by Kara Kovalchik – February 16, 2010 – 2:05 PM
Some cults get all the publicity. The Manson Family, the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate—everybody’s heard of them. But last week’s arrest of Goel Ratzon in Israel reminds us that there are many cults that continue to attract followers and have managed to flourish due to a lack of publicity. Here are four such cults you might not have heard of.
1. The Savior cult– Goel Ratzon (his first name means “Savior” in Hebrew) was arrested in Tel Aviv last week and charged with enslavement, rape and incest. But his victims weren’t the ones who blew the whistle on their savior; it was Israeli social services and police who’d launched an investigation when they’d heard rumors of children living in overcrowded conditions and possibly being abused. They found out that Ratzon had been head of a bizarre cult he’d founded about 10 years ago.
The 60-year-old self-described “healer” had 17 women and dozens of children (all of whom he’d fathered) crammed into in three small apartments in the Hatikvah area of Tel Aviv. (The total count of his offspring may never be known, as some of them were allegedly sired via his own daughters, and they are keeping mum to avoid additional charges.) He monitored their activities via closed circuit TV, dictated their modest mode of dress, and collected the wages they earned from their day jobs (mostly as cleaning women). Oh, and he issued them cell phones so that they could text him when they were ovulating. A TV documentary aired on Israel’s Channel 10 last year presented a tableau that would make your blood boil. The women and children all had Goel’s name tattooed on their bodies and took turns brushing his hair and spoon feeding him.
Why wasn’t the “Messiah” arrested immediately after that mind-boggling broadcast? Actually, authorities did launch their investigation shortly after the program on the grounds of child endangerment. But what with the women so slavishly devoted to their collective husband and protective of him, it took some time to gather the necessary evidence. While Ratzon sits in jail awaiting trial, most of his harem have remained loyal to their leader and have told the press that outsiders just don’t understand their guru, this Perfect Man.
2. Children of God David Berg, who called himself Moses David, founded the “organization” called Children of God in 1968. The so-called Jesus Movement was gathering steam in the late 1960s and a lot of disenfranchised hippies were ripe for the picking. Berg started his first “colony” in Huntington Beach, California, and similar colonies soon sprung up in other states, as well as Europe and South America.
Members were required to relinquish all their worldly possessions to the commune and cut off all ties with their families. In the beginning, members panhandled or busked to earn money to pay for food and other supplies. But as their numbers increased, Moses decided they needed to earn dollars, not spare change. With so many young attractive women ready to do his bidding, the answer was simple – why not exploit the world’s oldest profession? Berg called this fund-raising effort “flirty fishing” as a result of his unique interpretation of Matthew 4:17. Flirty fishing was officially banned by Berg in 1987 (mainly due to the escalating AIDS epidemic). Watch Berg’s daughter explain the practice:
Children of God has changed its name several times in recent years after a barrage of bad publicity, including accusations of incest and other abuse. Berg passed away in 1994 and the group, now known as The Family International, is led by Steven Kelly (who calls himself King Peter).
3. The Ant Hill Kids ant-hill The majority of Canadians consider Roch Thériault to be one of their country’s most notorious criminals, but his devoted followers still call him “Moses.” In 1979, Thériault set up a safe camp in Burt River, Ontario, in preparation for the apocalypse. Charismatic and politically savvy, Roch attracted a small group of followers he called “The Ant Hill Kids,” all of whom were looking for spiritual salvation and a pure existence. The nine female members were his concubine and were required to be subservient to the few male members of the sect. Over 20 children were born to the group in the ensuing years, many of which were sired by Roch.
The group earned money by selling baked goods door-to-door. Because Moses had officially registered his commune as a church, provincial officials were unable to do much about the primitive living conditions the members were subject to; they could only ensure that the children had warm clothing and proper nutrition. Thériault had a drinking problem and a superiority complex and demanded absolute obedience from his followers. Such unquestioning submission led to the death of one of his “wives” when she allowed him to operate on her for a stomach ailment. Another female follower risked his wrath when she fled to a hospital after he chopped off her forearm with a cleaver in a fit of anger.
It was that act of brutality that finally brought authorities swooping down on the Ant Hill. Thériault was found guilty of murder in 1993 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was denied parole in 2002, but has fathered three more children during his years in jail as a result of conjugal visits with some of his remaining faithful few.
