Following in the tradition of wise television butlers like Benson was Mr. Belvedere, the 1985-1990 ABC sitcom starring Christopher Hewett as Lynn Belvedere, an impeccable British gentleman who finds himself as the butler for a family in Pittsburgh. Though never a huge ratings smash, Mr. Belvedere is remembered fondly. But did you know it was actually the sixth incarnation of the character? And that Hewett’s anatomy forced producers to stop taping? All this and more revealed below.
1. IT WAS BASED ON A NOVEL.
Not many 1980s sitcoms took inspiration from novels, but Mr. Belvedere was an exception. Kentucky-based author Gwen Davenport wrote Belvedere in 1947: The title character was a chuffed English writer who becomes a nurse and babysitter for an American family in order to gather research for a book.
2. THE NOVEL LED TO THREE SUCCESSFUL MOVIES.
The film industry wasted virtually no time adapting Davenport’s quirky novel for the big screen. Sitting Pretty was released in 1948, with Clifton Webb in the leading role. The movie was successful enough to be followed by two sequels in 1949 and 1951: Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, which co-starred Shirley Temple, and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, where Belvedere takes up work at a senior residence.
3. THOSE MOVIES LED TO THREE UNSUCCESSFUL TV PILOTS.
Belvedere’s charms weren’t lost on television producers, who tried to adapt the novel three separate times between 1956 and 1965. Only the 1985 pilot from producers Jeff Stein and Frank Dungan (Barney Miller) made it to air.
4. CHRISTOPHER HEWETT HAD ALREADY PLAYED A TV BUTLER.
Before being cast as Mr. Belvedere, Christopher Hewett popped up on American television in 1983 as another butler: Lawrence, a replacement for the departing Hervé Villechaize, on Fantasy Island. The roles were not necessarily foremost on his mind: In 1986, he described his typecasting as a house servant to be a “terrible bondage.”
5. TAPING WAS HALTED WHEN HEWETT INJURED HIS TESTICLES.
Stein told Maclean's that an urban legend about Hewett injuring his own testicles by sitting on them—necessitating that the production shut down for an entire week—happens to be true. “He fell backwards riding in a convertible in the Hollywood Christmas Parade,” Stein said, causing trauma to his genitalia. Another version of the story told by Adam Sandler, who guest-starred on an episode, involved Hewett coming in for a table read and accidentally sitting on his testicles.
6. BOB UECKER CALLED BREWERS GAMES WHILE DOING THE SHOW.
Bob Uecker’s role as sportswriter and sportscaster George Owens was not a tremendous stretch. After a brief tenure as a backup catcher in the majors, Uecker’s full-time gig was announcing for the Milwaukee Brewers, a role that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig allowed him to continue while doing Mr. Belvedere. Uecker would get flown in Friday nights for games; if they played near the show's Los Angeles studio, he’d jump in a helicopter to arrive to the field on time.
7. HEWETT WAS HIRED FOR BEING “IMPOSING.”
According to Uecker, the 6-foot, 3-inch, 280 pound Hewett was cast in the title role because he towered over his fellow actors. “He could be imposing,” the actor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2014. Another performer up for the role was smaller, he said, and “didn’t look like someone who could tell me what to do.” Hewett, a trained stage actor who was a member of the Oxford Repertoire Company, was also in the Royal Air Force and once performed plays during the London Blitz air bombings of World War II.
8. HEWETT HATED GUM.
According to actress Ilene Graff, Hewett’s first order of business at the start of taping was to declare that no one chew any gum. Ever. “He announced his first day, ‘No gum chewing,’” she told People in 2000. “He’s so big and has such an imposing voice, nobody dreamed of contradicting him.”
9. UECKER LIKED TO ANTAGONIZE HEWETT.
While the actors appeared to get along, Uecker said he found Hewett to be such a proper English gentleman off-camera that he enjoyed getting on his nerves. “I always used to tell him bad things about the queen that would upset him,” Uecker told Yahoo! in 2008. “I’d make up stuff … it was fun.”
10. THEY HAD A POLITE FEUD WITH SLEDGE HAMMER!
Although jokes about Mr. Belvedere’s antiquated Very Special Episodes and life lessons are common now, it turns out the show wasn’t immune to getting picked on while it was still being broadcast. Producers of Sledge Hammer!, the cult mid-1980s sitcom spoof about a renegade cop, enjoyed targeting the show, which acted as Hammer’s lead-in on Friday nights. When Hammer! creator Alan Spencer was asked in 2012 if he was a fan of Belvedere, he replied, “Is anybody?”
11. HEWETT POPPED UP ON NED AND STACEY.
Belvedere producer Jeff Stein was a consultant on the Fox sitcom Ned and Stacey when a plan was concocted for Hewett to guest star in a 1997 episode as someone cast in a commercial who believes he really is Mr. Belvedere. It turned out to be the actor's final screen appearance: he died in 2001 at the age of 80.