they get a load
80's Child Stars in TV Commercials
Kids on TV always seemed to have it made in the shade with a glass of lemonade (Is that something that was ever said? It seems like a phrase that would have been popular in the 30’s). Ricky Schroeder on Silver Spoons had a mansion full of toys, Wesley from Mr. Belvedere had, well, Mr. Belvedere to make his meals and dispense wisdom, while Jamie from Small Wonder had a robot sister that he could easily pull into his schemes. What we kids didn’t realize at the time was that none of that was real! When the cameras turned off, these were “normal” kids with acting careers who had to move on to the next gig to pay for their college education, braces or cocaine habits. One way they did this was through TV commercials for our favorite cereals, toys and soft drinks.
In actuality, most child actors from 80's sitcoms started out in commercials and once they hit Prime Time only did those One To Grow On or The More You Know PSAs with any regularity. But my point is, looking back on old commercials it’s crazy to see kids that would star in their own shows having mini-adventures with our favorite corporate mascots. So join me in taking a look back at some of our favorite TV kids hiding in plain site on these “brief commercial messages”. I wanted to start out with a couple of my favorite syndicated TV shows, that I suspect Kellogg’s cereal might have been funding.
Do you remember Out of This World? It starred a suburban girl named Evie Garland who was actually the offspring of an Earthling mother and space alien father named Troy, voiced by a post-Bandit, pre-Evening Shade, Burt Reynolds. Evie communicated with her father through a weird glass pyramid sculpture and would get into teenage hijinks with her ability to stop time by touching her index fingers together. She could eventually teleport herself and other objects as well, but the time freezing thing was the show stopper. Wait, could Zack Morris have been her long lost twin brother with his magical “Time Outs”? excuse me, I’ve got some fan fiction to write!
OK, I’m back. So anyway, Maureen Flannigan who played Evie actually starred in a Frosted Flakes commercial before she started “swinging on a star”. While having a casual breakfast picnic on the beach with a talking cartoon tiger (happens all the time, right?) Maureen and Tony are challenged by snobby volleyball hustlers to a pick-up match. After getting pumped by the power of processed sugar, the unlikely duo dominate their challengers, who seem to have lost the killer instinct they displayed at the beginning of the spot. Though I didn’t discover that it was the same actress until reviewing my old Saturday Morning Cartoon VHS tapes years later, I now like to imagine that Evie was actually using her time stopping powers to change the position of her opponent’s bodies, causing them to stumble and fall like Uncle Beano at an ice skating rink! (Ohhh,Uncle Beano slam out of nowhere!)
Another favorite 80's syndicated TV star who had the Frosted Flakes hook-up was Jerry O’Connell from My Secret Identity. Do you remember this Canadian production about a boy who is given super powers when zapped by his mad scientist next door neighbor’s latest invention? Originally calling himself "Ultra-Man", the kid was invulnerable, could run really fast, and became weightless enough to be propelled by aerosol cans of hairspray. Plus, there were whole lot of Marvel comics and posters on his walls, which was something we weren’t seeing much in those days outside of Adventures In Babysitting. Technically Jerry got his big break in the movie Stand By Me, but this is where I first became aware of the man who would be Quinn Mallory on Sliders.
Anyway, in Jerry’s literal 30 seconds of fame, he is found checking out the run time of his rivals on what appears to be a little league bobsled team. Is that a thing in Canada? While enjoying a bowl of Frosted Flakes with what is likely a sugar-induced hallucination of a talking Tiger, Jerry is challenged by 2 guys in yellow spandex to “Beat that, if you’re any good”. So of course Jerry and his pal known collectively as the "Tiger Team" take their lives into their own hands by jumping into a striped bobsled and beat the bullies by 33 tenths of a second (is that how you measure it?). It’s no Cool Runnings, but if you ask me, cartoon tigers and Jamaicans are equally unexpected bobsled tournament participants. If you want my opinion, “Ultra-Man” and Tony were obvious cheaters. I mean the kid has superhuman control over his mass/weight and we all know toons are not governed by the laws of physics, it’s just a shameful misuse of power really.
In between playing “Joey” on Gimme A Break! with Nell Carter and “Joey” on Blossom with Mayim Bialick (this kid’s got a lotta range, I’ll tell ya’), Joey Lawrence got a call from Coca-Cola to star in a thriller for the ages. I remember this commercial playing quite a bit during 1987-1989 and I think it was even in the previews of my video cassette for Ghostbusters 2 back in the day. I wasn’t a huge Gimme A Break! fan (more of a 227 kid for some reason), but I had channel surfed into enough episodes to recognize “Mistah Lawrance” (get out of here John Kreese! I mean, Sensei), even in low lighting.
The commercial opens on a dark and stormy night with some teenage boys watching an old horror movie. As lightning flashes, we see the P.O.V. of a “stalker” rifling through the fridge and kitchen drawers revealing a stash of butcher knives. Finally we see a shadowy figure storm towards the boys, who scream in fright, causing Joey to hand off his bottle of Coca-Cola as a peace offering. As it turns out, the frightening creature is none other than an older sister in full cold cream face mask and bath robe, who declares, “You guys are so immature.” When asked if the supposed monster was in fact his sister Joey responds with, “Whoa!” (sorry, I had to go there). Actually he whispers, “I don’t know” about which they all have a big laugh. I can understand his confusion though. That girl looked nothing like Blossom, at least in my opinionation (cue rim shot).
I’ve got a 2 for 1 deal to finish up this closer look at commercial sightings of our favorite child actors. Jenny Lewis was a little redhead that made the rounds on a lot of 80's sitcoms (and apparently she has a band now), but I know her best as Hannah Nefler from one of my all-time favorite films, Troop Beverly Hills. I used to think it was crazy how many toys kids had flooding their bedrooms in Toys R’ Us commercials, but for a rich girl living just off Rodeo Drive it makes total sense to be literally bathed in stuffed animals. Then there’s Jaleel White aka Steve Urkel from Family Matters looking totally normal on a swing. Maybe it was a fall from that swing which re-wired the young Urkel’s brain, endowing him with the ability to build advanced scientific machines, but left the boy socially awkward and unable to realize when he was being extremely annoying.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my attempts to mesh the truly bizarre universe of television commercials with the fictional realities of classic 80's movies and sitcoms. I also invite you to read my latest fan-fiction story “Zack and Evie: Time Outs and The Alien Dilemma” wherever it is that people post those stories about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock kissing. You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? Ya weirdo!
So what old school commercials have you spotted some of your favorite actors and actresses moonlighting in?