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When I was a little girl, I probably would have shaved my head if Alyssa Milano had done so. The Who's the Boss? star was my favorite actress, and I alway looked for stories about her in the latest issue of Bop. Well, you know, after I devoured any news about New Kids on the Block.
She made it easy then for me — a chubby pre-teen growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana — to go about losing weight when she released her exercise video, Teen Steam, in 1988. I played my VHS tape every day for the entire summer that I was 12. Between my daily meeting with Alyssa and strict calorie counting, I lost 15 pounds by the time I started seventh grade. In my mind, she and I had become BFFs by Labor Day, which is why — all these years later — I jumped at the chance to interview one of my teen idols.
Alyssa, of course, has continued to act — most recently on the first two seasons of ABC's Mistresses — but she's also embarked on many other projects. There's the Touch line of apparel she designed for female sports fans, because she wanted something to wear at L.A. Dodgers games other than a pink T-shirt with a logo. For more than a decade, she's made time to serve as a UNICEF ambassador and visit children in Angola, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Then there's the comic book, Hacktivist, that she created last year after she became interested in Internet freedoms (she's huge on Twitter). Her most surprising endeavor, though, has to be her latest: Milano has teamed with Viva to design nine styles of paper towels. (Yes, you read that right.)
"My inspiration is to allow moms to not only have an easier time, but also to make the things around them more beautiful and functional," said Alyssa, who is herself now the mother of daughter Elizabella, 1, and 4-year-old son, Milo, her kids with agent husband David Bugliari. With her many side gigs, my lunch dates with the actress aren't as frequent as I'd like, which is to say never, but hey, we're both busy women. She did, however, find time to talk with me about Teen Steam as the video marks its 27th anniversary this week.
"It was during the time when they started to pull all funding out of schools for [physical education], so there was a need for it," she explained of how the video came to be. "And it was also the time when Jane Fonda had her workout videos." Turns out, I'm not the only one who knows Teen Steam embarrassingly well. "To hear stories about how kids would do it and it helped them to feel good about themselves, it's great," she said while thanking me for telling her one more story about her video's impact.
"Just to look back on those '80s moments is always fun for me," she continued. One particular sign-of-the-times moment in the vid is when, just as the opening credits are ending, the camera zooms in on a set that's supposed to look like Milano's bedroom. On her nightstand, next to her touch-tone phone, is a framed photo of Corey Haim. The Corey Haim. The teen heartthrob who had just starred in License to Drive and The Lost Boys and whom Alyssa also happened to date back in the day.
"He was my first boyfriend, when I was very little," she shared. "Obviously, because we were so young, we weren't real boyfriend and girlfriend. I had the hugest crush on him and we were friends. We were friends with crushes on each other. And he was like the s--t at that time."
Haim's photo didn't get much screen time, but Alyssa's workout partners — Tiffanie and Michelle — did. The two girls were supposedly stressed out and coming over to Alyssa's to (as the theme song says) "let off some of that steam." Not surprisingly, Milano confirmed to me that the two girls weren't her real friends, but were "cast" to be her gal pals.
However, the jamming song that played against dancing teenagers and a lot of, you know, steam was all real, pure '80s pop. Alyssa, who by 1988 had recorded hit albums released exclusively outside of the United States, chose to sing this tune herself. It was written and produced by her dad, Thomas Milano, who was then and continues to be a music editor for movies such as Moneyball.
I feel grateful I found Teen Steam, but I'm even more appreciative that no one filmed my sessions doing calf raises and soccer kicks. Alyssa is not so lucky.
When I asked her if there's anything in the video that makes her cringe now, she answered immediately.
"All of it. All of it, are you kidding?" Alyssa laughed. "But in a good way. And you have to realize that a lot of my '80s is on camera in some way, right? I went through puberty on television in the '80s. There could not be a more ugly era for fashion, and there I was for everyone to see. So, yeah, that whole time."
To her credit, the fashions in Teen Steam are pretty tame. To her credit, the fashions in ‘Teen Steam’ are pretty tame. No super big hair and the neon is kept to a minimum.
"It's so weird because I'll watch reruns of Who's the Boss? and have no recollection of doing it all," she said. "I remember weird things, like a pair of pants that Judith [Light] wore in the episode. Just weird, random things, like the pocket designs on [Tony Danza's] jeans, because he always wore the same jeans, the same brand. I don't even remember what they were. But there's weird, random stuff I remember. But as far as the big stuff..."
As someone who recalls most of the words to the Teen Steam theme song yet can't remember the names of some of my teachers, I completely understand.