11 Characters Played by Different Actors

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Having more than one actor portray the same character happens more often than you’d think on many popular TV series. The reason behind the switcheroo is not always explained to the viewing public, which means of course that we automatically assume the actor asked for a raise. But that’s not always the case.

1. Poor Durwood, er Dumbo, er Darwin…

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A classic example is Dick York, the original (and to many fans, the definitive) Darrin on Bewitched. York started his professional acting career in 1943 and found steady work both on TV and in films. While filming They Came to Cordoba (with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth) in 1959 a mishap while propelling a railroad handcar caused York to tear most of the muscles in the right side of his back, an injury that would plague him the rest of his life. During his tenure on Bewitched, the pain became increasingly worse, despite the studio doctors loading him up with painkillers. Eventually he was only able to stand upright for 30 minutes at a time, so he retired his role to Dick Sargent.

2. “She looks the same, but isn’t the same…”

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The role of Becky on Roseanne was something of a revolving door. Alicia “Lecy” Goranson played Becky from 1988 until 1992, when she graduated from high school and enrolled at Vassar College. At first, she was able to make occasional cameo appearances on the show, so the writers developed the Becky-elopes-with-Mark storyline to explain her absence. But soon her studies took priority, and Sarah Chalke was hired as Becky #2. By 1997, Goranson was able to schedule some Roseanne time, bumping Chalke out of the role temporarily. Personal circumstances forced her to miss a few episodes, leaving Chalke to pinch-hit for her. The show’s producers never tried to conceal the actress switch and actually poked fun at it in several episodes.

3. Yo homes, to unemployment!

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Janet Hubert-Whitten portrayed Aunt Vivian on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1990 until 1993. Her real-life pregnancy apparently wasn’t too much of a problem, as it was written into the script, so why was she ultimately replaced by Daphne Reid for the last three seasons of the series?  The official explanation at the time was that she’d gained 60 pounds and had become “hormonally difficult,” but in a revealing interview with Jet magazine, series star Will Smith stated:  “I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show. She said once, ‘I've been in the business for 10 years and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.'”

4. Who shot my career in the neck?

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Barbara Bel Geddes originated the role of Southfork matriarch “Miss Ellie” on Dallas. She exuded a quiet strength that enabled her to stand up to J.R. while also nurturing Jock and letting him think that he ran the ranch. In 1984, Bel Geddes took a break from the show for heart bypass surgery, and during her post-operative recovery, she decided that she’d worked long enough and it was time to retire. Donna Reed was brought in as the new Miss Ellie, but fans openly expressed their displeasure with Reed’s glamour versus Bel Geddes’ earth mother persona. More to the point, Larry Hagman disliked her and when the show’s ratings dipped, he made a personal appeal to Bel Geddes to return to the series. Reed was dismissed despite having signed a three-year contract.

5. Abner! Look! It’s a Different Gladys!

Poor Gladys Kravitz – the across the street neighbor on Bewitched knew that something was not as it seemed at the Stephens’ house, but no one ever believed her…especially her curmudgeonly husband Abner, who simply questioned her sanity. Character actress Alice Pearce played the role from the pilot episode until she succumbed to cancer in 1966. She won a posthumous Emmy Award for her work that year, and all these years later “Gladys Kravitz” is still a common term in the American lexicon used to describe a nosy neighbor. Sandra Gould took over the role after Pearce’s death.

6. Different Drummer

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Jeremy Gelbwaks was originally cast as the youngest son, Chris, on The Partridge Family. Of course, the best lines on PF went to Shirley Jones, David Cassidy, and Danny Bonaduce. The youngest kids were pretty much just there to fill out the family band and occasionally look cute during close-ups. Gelbwaks left after the first season; the official party line was that his father’s job had transferred the family out of state. However, Danny Bonaduce has since revealed that Jeremy was something of a terror on-set, known for pranks such as kicking his fellow actors viciously in the shins just before the director yelled “Action!” He was replaced by blond, blue-eyed Brian Forster, who looked nothing like his predecessor. Nevertheless, the producers only received one fan letter questioning the change.

7. No One Notices the Homely One

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Beverly Owen played “plain” cousin Marilyn in the first 13 episodes of The Munsters. Then suddenly Pat Priest, daughter of U.S. Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest, took over the role. What happened? Something very simple: love. Owen was engaged to a man who lived in New York and couldn’t move due to his work commitments, so she chose to break her contract (earning herself a five year ban in the studio system as a result) and move from Hollywood to the East Coast. She’s still married to that gent, so despite the crimp the move put on her acting career, she believes she made the right decision.

8. Pamela’s Fallon Out

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Dynasty wasn’t the first show Pamela Sue Martin left in the lurch—she quit her role as Nancy Drew in the 1977 Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Mysteries after one season, when the producers chose to focus the series on the Hardy Boys portion of the equation. She landed the role of Fallon Carrington on the prime time soap in 1981 and spent the next three seasons hopping from bed to bed with the frequency of a cheap transistor radio. She left without much explanation in 1984 (interviews she gave at the time indicated that she was bored with the constraints of a weekly series; in recent years she’s said that it was due to health issues) and was replaced by Emma Samms.

9. Working Girl

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Phyllis Coates portrayed Lois Lane in the first 26 episodes of The Adventures of Superman and received top billing alongside series star George Reeves. Coates’ Lane was aggressive and somewhat hard-nosed; she was more interested in her work as a reporter than in flirting with the Man of Steel. When the show went on hiatus after the first season, it was uncertain whether it would be picked up for a second, as a national sponsor hadn’t yet been secured. During the break Coates was offered a role in a pilot for another series, so she left Superman to take it. That show ultimately didn’t fly, and in the meantime the role of Lois Lane was softened up a bit and given to Noel Neill.

10. Movin’ On Up…and Around

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Mike Evans originated the role of Lionel Jefferson back when his family still lived next door to the Bunkers on All in the Family. When The Jeffersons was spun off into its own series, he continued playing the part until 1975 when Good Times, a sitcom he’d co-created, took off. He was also one of the main writers for the new series, and eventually had to take a leave of absence from The Jeffersons because, well, there were only so many hours in a day. Damon Evans (no relation) filled in as Lionel until Good Times was cancelled in 1979.

11. Back Behind the Camera

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Matt Robinson (dad of actress Holly Robinson-Peete) played Gordon on Sesame Street from 1969, when the series debuted, until 1972. But he was never very comfortable in front of the camera and had only taken on the role because none of the other actors that tested played the part as well as Robinson. He’d joined the Children’s Television Workshop to work behind the scenes producing and developing educational shows with diverse characters, not to be an actor. After he decided that he preferred being behind the scenes (he continued to work on the show and voice the Muppet Roosevelt Franklin until 1975), the role of Gordon was first given to Hal Miller then to Roscoe Orman, who is still playing the part 36 years later.

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March 11, 2013 - 5:11pm
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