Out Of This World Facts About The ’80s Sitcom Alf
In case you’ve been sleeping, 2016 has not been a good year for the ’80s. Oh sure, the decade ended where the ’90s started, but ’80s culture has taken a beating this year. So far, we’ve lost several ’80’s icons: David Bowie, Prince, Nancy Reagan and Carrie Fisher.
As if that weren’t enough, we just lost the actor who played Alf, Mihaly Meszaros.
The show was about an alien whose spaceship crashed in the suburbs. Alf moves in with the otherwise normal family of the house. Comedy ensues.
It wasn’t an Emmy winner, but as you’d expect, there was plenty of behind the scenes shenanigans. Here are five anecdotes surrounding the production.
In today’s world, if they made a show like this, they’d create a CG version of Alf. In the ‘80s, characters like Alf were puppets mostly.
There were two versions of the Alf puppet. One was a puppet in the traditional sense, where the operator would control him from below. That was the job of Paul Fusco, the man who voiced Alf.
The other puppet was the one worn by Mihaly Meszaros, the man who recently passed. Meszaros was two feet, nine inches tall. He fit completely in the costume, so they could frame all of Alf in a given shot.
Alf could appear anywhere on set. For most shots, he was behind something so you were seeing the puppet version of Alf.
To accommodate the puppeteer, producers had to raise the set for the show. It was four feet off the ground, with trap doors everywhere.
Those trap doors had to open, but also close without creating a safety hazard for the actors and technicians. Sometimes they would have to stop filming more than once to reset the doors.
In addition to the usual rigor of working on a TV show, where one must quickly learn lines and blocking then act his guts out, working on Alf provided unique challenges.
For one, the central character was a puppet. It’s hard enough acting with some actors, but acting with a puppet created tension for some of the cast.
Max Wright, who played Willie Tanner (the dad), came with a background in theater. To add insult to injury, when the show ended, he had a tough time finding work.
Depending on who you ask, it was playtime or it was work time. For the aforementioned Wright, this was work. Rehearsals lasted 18 hours, which was necessary to create the illusion.
For Ben Hertzberg, the youngest sibling of the family, the set was a romper room. At his age, he had no reputation to uphold, no intended future in Hollywood.
For Andrea Elon, the teenage daughter of the family, that set was where she met her future husband, Scott Harper, one of the production assistants.
Jerry Stahl, one of the writers for Alf, is more known for his autobiography Permanent Midnight. That book tells Stahl’s story of addiction, working as a writer in Hollywood.
He later adapted the story into a script, which they made into a movie starring Ben Stiller as Stahl.
The character of Alf makes an appearance in the movie under the name Mr. Chompers. The movie is a scary (but worthwhile) look behind the screen of Hollywood, to say the least.
We have mere hours left on the clock for 2016, but some people have closed their computers until next year. With every nail pounded in the coffin, it seems we couldn’t suffer another loss.
Perhaps we should take this time to give thanks to the people who entertained us for all those years.
Without them, how would we have defined the ’80s? The Cold War?
Who wants to relive that mess?