Friday, July 21, 2006

The kiss of death for Eddie LeBec

Had a question about Jay Thomas who played Eddie LeBec on CHEERS (okay, I’ve had it for awhile but am just now getting to it.) I first met Jay when he was a disc jockey on 99X in New York back in the 70’s. I occasionally would fly in and do fill-in shows. Even spent some time at his loft, which I remember being ridiculously expensive for what amounted to a walk-in closet with the world’s highest ceiling. No room and murder to heat. He eventually moved out to LA and was a very successful morning man on Power 106.

His first big acting break came on MORK & MINDY. He became a regular towards the end of that series’ run.

Quick aside: Years later Pam Dawber got her own sitcom, MY SISTER SAM and the joke was that CBS executives watched an episode of Robin Williams & Pam on MORK & MINDY and said, “Wow!! We gotta get the girl!”

David Isaacs and I wrote the two-parter on CHEERS that introduced the character of Eddie LeBec. Actually, it started as just a single episode but as the story expanded it became clear we needed more time to tell it.

We read a number of people for the role and I thought of Jay. Beyond that there was no favoritism. The other producers were mostly unfamiliar with his work. He came in and auditioned like everyone else and won the role.

He was terrific in the episodes, he and Rhea made a very cute couple and so he was brought back periodically as her boyfriend. It also gave us a story arc for Carla. Finally we decided to marry them.

A few episodes of recurring bliss and then one day on Jay’s radio show a caller asked him what it was like to be on CHEERS? He said something to the effect of “It’s brutal. I have to kiss Rhea Perlman.” Well, guess who happened to be listening.

Jay Thomas was never seen on CHEERS again. To explain his departure we decided to just kill him, which led to one of my favorite episodes that David and I wrote, “Death Takes a Holiday on Ice”. First off, we needed a funny demise. Eddie, by then, was working as a penguin in an ice show so we arrived at a Zamboni machine accident. (We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to use the name Zamboni but the company loved it.)

Then we needed (a) some comic spin for the story, and (b) something to discredit Eddie so the audience would ultimately be glad he was out of Carla’s life. The answer was at the funeral Carla learned that he was a polygamist, and had a second wife (who looked just like Carla). It was BIG LOVE going for big laughs. The episode earned us an Emmy nomination (and Emmy loss…I wonder if Jay Thomas was on the blue ribbon committee???)

One final note: We used an actor in one scene to bring in some news. He was on screen for maybe two minutes. As far as we know it was his first job. It was Thomas Hayden Church. Former CHEERS producers Casey, Lee, & Angell were impressed and cast him in the new series they were developing – WINGS. He since went on to snag an Oscar nomination for SIDEWAYS and is one of the villains in next year’s SPIDERMAN 3. I’m sure if he had won an Oscar, David and I would be the first two people he thanked. In fact, he should have run on stage and thanked us whether he won or not. Ingrate!!

Jay Thomas went on to star in LOVE AND WAR with the always hilarious Susan Dey and appeared in many TV episodes and movies. He’s now back on the radio, where hopefully he’s smart enough to not take anymore calls.

23 comments:

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Yet you are allowed to tell this story? What does that say?

Anonymous said...

I liked your work a lot Ken, but I never for the "Death Takes a Holiday" episode. It seemed completely out of character that Eddie would have another wife - the whole thing was trying too hard to be another "Chuckles Bites the Dust". I never cared much for Jay Thomas, either - he seems like such an abrasive loudmouth. His arrival on "Mork & Mindy" was the death knell for that show.

Adam Rogers said...

I thought that Thomas only lasted a season or two on Mork and Mindy. He (and the woman who played his wife and co-owner of the pizza place[?], whose name I could probably find on IMDB if I wasn't a lazy bastard) got the boot so the show could afford Jonathan Winters, playing M&M's kid. No?

Anonymous said...

Nice of the Zamboni company to let you guys use the name. I had never heard of it until I saw that episode, and in fact didn't know what it was when I read the TV Guide listing.

I also remember seeing Church on that episode and thinking that this guy has presence and is able to wring a laugh out of every line, so I was not surprised to see him among the cast of WINGS not long after.

Tom Quigley said...

That one short bit of dialogue by Thomas Hayden Church was a classic. When he comes in to tell "the widow LeBec" as Carla put it, about the insurance policy, the "other " Mrs. LeBec asks (I'm paraphrasing, might not have it absolutely right) "Wait, was there any mention of anything for another Mrs. LeBec?"

CHURCH:(deadpan) Would you, in fact, be that other Mrs. LeBec?

OTHER MRS. LeBEC: (anxious, anticipatory) Yes...

CHURCH: (beat, then even more deadpan) No.

He exits.

I'm laughing out loud even as I'm writing it.

Great bit of writing by Messrs. Leivne and Isaacs.

Tom Quigley said...

Whoops! Sorry to misspell your last name Ken! didn't catch it before I clicked "Publish"...

Will Teullive said...

Thanks for the Jay Thomas update.

In your opinion who is the most sucessful radio jock to go from under the headphones to in front of the camera? (Regis did radio in LA right?)

PS Why did THC leaves 'Wings' anyway and where is Farrah Forke these days?

Cage Free Brown said...

I thought Thomas' personality was a good fit for the show. I don't think that character had been exhausted by a longshot. Too bad somebody couldn't take a joke. Granted, not a very good joke but I thought you showbiz people had thick skins.
well, no skin off anybody's nose I guess. emmy nominations are a good thing, right?

