Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Facts of Life by Lisa Whelchel

Lisa Whelchel. The Facts of Life And Other Lessons My Father Taught Me. Colorado Springs, Co.: Multnomah Books, 2001.

This autobiography describes a busy and public life that included much religious devotion. Whelchel was adopted and grew up in Texas. She realized God’s love at age 10.

The future TV star was a shy child. She was enrolled in a summer theater program. The teacher was impressed and recommended, and her parents agreed. That Whelchel should take professional acting instruction. Whelchel studied acting, dancing, mime, etc. for five years. She was very disappointed when she wasn’t picked for a school talent show. She decided to learn ventriloquism to develop her entertainment skills. The next year, as a 4th grader, her act won her public school’s talent show.

A Disney Studio audition happened locally without Whelchel knowing about it. Her teachers and directors wrote enough letters to Disney that they decided to audition her. They loved her and selected her to be a Mousketeer on the “New Mickey Mouse Club” TV show. She did 186 episodes. She also was in live performances at Disneyland. The TV show was canceled when she was 13. She did some movie roles and TV guest appearances. She was faced with a choice of accepted a role on an existing TV series, “Hello Larry” or a role on a new series, “The Facts of Life”. Her choice of “Facts of Life” gave her several years on TV whereas “Hello Larry” did not last as long.

Whelchel’s character Blair was to lose her virginity during sweeps week to boost ratings. Whelchel objected as sex before marriage was against her views and she felt her character was a role model. The producers yielded to her. A later episode involved another character losing her virginity. She asked not to appear on the episode and her request was granted.

The 5’3” inch Whelchel wore high heels so her character would appear taller.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Perfection is Not a Sitcom Mother by Janet Hubert

Janet Hubert. Perfection is Not a Sitcom Mom: From the Fresh Prince TV Mom. Breinigsville, Pa. (no publisher mentioned), 2009.

The author’s father left Chicago’s South Side and Hubert grew up on a three acres farm in Momence, Illinois. In school, since there was no girls track tea,, she tried out and won a spot on the men’s track team. At the relatively late age of 22, Hubert began a dancing career. Running track had developed her thighs and others thought she was too large muscled for ballet. She won an Alvin Alley scholarship. She then worked on Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ tour.

Hubert won the role of Vivian Bank on “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. The star, Will Smith, wanted the show to focus more on him and wanted most of the cast dropped from the show. NBC refused to do this. Smith tried taking the show to CBS but he couldn’t get a better deal than what NBC offered.

The author states she argued with the show’s writers. She believed they did not understand Black culture and did not respect African American women. She wanted her character to be portrayed as a woman of strong character. She admits this harmed her reputation and career.

Will Smith sometimes remained in his dressing room and made all cast and crew wait while he insisted upon changes to the scripts. It is noted this did not ruin his career.

Hubert enjoyed working with Smith. There was much laughter on the set.

Hubert was signed to a six year contract when the series began. This tended to freeze salaries if the show was a minor hit. Contacts were only renegotiated if the show was a hit. At option time, she was offered to be in 10 of the 20 episodes which was a $100,000 reduction in pay. In addition, she was restricted to appearing on just two shows of any other TV series. She sought to negotiate. The network then decided o remove her from the show and recast her part. She tried calling Will Smith but he did not return her calls.

Hubert states Will Smith slandered her. NBC brought nine lawyers to meet with her. This saddened her as she had always spoken well of Smith. The experience cost her almost $100,000 in legal fees. It also led to her losing a lot of weight.

This was followed by further stress and financial hardships. She appeared in an episode of “Friends”. She found the cast had a family-like atmosphere and were very friendly.

The author recommends people planning on going into acting to have another career available as a fallback.