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Friday, August 24, 2012

Bosom Buddies

Do any of you have any idea how tough it is to find a place to call your own?

I'm not just talking on an emotional level either (though admittedly, I still struggle at times with that one). I mean physically speaking.

The quest to find the perfect home is one that millions of people have embarked on. Some have been lucky and have found their dream home on the very first try. Other people have had to wait for years. I myself am still struggling to find a home that I absolutely adore...preferably one where I don't have nosy neighbours wanting to know what exactly I had for breakfast the morning of October 28, 2010.

The point I'm trying to make is this. Finding the right home can be a really difficult challenge. And some people will do almost anything to rise above that challenge.

They might take on a temporary second job to raise the money to afford it. They might move in with a few roommates to save money. They might put on a girdle, lingerie and a blonde wig and pretend to be a woman in order to live at a hotel which charges an insanely low price for accommodations.

What? You're telling me that last scenario is one that ISN'T normal? Hah. Try telling that to Kip Wilson and Henry Desmond!

And, who are Kip Wilson and Henry Desmond? Why, they happen to be the two main characters in the sitcom that we'll be discussing in today's blog entry.

Yes, boys and girls. Today's blog topic is on the short-lived ABC sitcom, “Bosom Buddies”. The sitcom, which ran from November 27, 1980 until May 27, 1982, and starred Tom Hanks as Kip and Peter Scolari as Henry.

Now, if that theme song music sounds familiar, but not quite right, there is a reason for it. Yes, the song in the credits is this 1978 hit single by singer/songwriter Billy Joel.

But as some of you with a keen set of ears may have quickly realized, that is not Billy Joel singing the song. A different artist re-recorded the theme, which served as the original theme for the show's original run. But when the show became syndicated in 1984 and ran in reruns on NBC, a different song which was written by showrunner Chris Thompson was used in place. You can also hear the second theme song if you pick up the DVD releases of both seasons.

Anyway, “Bosom Buddies” was a show that was created by Thompson, Thomas L. Miller, and Robert L. Boyett. If those last two names seem at all familiar, it's because the Miller-Boyett team produced dozens of sitcoms during the 1970s and 1980s including “Happy Days”, “Laverne and Shirley”, “Full House”, “Family Matters”, and “Perfect Strangers”, amongst others. In fact, initially Miller and Boyett had wanted to come up with a sitcom similar to “Laverne and Shirley” only with male stars in the lead roles instead of female stars. 

They had intended to pitch the series as a straightforward buddy comedy, but when executives at ABC pressed further, they described their outline as similar to the 1959 film “Some Like It Hot”, which featured Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dressing up in drag to get closer to Marilyn Monroe. And for whatever reason, ABC executives loved the idea. They were prepared to greenlight the series on one condition...that they had the male characters dressing up in drag at least once in every episode.

It was a real curveball for Miller and Boyett because they had never intended for the show to progress in THAT way. They were starting over from square one. Fortunately, the duo brought aboard Chris Thompson as showrunner, and Thompson wrote the pilot by himself, setting the stage for the show to debut during the 1980/81 television season.

But for whatever reason, the show least at first. Thompson would later recall that working on “Bosom Buddies” was one of his most favourite experiences in his whole career because for the most part ABC did not meddle in the creative process. The producers and cast were free to experiment, which meant a lot of improvisation between Hanks and Scolari.

The basic plot of the story was this. Kip and Henry were living in an apartment which had extremely low rent. This was great for the two men, as both were basically living from pay week to pay week. But when their apartment building is torn down, both men are left homeless.

Struggling to find another place to live, Henry discovers that there is a hotel in the area named the Susan B. Anthony Hotel, which has a going rate that is so low, even Kip and Henry are able to afford it.

There's just one problem. The Susan B. Anthony Hotel happens to also be restricted to male guests. The only way that they could move into the hotel is if they dress up in women's clothes and pretend to be women.

Immediately, Kip is unsure of participating in such a plan, believing that it would never work. But once he meets a woman named Sonny Lumet (Donna Dixon) who also happens to be living at the hotel, he changes his mind, and the two men go ahead with the plan.

By day, they were Kip and Henry, two men who worked for an advertising firm. By night, they had transformed into the (lovely?) Buffy and Hildy, so they could continue living at the hotel. Take a look at Buffy and Hildy in action below.
Now, I should state that while they were keeping their real identities a secret from the outside world, a few people ended up figuring out who they were. From the very beginning, Kip and Henry's secret was kept by their co-worker and resident of the hotel, Amy Cassidy (the late Wendi Jo Sperber). Of course, Amy had an ulterior motive for keeping the secret...she had a crush on Henry and she believed that if she kept the charade up, she and Henry would eventually be a couple. 

Later on in the series, their secret was exposed and Sonny found out about the ruse. She was initially hurt by the deception, but eventually found it in her heart to forgive both of them. Also in on the secret was the hotel manager for the second season, Isabelle Hammond (Telma Hopkins), who had dreams of becoming a singer. Once Isabelle was aware of the situation, she agreed to let Kip and Henry stay in the hotel, and the dynamic of the show focused less on the dressing in drag and more on the buddy comedy aspect.

Other characters included the original manager of the hotel, Lilly Sinclair (the late Lucille Benson), who left the series after season one, as well as Kip and Henry's boss, Ruth Dunbar (Holland Taylor), who owned the advertising firm that the men worked at. Later on, in season two, Kip and Henry left Ruth's company to start their own advertising firm, “Sixty Seconds Street”. But to keep Holland Taylor on the series, Ruth Dunbar became a partner in their firm.

TRIVIA:  Tom Hanks actually met his future wife, Rita Wilson, on an episode of the show!  Here's the proof!

I was admittedly too young to appreciate “Bosom Buddies” when it first aired (I was born in between the first season finale and second season premiere), but watching old episodes of the series, I can see how the plot kind of worked. There were quite a few plot holes in the development of the series (I never did quite figure out how the men could start up their own firm, but still not have enough money to get out of that hotel, but then I suppose you wouldn't have much of a show if that were the case, would we?)

...oh, right. I'm rambling, aren't I? I'll stop that.

Anyway, as I was saying, the show may have had some plot holes, but the message behind it was cool. Not so much the deception part, but more along the lines of the resourcefulness that Kip and Henry exhibited during the whole series. At no point did they feel that they were in too deep. They were going with the flow at first, seeing how long they could keep up the charade...but the more time that passed, they more they realized that they really could have a life at the Susan B. Anthony Hotel. It became their home. It was where all of their friends were. More importantly, when the ruse was exposed, the friends they had made never went away. In fact, I believe that the experience made them closer than ever before.

It's unfortunate that the show only managed to run for two seasons (although the second season was plagued with time changes and people did not care for the reworking of the show). When the show re-aired on NBC in 1984, it generated a renewed interest, and the possibility of the show being renewed two years after its cancellation was sparked. But with Peter Scolari a regular cast member on “Newhart” at the time, and Tom Hanks filming “Splash” with Daryl Hannah, the idea of “Bosom Buddies” coming back never happened.

I often wonder what might have happened had it been revived though.

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