4. The Source Family cult- What Jim Baker had that other cult leaders did not was timing and (as realtors say) location, location, location. Retired medal of honor-winning Marine and judo champion Baker first headed to Los Angeles after the end of World War II to work as a movie stunt man with his eye on becoming filmdom’s next Tarzan. When that dream didn’t pan out, he fell in with a local group of beatniks called the Nature Boys, strict vegetarians who lived according to “Nature’s Laws.” Baker flourished in the hippie lifestyle to the extreme—he studied philosophy and religion and became a follower of Yogi Bhajan. Like all good gurus-to-be, Baker eventually left Bhajan and formed his own religion. He also adopted a more spiritually-jazzy name, Father Yod. He called his new religion the Source Family and opened an organic vegetarian restaurant in Laurel Canyon called (what else?) The Source.
Religion plus natural food plus nubile young servers in colorful robes equaled celebrity cachet in the early 1970s. Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Frank Zappa, Julie Christie and many other famous people made The Source the hip place to dine. As a result, Father Yod was able to rent a small home in which to house his devoted followers, which numbered about 160 at its peak.
In addition to the sex and drugs typical of most communes of that era, Yod also embraced rock and roll. He and his faithful formed an ersatz band called Ya Ho Wa 13, which ultimately released nine albums (recorded in a home studio and mostly sold via his restaurant). The recordings were a mixture of an avant garde acid rock-type background while Father Yod chanting his wisdom.
All seemed groovy until Father Yod’s natural treatment of whatever ailed his minions failed, and a Source baby had to be taken to a local hospital due to a severe staph infection. In anticipation of The Man swooping down on his kingdom to investigate the possibly unsafe environment in which children were being raised (more than 100 people in a three-bedroom house), Yob moved his “family” to Hawaii. In 1975, a totally inexperienced Baker decided to try his hand at hang-gliding, and his first flight was his last. The Source Family pretty much disintegrated after his death.
6 Christmas Episodes Worth Mentioning
by Kara Kovalchik – December 18, 2009 – 11:51 AM
Holiday episodes tend to be a bit generic. How many times can you rework A Christmas Carol or The Gift of the Magi into a sitcom plot? Here are a smattering of episodes worth mentioning either because they’re rare, different or doggone it, because I just like ‘em.
Bewitched had many traditional Christmas episodes during its eight season run, but 1970’s “Sisters at Heart” was controversial enough to require a special introduction by Elizabeth Montgomery at the behest of the show’s sponsor, Oscar Mayer:
The plot that was making the network so jumpy was young Tabitha’s desire to be sisters with her African-American friend, Lisa. In order to make them look alike, Tabby zaps black polka dots onto her flesh, and white ones on Lisa’s. No doubt the episode would still be controversial today, thanks to Tabitha’s brief appearance in blackface. The original story was submitted by a 10th grade English class at L.A.’s Thomas Jefferson High School.
2. Gilligan’s Island
“Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk,” the Christmas episode of Gilligan’s Island, was primarily a clip show. The castaways are understandably miserable spending the holiday away from home, on a desert island where even a year-old fruitcake would be more appetizing than yet another coconut cream pie. They reminisce about their first days on the island via carefully selected scenes from the pilot—carefully selected because the characters that eventually became the Professor, Mary Ann and Ginger were played by different actors in that episode.
The gang’s gripe session is interrupted by a visit from Santa Claus, who looks and sounds suspiciously like the Skipper. Santa reminds them that they’ve got a reason or two to be merry this Christmas—at least they’re all alive and thriving. And, most importantly, they genuinely like one another and live together like a family. At the same moment Jolly St. Nick makes his exit stage right, the Skipper arrives stage left. Who was that bearded man?!
3. Green Acres
This episode provides a new twist on the “longing for an old-fashioned Christmas” trope. Oliver Wendell Douglas wants to celebrate the holiday as the American Farmer of yore—to go out with axe in hand and chop down his own tree, and to decorate it with popcorn from his own corn crib. Of course, nothing is ever that simple in Hooterville. First he finds out that there is a conservation law in effect that prohibits him from cutting down trees, even on his own property. Then he is unable to work up any outrage among his neighbors, who prefer the “modern” method of buying an artificial tree from Drucker’s Store, complete with spruce spray squeezers, imitation sap oozers, strings of wax popcorn and fiberglas candy canes.
