Daily News
August 3, 1989

This article was submitted to us and transcribed by Cousin Monika!  Thanks, Cousin!

Melanie 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," Melanie says.

Verily, therefore, one might well ask why two "verys" for repressed when only one sufficed for polite, proper, and intelligent?

"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???  Three quarters of a kiss per year?  I'd say that was very, very repressed.

"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?

"Because I think neither of them knows how to get there."

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 similarities 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 dimension."

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 be."

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."

Like Larry?

"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 the paper.

"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 world, either."

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 learn.

"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 present."

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 - marriage?

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 misses."