Before there was Ellen, there was Amanda Bearse.
The actress, then co-starring on Fox’s “Married … with Children,” became the first working TV actress on network television to come out. She was a trailblazer on the politically incorrect sitcom that launched the Fox network and ran for 11 seasons, from 1987-1997.
It starred Ed O’Neill as sad-sack shoe salesman Al Bundy, Katey Sagal as his lazy wife Peg, Christina Applegate as his dumb blonde daughter Kelly, and David Faustino as horndog son Bud. Bearse played next-door neighbor Marcy, a bank manager who clashed with Al about everything.
That, apparently, extended off-screen.
O’Neill and Bearse did not get along.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
TV shows, especially successful, long-running shows, are filled with Type A creative types who are working long hours under strenuous deadlines.
At one point, “I Love Lucy” could have been renamed “I Hate Lucy.” William Frawley hated Vivian Vance, who sometimes quarreled with Lucy, who endured a horrible marriage with Desi.
Ryan Murphy can probably get 12 seasons for his FX show “Feud” just covering the six years his “Glee” aired on Fox – with a drug addict, a child porn addict, and Lea Michele.
In all my years of TV reporting, I am only aware of one show where the entire cast genuinely liked each other AND still remain in touch with each other to this very day, and that’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
So why revisit this feud now when the show ended more than 20 years? “Married …” never left syndication and is in heavy rotation on, of all channels, Logo. It continues to find new fans.
There’s a fascinating mashup interview exploring the feud on YouTube that dropped a year ago from user hamhable that deserves amplification. It illustrates the abuse all LGBTQ people face in the workplace.
It features an excerpt from an extended interview O’Neill gave in 2013 to the Television Academy, the folks who hand out the Emmys. It’s breathtaking for its honesty and for its absolute lack of self-awareness.
O’Neill volunteers that the only cast member he didn’t get along with was Bearse, and he has no idea why.
“She changed a bit. I mean, I have to say that when she started out, she was gay. She was gay for a long time. She was more or less the female in the couple. You know, she was very feminine, and cute. And then as the show, you know, 11 years it went, it progressed, a change took place where she then was the more masculine of the two. You know, she had several relationships over that time, and that became kind of interesting because then as she became more masculine, she became a little more snarky, you know, she could grow a tooth, as we used to say.”
The idea that he would criticize her for not following his idea of accepted gender norms for women is one thing; the idea that he would feel the need to share this in an interview that will be archived and available online forever is appalling.
He reveals he was perturbed when he realized he and Faustino were the only two cast members not to get an invitation to her wedding – and he confronted her about it.
“She said, ‘This was a very tough call. But I just feel that you would find it amusing that me and (her fiancee) would come in in tuxedos in a church and walk down the aisle, and you and David would be snickering and finding it funny.’ I said, ‘Amanda, what is funny about two women in tuxedos walking down the church aisle?’”
He laughs, recalling the memory, and then adds, ‘I started laughing, and she said, ‘SEE?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know why, because it is fucking funny. And I’m not going to be the only one that doesn’t think so. Well, that was it, you know.
“It was funny.”
And the off-screen interviewer laughs with him.
He’s just proven Bearse had every reason not to invite him to the wedding.
Now this happened years before same-sex marriage became legal across the country, and yet LGBTQ people still have to think about this when they plan a celebration of their love: Who can they trust to be there to wish them well and who will be looking for an excuse to mock them?
But O’Neill is just winding up. He has another story that he thinks proves Bearse – who also directed more than 30 episodes of the series – was a fool.
“Another time, we got in a big fight, over something, something stupid in the makeup room, and she said something about, ‘You’re a bully’ or something, and I said, ‘Well, you’re miserable,’ You know, it was bad, in front of everyone by the way, and then I said, ‘You know, you’re not very bright. That’s your problem.’ And she was bright, but in a way, she wasn’t … She said, ‘I’m not bright.’ And I could just see her gearing up like, ‘I’m smarter than you,’ and I said, ‘No, because I’ll tell you why, because I have a button I can push. That button says, “Get rid of Amanda Bearse.” You don’t have a button that says, “Get rid of Ed O’Neill.” Your button doesn’t work. Mine works.’ Now this was a mean thing to say. I never was going to push that button, but it was true. I could go to them and say, ‘Look, I can’t work with her. I go or she goes.’ Who goes? She goes.”
So his response to her that when she calls him out as a bully is to threaten to get her fired – in front of everyone in the make-up room.
It was no idle threat, and Bearse knew it.
O’Neill had the original Kelly and Bud fired from the show after the pilot filming. He felt he had no chemistry with performers Tina Caspary and Hunter Carson so he complained to producers, and they were replaced with Applegate and Faustino.
One can only imagine the crap Jesse Tyler Ferguson had to put up with for 11 seasons on “Modern Family.”
Bearse, seen here at a fan convention in 2018, is relatively diplomatic.
“I follow the Thumper rule. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I will share, he was not happy toward the end of the series.”
That much was very well documented in the press.
She adds a moment later, “Great actor. Yeah. Great actor.”
Maybe. But one hell of a miserable human being.
You can watch the Bearse/O’Neill mashup interview here.