August 3, 1989
article was submitted to us and transcribed by Cousin
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Wilson: A Stranger No Longer
By Seli Groves
Melanie Wilson says of her
"Perfect Strangers" character, Jennifer, "She's
not just polite, she's very polite. She's not just proper, she's
very proper. She's not only intelligent, she's very intelligent.
And she's not just repressed, she's very, very repressed,"
Verily, therefore, one might well ask why two "verys"
for repressed when only one sufficed for polite, proper, and
"Because in her case," Melanie said, "she's much
too repressed for her own good. Can you imagine, for example,
that she and Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) have known each other for
three years and in that time they've kissed each other, oh,
about two and a half times, which works out to what???
quarters of a kiss per year? I'd say that was very, very
"Of course, she is intelligent, and I like that. But she
has such a good head on her shoulders, she doesn't quite know
what to do when it comes to romance. However," Melanie
added, "this is a problem for a lot of women. She's just
not sure how to take advantage of any advances made toward her,
and she's not sure how to initiate the advances herself.
"I think she holds herself back - and that's what I work on
when I play her. I tend to be a little more spontaneous, but
spontaneity isn't a word she'd even feel comfortable saying, let
alone a concept she could accept - or live."
There are those who say that contrary to the cliche, it's not
opposites that attract, but rather, that like tends to bond with
like and that, perhaps on "Perfect Strangers", Larry,
the shy guy, and Jennifer the uncertain young woman, are two
sides of the same coin.
Melanie agreed: "They are quite similar and I think that's
why nothing has, as yet, gotten heated up. They still haven't
gotten to where they could go."
"Because I think neither of them knows how to get
When Melanie was first asked to play Jennifer, the role came out
of the writers' computers pretty much the way they saw the
character. But as often happens when someone takes on a regular
role in a series, the writers began seeing aspects of Melanie
that could be shared with Jennifer.
Melanie describes this process as "...a courtship, really,
between actors and writers. Jennifer and I have some
on which the writers have drawn. For example, like Jennifer, I
went abroad to study. I was quite academic during my school
years; I was, and remain, a voracious reader. I think that as
they've come to know me, they've taken a part of me and given it
to her which then gives her, thankfully, another
Commenting on the changes in Jennifer over the past seasons,
Melanie said: "I've seen some wonderful things happening.
They've allowed her to be different from the typical TV
'blonde'. You could say," Melanie said, "that she's
treated more like the 'typical TV series' brunette' would
The so-called "typical TV blonde" to which Melanie
referred when she spoke about Rebeca Arthur's role as quite the
quintessential example of same, is a stock character who, if
she's not actually dumb, is at least desperately naive and
trusting. The brunette character is portrayed as more skeptical
and usually more sensible.
Melanie continued: "What I'm also pleased about is the way
the writers have been rounding Jennifer out over the past year.
She has more of a sense of who she is, and what she wants, and
more strength as a person. I suppose you could say she's coming
into her own."
"Yes. He's also becoming more aware of his self-worth and
that's being reflective in his career moves as well. If you
remember, he started out working at a thrift store and now he's
in a newsroom and," she added, "I think this season
they might even give him a raise and maybe even a better job at
"And on the flip side of the same coin, Jennifer is doing
better in her career and feels a lot better about herself,
although I'm not sure she's the most confident person in the
While Jennifer is still feeling her way through her career,
Melanie never doubted that what she wanted to be was an actress.
Of course, the fact that she grew up in the business may have
had something to do with her choice; her mother, Meg Brown, had
been a dancer, and Melanie learned to read by running lines with
her actor father, Dick Wilson. (And if the name Dick Wilson
doesn't immediately activate your memory cells, you might react
to the fact that one of his alter egos is Mr. "please don't
squeeze the Charmin" Whipple.)
Melanie was already doing theater during her high school years.
"When I was 16, I took the proficiency tests, passed them,
and left high school to attend junior college for two
years," she said. "After that I thought it would be
wonderful to continue studying in Europe and my parents were
great about it; they agreed to let me go to a school in the
south of France to study."
After she finished her courses, she continued traveling. "I
got to go to Paris," she added, "and then I went all
over Europe and eventually got to Tunisia in Africa."
What, of all the good things that came out of her traveling,
does Melanie think was most significant?
"The amazing sense of tolerance that I developed about
different beliefs and lifestyles. When you're thrust into
different countries and different cultures where people see
things not quite the way you've been taught to see them, you
either sink or swim. You can either try to understand all the
elements that seem so different - even if you don't agree with
them - or you can fight against it, and lose the chance to
"I also found that most people are outgoing and eager to
meet with and talk to Americans and to exchange views on
everything from pop culture to politics. And, of course, being
the dedicated museum person that I am (Melanie is an active
supporter of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), I was able
to visit museums all over Europe and Tunisia and see some
wonderful things that I might never have seen otherwise.
"So many people think museums are either places where you
look at pictures on the wall or relics from the forgotten past.
What they fail to see is how important those relics are. They
show us our history and how we came to be what we are today, and
they show us great works of art from the past and the
Looking forward to the new season, has Melanie learned anything
about Jennifer and Larry's romantic possibilities in the new
season? Will they come closer to the ultimate decision -
Melanie laughed. "Well, as I said, at the rate they've been
going so far, that possibility is probably a long way off."
Would she like to have producers accelerate the pace at which
Larry and Jennifer's passions have been moving so they can get
to some sort of commitment?
"I'm not sure that's necessarily where we should be heading
at this time," Melanie said. "I would say that, at
least by TV standards, the chase is always more exciting than
the capture. Besides, I think it would be more fun to let them
have a courtship this year, instead of all those kisses that
didn't connect, perhaps they can have more hits than