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Friday, January 24, 2014

Kirk Cameron's "Growing Pain"

I find that the behind-the-scenes tales of sitcoms, film sets, and album recording sessions can sometimes be much more exciting than what you actually see on the show itself. I think that's why I like to add trivia facts to all of my Monday Matinee entries, or why I chose to do a feature on behind-the-scenes feuds on the set of soap operas. I guess a part of me finds these sorts of things intriguing because it shows all of us that no workplace is really all that immune to drama, gossip, and feuds. I mean, at every workplace that I have ever worked (and for that matter, every school that I attended as a student) had these kinds of things happening all the time. The only difference is that whereas most cases of bad behaviour in our own personal lives was kept quiet and swept under the rug, it's most definitely not the case in the world of entertainment.

These days, it's not uncommon for websites like TMZ, tabloids like The National Enquirer, and bloggers like Perez Hilton to report on the news that comes out of Hollywood before most press publications get the information. And, it seems as though these days, any scandal that comes out of Hollywood becomes public in about the same time it takes to post a picture on Instagram.

But if you go back in time about a quarter of a century, most people were genuinely shocked to discover news about their favourite sitcom stars that painted them in a negative light. Many people were blown away by the fact that the television sitcom that projected the illusion of the perfect middle-class American family was built on a foundation of lies and half-truths, which covered up a darker, more disturbing story.

And because there was no such thing as social media back in the 1980s, it often took a lot longer for stories to come out. Sometimes it took a few days...other times it would take years for the story to be told – much to the chagrin of the cast and crew that worked on the set, of course. But when the news broke, it was explosive.

I seem to remember one sitcom in particular that I really enjoyed watching as a little boy. It was a show that aired for seven years from 1985 until 1992 (or in terms of my own age, from the time I was four until the time I was eleven). I grew up watching this show, I loved this show. Heck, I think there may have been some instances in which I wanted to be a part of this sitcom family. It was classic 1980s television that was standard fare for the time period. You had a typical nuclear family in which both parents had successful jobs and had two or three perfect kids and the adventures that they would have in suburban America. That seemed to be the way of the television sitcom – well, until “Roseanne” and “Married...With Children” came along.

But the truth of the matter is that there were a lot of backstage antics behind the scenes of the ABC television sitcom “Growing Pains”. And, reading about all of the stuff that went on certainly painted the show in a bit of a negative light.

I mean, you've all heard most of the stories about Tracey Gold and her struggle with anorexia during the years that she was on the show. And, I'm sure that you have also heard that the show's production staff and writers certainly were no help to her at all, as the producers pressured Tracey into losing weight to stay on the show, and how the producers ordered the writers to insert fat jokes at Carol Seaver's (the character Tracey played on the show) expense. It was really a disgusting display, and the end result was that Tracey whittled down from a healthy weight of 133 pounds to a dangerously thin 80 pounds. Ironically enough, Tracey Gold was forced to leave the show by the showrunners for being too thin.

But did you know that there was another “Growing Pains” controversy that took place during the show's run? And, that this controversy starred a Seaver child, an actress who according to said Seaver child was too sinful to even share screen time with him, and by the end of the brouhaha, the actress was forced off the show, and three longtime producers of the show quite because they couldn't stand to work with the Seaver child.

Now, by all accounts, when “Growing Pains” first debuted in 1985, it was initially meant for the stars of the show to be Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns, who played the mother and father of the Seaver family, Jason and Maggie. But sitcoms back in the 1980s were very unique in that quite often than not, it was the younger stars who would become the ultimate scene stealers, and have their faces all over the teen magazines and heartthrob posters. “The Hogan Family” had Jason Bateman. “Blossom” had Joey Lawrence. Heck, I'd even state that Gary Coleman was the real star of “Diff'rent Strokes”.

And “Growing Pains” had Kirk Cameron.

Now, I was a little young for the teenage scene when “Growing Pains” was on the air. I wasn't even a teenager when the show went off the air in 1992. But a lot of the girls in my fourth grade class used to read those Teen Beat magazines, or what have you, and I do seem to recall Kirk Cameron's image being plastered all over the front covers. Which I suppose makes some sense, as when “Growing Pains” first debuted, Kirk Cameron was fifteen years old. And certainly, Kirk Cameron appeared at first to be a squeaky-clean teen who all the girls loved to chase after. And to be absolutely fair, he was a good actor on the show, and I can see why after a couple of seasons the show soon focused every storyline around Mike Seaver.

By the way, acting seemed to run in the Cameron family. Kirk's younger sister, Candace, played D.J. Tanner on “Full House”, and Kirk made an appearance on the show in 1988 as D.J.'s cousin, Steve.

But, just a couple of years into the filming of “Growing Pains”, Kirk Cameron began to change...and according to his co-stars, production staff, and other people associated with the show, the changes were not necessarily good ones.

I suppose if one were to put a timeline as to when this change began to take place, one might think it was right around the time that Kirk Cameron made that guest appearance on “Full House”. According to Kirk Cameron himself, when he was younger he claimed to be an atheist – a person who did not believe in God, the hereafter, heaven and hell, etc. And, honestly that's fine. I have a few friends who are atheists who happen to be the most awesome people I know. But when he was seventeen, he began to believe in God again, and became a born-again Christian as a result of this. Again, that's cool. I have several friends who are of Christian faith, and they are again some of the most awesome people I know.