Beth Ciotta said...

I always liked the character of Eddie LeBec. Sort of wondering about the man, Jay Thomas. I'm wondering if he was serious or joking. Obviously, Ms. Perlman did not see the humor.

A scary reminder to watch what you say, as you never know who's listening. I keep that in mind when I blog. (or try to anyway) One never knows who's reading.

Thank you for another fascinating behind-the-scenes post, Ken. Interesting how you and David assessed and handled the crisis.

Geoff said...

"...the always hilarious Susan Dey." This is why YOU should still be on radio, Ken. ;)

Anonymous said...

Heard Jay Thomas with Howard Stern recently and Jay recounted the same story. He was crushed to lose the part due to his big mouth.
Jay now hosts a daily talk show on Sirius "Stars" channel and is selling high end real estate in Santa Barbara.
By the way I used to ride the elevator with Jay as he was heading to his morning show at Power / Magic, whatever the hell it was. Always had a smile and a kind word for me, a lowly board op at KIQQ. Wish I could say the same for Robert W. Morgan….but that's another story….

Bill Nesbitt

Anonymous said...

I LUV! the part at Eddie's wake where the wizened cleric tells the mourners that it's now time for Mrs. LeBec to step forward. Carla does -- and then so does another woman.

"That is, the current Mrs. LeBec"

Carla does -- and so does the other woman.

The cleric ducks his head and growls, "Uh-OHHH!"

I had it on tape and watched that part so often that it'll be my wife's first piece of evidence at my insanity hearing.

Anonymous said...

Ken:

This isn't exactly on topic, but can you settle the answer of what was Eddie LeBec's number when he played with the Bruins? A couple of Internet sources say either 33 or 38, but I just watched Never Love a Goalie on DVD and in part 1 he seems to be wearing either 33 or 38 (can't tell whether the second number is a 3 or an 8, but the first one is definitely a 3), and then in part 2 he's wearing number 1. (I realize you guys had to use Bruins footage at the time, but I'm wondering if it was ever definitely established what his number was.)

Thanks

Anonymous said...

While I could take or leave the character of Eddie Lebeque ( Which is the PROPER French spelling of that name )I thought Jay Thomas was absolutely TERRIBLE casting for the part of a French Canadian..He had a thick Bronx accent and his attempets to speak French in the wedding episode were laughable and painful to hear; and yes, I know whereof I speak, being French Canadian myself! ( I was born in Ontario, so i'm totally billingual )Perhaps they could have made him an Italian-Canadian from Toronto, then his accent might have been acceptable, but, as a French Canadian, Jay Thomas makes a great New Yorker! Mikado

Anonymous said...

I dont blame him I would not kiss that ugly witch either

Anonymous said...

Ken:

You are one of the most talented people in show business. I had the opportunity to work with you each time Bobby Rich let you come to WXLO and do a show. I was the tech on duty in the evenings at
99X.

What I can't understand about this blog is how you have failed to tell the truth about Jay Thomas. I worked with him on a daily basis as did you so why not come clean and tell the world what an oboxious, foul-mouthed, nasty and totally uncooperative louse Thomas is...and this was BEFORE he became a television star. You know all this yet you chose to be less then open about the real Jay Thomas aka John Terrell. You had the opportunity to be honest but dropped the ball.

Anonymous said...

Additionally Ken, I am sure you knew that Jay Thomas was the biggest crybaby ever at 99X running to General Manager Erica Farber over every little perceived problem. He even had two summer relief techs fired for a minor problem that had they had union representation would have ammounted to at worst a warning. He poo-pooed it off but those young techs just starting out in the radio business were out of work. Thomas was a mean, arrogant egomaniac and like I said I knew him BEFORE he went to television. He could only have gotten worse I am sure. I know you had to know all this as Bobby Rich (who you named the soldier after in the M*A*S*H episode "You hear the bullet") was one of your best pals. Ken I always respected your work but until you come clean and tell the world the absolute truth about what kind of a louse Jay Thomas really is I just can't respect you or consider you as an honest person.

Dana King said...

"I just can't respect you or consider you as an honest person."

Tough talk from an anonymous poster. I'm not saying Thomas isn't a jerk--never met him, know bupkes about him except what I read here--but might letting the world know who you are show how sharp is the ax you're grinding?

Anonymous said...

"Why did THC leaves 'Wings' anyway"

He got his own show on Fox, 'Ned and Stacey'. (I think the woman was from 'Will and Grace', but I'm not sure.)

Anonymous said...

1000 years later, I thought I'd respond to the guy who asked what Eddie's number with the Bruins was, and it was 38. It was on the episode after "Death Takes a Holiday", and Carla is trying to get it retired.

Anonymous said...

I think he was probably just kidding when he said that. A lot of comedians make those type of disparaging comments about their fellow Thespians, all in jest. If he truly thought it was brutal he probably wouldn't have stayed on the show!

Anonymous said...

The wizened old priest who sees TWO women step forward after he asks "the CURRENT Mrs. Lebec" to do so deserved an Emmy for sheepishly looking down at his poium and muttering a growl of
"uhh-OHH!"

Anonymous said...

Ouch that was a huge foot in mouth incident. That's too bad for him. I too have learned over the years to stop and think before I speak its not an easy thing to do.