Jan 22, 2013

Alice and Tommy

Most 1970s comedies involved people who lived in big cities like Minneapolis (Mary Tyler Moore), Indianapolis (One Day at a Time), Chicago (Bob Newhart), and New York (The Jeffersons). .  But not Alice  (1976-85). Linda Lavin played Alice Hyatt, an aspiring singer en route from New Jersey to L.A. to jump-start her career, when her car stalled outside Mel's Diner in "small town" Phoenix (it actually had a sizeable population).


She took a "temporary" waitress job that lasted nine years, and meanwhile bonded with her boss, gruff, beefy Mel (Vic Tayback) and fellow waitresses: gutzy Flo (Polly Holliday), whose risque catchphrase "Kiss mah grits!" became a phenomenon; and mousy Vera (Beth Howland).  Alice also had a cute, wisecracking son, Tommy (Philip McKeon, left). 

Three ladies, a kid, and a bear?  I wasn't impressed.  Besides, Alice ran on Sunday nights, after the oldster-favorites 60 Minutes and All in the Family, opposite Battlestar Galactica or Chips.  I didn't start watching regularly until about 1980, when it was squeezed between One Day at a Time and The Jeffersons. 






It was a pleasant surprise.  The banter between the four regulars was sharp and witty, the plotlines were not terribly heterosexist, and there was ample beefcake: cowboys and muscular truck driver patrons of the diner, the various men dating the regulars, and Tommy's school friends.  Hunky Denny Miller (right) even played a gay character, the school coach: after he comes out, Alice hesitates about allowing Tommy to go on an overnight camping trip with him, but finally relents. Score one for tolerance!

Speaking of Tommy, during the last half of the series, he was 15-19 years old, the prime time for teen idols.  But he didn't get much play in the teen magazines, just a couple of shirtless and swimsuit shots.

This was the era of Scott Baio, Willie Aames, and Billy Warlock, so maybe he lacked the muscles to make a big splash.










Several of the cast members were gay or gay friendly.  Vic Tayback and Polly Holliday were both rumored to be bisexual, and Phil McKeon, who has never married, is rumored to be gay (gay or not, he's even more handsome than when he was playing Tommy).

 His tv mom,  Linda Lavin, has performed with the Orlando, Florida Gay Chorus, and in 2012, she played the mother of a gay son in The Lyons on Broadway.