I'm Proud To Have "Skippy's" Back
"Skippy," I'm On Your Side!
This story is not about Skippy peanut butter. Although I dearly love Skippy peanut butter with a fiery passion, this is about “Skippy” Handelman, one of the main supporting actors on the hit NBC series, “Family Ties.” I’ve always wondered why parents with any form of intelligence and good judgment would name any of their children, “Skippy.” And what bothers me even more is why a product named, “Skippy” would become so successful in the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog peanut butter industry? But these questions can be answered at a future time.
According to research, Family Ties was an American sitcom that aired on NBC that stayed from 1982 to 1989. The sitcom mirrored the move in the United States from cultural liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s. This was particularly exhibited through the relationship between young Republican, Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) and his former-hippie parents, Elyse and Steven Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross). This mixture of political idioms made for many of the show’s points of interest and well-written satirical situations.
Set during the early years of the Reagan administration, Elyse and Steven Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney and Michael Gross) are baby boomers, former-Hippies and liberals raising their three children: Alex (Michael J. Fox), Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) in suburban Columbus, Ohio. Married in 1964, Elyse, an independent architect, and Steven, a station manager in a local public television station, both Elyse and Steven were hippies during the 1960s.
In the episode, "A Christmas Story" in season one, they were influenced by John F. Kennedy and were members of the Peace Corps following their marriage in 1964. Alex was born in 1965 in Africa. Mallory was born while Elyse and Steven were students at the University of California, Berkeley in 1967, and Jennifer was born the night Richard Nixon won his second term in 1972. So there you have a condensed description of this mega-hit, “Family Ties,” that is still seen in reruns in many markets today in America.
Enough about “Family Ties” and the raves this sitcom received by critics of all stations in the entertainment industry. I have to admit that I liked this show, but my daughter, Angie, really got into the weekly adventures of the Keatons and of course, Alex (Michael J. Fox) P. Keaton who fueled most of the comical set-ups for the series.
Like I said, this story is about Mark “Skippy Handelman” Price, well, to be honest, it’s about “Skippy” the character, not Price, the actor. I apologize to everyone who thought that this story, in its entirety, was going to be only about the cast of Family Ties. You see, throughout my teenage and adult years, I have always pulled for the ‘underdog,’ no matter who the underdog was or who they were competing with for acceptance or some good old-fashioned respect. That’s how I’m wired. And I cannot think of a more fitting underdog than “Skippy” Handelman, the somewhat off-the-wall guy next door, always the guy next door, who tried with the ferocity of a wolverine to find just a small place in life and that place was in the lives of the Keaton family. Malory’s life to be exact.
Before this turns into a garden-variety story, first let’s face some serious, soul-searching questions:
Just who was this “Skippy” Handelman?
What made “Skippy” tick?
What were “Skippy’s” thoughts, dreams, ideas for his future?
Were those glasses he wore all the time real or fake?
These are questions that need to be answered. According to my personal research
the “Skippy” character, Irwin “Skippy” Handelman, (Marc Price), was the best buddy of Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox), who was accepted as the star of Family Ties, but not by yours truly. “Skippy” provided, more than just comic relief on Family Ties and often did dumb things. However, unlike some other child actors, Price was really funny as “Skippy” and was generally liked at the height of the show's popularity. “Skippy”'s most famous episode was one in which he discovered that he was adopted by his parents, and then wanted to be referred to only as "Baby Boy Doe."
Folks, I tell you right here, right now, that Marc “Skippy” Price only said what the writers of Family Ties wrote for his character as well as his so-called dumb things. Great comedians who pioneered the ‘comedy trail’ also said and did dumb things too. Charlie Chaplin, as the little tramp; Buster Keaton (no pun intended. REALLY!); Larry Fine; Curly and Moe Howard, or the great Three Stooges, and the Great One, Jackie Gleason. All did and said dumb things in the growing and forming process of their particular characters who later delighted millions world wide. And “Skippy’s” only redeeming qualities to the show, Family Ties, was that he was allegedly, the best pal of Alex Keaton, and the dumb things that came out of his mouth and his bumbling way of walking? I beg, no, I am very irritated at how Marc Price, “Skippy” was treated on Family Ties. And I am sure if I had time, money and means, and could do a country-wide search, I could find many more who agree with me.
Well, we addressed one of my questions as to whom “Skippy” Handelman was, but now for the remaining three questions:
What made “Skippy” tick? We shall never know. No one, speaking of the writers, ever gave “Skippy” a “moment in the spotlight” to where he could expound on what he wanted to do in life or what his ideas were to make our world better. No. It was Michael J. Fox and no one else who got the fame and glory. And even Meredith Baxter-Birney, and Michael Gross, two well-established actors, got to at least stand near Fox’s beaming spotlight each week for him, Alex, to solve whatever problem his parents, sister, and “Skippy” were dealing with. Why didn’t the creators of Family Ties just call the show, “The Alex P. Keaton Show, starring Michael J. Fox,” with . . .and then name Birney; Gross; Bateman and Price. That would have been the honest and upfront way to do things since America was so into the new dimension of being sensitive and accepting anyone or anything in this timeframe, but not for Irwin “Skippy” Handelman. He was always made the buffoon and idiot in every show that the producers allowed him to perform. Poor Irwin, he sincerely thought that his character, “Skippy” was making a difference in someone’s life. Irwin, it did. Mine.
What were “Skippy’s” thoughts, dreams, ideas for his future? Neither you or I, the true “Skippy” fans will never know. As in the same case as Jamey “Klinger” Farr, on M*A*S*H, what possible positive contribution did Klinger make that hadn’t been made already? Klinger, the character who dressed in women’s clothes to just get out of Korea, was cast to do just what Skippy did on Family Ties--be used for the uplifting and building up of the main characters.