4. The Simpsons
Even though it was actually the eighth episode produced, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” was the first full-length episode of the series to air. It was broadcast on December 17, 1989, and it certainly set the tone for the rest of the series. It’s Christmas time, and Bart decides that a “Mother” tattoo would delight and surprise his mom. Marge catches him in the tattoo parlor at the “Moth” stage and has to blow the family’s entire Christmas present budget on a laser removal procedure. Homer’s expected Christmas bonus doesn’t come through, so he takes a job as a department store Santa to earn extra money. When Bart climbs in his lap, he utters “I’m Bart Simpson, who the hell are you?” for the first time. In a last-ditch attempt at raising cash, Homer goes to the dog track and bets on a long shot named Santa’s Little Helper. The sluggish greyhound lost the race, but won a new home with the Simpson family.
5. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Nothing starts those visions of sugarplums dancing like Lou Grant barking “Three French hens!” And how many chances do we get to see Mary Tyler Moore sporting a World War I German spear-head helmet? Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homemaker, is taping her Christmas show (“Holiday Yummies from Worldwide Tummies”) in early November. A sudden snowstorm has stranded the WJM newsroom staff, so Sue Ann enlists them to flesh out her dinner table. The only problem is that Murray, Ted, Lou and even gentle angelic Mary have been sniping at each other all day in a series of petty arguments and no one is in a festive mood.
6. All in the Family
“The Draft Dodger” first aired in 1976, four years before President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to those men who’d fled to Canada to avoid conscription into the military during the Vietnam War. David Brewster, a draft-dodging pal of the Meathead, has been living in Canada but decides to risk a visit to the U.S. in order to spend the holidays with his old friend (since his own father refuses to see him). Meanwhile, Archie has invited his old friend Pinky Peterson (whose only son died in Vietnam) for Christmas dinner. Mike and Gloria struggle to keep David’s fugitive status a secret from Archie, but once it’s revealed, it results in a heated debate. Archie, a World War II veteran who served his country when called, argues that no one wants to go to war and get killed, but a true American obeys his government. Pinky, on the other hand, believes that if his son was still alive he’d welcome David at the dinner table. A poignant and thought-provoking episode that in many ways is still relevant today.
Loyal readers know the drill: now is the time to tell me which episodes I omitted, why my taste stinks, or what they love about the shows mentioned herein. Oy to the World and a Happy Festivus to all!
Please visit Mental Floss for more of Kara Kovalchik’s columns.
Posts by Kara:
6 Christmas Episodes Worth Mentioning
by December 18, 2009 – 11:51 AM
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by December 4, 2009 – 2:19 PM
by Kara Kovalchik – November 25, 2009 – 11:10 AM
What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Is it a day of gathering together with beloved family members to share a bountiful repast, or is it the chore of getting up at six o’clock in the morning to shove croutons up a dead turkey while the rest of the family slumbers contentedly? Wherever your emotions fall in the overall Thanksgiving spectrum, we hope to give you some temporary relief by revisiting some of our (and hopefully your!) favorite TV turkey moments.
1. Cheers reveals what Vera Looks Like (Briefly!)
In the “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode, most of the regulars who frequent Cheers have no special plans for Thanksgiving, so they accept Carla’s invitation to a potluck dinner held at her home, with Norm in charge of bringing the turkey. Norm, however, unskilled in the nuances defrosting a bird before roasting it, brings an enormous frozen turkey to the party. Tempers begin to flare when it seems like the turkey will never be ready, and a food fight breaks out. Norm’s oft-mentioned but never seen wife, Vera, arrives during the melee, but before viewers can get a good look at her, she receives a pie in the face. So, who played Vera? That role was given to George Wendt’s real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett.