And do you know what makes them awesome? The fact that they keep their beliefs to themselves and don't try to push their beliefs onto other people in an effort to change the way that they think about things.

Somehow, Kirk Cameron didn't quite agree with that sentiment. In fact, many people believe that his return to Christianity caused so much tension on the set of “Growing Pains” that at least one recurring star was fired, and three producers walked off the show!

Let's start with the production aspects. Now, granted, it could have been because Kirk Cameron was still a teenager himself, and that he didn't have a whole lot of maturity back then – something that Kirk himself agreed to in adulthood. But he was often challenging the producers and writers of the show over how his character was written. If there were just a smidgen of sexual innuendo present in the script, Cameron would pitch a fit and demand that it be changed, because it conflicted with his own beliefs!

(I guess it's a good thing that Kirk Cameron never appeared on “Three's Company”!)

It became increasingly difficult for the production staff to write scripts that were acceptable for Cameron. And it wasn't as if the writers and producers were making Kirk Cameron crawl into bed naked with a girl on the show. It was, after all, a prime time sitcom, after all. Even his co-stars were beginning to get annoyed by his behaviour, with Alan Thicke even telling him that Christian entertainment might be a better fit for him. But Kirk Cameron remained true in his ways.

However, I suppose all of that could have been overlooked. After all, Kirk Cameron isn't the first star to demand control over how his character was to be played, and he certainly won't be the last either. And, I suppose that had he just had issues with the scripts, then all that people would be saying was that he was a brat. Not flattering, but not exactly anything that could be overcome either.

But when Kirk Cameron called the President of ABC to complain that three of the show's producers, Dan Guntzelman, Steve Marshall, and Mike Sullivan were actually peddling pornography with the script ideas they came up with (which if you Google those names, you can see several links pop up seemingly confirming this to be true), it was too much for those three producers and they decided to leave the show just before the seventh season was being filmed.

(Though, ironically enough, Steve Marshall was actually charged with possession and distribution of child pornography and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.)

That was bad! But this story is probably worse.

Now, I'm sure you know that in real life, Kirk Cameron ended up marrying actress Chelsea Noble, who had appeared on “Growing Pains” during the last two seasons of the show as Mike's love interest. But before Chelsea was cast, Mike Seaver had another girlfriend on the show. The character's name was Julie Costello, and the actress playing her was Julie McCullough. Now, when Julie won the role of Julie Costello in 1989, it was her first major role on a television series, and during the eight episodes of the show that she appeared on, fans really seemed to like her. They liked the love story between Mike and Julie, and I imagine that many people wanted them to end up together by the time the series ended.

Little did we know that behind the scenes, Kirk Cameron was doing everything in his power to get Julie off the show for good!

You see, there was one teensy weensy thing about Julie that made Kirk shun her. Back in the early 1980s, Julie was trying her hand at being a fashion model, and after graduating from high school, she was convinced by a photographer to pose nude for Playboy Magazine, and between 1985 and 1989, she made four appearances as a Playboy Playmate.

Now these days, being a Playboy Playmate is not a big deal at all. In fact, many stars have appeared on Playboy in hopes that it will get them MORE career opportunities. I mean, just look at Drew Barrymore for instance. She appeared in the magazine when her career was in a lull, and now she's one of the most respected actresses of this generation!

But in the 1980s, things were still very conservative, and people were still quite disturbed over someone appearing in what they called a “nudie mag” or “porno mag”. And certainly when Kirk Cameron found out that the woman playing his on-screen girlfriend had appeared as a Playboy centerfold, I can only imagine that it darn near caused Kirk Cameron to have a mini panic attack!

Needless to say, Julie McCullough was fired from “Growing Pains” in early 1990. But now, here's where the story gets muddled. According to Kirk's autobiography, “Still Growing”, Kirk Cameron always maintained that Julie was never meant to be a long-term character and that she would have been let go after eight episodes anyway. But according to Julie McCullough herself, she explained that Kirk was very much disgusted by her Playboy past, demanded that she be fired, and this incident was what spawned the “all my executive producers are promoting pornography” incident, which saw Guntzelman, Marshall, and Sullivan to quit.

And although Kirk Cameron has since apologized to his entire on-screen family for his antics back then, McCullough never received one from Cameron. In fact, Julie stated that Kirk Cameron actually snubbed her when they happened to cross paths after “Growing Pains” had wrapped up.

And Julie issued this statement about Kirk Cameron on her own MySpace page several years ago that basically says how much respect she has for him.

“He thinks if I read science books that I'll be going to Hell. [I would] rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints...the sinners are much more fun. And a lot more interesting than some book-burner who is still having growing pains. I am at peace with God. Kirk thinks people like me are going to Hell, if I do then at least I'll go well informed and well read.”


Of course, these days, we all know that Kirk Cameron has fully embraced his evangelical Christian beliefs by starring in the “Left Behind” series of films, and starting up “The Firefly Foundation” with his wife, Chelsea Noble. But he's also caused recent controversy with his remarks on homosexuality and how he believes it is wrong. And that certainly caused a lot of discussion about it.

In fact, several former child actors including Brice Beckham, Christine Lakin, Jeremy Licht, and Maureen Flannigan filmed a video in response to Kirk Cameron. And, well...I can't resist posting it. Enjoy! (May be NSFW due to language.)

1 comment:

  1. Truly I really agree Kirk C. about his belief but I truly don't think it give him or any others the right to judge others for there unique difference . People like him truly do not represent God true spiritual nature.