I liked Lisa quite a bit. However, the cast member I liked the most was Malcolm Jamal-Warner, (Theo). Malcolm has an endearing quality about him. People want to be his friend. I was no different. He was always friendly and down to earth. Of all the actors on the set, I think Malcolm was perhaps the most outgoing in terms of interacting with staff, crew, and guests. Malcolm joked around with the guys in the transportation office, shook hands with the crew, and was just generally a nice guy. Whenever I saw Malcolm, he had a smile on his face and light in his eyes. I’m convinced Malcolm was simply born cool. Of course, his charm and character may have been the result of being raised by his mother, Pam, who was simply a delightful woman. Pam and Suzanne, my publicist, were friends, so I would see Pam out quite a bit. I genuinely liked Pam Warner, but never got to know her as well as I would have liked. I suspect I was a bit too immature for her, running around trying to be a star and flirting with every woman within arms reach. I suspect she was thinking (in the immortal words of Sweet Brown) “Aint nobody got time for that.”
Malcolm must have been about 18 at that time. I wasn’t too much older–10 years or so–but I was impressed with his drive and ambition. I don’t recall being so together at that age. In fact, I know that I wasn’t, not even close. I also got a kick out of hearing of his exploits with his buddies. Malcolm was friends off stage with several of the young men who played his friends on stage. One afternoon, I was standing with Malcolm, Geoff Owens (Elvin), and another actor (I don’t recall who) backstage. Malcolm was sharing with this other actor that a mutual friend of theirs had met and dated a woman that was quite the catch.
“…And she’s an older woman!” Malcolm exclaimed to his friend.
“Yeah. She’s 22!”
Geoff and I looked at each other and burst out laughing.
There’s no other way to put it: Malcolm was cool people.
I didn’t really know Keisha Knight-Pulliam, (Rudy). We perhaps spoke two words to each other the entire time I worked there. Keisha was still in grade school, so she didn’t spend a great deal of time hanging around the set, talking. In addition to my being so much older than her, I didn’t really speak with her parents, as I did with those of Malcolm and Raven. I just didn’t come across her radar.
Raven-Symone (Olivia) was, of course, a doll. Raven and I loved to play with each other. I would pick Raven up and toss her up in the air, twirl her around my waist, and swing her around. She would scream with delight. When Raven and I came on the show, the media spin was that Raven was a child prodigy. I can’t speak to that. I do know that for a three year old child, Raven had an uncanny sense of the theatrical. Raven was more present in a scene, with a greater sense of play, than were some seasoned actors I had worked with. Her sense of the theatrical was part of the two rather twisted games we played. The first was the mourning, or the death walk. Raven would lay in my arms as if dead, her head and arms hanging limp, and I would walk slowly, as if stumbling out of the ocean, crying hysterically. The other was the face punch. I would get on my knees and put Raven in a head-lock and turn our backs to her mother. As I punched my hand, Raven would jump up in the air as if being punched. We had to stop that game after she jumped too high and landed on my knee. Now that I am a father, these games sound horrible, especially to play with a little girl. But Raven loved them and her mother, Lydia, was a very good sport. She would just look at us and shake her head, “You two.” Honestly, I am not sure I would have been so calm or good-natured.
Lydia, Raven’s mother, was genuinely a beautiful woman. Ralph and a few of the other guys in the transportation department had huge crushes on her. I have to admit to being attracted to her myself. She was a good looking woman. She also had a sweet nature and from what I saw, remained humble and down to earth even as her daughter became a huge star. Several years later, when I saw her on the set of That’s so Raven (I was the original father before being replaced by the excellent Rondell Sheridan), Lydia was just as down to earth and still as fine as ever.
Raven’s father, Chris, was another cup of tea. While Lydia was humble and sweet, Chris strutted around as if he were the star and not his daughter. My impression was that Chris wanted very badly to be in show business. I ran into him at a few auditions and he often cornered me, asking how many auditions I was getting. One day, he began to tell me all about how fast Raven’s celebrity was growing and then asked if mine was growing as fast. That was one of the many moments I gave him the “Lisa Bonet Look.” On more than one occasion I overheard someone wonder what in the hell a wonderful woman like Lydia was doing with him.
As I said, Sabrina Le Beauf (Sondra) had been instrumental in me being hired the first time I was on the show. We had been friends prior to my becoming a regular on the show, and remained so during the show. Of all the cast members, she is the only one I kept in touch with after the show ended. Oddly enough, we didn’t interact a great deal on set. There was chit chat here and there, but nothing substantive. We became much better friends after the show ended.
Geoffrey Owens (Elvin) and I were the same age, and when we were both in an episode, shared dressing room space. However, we never became friends. We weren’t unfriendly. I liked Geoff. It’s just that I think our heads were in very different places. Geoff was into his church and would often read the bible during our down time. I was into women and was busy ogling the stand-ins and dating production assistants. Geoff thought of his role as a good job that enabled him to indulge his love of Shakespeare and to help finance his fledgling theater group. I looked at the job as my golden ticket to the big time. Geoff saved his money and invested it in producing plays. I spent my money on a publicist in order to increase my celebrity. Geoff was content. I was desperate. You see, there just wasn’t much for us to talk about.
Phylicia Rashad (Claire) was, well, beautiful and I don’t just mean physically. Even the most jaded among us has to admit that she is a beautiful woman. Phylicia is beautiful to the bone. I mean down deep to her soul. I just loved her spiritual beauty. I loved watching her work with Bill – I loved the way they played off of each other. Her timing with Bill was so good, it was almost as if she were breathing with him. I loved how she laughed on the set, how she laughed in the make-up room, how she laughed everywhere. Phylicia had a wonderful laugh. I also loved how she listened. I didn’t have many conversations with Phylicia, but the ones I did have meant more to me than I think she knows.
The spring of my first season, long after she could have been in her dressing room, Phylicia sat with me and listened as I talked to her about my break-up with Corey: the heartache, my failure to really mourn the loss of what was my first true love relationship. Phylicia’s words of empathy, her sharing just a bit of her life with me meant so much to me. She didn’t really know me, but she had taken the time to listen.
The autumn of my second year, she once again sat and listened as I shared my struggle with depression. Phylicia’s words of encouragement were not nearly as important to me as just how open she was as I talked. As I talked, she looked at me with those gorgeous eyes–eyes of a goddess– and was just present, listening–not judging. Yeah, I guess you could say that I was crushing on Phylicia pretty hard. I didn’t look at her in the way I was drooling over some of the stand-ins. I had a genuine respect for her as a professional and as the kind of woman a man should aspire to have. Yep. Fellas, get you a Phylicia Rashad and call it a day. I was honored to work with Phylicia and to this day, if anyone were to say anything bad about her (and I can’t imagine that anyone would) they will have to fight me. That’s all there is to it.
Next…Tempestt and her F-ing hormones.