14 Memorable Facts About Family Ties

NBC
NBC

In 1982, thanks to Ronald Reagan, America was becoming more conservative. Back then NBC was struggling a bit in the ratings: its famed Thursday night comedy block hadn’t started yet, and sitcoms about nuclear families were scarce. To capitalize on the dearth of family-oriented sitcoms, Gary David Goldberg created a show for NBC about Columbus, Ohio-based couple—and former liberal hippies—Elyse and Steven Keaton, who were now raising three (later four) kids, one of whom was a Reagan-loving young Republican named Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox).

Loosely based on Goldberg’s life, Family Ties was grounded in comedy, but also tackled intense issues such as alcoholism, incest, and death. “The show was more focused on getting Humanitas Awards than Emmys,” co-star Justine Bateman told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. “I don’t know if there was anything the [writers] wanted to do that the network said no to.”

Family Ties quickly became a ratings juggernaut; a third of all American households watched the show. Despite its success, Goldberg decided to call it quits after seven seasons. Family Ties's series finale aired 30 years ago, on May 14, 1989, with Alex moving to New York City to take a job—though not before giving his family a heartfelt goodbye.

Decades later the show is remembered for the Keatons’s wit, and the warm, fuzzy family values it enacted.

1. Matthew Broderick was the creator's first choice for Alex P. Keaton.

Gary David Goldberg saw an audition tape of Matthew Broderick and wanted to cast him Alex P. Keaton, but Broderick turned down the part as he didn’t want to move to L.A. Goldberg saw Michael J. Fox’s audition tape but didn’t feel he was right for the role. “I just thought, ‘No,’” Goldberg later told Emmy TV Legends. “And Mike is such a gifted actor that he could make his choices very specific, and he could play any role any way, and he had made a very specific choice that day in the room at Paramount to play the darker side of Alex Keaton, and it didn’t work.”

But casting director Judith Weiner kept hounding Goldberg to cast him, and finally Goldberg agreed to see Fox again. “So, [Weiner] calls him in, and I say, ‘Anything you want me to tell you?’ He goes, ‘No, just do it better, huh?’ And he gives me this little smile, and I’m thinking, ‘Matthew who?’ It was like ‘boom.’ He nailed it. He just played who he was, he played another side. He was Mike. And as soon as he left, I turned to Judith and I said, ‘This kid’s great. Why didn’t you tell me about him?’"

2. Michael J. Fox saw Alex as a "scared kid."

On Inside the Actors Studio, host James Lipton asked Fox, “Who is Alex Keaton?” “I always thought of him like a mansion made out of rice paper,” Fox replied. “He looked amazing, he felt good about what he presented to the world, but you could poke your finger through it any time you wanted to. And then the fun was watching him react to that and recover from that and hoist himself back up to that place where he thought he was.”

Fox said he saw a lot of himself in Alex, and that the role taught him quite a bit about acting. “What I learned about acting, especially doing that show, is that I thought of acting, when I was younger, as something [where] you put on a character. You’re trying to be somebody else, and really what it is, is trying to take stuff off. That’s the great fun of playing Alex: he is a kid who’s putting on all this stuff, and when it was really effective was when you see him naked. You see he’s just this scared kid.”

During an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Fox said he also based the character on his smart-ass brother, who had great timing. “My brother was so funny at the dinner table that you’d wait for what he had to say.” Fox said. “He’d put his glass of milk down and from the minute he took the glass of milk from his mouth you’re waiting for what he had to say. So later, all that became a part of Alex.”

3. Alex P. Keaton was beloved by conservatives and liberals alike.

Finally, some good news on bipartisanship: Republicans and Democrats both loved Alex. Fox grew up in Canada and “wasn’t a part of any American political construct,” he told Emmy TV Legends. “As the character developed, Republicans really took Alex under their wing and made him a poster boy for the movement. At the same time, too, social liberals were writing me letters saying, ‘Way to go satirizing that point of view.’ So I was loved on both sides and that was uniquely about the character and uniquely about the show. It was one of the shows where it just caught a time. It just found its niche.” (So much so that Ronald Reagan reportedly expressed interest in making a cameo on the show.) “The central values, the family element of it, that part of it, I think, was a value that appealed to both sides of the spectrum. So it was unifying in that sense.”