I can easily recall many M*A*S*H episodes, Alan “Hawkeye” Pierce or Wayne “Trapper John” Rogers, (my favorite M*A*S*H character, by the way), would yell, “Klinger, get us some penicillin . . .NOW” or “Klinger, where’s the generator?” Things like that. Things that were never said to Gary “Radar” Burghoff. No sir. Let’s make Jamey “Klinger” Farr, the butt of ignorant, juvenile jokes while we, the true cast of M*A*S*H, make tons of money and be remembered for years to come. TEST: who all really remembers ANY of “Klinger’s” catch-phrases? You don’t. Don’t feel sad. Most of the country has forgotten “Klinger,” not me. To me, the Christmas episode where the orphans who lived down the road, were brought to the M*A*S*H camp to celebrate Christmas with the medical staff. Long story short. “Charles Emerson Winchester III,“ played by David Ogden Steirs, had taken a package or two of chocolates (sent to him by his blue blooded parents in Boston), to the orphanage and as he explained to the orphanage manager that this, carrying chocolates, was a Winchester tradition back home and didn’t want anyone to know that Winchester had performed this deed.
At the camp celebration, Winchester notices a piece of THE chocolate that he had wrapped and delivered being eaten by one of the orphans. Of course he finds the orphanage manager and takes him outside for a good old-fashion fisticuffs. The orphanage manager explains that the candy would be good for one day or two, but by selling on the Black Market, he could get a month’s worth of cabbage and rice for the kids. During this exchange, Klinger is listening from inside the tent where the Christmas party is being held.
The last, and best scene of this show was when Winchester, tired from the day’s events, is sitting in “The Swamp” where he, Mike “B.J. Hunnicutt” Farrell and “Alan “Hawkeye” Pierce bunked, and Klinger bursts in with a cart with samples of all the food that was provided at the Christmas party. Winchester, suspicious of Klinger, of course, doubts Klinger’s sincerity. As the scene ends, the camera goes in tight to Klinger to says the key line, “It’s an old Klinger family tradition.” No music. Winchester, tenderly says, “Thank you, Max.” Maxwell Q. Klinger replies, “Merry Christmas, Charles.” That one piece of drama permanently stamped Jamey “Klinger” Farr on my television memories.
Were those glasses “Skippy” wore all the time real or fake? I would have to say real in order for him to see where he was going. I didn’t find out if “Skippy’s glasses were props or real. Sorry, but they did make his character at least “seem” intelligent.
“Skippy” was not abnormal. He had an IQ that I wish I had. “Skippy” even had feelings like normal guys have. He once had a heavy crush on Malory, who, get this, was told by Alex, to ‘act dumb’ to Skippy would be comfortable. I implore you. Is this any way to treat a lovable, energetic guy like “Skippy“? I think not.
Why I chose Marc “Skippy” Handelman as my story subject is that I too, during my life, have played the role of “Skippy” in various settings--school, church, work and my own family. I was always the one with a bizarre way of seeing things; an abstract way of living life; the one who people around me could depend on for, as in “Skippy’s” case, comic relief. That was okay by me. For a while. But sometimes, us “Skippy’s” would love to share the intimate, sensitive spirit that dwells in us the same as you. This is as honest as I can be.
Oh yeah, in 1990, I shared with a publisher friend in the newspaper where I worked, the novel-ideal I had to make “Skippy” more respectable. I would have the Keatons, all neat and pristine, sitting in their living room watching some environmental-based show and in walks “Skippy,” wearing a Rambo-type of camouflage bandana wielding an M-16. The Keatons are at first, stunned, then burst into laugher as Alex, obviously wanting to hog the spotlight, says, “Skip, ya’ headed to a costume party? Or is that your school wardrobe for tomorrow?” The entire cast laughs at “Skippy,” as usual.
“Skippy” doesn’t move. Then Stephen Keaton reacts with concern, “Skippy, son, are you alright?”
“Skippy” replies, “Yes, Mr. Keaton. I am F-I-N-E!” And explains that tonight is the night that he has planned for years to do to the Keatons what they have done to him to make him feel small, short, stupid, and less of a person. The Keatons, even Alex, is stuttering with fear. I am watching this episode at home and raving for “Skippy”
“Skippy” orders the Keaton’s to get on their knees with their hands in the back and face him. Now, Elyse, Jennifer, Alex and even Malory are scared senseless--asking if “Skippy” would like to, get this, post-hippie remark, “talk about it?” What a laugh. “Skippy” sternly says no and says he is counting to three and going to let them feel what he has felt for years.
One . . .”No, “Skippy! It’s not worth throwing your life away!” says, Stephen Keaton.
Two . . .”’Skippy,” I will be glad, (crying) to go out with you anytime,” says Malory.
Three . . .”So long, Make Love Not War sayings,” Elyse Keaton says.
“Skippy,” with that special mischievous grin that only he can do, points the M-16 toward the Keaton's and dowses them with WATER! This was a realistic water gun.
The camera goes in tight to see the Keaton's, heads bowed and water running off of them. Not a word is said as the camera follows “Skippy” to the front door.
He turns back to the humiliated Keaton's and says, “Now you know what it feels like to me me” And slowly walks through the door as the scene fades to black.
I know that this last part is merely fantasy, but I have heard in real life that people who had been tormented and bullied, have really went over the edge and really did something as dreadful and horrible as holding hostages or holding a loaded gun on innocent people, or even worse, themselves as they contemplated suicide.
That’s why I want to really bend over backwards and do whatever I can to be friendly, respectful, and accepting to every “Skippy” I meet from this day forward.