2. The Drunken Origin of the Bob Newhart Drinking Game
TV Guide rated the “Over the River and Through the Woods” episode of The Bob Newhart Show at #9 of the 100 Greatest Episodes Ever. It’s also Newhart’s personal favorite. Emily is going home to Seattle for Thanksgiving and Bob decides to stay home because his “patients might need him” (when in reality he can’t bear the thought of skipping stones across Puget Sound with his in-laws). His friend Jerry brings a large jug of vodka and cider, and starts taking slugs from it every time his alma mater (William and Mary) is scored against during the Big Game. Joined by Bob’s neighbor and a patient, the quartet plays the drinking game throughout several more televised football games until they realize that they should probably eat something. Bob drunkenly tries to order Chinese food on the phone:
“I’d like some Moo Goo Gai Pan. What do you want, Jerry?”
“I, too, want the Moo Goo Gai Pan.”
“Another Moo Goo…Goo Goo…”
“Bob! You said ‘Moo Goo Goo Goo!’”
“Maybe I’m ordering Chinese baby food!”
This episode inspired the “Hi, Bob” drinking game, where participants down a shot every time those words are spoken during an episode of the show.
3. WKRP’s Strange (and True) Turkey Day Promotion
Arthur Carlson, the station manager on WKRP in Cincinnati, longs to play more of an integral role in daily operations. So, in the “Turkeys Away!” episode, he secretly plans a special Thanksgiving promotion – dropping live turkeys out of a helicopter over the Pinedale Shopping Mall. The station’s earnest but clueless news reporter Les Nessman is on the scene reporting live, and at first states that skydivers are jumping out of the copter. But when no parachutes open…he suddenly realizes that he is witnessing live turkeys hitting the ground “like sacks of wet cement.” Mr. Carlson hadn’t intended any animal cruelty; “As God is my witness,” he states after the event, “I thought turkeys could fly.” Oddly enough, this episode was based on an actual radio station promotion that one of the show’s writers had witnessed. The stunt was inspired by an annual “turkey drop” festival held in Yellville, Arkansas, which was finally halted in 1989 after animal rights activists got wind of it.
4. Will and Grace struggle to Keep the Story Straight
Will and Grace fans learned the entire back story of all the main characters in the “Lows in the Mid-Eighties” episode (which originally aired as a one-hour special in November 2000.) Flash back to 1985, when Columbia student Grace brings boyfriend Will home with her for Thanksgiving. After dinner, Grace is all hot and bothered when they retire to her bedroom, but Will feels conflicted and rushes to the bathroom to call Jack, whom he’d met briefly earlier that day. Jack has already correctly noted that Will is gay, which Will vehemently denied at the time. “If you’re all hot for your girlfriend, then why are you on the phone with me?” Jack asks him. In addition to clarifying quite a bit, the show does bring up one inconsistency. This episode briefly shows Diane, the only woman with whom Will was intimate, but she’s a redhead played by a writer’s assistant. In a later episode, Diane is portrayed by blonde Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino.
Since you’re probably reading this at work while marking time until the long weekend begins, why not chime in with your favorite Thanksgiving TV episodes?
Please check out more of Mental Floss’s Confessions of a TV-Holic
Posts by Kara:
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Posts by Kara:
by July 22, 2009 – 5:18 PM
Happy Anniversary, Abbey Road!
by Kara Kovalchik – August 10, 2009 – 12:02 PM
The original photograph was snapped on August 8, 1969—40 years ago this past Saturday. As one of many tourists who has attempted to re-create that photo (darn, that’s a busy street!), I present a few interesting behind-the-scenes fact about the Abbey Road cover shoot.
Paul McCartney had the original concept for the cover, and had sketched out four stickmen walking over the “zebra crossing” (the name given to the stripe marks on roads indicating pedestrian crossings in England) just outside Abbey Road studios. Photographer Iain Macmillan was hired to capture McCartney’s vision on film. Macmillan climbed a ladder that perched him about ten feet above the fabled street. A police officer held the traffic back while Macmillan squeezed off a few shots of the Beatles crossing the street in one direction. Some traffic was allowed to pass for a short time, and then Macmillan photographed the group crossing the street in the opposite direction. He took a total of six photographs during the shoot, and it was number five – which featured all the band members’ legs in a perfect “V” formation- that was ultimately chosen for the cover.
