15 Things You Might Not Have Known About Growing Pains
One thing many of today's young adults have in common is the shared childhood memory of watching the Seaver family grow—in some cases by a few years over one summer hiatus (see: Chrissy). On the occasion of the series's 30th anniversary, here are some facts about Growing Pains, the ABC sitcom that was smart enough to give Leonardo DiCaprio a home before it, too, was kicked to the curb.
1. ALAN THICKE WAS KNOWN AS A FAILED LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST WHEN HE WAS ASKED TO AUDITION.
Thicke had concluded his run hosting Thicke of the Night and was pitching a new show at ABC. The network suggested trying out for the male lead of Growing Pains. Thicke beat out 150 other actors for the role.
2. THE SEAVER PARENTS WERE RECENTLY DIVORCED WHEN THE SHOW STARTED.
Thicke and Joanna Kerns were both either recently divorced or about to divorce from their significant others when they began playing Jason and Maggie Seaver. Thicke said the two flirted and considered dating, before realizing how potentially bad their working relationship could become if their romance fizzled.
3. DAN LAURIA WAS CAST IN THE WONDER YEARS BECAUSE OF GROWING PAINS.
Dan Lauria was dating Joanna Kerns when Neal Marlens, the creator of Growing Pains and the co-creator of The Wonder Years, was casting for the latter series. Kerns made a call to Marlens on her boyfriend’s behalf and got him the audition his agent couldn’t secure.
4. TRACEY GOLD WASN’T THE ORIGINAL CAROL.
Elizabeth Ward played Carol in Growing Pains's unaired original pilot. Gold’s family ended their vacation early in order to get Tracey back to audition once the show decided to go in a different direction with casting the Seavers' eldest daughter. Gold wasn't optimistic about her chances, since the producers had rejected her the first time around.
5. KIRK CAMERON GOT THE ROLE OF MIKE BECAUSE HE DIDN’T SEEM VERY SMART.
Once his audition was over, the 14-year-old actor asked the producers in the room if the show was a comedy. They laughed. Once Cameron was out of earshot one producer turned to the other and said, “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he sounds like Mike.”
6. CAMERON AND GOLD HAD PLAYED SIBLINGS BEFORE.
The two played brother and sister in a McDonald’s commercial. They also both appeared in the 1982 made-for-TV movie, Beyond Witch Mountain.
7. BEN SEAVER REALLY LOVED HIS TV FAMILY.
Jeremy Miller was only eight years old when Growing Pains began filming, and hated leaving his TV family when the first few seasons wrapped. "When the season was over, he'd cry," Kerns recalled to People.
8. MAURA TIERNEY WAS FIRED.
The future NewsRadio and ER star was fired on the second day of rehearsal for a season three episode. And she's not really sure why. "I think maybe I had a bad attitude," she told The A.V. Club. "I really don’t know. The director kept saying, 'Watch Kirk [Cameron]! Watch Kirk! Kirk knows what he’s doing! Watch Kirk!' And then I got fired. So that’s what I get for watching Kirk, I guess. Or maybe I didn’t watch him closely enough."
9. JULIE MCCULLOUGH CAUSED A LOT OF TROUBLE.
McCullough played Mike’s girlfriend, Julie Costello, during Growing Pains' fourth season, which ended with Mike proposing to her. Once season five got started, however, Julie was abruptly written off the show. It was reported that her pictures in Playboy bothered Cameron, and he demanded she be fired and told the network the three executive producers on the series were pornographers. At the time, an executive producer claimed there was never a plan for Mike's character to ever get married. Cameron himself denied getting McCullough fired.
10. CAMERON’S FUTURE WIFE PLAYED HIS GIRLFRIEND.
Cameron met Chelsea Noble on the set of Full House, where he was visiting his sister Candace (who, of course, played D.J. Tanner). Noble then landed a recurring role on Growing Pains, playing Kate MacDonald, Mike’s love interest after Julie. Mike proposed to Kate in the 1992 series finale, a year after Cameron and Noble married in real life.
11. MATTHEW PERRY’S DEATH WAS LONG PLANNED.
Future Friends star Matthew Perry played Carol’s boyfriend Sandy for three episodes during the show's fourth season. Sandy died from injuries sustained after drinking while driving in the episode “Second Chance.” The executive producers got the idea for the episode after one of their teenage daughters was caught drinking. They decided to sacrifice a character that had appeared in multiple episodes to have the death resonate with the show's young audience.
12. TOBEY MAGUIRE WAS A REGULAR VISITOR ON THE SET.
During the series' seventh and final season, Leonardo DiCaprio—then 16 years old—was brought in to play Luke Brower, a homeless teen who is taken in by the Seaver family. Maguire and DiCaprio were close friends who always looked to Kerns like they were in trouble, or had been in trouble.
13. TRACEY GOLD BATTLED WITH ANOREXIA.
While Gold's character was the frequent subject of fat jokes on the show, the actress dropped from 133 to 79 pounds over the course of the series. Her illness forced the producers to write her out of a chunk of the last season. "The last season of Growing Pains is like a blur to me," Gold told the Los Angeles Times. "I can't even remember the episodes. They said, 'We've been canceled. You can come back for the last episode,' but I was still very, very sick and an insurance risk."
14. "BONER" WAS THE SON OF STAR TREK'S CHEKOV.
Andrew Koenig played Mike’s best friend, Richard Milhous "Boner" Stabone, for four seasons. He was the son of Walter Koenig, who played Chekov on Star Trek. Sadly, Andrew Koenig took his own life in 2010.
15. THE SERIES WAS POPULAR IN CHINA.
Growing Pains was the first American sitcom to be shown in the country. Thicke recalls that when he visited China, reporters asked him about his parenting philosophy, such as how he would punish Mike if he didn’t complete his homework or how Carol would be disciplined if she came home late.