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They were just two guys, trying to make it in the advertising biz in New York City, looking for an affordable place to live, and willing to wear dresses, pantyhose, and full makeup to lock that bachelor pad down. Of course, the bachelor pad was inside a hotel for women only, and, of course, we’re talking about the 1980-82 ABC sitcom Bosom Buddies, the Tom Hanks career launcher that debuted 35 years ago this week.
It was a modest hit at the time, and even though the considerable skills of Hanks and co-star Peter Scolari were on full display, anyone who says they predicted from the show just how successful Hanks would be is giving themselves a little bit too much credit in hindsight. But the actors did make for a delightfully talented team, with fine buddy comedy chemistry, and a penchant for improvisation that often made it into the final cuts of the BB episodes. It’s no surprise, then, that the 37-episode series remains a cult favorite, which is why we’re celebrating its anniversary with 20 things you might not know about the shenanigans of the cast, crew, and characters of the Susan B. Anthony Hotel.
1. It Almost Didn’t Launch Tom Hanks’s Career
Bosom Buddies producers had two other actors in mind to play Kip/Buffy and Henry/Hildegarde: 1941 and I Wanna Hold Your Hand alum Bobby DiCicco as Kip, and another 1941 alum, Perry Lang, as Henry. But when neither were available, series creator Chris Thompson looked to Peter Scolari, who had starred in Goodtime Girls, a sitcom from Bosom Buddies producers Robert Boyett and Thomas Miller, while a casting agent found Hanks, whose only previous TV role had been a guest appearance on The Love Boat.
2. Hanks Wasn’t the Only Buddies Alum Who Went on to Do Big Things
Some of those names, besides Hanks and Scolari, probably sound familiar. Chris Thompson, who’d been a writer on Laverne & Shirley pre-Bosom Buddies, went on to write the screenplay for Jumpin’ Jack Flash, create The Naked Truth and the deliciously insider-y Hollywood comedy Action, and write for The Larry Sanders Show. Thompson, who also created the Disney Channel comedy Shake It Up!, died in June 2015. Robert Boyett and Thomas Miller are better known as Miller-Boyett, the production company name-checked in the credits of Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, Step by Step, and Full House.
3. Bob Saget Crossed Paths With the Buddies
And another Bosom Buddies/Full House connection: House star Bob Saget was the audience warm-up comedian for Buddies, and even guest-starred — as “Bob the Comic” — in Season 1’s “The Show Must Go On.” It was his first TV appearance.
4. Marilyn Monroe Helped the Show Get Sold
Bosom Buddies was pitched to ABC as a buddy comedy, with the tone and humor of Billy Wilder movies like the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning Some Like It Hot. The network jumped on the Some Like It Hot reference and wanted producers to make the show they were pitching… but with the lead buddy characters dressing in women’s clothing, a la Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Aside from that big change-up with the premise, Chris Thompson said the network never really interfered with the series again. “It ended up being my completely favorite experience in show business,” he told the Los Angeles Daily News. “We were left alone. Nobody was paying attention to us. We were all really young, but it was like we had daddy’s Porsche. We had $500,000 to play with every week.”
5. Hanks’s Paycheck Was Pocket Change (Comparatively Speaking)
Of that $500,000 weekly budget, Thompson says the starting salary for future two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks was … $2,500 per week. As of 2014, Hanks’s estimated net worth is $390 million, with his films having grossed more than $8 billion worldwide.
6. Tom Hanks and Penny Marshall Go Way Back
The most famous guest star from Bosom Buddies’ two seasons on ABC: Penny Marshall, whose Laverne & Shirley filmed on the Paramount lot where Buddies filmed. Marshall played herself in Season 2’s “Cablevision,” when she’s kidnapped to appear on a cable TV show Kip and Henry are producing for one of their clients. Marshall, as a director, would go on to work with Hanks in two of his most beloved films, Big and A League of Their Own.
7. 34,995 Fans … and One Letter-Writing Future Star
When the show’s ratings fell off in the second season – after Kip and Henry revealed their ruse, yet continued to dress as Buffy and Hildegarde – fans began a letter-writing campaign to keep it on the air, with ABC receiving 35,000 letters of support. And five of those letters came from the same household. The Goldbergs mom Wendi McLendon-Covey said she was a fan of the show when she was a kid, and wrote not one, but five letters from people in her household, to let the network (the same one that now airs her hit show) how beloved Buddies was.
8. Billy Joel Didn’t Really Sing the Theme Song
Billy Joel’s hit “My Life” was the show’s original theme song, but for syndication airings and home video release, “My Life” was replaced with a song called “Shake Me Loose,” performed by Stephanie Mills. And the version of “My Life” heard in the opening credits was not the version sung by Billy Joel, but rather a version recorded by a studio musician named Gary Bennett to sound a little like Joel.
9. Buddies Lent Itself to the Greatest Spoof of an ‘80s Sitcom’s Opening Credits in Television History
In 2014, Adam Scott’s fourth entry in his The Greatest Event in Television History series on Adult Swim was a shot-by-shot remake of the Bosom Buddies opening credits, with Scott as Hanks/Kip and Paul Rudd as Scolari/Henry. Hanks and Scolari made cameos in the “making-of” portion of the spoof, which included Rudd insisting he stay in character throughout the project. And Billy Joel also makes a cameo in the Adult Swim spoof, finally giving the opening credits a version of “My Life” sung by Billy Joel … after he sits for a session in which Scott and Rudd criticize his singing and make him change the lyrics to include a mention of an open-faced French sandwich.
