Empty Nest is now on Laff TV! To celebrat
ENO: Any other behind-the-scenes stories to share?
David: Witt/Thomas/Harris, back in the 80s and 90s, was a juggernaut of TV production. We’re talking about when there were only three networks, not like today. So if you were on TV, it was pretty cool. It was like the old studio days of MGM and Warner Bros. Going to work for me was a treat. I’d grown up watching old movies and as a latchkey kid, so TV was my babysitter. The studio at Ren-Mar always had eight to 10 shows working at the same time, and I’d get to work with people I’d grown up with watching TV.
Paul Witt was one of the nicest “producers” you could ever ask for. But he did have a hard time remembering which of the 50 shows he produced you were on. And who could blame him? One of the actresses on It’s A Living was playing pregnant on the show. Seeing her on set, he congratulated her on her pregnancy. Everybody thought he was kidding until he sent her baby gifts. After Nurses got cancelled, I ran into him at a friend’s and co-producer’s wedding. We chatted for a moment, and he looked at me with empathy and asked, “So, how are you doing?” I said, “Hey, everything is great. The show is great, too.” I watched him roll through his mental Rolodex until he landed on David Leisure and not David Rasche. “Well, of course you are,” he said with a rye smile, trying to recoup.
I read where Park talked about Bea Arthur’s gum chewing phobia, which was true. She had radar that extended out about 100 feet and would walk over to you to have you spit it out. Also that she hated Betty White, which was true, because she felt that Betty was an actor/whore that would take any job, which is also true. But hell, Betty’s still working, and she’s 95!
Bea prided herself on never, and I mean never, blowing lines, no matter who else did. There’s a story that once Estelle kept blowing a line, which happened all the time, but both Rue McClanahan and Bea would do theirs right. Then Rue started blowing her line, and Bea was trying to keep it together. Finally, Bea started blowing her lines. It’s catching, you know? Anyway, Bea said, after blowing it two or three times after everyone else had, “This is going fucking terrible!” right in front of the audience. Betty, who wasn’t in the scene, stuck her head out through some doorway and said to the audience, “Well, I think it’s going very well, don’t you?” The audience started screaming with laughter. But Bea wasn’t laughing. Story goes that she went backstage and was going to kill Betty, and they had to hold her back. Anyway, that’s the story.
I had a dressing room next to Loni Anderson, who at that time was getting divorced from Burt Reynolds. I was getting divorced from one of the women I had married. And Richard was getting divorced from a really, really bad “What was I thinking?!” marriage. All three at the same time. We’d all meet in one another’s dressing rooms and have therapy disses about what jerks our spouses were.
ENO: So what are you up to these days?
David: I am 99.99% retired. Actors don’t actually retire, the phone just stops ringing, but what else are you going to say? I live on a mountain at 8,000 ft. in Park City, Utah, where I can walk to go ski in the winter, or hike, go fly-fishing or play golf in the summer. Not too bad, eh? I still do some voiceover work, and there’s always charities who need a free M.C., which I’ve done about a billion of. I turn 65 this year, and Richard passed away at 67, so I’m going to enjoy what’s left on the end of my tape measure of life. I have an actor pal who says that if you look at your life like it is a tape measure, you’ll have so many on one side and so many left to go. I’ve got 65 inches on the “been there already” side, and if I’m lucky, 20 good inches to go. And by good I mean active and vibrant, before I’m in a diaper with a cat in my lap or going to Sizzler in a walker with an oxygen tank and a nose bib. By the way, a green oxygen tank and a walker is the dress code for both Sizzler and the Home Town Buffet.
ENO: Finally, while it isn't Empty Nest related, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your other iconic character, Joe Isuzu. How much fun was he to play? I loved the spoof endorsement campaign for Mitt Romney a few years ago.
David: This happens once about every 10 years or so to an actor. Look at Stephanie Courtney, for instance. Who, you ask? Flo, from the Progressive commercials. She’s really good. Member of The Groundlings improv company.
When I auditioned for the part, they were looking to ape Jon Lovitz from SNL. But his character was based on thinking up a lie. You only have 21 seconds in a commercial to get whatever it is you want to say out, and it wasn’t working for the casting people. So I just smiled and talked and apparently made it work because I’m just so damn sincere. I was having a very successful commercial career, but this really put me over the top. It also ended my commercial career because I was so identified with the product, I became Joe Isuzu! No one prepares you for a loss of anonymity. It took me a while to be gracious to people that only wanted to show me that they liked me by, out of nowhere, walking up to me and telling me a lie. At first I just thought, “Who is this crazy person, and what the hell are they talking about?” It was just that it happened so fast, being recognized. Anyway, it opened a lot of doors for me, especially Empty Nest, and I am very fortunate. I’m the luckiest guy from El Cajon, California.
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