When the rumor that Paul McCartney had actually died in a 1966 car crash started spreading, conspiracy theorists had a field day with the Abbey Road cover. It was rife with clues, according to them. For example, Paul was barefoot, which is the way corpses were buried at the time in England. (In actuality, Paul had turned up at the photo shoot wearing sandals, but had kicked them off after the first two takes.) Also, the Volkswagen behind George bears the license plate number “28IF” – obviously meaning Paul would be 28 years old if he had lived. (At the time of the photo shoot, Paul McCartney would have been or was 27 years of age.)
After the road-crossing photo was finished, Iain Macmillan set off to find a good “Abbey Road” street marker sign to use for the back cover of the album. He found it at the junction of Alexandra Road and started taking photos of the sign. Much to his chagrin, while he was busy shooting an oblivious woman in a blue dress walked right in front of his viewfinder. While reviewing his shots later that day, however, he decided that the “blue dress” photo was the most interesting of the bunch, and he ended up using it in the final composition.
In a somewhat revolutionary move for that time, the front of the album cover did not mention the band’s name or the album title. That decision came from John Kosh, who was the creative director for Apple Records at the time. Kosh was already well known in the London avant-garde art scene when the Beatles hired him, and his argument for the “photo only” album cover was that they were the most famous band in the world and there was no need to clutter the photograph with text. EMI Records protested at first, saying they’d never sell any records that didn’t indicate who the artist was, but the Beatles supported Kosh’s vision, and in the end, they were right.
by Kara Kovalchik – January 17, 2008 – 4:34 PM
Cheers finished a lowly 77th in the ratings after its first season in 1982-83, performing poorly against Simon & Simon and Too Close for Comfort in its 9 p.m. Thursday time slot. Both Paramount and NBC believed in the show, however, and their tenacity certainly paid off. Cheers ended after 11 seasons, but only because Ted Danson decided to call it quits.
1. Why Sam Malone was originally a football player
The final two actors in contention for the role of ex-jock-turned-bar-owner Sam Malone were Fred Dryer and Ted Danson. The show’s original concept called for Sam to be a retired football player, and Dryer seemed perfect since he had spent 13 years as a defensive end in the NFL. But while Fred was new to acting, Ted had accumulated a handful of TV and film roles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Danson won the role, the back story was changed to make the character a former relief pitcher to better match Danson’s physique. Ted later revealed that he’d spent two weeks attending a bartending school in Burbank to prepare for his audition, only to find that (like most bartenders) most of his mixology was performed below sight level of the bar, out of camera range.
DID YOU KNOW? Fred Dryer appeared on a few Cheers episodes as TV sportsman Dave Richards. In real life, Dryer tried his hand at sportscasting after leaving the NFL, but decided he wasn’t cut out for it. Although he missed out with Cheers, Fred embarked on his own long-running TV series a couple years later: Hunter.
2. The Secret Behind the Crack in the Bar
Designed by Richard Sylbert, the Cheers set was loosely based on Boston’s Bull and Finch bar. Look closely and you’ll notice a “seam” down the center of the bar; it was built on a hinge so that the right half could swing out, allowing the wall to slide open to reveal Sam’s office. Designers installed lights underneath the bar so that Nick “Coach” Colasanto (who had difficulty memorizing lines) could read the script pages taped to the counter. It took 30 to 40 extras to fill up the pub set as “customers”; any less, and the bar looked too empty.
DID YOU KNOW? Kirstie Alley (as Rebecca Howe) appeared in more episodes of Cheers than did Shelley Long (as Diane Chambers).
3. How Cliff Clavin Lobbied for his Job
John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of barfly Norm Peterson. When he lost that role to George Wendt, Ratzenberger asked the producers if they had written a “resident know-it-all” into their show. All bars have one, he pointed out. Thanks to his persistence, the character of mail carrier Cliff Clavin became a regular Cheers patron. Likewise, psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane was brought in at the beginning of Season 3 as a plot device to further the relationship between Sam and Diane. While he wasn’t intended to become a permanent cast member, Kelsey Grammer had a knack for making even the most mundane dialog funny. The audience loved him, so it wasn’t long before Frasier became a regular on the show.
DID YOU KNOW? Before John Ratzenberger made it big on Cheers, he had bit roles in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, including The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, and Gandhi.