10. Hanks and Scolari Didn’t Mind Staying In Costume Off-Camera
Bosom Buddies was filmed on Stage 25 at paramount Studios, which was also home to the production of The Lucy Show, Cheers, Frasier, and In Treatment. Many other shows were filming nearby Stage 25 at the time, and Hanks and Scolari were known for showing up, in their Buffy and Hildegarde wardrobe, to visit their fellow TV stars at work. Pam Dawber says they frequently came to the Mork & Mindy set to watch Robin Williams rehearse.
11. Buddies Brought Hanks a Love Connection
In the Season 2 episode “All You Need Is Love,” Kip takes Henry to a video dating service to help his pal make a love match. Henry meets Cindy, a woman he likes … but she turns out to be a devil worshipper. Things worked out better for Kip, or rather Tom Hanks. The actress who played Cindy? Rita Wilson. It was the first time she and Hanks met; they’ve been married for 27 years.
12. Not Everyone Thought Buddies Was a Laughing Matter
Bosom Buddies had a devoted fanbase during its original run and has maintained beloved cult classic status since, but not everyone found the humor in the series. A review in a March 1981 issue of the Weekly World News tabloid – okay, we know, consider the source – warned readers the “sex-soaked comedy” was a “tribute to sickness and perversion.” Wrote critic Rex Winston, “What are we to expect from kids who watch Bosom Buddies – a generation of transvestites skipping down the avenue in their gay Easter bonnets?”
13. The Show Had Some Seriously Wholesome Competition
Bosom Buddies premiered on November 27, 1980, as part of an ABC lineup that included Mork & Mindy, Barney Miller, It’s a Living, and 20/20, and was among the top 10 highest-rated series that week – number seven, specifically. Its timeslot competition included The Waltons on CBS, a show that must have been a much more agreeable viewing experience for Rex Winston.
14. Garth’s Future Crush Got Her Start at the Susan B. Anthony Hotel
Dixon played nurse Sonny, the object of Kip’s affection, and, as a resident of the Susan B. Anthony Hotel, one of the reasons he was willing to don the dresses, bras, pantyhose, etc. to live at the women-only establishment. The show was the future Wayne’s World scene stealer’s first acting gig; she had been a model and college student who won the Miss Virginia USA title in 1976 and was a Miss USA runner-up.
15. The Actress Behind Amy Left an Important Legacy
Scolari and Hanks’s other co-stars included future Emmy winner Holland Taylor (The Practice and Two and a Half Men) as their ad agency boss Ruth Dunbar, future Family Matters star Telma Hopkins as Susan B. Anthony resident-turned-manager Isabelle, and Wendie Jo Sperber as their co-worker Amy, who crushed on Henry and introduced the fellas to the Susan B. Anthony. Sperber, who would go on to star in Back to the Future and with Hanks in Bachelor Party, is the founder of weSPARK Cancer Support Center, an independent Los Angeles organization that provides free support and information to cancer patients. Sperber, who continued to work throughout her own battles with cancer, including appearances on sitcoms like Will & Grace and Home Improvement, died in 2005 at the age of 47.
16. There Was a Tiger on the Loose… Really
In Season 2’s “Who’s on Thirst?” Ruth accidentally allows a tiger the agency is using to get loose and roam out into New York City. The cast, when reunited to celebrate their 30th anniversary at the 8th Annual TV Land Awards, revealed that the tiger playing The Tiger had actually gotten loose on the set, too.
17. Tom Hanks Did NOT Sing the Theme Song … Well, Except for That One Time
A persistent TV urban legend had some viewers believing Hanks was the voice crooning the alt version of Billy Joel’s “My Life” for the Bosom Buddies opening credits, which was, of course, not true. Hanks did sing the theme, or at least part of it, during a Season 5 guest appearance on 30 Rock. Video proof:
18. Hanks Gave His First Oscar Acceptance Speech as Kip
After hitting a home run with an ad campaign in Season 1’s “Loathe Thy Neighbor,” Hanks’s graphic designer Kip picks up a statue – actually, a wooden drawing model on his desk – and thanks “the Academy” for recognizing his efforts. Hanks’s massive career success couldn’t have been predicted by anyone at that point, but he did thank the Academy for real when he won his first Oscar, nearly 14 years later.
19. NBC Tried to Bring Back the Buddies
After Bosom Buddies’ cancellation on ABC, NBC bought the rights to air reruns in 1984, hoping to draw viewers after Tom Hanks’s big-screen success with the March 1984 release of Splash. Buddies did bring in viewers … so many that NBC tried to revive the short-lived comedy. But Hanks’s taste of movie success had him focused on continuing down that path, and Scolari was co-starring with Bob Newhart in the CBS hit Newhart, so neither actor was available.
20. There is a BosomBuddies.com website.
It does not include information about the 1980-82 ABC television program.
Bosom Buddies: The Complete Series is available on DVD.