10 Celebs Who Paid Their Dues On Classic TV Shows
Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but we love our celebrities around here. (Shut up, we do.) The truly admirable stars are beautiful, likable and talented. They didn’t all start out as A-listers, though — not everyone can be plucked from obscurity and rocket straight to the top. Sometimes you gotta claw your way there.
So how’d they do it? Many did hard time on the small screen first, paying their dues with bit parts on popular shows in which you might not recall ever seeing them.
But that’s what we’re here for. Because otherwise, all the sleepless nights we’ve spent watching old sitcoms would be for naught.
George Clooney certainly personifies beautiful, likable and talented — and it seems he’s always been that way. (Did this guy ever have an awkward phase?) Even before he was setting the bar for all hot TV doctors on ‘ER,’ Clooney was melting female hearts as steamy dreamy contractor George Burnett on the ’80s coming-of-age sitcom ‘The Facts of Life.’ (By the way, we also spotted him playing a detective in one spicy episode of ‘The Golden Girls.’)
The award-winning actor and producer slogged his way through years of television appearances before anyone was beating down his door to get him on the big screen. Hanks was lucky and scored a hit show — the ahead-of-its-time cross-dressing comedy ‘Bosom Buddies’ — within his first year of on the Hollywood scene (something we like to think was thanks to his previous gig on ‘The Love Boat’), but even afterwards, he had his wacky self all over TV screens. And as you’ll see below, before Fonzie could jump the shark on ‘Happy Days,’ he had to jump the Hanks first.
Matthew Perry paid his — and maybe a few other stars’ — dues in TV land for years. Stay up late watching any cable channel running old sitcoms and you’ll see him in several of the classics (and a few one-season wonders too). His resume includes roles as Carol Seaver’s doomed DUI boyfriend in ‘Growing Pains,’ some girl’s date in ‘Silver Spoons,’ Sam’s roommate on ‘Who’s the Boss,’ and an under-utilized and absolutely uncanny Alex P. Keaton doppelganger on ‘Charles in Charge.’
Matthew Perry wasn’t the only ‘Friends’ actor who had to pay his dues before eventually scoring a mil per episode as a member of one of TV’s most beloved sextets. Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston both have impressive “they were on what?” resume listings, but Lisa Kudrow did her part, too. We’ve always been impressed by the fact that her small recurring role on ‘Mad About You’ was so memorable that the character was worked into the plot of ‘Friends,’ but her classic TV roots go even deeper than that: She was on ‘Cheers’ back when nobody knew her name.
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox has always looked young — and it feels like we’ve known him forever — so it doesn’t seem possible he could’ve been in shows that pre-date our MJF consciousness. Au contraire! Our lovable ‘Back to the Future’ time-traveler and ‘Family Ties’ Young Republican had guest appearances on ‘The Love Boat’ and ‘Night Court’ before he was the shortest guy we’ve ever loved. But his best classic TV appearance has to be this very early Doogie Howser-style bit part on ‘Trapper John, MD.’
Another one we’ve known since she was a hot young teen, Christina Applegate didn’t just arrive at the studio and announce she was going to be a sex symbol and president of the ditzy blonde club on ‘Married with Children.’ No, she had to earn her way there by appearing on every show that ever featured adolescents. Another ‘Charles in Charge’ success story like Matthew Perry, the ‘Up All Night’ star also did time on ‘Family Ties’ (in Tina Yothers’ band — the poor thing) and as the object of Ricky Schroder’s angsty desire on ‘Silver Spoons.’
Sure, she’s a penniless waitress on ‘2 Broke Girls’ now, but more than a decade ago, she was a rich, spoiled 13-year-old who had the cash to pay for a dream bat mitzvah — and the connections to get it — in a NSFW episode of ‘Sex and the City.’ It’s clear that Ms. Dennings put on her New York attitude pants early in her acting career, and even as a young teen, she had that sassy-puss face and a voluptuous figure that made grown men cry.
Halle Berry is another one of those perennially beautiful celebrities with whom we can rarely find fault (unless it’s her personal life we’re talking about, of course). But before she was Catwoman and won an Oscar for ‘Monster’s Ball,’ she appeared on ‘Knots Landing’ and starred alongside a relatively unknown Leah Remini in the failed ‘Living Dolls.’ And then there were the relatively obscure bit parts, like the one here where she steams up an episode of ‘The Cosby Show’ spinoff ‘A Different World.’
Being a Griswold child will get you somewhere in your career — yes, Anthony Michael Hall, we see you — but it might take awhile. Case in point: Before Johnny Galecki was ‘The Big Bang Theory’ nerd we know and love, he had to march his way through the classic TV ranks first. Prior to his regular stint on ‘Rosanne,’ Galecki took a shot at being Mayim Bialik’s boyfriend on ‘Blossom’ — or at least took a shot at making out with her at a seedy party. (Don’t worry, it was years before she became Sheldon’s girlfriend.)
And now we come full circle. Before Mayim Bialik was Sheldon’s girlfriend on ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ before she was Johnny Galecki’s girl on ‘Blossom,’ and even before she was making shows with Jennifer Aniston that never went anywhere, Mayim was on ‘The Facts of Life’ — just as George Clooney was a few years before her. The sitcom was on its last legs by then, but we’re glad it held on a bit longer. Our little Blossom had to get her start somewhere.