Monday, July 19, 2010

It Wasn’t Called The Cherie Johnson Show

EDIT: The post appears how it looked when it went up. However, someone claiming to be Cherie Johnson has told me that she is not the granddaughter of Susie Garrett nor a relation to Marla Gibbs. That info also seems to have vanished from Wikipedia. So there you go. See comments below for further info.

So Punky Brewster was a TV show. This is not up for debate. Also wholly factual — and don’t try to tell me otherwise — is that the show starred Cherie Johnson as the title character’s best friend, whose name also happened to be Cherie Johnson. According to Wikipedia, the character Cherie was written for and modeled on the real-life Cherie. A little weird, right? That a TV show would feature a second banana based on a real-life person when the protagonist was wholly fictional?

(image courtesy of cherie johnson’s childhood diary)

Even more so because Johnson would have only been eleven years old at the time. I mean, it makes sense to have a show made by and for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to have characters based on themselves, but when I Love Lucy hit the air they were grown-ups and slightly more seasoned performers than Johnson was when Punky premiered. It may have helped Johnson that her on-screen grandmother was also her real-life grandmother, singer and actress Susie Garrett, who happened to be the sister of then-big deal sitcom star Marla Gibbs. So I guess little Cherie Johnson may have had some clout, but I still think it’s a fairly unique case to have a role written for and modeled after a complete unknown eleven-year-old who also isn’t the show’s lead. No, instead of writing a show all about Cherie, Punky’s creators made her play the second banana. (I guess it might have been good training for Johnson, who went on to play a not-even-in-the-opening credits banana on Family Matters, where she played Laura’s bestie Maxine.) And if the show’s creators were so keen on using child actors’ real names on the show, then why on earth did they not stick with the name of the actress who played Punky? I mean, maybe little kids would have trouble spelling Soleil Moon Frye, but it’s the kind of name you remember. And I think calling both the child leads by their actual names would have been especially tempting because the name Punky Brewster happened to belong to a real person who had to give her consent not to sue NBC for transforming her into a plucky, pig-tailed orphan with penchant for dayglo.

Maybe someone owed Marla Gibbs a favor and thought it would be easier if Cherie Johnson didn’t have to learn a stage name?

A side note: I guess the woman who was actually named Punky Brewster gets to be the real-life Punky. However, it’s worth noting that the George Gaynes, the actor who played Punky’s adoptive dad, has a daughter who was a member of the Santa Barbara City Council. Daughter of Punky’s dad = Punky, sorta, if you don’t think about it too hard. Working for the paper, I had met this woman a few times. Although she’s about as un-Punkyish as a person could be, I feel comfortable saying I met a real-life Punky Brewster if not the real-life Punky Brewster.

Pop culture minutiae, previously:

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