Part 3 of the series folks. If you missed The Facts of Life and/or Good Times, I suggest you check ‘em out. Writing this one gets me all misty eyed and emotional. I can actually remember where I was during the series finale. This was, perhaps, … yeah, I can’t even say that. Cuz later on you’ll be saying, “But (F)reddy. You said ____ was you most favorite show ever”. And then I’ll lose all my credibility and I’ll have to retreat back up into my shell. Buckle up. I have a feeling this is going to be a bumpy ride.
Alice: Single moms everywhere flocked to their local diner for employment opportunities following this show. Who wouldn't want to work with Florence Jean "Kiss-my grits" Castleberry, or drink Schnapps with her in her single-wide trailer??? Okay, so the show wasn't about Flo. (That was another sequel, cleverly entitled "Flo"...another sequel that didn't need to be made). Tommy was hot and was totally worth watching the show for. Not to mention, I dug how Alice had a revolving door of hot (for the 70's) men coming in and out of her...door every week.
So, I’m a bit conflicted about writing one thing about this show, the “changing of the guard”, if you will, from when Flo left the show to star in her own sitcom. See, it’s not that I hated Jolene. I actually liked her. BUT I sort of feel the way about her that I did when Chrissy left Three’s Company and there was a revolving door of look-a-like actress there to take her place. Not that Jolene looked ANYTHING like Flo, I’m just saying. I’m a purist at heart, and a small part of me died when Flo left the show. Like, had there not been that whole storyline about … well, let me just go ahead and add her and we’ll talk about that later.
I didn’t realize until about a year or so ago that the television show was actually spun off from the movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I was going through a list of AFI’s top 100 movies of all time and adding all of them to our Netflix queue. When ADLHA was about to be shipped I read the description to see what it was going to be about and just said, “HUH?!?”. I actually REALLY dug the movie. It answered SO many questions for me. Like, I knew Alice was a widower, but didn’t know how her husband died. I knew Alice was a trashy lounge singer, but I just thought that was some random coincidence…something that Linda Lavin pushed for. The movie actually explains the whole shooby-doh-wah thing. Also, I always wondered why Alice settled in Phoenix, of all places. I mean, PHOENIX? REALLY? The film answered a LOT of these questions. Incidentally, IMDB has a “synopsis” of the television show, but it’s not exactly what happens…according to the movie that started it all.
Oh, I’m sorry. Does Vic’s “now” picture disturb you? So, Vic played Mel, the owner of Mel’s Diner, in the show. INTERESTIGLY enough, Vic ALSO played Mel in the movie version. In fact, Vic is the only character who starred in both the movie and television series. Mel was supposedly this hard ass that was difficult to get along with. I completely relate to him. I really think he was misunderstood for those 9 seasons of the show. And it was SO OBVIOUS at the end of the shows run. This is a shameful Freddy moment, but I have to be completely honest about something here. I don't know if anyone remembers the series finale for Alice, but I do. It's permanently etched in my memory. I SOBBED like a school girl during the final episode when Mel gave the girls the little cow creamer with the check inside, splitting the proceeds of the sale of his diner with each of them. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. I still cry every time I think of it. I, actually, also cried when they reported Vic’s death in 1990. I sort of related to him as a fatherly type figure.
I hate to admit this, but something REALLY bothered me about Linda Lavin’s “Alice”. I don’t know if I thought she was whiney, stupid, horny, or what. But something always struck me as off about her. I can tell you, there’s a VAST difference between the character on the television show than there is in the movie. Now, OBVIOUSLY I didn’t know about this difference until last year…but that makes how I felt about Linda Lavin’s portrayal of this single mom back in the 80’s even more relevant to how I feel about her now. Don’t get me wrong. I think Lavin is an incredible actress. And I honestly feel that she would be warm and nurturing. But she came off in the television series as aloof and just…well, a push-over. And I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief that this woman would be able to pick up everything she owns following her husband’s death and start over in a new town, with a new job (that she’s never done before) and raise her son. I just didn’t buy it. I think if the show had been about what a fantastic, loving mother she was to her son, it would have been believable. But I don’t really think that’s what the show was about.
OH MY GOD! HOW MUCH DID (F)REDDY LOVE FLO?!? I loved Flo, hard. I was actually able to transport myself to Flo’s trailer and sit on Flo’s dirty sofa and drink beer with her when I watched her. (SEE! POLLY HOLLIDAY WAS ABLE TO SUSPEND MY DISBELIEF!) I squealed like a pig in mud every-single-time she screamed, “Kiss my grits”! Honestly, as a kid, it was the funniest line ever. I was super sad when Flo left the diner, but was thrilled when she got her own series. Sadly her other series, “Flo”, sucked balls. And not in the good way. Not because of her, mind you. It’s just that she worked with the entirety of the ensemble cast…and she just never really found her groove with the second cast. So, when I realized that ADLHA was a prequel, if you will, to the series, I was REALLY excited to see what Flo was like in the movie. Polly Holliday’s Flo was a MUCH MORE memorable character. As a little tangential side, when Gremlins came out in the early 90’s, I was DELIGHTED to see Polly Holliday in it…even if she did die.
Beth Holland played the loveable and goofy, Vera. (Not to be confused with Vera Carp, as played by my good friend, Jaston Williams!) While I certainly didn’t know it then, I actually ended up hookin’ up with and raising children with “Vera” in my future! The FP IS Vera, but not nearly as graceful. Beth Holland’s Vera was SO much better than the movie versions. In fact, I’m not sure the movie version of Vera actually ever spoke. Beth Holland largely disappeared after the run of Alice. She did a couple of cameo performances after the fact in some shows, but she’s pretty much kept herself in seclusion for the last couple of decades. Sadsies. I really thought she was a talented actress and someone I could see myself being friends with…obviously.
Phillip McKeon, rarrrr, played Tommy. Interestingly he wasn’t the first choice for Tommy in the series pilot. The ORIGINAL Tommy, from the movie, filmed the pilot for the television show, but for some reason Philip McKeon was cast for the very next episode. The Tommy from the movie was actually quite a bit younger (in the movie) that Philip McKeon’s Tommy, however it was felt that the actor who played Tommy in the movie was too old for the part. Weird! Whatever. Since Alice ended in 1985, Philip has remained to some extent in the television industry. His more recent acting credits include “Sandman” and “Ghoulies IV”. He’s more active behind the camera these days than in front of it…I’m sure “Ghoulies IV” had NOTHING to do with that decision!
Celia Weston played Jolene. Like I mentioned in the beginning, I sort of felt a phantom pain when Flo left and never really got into Jolene’s character or story line, much. I honestly can’t tell you a single thing her character did to enhance the story, EXCEPT to humanize Mel. It was while hooking up with him in the ally behind the diner that Mel found his soul. So I guess, in that regard, she was good for something. But Celia, sweetie, seriously. NOBODY believes red is your natural color, honey. Your, like, 90 now. Time to let go of the jar.
I guess the fact that one of my favorite shows growing up took place in a diner could have been some foreshadowing into my future (eating out at Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives across the country…hookin’ up with
Vera Jed). Mel’s Diner was my Oz (not the prison one, y’all…the Dorothy one). There truly is no place like home cookin’.