4. The Secret of Norm’s Brew
Although the Cheers bar was fully functional (and many NBC after-hours parties were held on the set), the suds served to George Wendt weren’t exactly a tasty microbrew. In fact, it was “near beer,” with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent, and a pinch of salt added so that the mug kept a foamy head under the hot studio lights. And yes, poor George had to periodically sip that ghastly concoction in order to keep his character “real.”
DID YOU KNOW?: A few members of the Cheers cast had memorable roles in horror films: Ted Danson appeared in Creepshow, George Wendt in House, and Shelley Long in Caveman. (Okay, Caveman wasn’t horror, but it was horrible.)
5. Babies in the Bar?
Both Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman were pregnant at different times during the filming of Cheers. Shelley was with child near the end of the third season, and the producers opted to hide her under aprons and behind the bar. Rhea Perlman was allowed to “let it all hang out” when she was carrying her daughter at the end of season one because her character was known for being particularly fecund. The “Rebecca wants Sam to father her baby” story line was originally incorporated into the script because Kirstie Alley was pregnant. Sadly, she miscarried, so that plot was abandoned.
DID YOU KNOW? Rhea Perlman’s father, Phil, appeared as a bar patron in several episodes of Cheers over the years.
6. Loose Lips Sink Careers
Jay Thomas was the morning DJ at LA’s KPWR-Power 106 when he auditioned for (and won) the role of hockey star Eddie LeBec. He was brought back for several episodes in order to give Carla a story arc, and Eddie and Carla eventually wed on the show. Eddie might have made it to the series finale had Jay Thomas not taken a call on the air one morning asking him “What’s it like working on Cheers?” Thomas made several unflattering remarks about Rhea Perlman and having to kiss her… and Rhea happened to be listening to his show. Not surprisingly, a few weeks later Eddie LeBec was killed in a bizarre Zamboni accident.
DID YOU KNOW? Leah Remini, later to star in The King of Queens, appeared in two Cheers episodes as one of Carla’s daughters, Serafina.
As always, you’re welcome to weigh in with your opinions on Diane versus Rebecca, Coach versus Woody, and how a bar managed to function for 11 years when none of the patrons ever seemed to pay their tabs.
Last week I discovered Kara Kovalchik from mentalfloss.com. She is a wonderful writer (IMO) and her subject matter is exactly what I originally intended for this blog to be. Therefore, I will feature some of my favorite of her blogs.
Thanks Kara. I’m a fan.
Someday when that Big Book of Sitcom Pitfalls to Avoid is published, Roseanne will definitely be the first entry listed under “star megalomania.” What started out as a successful comedy about a struggling blue-collar Midwestern family eventually turned into a platform for its namesake’s (often) bizarre and radical viewpoints. Of course, even before Roseanne Barr Arnold got in touch with her multiple personalities, there was stress and dissension behind the scenes. There were also a few plot/character inconsistencies and other mysteries regarding the show that we’ll try to clear up in this week’s column.
1. Why Roseanne boycotted her own show (and wore an armband)
When Roseanne first contracted for her television series with Carsey-Werner Productions, producer Matt Williams spent several days at her home taking notes as he watched her interact with her family. He also studied tapes of her stand-up act, and interviewed his star for hours on end. Much to Roseanne’s dismay, however, when the credits rolled on that pilot episode Williams was listed as the “creator” of the show, instead of “developer” (which she thought was a more appropriate title). As time went on, relations between Williams and Roseanne became even more heated and came to a head when she boycotted an episode over one line of dialogue. Of course, the show must go on, and this one did so with its star only appearing in the opening scene and the tag (wearing an armband in protest). That episode, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” centered around an absent Roseanne and sister Jackie taking over the Conner household for a few days. It was so well-received that Williams asked Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman if they’d be willing to continue with the show if Roseanne suddenly…quit. Both actors refused and later reported the meeting to Ms. Barr, winning her loyalty and support for the rest of the series’ run. Matt Williams left the show after the first season and went on to co-create the Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement.