4. Mallory Keaton wasn't always so dumb.

Justine Bateman, who played Mallory Keaton, told Variety that in the first couple of episodes, Mallory was “a normal sister.” “In fact, they have a line in the pilot where Alex brings a girl home to have dinner with the family and she says, ‘I really love helping people, and I really love cheerleading.’ And I say, ‘Oh, kind of like an Albert Schweitzer with pom poms.’ What Mallory became, of course … She would never have a line like that.” The transition from cerebral to dumb came from whenever Alex made fun of Mallory. Bateman would “pretend it was a compliment, and the writers saw that and went, ‘Oh, sh**, if she thinks that’s funny, that’s so great.’ So we just started going in that direction,” Bateman said.

5. Scott Valentine thought he was paid too much money to grunt.

Scott Valentine played Mallory’s boyfriend, Nick Moore, and felt the role was too dumbed down for him. “That was some tough stuff there,” he told Montreal radio station CJAD 800 AM. “I'm so glad I went to the [American Academy of Dramatic Arts] and to all the other fine acting institutions so I could grunt on primetime television. The primal dig, the date from hell. It was a lot of fun, but literally there were times where I only had to utter two guttural utterances in a show and they paid me a bundle of cash for it. I felt bad at times.”

6. Producers attempted create spin-offs around Nick Moore a total of three times.

Nick Moore, Valentine's Stallone-esque character, was only supposed to appear in a single episode of Family Ties but became a series regular. He was such a popular character that the network decided to give him his own show. Three pilots were made, and all three failed. The first was a show called Taking It Home, where Nick (last name Morelli) moves home to Detroit and lives with his grandfather, played by Herschel Bernardi. Bernardi died after filming, in 1986, so the project was canceled.

The second show centered around Nick and a daycare center for juvenile delinquents. “They said kids telling Nick he was an idiot wasn’t as funny as adults telling Nick he was an idiot,” Valentine told Spy.

The third time around wasn’t the charm Valentine was looking for either; Valentine shot a pilot where Nick lives with his sister and her kid in New York City in a show called The Art of Being Nick. The show featured a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who made a guest appearance as a lawyer on Family Ties), and did well when it aired in 1987.

“It came in number two and they still didn't pick it up,” Valentine said. “Then [the network] hemmed and hawed and went back and forth and finally towards late summer said, ‘Geez, we’d like a shot at this again.’ And I said, ‘You know what guys? If I do this I’m gonna be Nick for the rest of my life. And we should put Nick to rest right now.’”

7. Fox was almost fired because his face wasn't fit for a lunchbox.

Brandon Tartikoff, then-president of NBC, wanted to fire Fox after the pilot. “He said, ‘I love the show, you’ve just got to get rid of the kid. I can’t see that face on a lunchbox,’” Fox told Parade. “So years later, whenBack to the Futurehit andFamily Tieswas the number two show on TV, I made Brandon a lunchbox with my picture on it, and I wrote, ‘This is for you to put your crow in. Love, me.’ Brandon turned out to be a good friend and a great guy. He kept that on his desk until the day he died.”

8. Fox filmed Family TiesandBack to the Futuresimultaneously.

Michael J. Fox in 'Back to the Future' (1985)
Michael J. Fox stars in Back to the Future (1985)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Because of his contractual obligations to Family Ties, Fox initially wasn’t allowed to do Back to the Future. But when things didn’t work out with actor Eric Stoltz, the filmmakers tried again for Fox. Right before Christmas break in 1984, Goldberg called Fox into his office and told him about the movie and asked, “‘Was I prepared to do both the show and a movie at the same time?’” Fox told Parade. “All of a sudden, I came back from Christmas break and I went to work onFamily Ties, and then that night I was standing in the parking lot with flaming tire tracks running between my legs—and my whole world changed. I ended up getting about three hours sleep a night for the next three or four months, because they had to get the movie out that summer.” Of course the movie was a huge success and made Fox an even bigger star.

9. When Tracy Pollan first met Fox, she found him to be "full of himself."

At the start of season 4, the producers cast Tracy Pollan as Ellen Reed, a grounded love interest for Alex. On Inside the Actors Studio, Lipton asked Pollan what her first impression of Fox was and she said, “He was feeling good about himself. I think I thought he was kind of full of himself. And then we started to work together and I got a completely different impression and how completely opposite from that he was—just funny and so smart, and just all of these other things came through those first two weeks we worked together.”

