I was fortunate enough to chat with the late Alan Thicke on three occasions – twice on the phone, once in person – and on each occasion he was absolutely just as nice as you’d want the man who played Jason Seaver on Growing Pains to be.
You can read the first interview, which I did for Bullz-Eye when Thicke was promoting his appearance in The Goods, by clicking here, but this is my favorite section from it:
“[Writing] was my first career. I did that for about ten years, and I was very happy with that. I completely enjoyed it and had no aspirations beyond my writing career. I just kind of stumbled into the on-camera work, at first as a host, then as an actor. I consider writing to be my craft, though. I’ve had seven Emmy nominations, and five of them were for writing. Only two of them were for acting. It’s something I’ve always been proud of, and when I go and do a banquet – I do a lot of personal appearances – I still enjoy writing for those things and getting the odd laugh. It keeps me on my toes.
“That was a great period of my life, and I’m terribly proud of [Fernwood 2-Nite]. But I wrote for Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby…a lot of the big variety shows of the ‘70s. So I’ll always consider that a big part of my life. The key to writing for Richard was to just push his buttons and then know when to push the buttons on your cassette recorder. You’d get him started, then surreptitiously start recording when he got inspired and started walking around the room and improvising in character. Then you’d get it all transcribed and take credit for it!”
The second interview took place when I was compiling my oral history of The Facts of Life for EW.com, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here. It was a short and sweet conversation, since it was very specific in topic (he wrote the theme song for the show, you know), and I didn’t go back to check and see if every word of this was used, but this is everything I submitted with the piece. As for the third interview, I did that this summer during the TCA press tour, and I have to admit that I hadn’t gotten around to transcribing it, but…well, I guess I’ll be doing that this evening. But I wanted to close with this section because when I pulled it up, I realized that his last lines directly reference his teenage son, with whom he was playing basketball when he had his fatal heart attack. They were pretty tight, I guess. To the very end.
Norman Lear and I became rather close when I was working on Fernwood 2-Nite. Music had been part of my background before that. I started off in rock bands after college, but I wasn’t much good, and the reaction of the audiences quickly taught me that I’d do better with patter than the music, which is why I started talking more and singing less. But Norman’s familiarity with my music really came by way of the little comedy ditties and silly stuff that I wrote for Fernwood 2-Nite. We had a mythical band on the show called Happy Kyne and the Mirthmakers, and I would write intentionally bad or corny songs for them, which amused Norman. He liked the style and respected my lyrical rhyme-scheming ability. [Laughs.]But all of that is what kind of led into my doing the theme for Diff’rent Strokes, and after that went well, he said, “You’re the guy we need for The Facts of Life.”
I must say, I was very proud of the internal rhyme scheme for that entire song. The opening lines are obviously the ones that everyone remembers (“You take the good, you take the bad / You take them both, and there you have / The Facts of Life / The Facts of Life”), and, of course, you don’t get to hear all of the lyrics in the 30-second version – or however long it is – that’s at the beginning of the show, and I don’t know how many of them I’ll exactly right off the top of my head, but there’s also “If you hear them from your brother / Better clear them with your mother / Better get them right / Call them late at night.” I remember that one, and then there’s also, “There’s a time you’ve got to go and show / You’re growing now, you know / About The Facts of Life, The Facts of Life.” I mean, that was a pretty ambitious internal rhyme! [Laughs.]
I’m always proud when I see (the opening lines of the theme song) show up as a spoken line in a sketch on television. I mean, I’ve seen it on Saturday Night Live, I’ve seen it on 2 Broke Girls, and someone referred me to its use on The Goldbergs… There have been a number of shows that – flatteringly – will liberally quote lines from the song like they actually meant something. And I take that as a tribute to that demographic that grew up watching that show and to whom that lyric must’ve resonated. But when stuff like that comes up and I’m sitting with my teenage son, I usually elbow him and say, “See? Your dad wasn’t such a stiff back then. I had a couple of things that stuck!”