2. Why the original DJ didn’t stick around
Eagle-eyed viewers have often commented on how different DJ looked in the pilot as compared to later episodes. That’s because the character of the youngest Conner son was originally played by Sal Barone. Shortly after the pilot was filmed in 1988, the Writers Guild went on strike. When production resumed after the long hiatus, it was discovered that Barone had grown. Not to NBA proportions, but enough to make the producers nervous – if he’d gained half an inch of height at age eight, how long would it be before DJ got taller than his older sisters? Additionally, his mother not only agreed that he was probably too old to play DJ, who was six-going-on-seven at the beginning of the series, but she’d also witnessed the backstage fights between her son and Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene. By mutual agreement, Sal Barone left the show and was replaced by Roseanne-lookalike Michael Fishman.
3. We’ve got to talk about Kevin
Roseanne first met Johnny Galecki when he worked with her on a made-for-TV movie called Backfield in Motion. She was impressed with him enough to cast him as Darlene’s love interest (and eventual husband) on her sitcom. When he was first introduced, he was presented as Mark’s younger brother Kevin. Of course, in subsequent episodes Darlene’s boyfriend was known as “David.” Roseanne had wanted to call the character David from the get-go, but when Galecki was first hired, he was still co-starring on a Head of the Class spin-off called Billy, and his character on that show was named David. Once Billy was canceled, Kevin became David, and the explanation for his name change was revealed on a later episode during a Roseanne rant about Darlene’s controlling behavior: “David’s not even his real name, Darlene made it up!”
4. Explaining Jackie’s Pregnancy
One famous Roseanne story arc centered around Jackie’s romance with a much younger hunk named Fisher. Eventually it was revealed that Fisher was abusive and had beat Jackie up (which landed Dan in jail when he sought retribution for his sister-in-law). In a somewhat ironic twist, Laurie Metcalf and Matt Roth (the actor who played Fisher) fell in love while working together, and the pair eventually married. Metcalf’s real-life pregnancy was written into the show, albeit a bit late…in the “Stash from the Past” episode, Jackie’s pregnancy had yet to be announced, but she was very obviously sporting a large baby bump when she hunkered in the bathtub while bemoaning that she didn’t have anyone in the world except for her ganja. Just a few episodes later it was revealed that Jackie had been impregnated after a one-night stand with Fred, Dan’s co-worker.
5. How lil’ Jerry Garcia came about
Roseanne the character announced her pregnancy in Season 7 about three months before Roseanne the person actually conceived via IVF, which explains why the TV character carried her baby for just over a year in TV time. To further confuse matters, in the “Maybe Baby” episode, Roseanne and Dan were informed by her obstetrician (after an amniocentesis) that she was carrying a girl. Of course, during a later Halloween episode Roseanne gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Jerry Garcia Conner. The reason for the switch was two-fold; Roseanne Barr Pentland Arnold Thomas wanted her show to reflect her real life (and her real-life baby, Buck, was a boy), plus she wanted to honor the (then) recently deceased Grateful Dead singer, Jerry Garcia.
6. Roseanne’s Parents on Using the Force
Back in the day when Roseanne was still hot ‘n heavy with Tom Arnold, he confessed to her that he’d been molested as a young boy by his babysitter. That revelation triggered a truckload of repressed memories for Roseanne, who soon appeared in the press and on various talk shows bemoaning her sexual abuse at the hands of her parents from age six months (!) until she moved out of their house at seventeen. When real-life Roseanne discovered retroactively that her parents were evil, she re-wrote her TV parents to be equally abusive and dysfunctional. In the early seasons, Grandpa Al’s only faults were his fondness for playing “pull my finger” and re-telling the same old stories. Suddenly, in Season Four, Al was revealed to be an unfeeling child-beater who hung a razor strop on the living room wall as a “reminder” to his daughters to toe the line. Mom Bev went from being a typical clucking-over-her-brood mother hen to a shrill harpy who turned a blind eye when her husband whipped his daughters.
Well, we’re at the end of our allotted space and still haven’t covered the revolving Beckies, Roseanne’s changing face courtesy of plastic surgery, and the mind-boggling final episode. Stay tuned for a part two to our Roseanne saga, and feel free to mention your own questions/comments in the meantime – they may be fodder for part deux!
Shhh…super secret special for blog readers.
When we left you last week we were in the midst of some Roseanne behind-the-scenes trivia. We now continue with all the facts that fit…or at least all those we couldn’t fit in the first time.
Entering Season Three with Trepidation