The Montgomery Advertiser and
Alabama Journal - TV Showtime

August 21 - 27, 1988

Actress has been typecast as airline stewardess
also published as:

Rebeca Arthur: A perfect sitcom neighbor

By Jerry Buck
Associated Press

Actors commonly are typecast in certain roles, but Rebeca Arthur of ABC's "Perfect Strangers" seems typecast by occupation.

"I play an airline stewardess on the show," she said.  "I was an airline stewardess on 'Newhart.'  When I came to Los Angeles the first thing I did was 'Remington Steele.'  I was a flight attendant.  I've played a flight attendant on every show I've been on."

Oddly, before she became an actress she was a private investigator.  She specialized in finding missing persons and became so successful at it she because supervisor of a large office of detectives.

On "Perfect Strangers," Arthur plays Mary Anne, no dumb blonde but perhaps too literal for her own good.  She takes everyone and everything at face value, which makes her appear to be a little dizzy.

Mary Anne and her roommate, Jennifer, played by Melanie Wilson, are two flight attendants who are neighbors of Larry (Mark Linn-Baker) and Balki (Bronson Pinchot).  Although they're not paired off, Balki does have a crush on Mary Anne and Larry on Jennifer.

In the show, Balki is a naive sheepherder who has left his Mediterranean home to live with his cousin in Chicago.  It's "The Odd Couple" with a cultural clash thrown in.  Balki, in his own way, takes things at literally as Mary Anne.

"The producers always want us in uniform, and Melanie and I are always begging not to wear those scratchy things," Arthur said.  "On the last show we did we said we wanted to wear our pretty dresses.  When we walked onto the set for rehearsal there were Mark and Bronson in pretty dresses.  We nearly fell down.

"The script had said 'Jennifer and Mary Anne enter and cross to the boys.  They are in their pretty dresses.'  It was ambiguous as to who was in the dresses, so they did it as a dig at us."

Arthur's role on the show began as a guest appearance.

"I wasn't supposed to hang around this long," she said.  "I'd never been a regular on a show before.  I've worked on other comedies, but nothing ever this goofy.  We have a lot of fun."

At the audition, she read for the role of Jennifer.  "The two characters are very different," she said.  "I didn't feel I was right for Jennifer.  I wanted to read for Rachel, which was Mary Anne's name in the first script.  They never did let me read for the role I'm now playing."

The original order for "Perfect Strangers" was for six shows.  "When I saw the promo for the show, I said, 'There's another one that'll get cancelled,'" Arthur said.  "But it did well in the ratings, and they got a pickup for 13.  I was in the first show of the 13.  Then I came back for the fifth show, and I've been there ever since.

"Melanie and I did three shows without a contract.  We thought each show would be our last.  We were just a couple of neurotic actresses.  Then they signed us.  Now, Melanie and I are best friends, and we're still neurotic."

Although Arthur's been on television only a short time, she already has an Emmy.  But Emmy is a toy poodle.

"I named her Emmy in case I never win one," she said.  "She's a little teacup and when I travel I put her into a bag and take her with me.  She's good about it, but after a six-hour flight she wants to run around and be silly."

In her travels, she's often recognized, although most people can't put a name to the face.

"People will come up to me, touch me and say, 'Ain't you that girl?'" she said.  "I don't know.  It depends on what 'that girl' did."

"Perfect Strangers" has been out of production since last December, but with the settlement of the writers' strike, should start filming soon.  Arthur did have a small role in the movie "Scrooge," starring Bill Murray.

"The first day I was on the (movie) set was the first day of the strike," she said.  "The script needed some rewrites so we had to wing it.  I was only on the picture for two days, but I got to dress up like a funky Miss Santa Claus of 1968 and Xerox my heinie.  The joke was I give a copy to the character played by John Forsythe.

"I said I wouldn't do it unless I wore something.  They offered me a G-string, but I wore boxer shorts."

Arthur grew up in Cumberland, Md., and began her career in New York.  But unlike other aspiring actresses, she supported herself as a private investigator while waiting for her break.

"I'd find missing husbands and wives and runaway high school students," she said.  "It's real hard to disappear.  I could usually find a missing person because they nearly always leave some trace.  I talk a lot so people think I'm stupid and tell me everything.  The money was good and they kept promoting me until I ended up a supervisor with a pink office."

She quit after three years when she began getting better TV parts.