (2017), Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King, one of the best tennis players of all time. To realistically represent King’s skills on the court, the movie makers brought in tennis doubles to play in place of Stone and her co-star, Steve Carell. Stone’s double was chosen for her playing style, which resembled King’s, and worked with King on-set to perfect her imitation. The effort was, according to The Wall Street Journal, a huge success. “Not only is the tennis believable, it’s a meticulous representation of the type of tennis played in that era: serve and volley, chipping and charging to the net, touch volleys and soft hands.”

3. ACTORS CAN GET TOUCHY ABOUT WHO PLAYS THEM.

When you are tasked with choosing a celebrity doppelgänger, you’ve got to keep egos in mind. “The choice reflects on the principal actor,” DeeDee Ricketts, the casting director for Titanic, told Vanity Fair in 2016. “We have to take into consideration that they can’t be too thin, or more beautiful, or too heavy, or too old, or else the principal actor will think, That’s how they see me?” Actors often get to give input on who will be their double, and sometimes have final approval rights written into their contracts. When she was being considered for the job of Janet Leigh's body double in Psycho's iconic shower scene, model and Playboy covergirl Marli Renfro had to strip down for both Alfred Hitchcock and Leigh herself so that they could make sure her body looked enough like Leigh's, as Renfro recently revealed at a Brooklyn screening of the documentary 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene. In the case of nude scenes, actors might even have final approval on what physical moves their doubles are allowed to make.

4. THEY MIGHT NEVER MEET THEIR DOUBLE ...

If you’re working as an actor’s double, by definition, you’re not going to have scenes with them, and so some body doubles never meet the stars they’re pretending to be. Danish actor Elvira Friis, who worked as a body double for Charlotte Gainsbourg (and her character’s younger self, played by Stacy Martin) during the racier scenes of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (2013), never met the actor. “The closest I got to Charlotte Gainsbourg was that I was wearing her dress,” Friis told The Wall Street Journal.

5. OR THEY MIGHT SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH THE PEOPLE THEY'RE PORTRAYING.

But how much time an actor spends with their doppelgänger really depends on the role. Some actors spend plenty of time with their doubles on set helping them get into the role. In What Happened to Monday (2017), Noomi Rapace plays the roles of seven identical sisters, making body doubles a necessity on set. Rapace helped direct her doubles during filming, “as they needed to know how the star would play the scene for each character so that it would sync up when she performed the part herself,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Game of Thrones star Lena Headey (who plays Cersei) worked closely with her double Rebecca Van Cleave for a nude scene in the show’s fifth season finale. Headey walked Van Cleave through her character’s thinking and movements for each shot. Then, Headey did the same performance herself, wearing a beige dress that could later be edited out. In the final product, Headey’s facial expressions were merged with Van Cleave’s nude body.

6. THEY DON’T ALWAYS LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THEIR COUNTERPARTS.

Because body doubles are often only seen from the back or side, they may not look quite as much like their acting counterpart as you’d think. Brett Baker, who worked as Leonardo DiCaprio’s body double for Titanic, is several inches shorter than DiCaprio and seven years older. From the front, you wouldn’t peg him as a Jack Dawson lookalike. But with the same clothes and haircut, shot from above and behind, he passed easily as DiCaprio. Once Leo’s closeups were done, according to Vanity Fair, Baker was often brought in to stand opposite Kate Winslet as she played through her half of the scene. In some cases, he didn’t make it into the final shot at all, but still had to be on set for those 14-hour days.

7. THESE DAYS, THEY GET A BOOST FROM CGI.

With the help of technology, filmmakers can put their leading actor’s face on a body double’s torso, so they don’t have to limit their body doubles to just back-of-the-head or partial shots. This allows them to seamlessly meld both the main actor and the body double’s performances in post-production. That can allow directors to get exactly the scene they want in shows like Orphan Black, which features Tatiana Maslany playing multiple roles, or in cases where actors don't want to get totally naked on-camera. In rare cases, it can also be used to bring actors back from the dead. When Paul Walker died in a car crash midway through filming Furious 7 (2015), the filmmakers used his brothers and another actor as body doubles, superimposing computer-generated images of Walker’s face on their performances. Around 260 shots featuring Walker’s doubles appeared in the final cut.

8. IF AN ACTOR CAN’T ALTER THEIR WEIGHT FOR A ROLE, A BODY DOUBLE CAN FILL IN.

When Matt Damon was filming The Martian (2015), he wanted to lose 30 to 40 pounds to portray astronaut Mark Watney after he had been surviving on meager rations for years. But the filming schedule made that impossible, so a body double had to be brought in for some shots. “I was going to lose a bunch of weight in the third act of the movie, then put the weight back on,” Damon told Maclean’s. However, as the schedule shook out, they filmed the NASA interiors in Hungary, then immediately went to Jordan, which doubled as the Red Planet for the film’s purposes, and shot all the exterior shots from the beginning, middle, and end of the movie, with no time for Damon to lose a significant amount of weight. The skinny body double isn’t on screen for long. “It was, like, two shots,” Damon describes. (Still, fans noticed.)

9. SOMETIMES THEY NEVER MAKE IT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA AT ALL.

When it comes to nude scenes, sometimes body doubles are hired but never used. Veteran body double Laura Grady was cast as Robin Wright’s lookalike for State of Play (2009), but didn’t shoot a single scene. “I just sat in my trailer, ready to go, and then at the end, [Wright] decided to do her own scenes,” Grady told Vulture in 2014. “That happens sometimes. Sometimes they just get a body double because they think they might need one, and then all of a sudden the actress is comfortable and she’s like, ‘No, I’ll just do it.’ Or they change a scene and they don’t make it as risqué.” Don’t worry, though—the double still gets paid.

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Bob Ross’s Happy Little Menagerie Is Getting the Funko Treatment, Too
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Back in August, the pop culture-loving toy fiends at Funko introduced a happy little Pop! Vinyl figurine of beloved painter/television icon Bob Ross, decked out in his trademark jeans and button-down shirt with a painter’s palette in his hand and his legendary perm (which he hated) atop his tiny little vinyl head. This Joy of Painting-themed addition to the Funko lineup proved to be an instant hit, so the company added a couple of additional toys to its roster—this time incorporating members of Ross’s happy little menagerie of pets, who were almost as integral to the long-running series as the painter himself.


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If you’re looking to score one of these toys before Christmas, it’s going to have to be a limited edition one—and it’s going to cost you. In collaboration with Target, Funko paired Ross with his favorite pocket squirrel, Pea Pod, which will set you back about $40. For just a few dollars more, you can opt to have the happy accident-prone painter come with Hoot the owl.


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On Friday, December 8, the company will release a Funko two-pack that includes Ross with a paintbrush and Ross with an adorable little raccoon.


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If you’d prefer to save a few dollars, and are willing to wait out the holiday season, you can pre-order Ross with just the raccoon for delivery around December 29.

So many happy little options, so little time.

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