How Did ALF Work?
Shortly after ALF debuted on NBC in 1986, the furry little wisecracking alien was seemingly everywhere: on lunchboxes, in toy stores, on T-shirts, and hanging from rear-view mirrors. Even though he had terrible table manners and house cats weren’t safe around him, ALF seemed like he’d be a fun guy to work with. But all was not happy on the set, due in no small part to the logistical nightmare Paul Fusco’s puppet presented.
For the first two seasons of the show, there was a little person inside of an ALF costume for any full-body scenes. At one point, 33-inch-tall Mihaly “Michu” Meszaros was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest person. And while life in his native Hungary as a youth was brutal (thanks to unscrupulous circus owners), a day in a furry costume under hot studio lights may often have been worse.
Any close-ups or talking shots of ALF were a puppet operated by the alien’s creator, Paul Fusco. The entire soundstage was built on a four-foot-high platform so that Fusco could sit underneath it and make ALF move and talk through one of the dozens of trap doors that were cut through the floor.
Members of the cast had to carefully negotiate the stage while reciting their lines without stumbling, and also without constantly gazing downward to make sure they avoided all the possible pitfalls. And every time ALF was moved to a different spot, all the lighting and camera positions had to be readjusted, making for endless delays. While a typical 30-minute sitcom takes about three to five hours to actually film, the ALF cast was required on stage and in makeup/wardrobe for 20 to 25 hours (spread over two days) to film each episode. Not surprisingly, none of the actors involved were disappointed when ALF was cancelled after its fourth season.
Where Are They Now?
The actor who played Willie Tanner had the most onscreen time with ALF, much to his consternation. Wright often resented all the best jokes being given to a puppet, but because of his hilarious portrayal of the long-suffering family patriarch, many of the plots paired him in some adventure or scheme with the furry alien. Wright went on to co-star in The Norm Show and make occasional appearances as the Central Perk manager on Friends. Sadly he received some unwanted publicity in 2005 when a tabloid published photos of him smoking crack cocaine. He now prefers to act in the theater, and acknowledges that despite his complaints at the time, “ALF brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”
After playing Kate Tanner, Anne Schedeen did a few small guest roles on other series, but she ultimately retired from acting. She turned her love of scavenging through antique shops and flea markets into a second career; she’s been professionally decorating the homes of friends and fellow actors in the Los Angeles area for the past dozen or so years.
While playing teenaged daughter Lynn on the show, Elson met a production assistant named Scott Hopper. Romance bloomed and the pair married in 1993. Elson continued to act for a while, but after the birth of her daughter in 1997 she decided that being a mom was the full-time job that appealed to her the most.
Benjamin Gregory Hertzberg
Benji Gregory, as he was known when he played the youngest Tanner, has mostly fond memories of life on the ALF set. However, he also remembered that the main thing he wanted to do every day was go home and skateboard. He’d started acting in commercials at age 13 months, and even though he did do a few cartoon voice-overs after ALF ended, he decided that he’d had enough. His parents invested his earnings and he went to the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. In 2003 he joined the U.S. Navy and eventually became an Aerographer's Mate at The Center for Naval Education in Biloxi, MS. Today he lives with his wife in Arizona.
Mihaly “Michu” Meszaros
Michu, who’d defected from Hungary in 1980, became a U.S. citizen in 1990, an occasion he described as “the biggest day of my life.” After retiring from show business, Michu became a real estate developer. The city of Hawthorne in southern California named its shortest street “Michu Lane.”