Fox had an immediate crush on Pollan and credits her for helping him win his first Emmy. “I had this moment where I was looking at her and thinking, ‘She’s really good.’ She was so present," Fox said. "I really learned the importance of presence. I’d been having a lot of fun playing this guy for laughs, but I really felt, ‘Now I gotta work here. I gotta show up and do this because this actress is really the real thing.’ It was a profound moment for me, in a way.”

Pollan (whose brother is famed food writer Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) appeared on the show for 13 episodes between 1985 and 1987. On July 16, 1988, she and Fox married. Today they have four children.

10. There was a rumor that Fox and Courteney Cox were an off-screen item.

For the last two seasons of Family Ties, futureFriendsstarCourteney Cox joined the cast as Alex’s girlfriend, Lauren Miller. Rumors swirled that Fox had broken up with his former co-star, Pollan, and hooked up with Cox. “People always want to read there’s romance when it’s just two actors having a good time working with each other," Fox told People in 1987. “I’m having a great personal relationship with Tracy and a great professional relationship with Courteney."

Cox also brushed off the rumor. “I’ve never been to a nightclub with Michael,” she said. “I’ve never even been to some of the clubs the tabloids named. Even my stepfather called me up and said, ‘So, I hear you’re busy for Thanksgiving.’”

11. The Ubu Productions logo was actually Gary David Goldberg's dog, named Ubu Roi.

The now-iconic production company signoff tag at the end of every episode featured a picture of a black lab—Ubu Roi—with a Frisbee in its mouth and a voiceover saying, “Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.” The photo was taken near the Louvre in Paris, during a trip where Goldberg and his wife hitchhiked across Europe.

“As far as hitchhiking goes, most people who picked us up, picked us up because of Ubu,” Goldberg wrote in his memoir, Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair.

“I just thought, you know, I want very little distance between who I was that day, and who I am now,” Goldberg told Emmy TV Legends. “I just don’t want a lot of distance there. So it was really nice to have that logo to always remind you who you are.” Unfortunately, Ubu died in 1984, but the logo lived on in Goldberg’s other shows like Spin City and Brooklyn Bridge.

12. Brian Bonsall had a difficult time transitioning to adulthood.

Beginning in 1986, child actor Brian Bonsall joined the cast as the Keatons’s fourth child and second son, Andy. In real life, in the years since Family Ties, Bonsall has had a few run-ins with the law. After the show ended, Bonsall moved to Boulder and finished school. In 2004 he was arrested for drunk driving, and in 2007 he was arrested for assaulting a girlfriend. Then, in 2009, he went to jail again, this time for breaking a stool and hitting his friend with it several times. In 2010, after testing positive for marijuana, he was arrested yet again for violating the conditions of his bond. Today, he tours as a musician.

13. Skippy Handelman is a stand-up comedian.

Marc Price played the Keatons's lovably annoying, Mallory-obsessed neighbor Irwin “Skippy” Handelman for the duration of the series. Since the show ended, Price has kept the comedy going by touring the country with his stand-up routines. “A lot of people know me as Skippy, and that doesn’t scare me,” Price told the Sun Sentinel in 1993. “People want me to hate that, but I don’t hate that, because that’s how people know me. I accept that and I look to getting recognized as Marc Price in due time.”

Price says people come to his shows because of Skippy, “but I’m certainly Marc Price and they get to meet Marc Price.” He’s thrilled when people approach him about his comedy but is okay with people asking him, “‘Hey Skippy! Did you ever do it with Mallory?’ That doesn’t bother me either.”

14. Justine Bateman graduated from UCLA in 2016.

Justine Bateman attends the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival Directors
Justine Bateman attends the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival Directors
Monica Schipper, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

After Family Ties, Bateman continued to act in TV shows—most notably playing a high-priced escort on an episode of Arrested Development called “Family Ties,” starring opposite her brother, Jason Bateman—but then decided to quit acting and go to college. She enrolled in UCLA’s undergrad computer science and management program, from which she graduated in June 2016.

“When I graduate, I will either run a division of a company that is tech and entertainment together, or I’ll get funding for my own company with a focus on taking current technology to film far more complicated stories,” Bateman told The Hollywood Reporter just a few months before he graduation. Bateman documented her college experience with a Tumblr account, where she wrote, “I especially want a job or a company that is playing with very high stakes, swimming with very powerful players, and working with very ambitious projects. I want a big knife to cut into a big cake. And all the responsibility that comes with that.”

Updated for 2019.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER