Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How did "Lilith" get her name?

Here’s a question that actually came from a Facebook friend. And I’m doing it as a complete post because it’s a CHEERS question I receive a lot so I want to give it the maximum exposure.

David Kruh asked:

Where did you get the name Lilith?

First of all, I didn’t name her. The writing team of Cheri & Bill Steinkellner did – originally just for a teaser. But the character was so funny and she and Frasier were such an interesting couple that Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) just kept returning and eventually became a series regular.

Cheri Steinkellner was gracious enough to answer the question on Facebook, but I wanted to share it with all of you. So here it is:

Last name first, Billy and I named her Sternin as a pairing for Frasier in honor of our old "Who's The Boss?" writing buddies, Rob Sternin and Prudence Frasier (they went on to co-create "The Nanny").

We wanted a first name to go with it that embodied stern-ness, like a Dickensian or Hodgson-Burnett headmistress in a high-necked blouse and tight bun; (the seed of the character is Frasier's "I can count the comb-marks in your hair" - but that's another story). Back in the 80s, we had to use actual books with paper pages to look stuff like names, and our favorite was written by Leslie Dunkling (whose name we gave to a character in Disney's Teacher's Pet).

"Lilith" was the sternest, least-nonsense, comb-mark-counting-est name we could find. The Biblical badass didn't factor in. It just sounded right to our ears and made us laugh.

I think we’d all agree that Lilith was the PERFECT name. Thanks, Cheri. They went on to write some great episodes of CHEERS and eventually became co-showrunners. Not much after that – Emmys, a few series they created, and a Tony nomination for musical of the year.


Jonathan said...

Actually, I've always been much more curious as to how Frasier's agent got her name...

Mike Botula said...

Thanks for the enlightenment, Ken. As a regular Frasier fan, I always started chuckling whenever her name was first mentioned on an episode. And I can't remember how many times I turned to my wife and asked, "Who would name their kid, LILITH?" But, "Lilith" and "Bebe" turned out to be a perfect combination. To this day when I see Bebe make her entrance on "Madame Secretary," I think, "There's Lilith!"

Neumms said...

Maybe it's a Friday question for you, Ken, or a question for the Steinkellners but I don't read their blog--not enough Vin Scully anecdotes for me. At any rate, can you imagine a spouse as a writing partner? To whom do you go at night when 12 hours with your writing partner is enough?

Dan Ball said...

Ken, Friday question:

Which actor, whether they played either a series regular or even frequent background player (like Al Rosen or Phil Perlman), was the best ad-libber on CHEERS? Like they could take what was written on the page and take it up a few notches, either by changing the words themselves on the spot or killing it with their timing? Someone who would always deliver something way better than what you guys had imagined in the writers room.

Geo. said...

Odd good fortune there, if that's the whole story. I always thought it was a reference to Adam's first wife, who was a strong, assertive woman that didn't get along too well with Homosapien No. 1.
Geo, Stewart
"Crazy College"

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
VincentS said...

Friday Question: Could you possibly shed some light on all those signatures that appear on the big "MASH 4077th" sing hanging on the back wall of the Officer's Club?

Jim said...

Is it ever hard, on a long-running series, to keep your characters on-track and true to themselves? I understand that the longer a series runs, the harder it is to come up with new material for your characters, and it seems to me that it could be very easy, in the writing staff's drive to always come up with fresh material and fresh laughs, to let characters stray from who they are and from the essence of who they basically are, and find yourself in a situation where you're taking a step back and saying to yourself, "Okay, we're getting too far away from who these guys are."

I'm not sure if I'm asking that in the best way possible, but maybe you can figure it out.


Jim, Cheers Fan said...

As a reader of the Chronicles of Narnia (a long, long time ago, and a long time before she appeared on Cheers) I always associated Lilith with Adam's first wife, the demon (djinn? witch?) who was Adam's first wife. Was she the ancestress of the White Witch, or the White Witch herself? Like I said, long time ago.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow. This was far more involved than I would have imagined. The connection with their old writing buddies is something I don't any Cheers fan knew before. I did a search and someone spotted the connection in 1991, but that's the only reference anywhere I could find:


Bill and Cheri did a brilliant job continuing Cheers (I'm guessing they took over in Season 6 -- it feels different, and possibly not just because Diane had left). I'm currently re-watching Season 7 and the show is still fantastic. With Diane gone, it's really opened the secondary cast members (like Frasier and Lilith) to lots of stories.

I'd love to know who was running the show across the different seasons, Ken. A possible Friday Q?

VP81955 said...

Lilith's character would have been born too late for her to be born after the 1964 movie starring Jean Seberg and Warren Beatty, part of which was filmed in Rockville, Md., where I once lived.

VP81955 said...

That should've been ?to be named after the 1964 movie." Oopsie.

Anonymous said...


Why do sit-coms string together credits for what seems like half the episode ? It's like the sports networks that clutter the screen with all those graphics. We get it. A lot of people helped put this show on the air.

Jay Boyes said...

Re: The name Lillith.
Did anyone recall the 1947 Tyrone Power movie "Nightmare Alley" ?
(No, I don't mean Kirsty 'Nightmare' Alley).
In the movie, smart fraudster Tyrone Power is outsmarted by an even sharper psychologist named Dr Lillith Ritter.
I always hoped it was for her. C'est la Vie.
By the way Ken Levine....
Thanks for all the laughs you have given us over the years.
Much appreciated!
Jay 'Teddy' Boyes (Australia)

Unknown said...

I watched Guillermo del Toro's remake of "Nightmare Alley" last night (prepping for Oscar viewing). Cate Blanchett plays Lilth Ritter and because of her I have fallen down this rabbit hole. Like Mr. Boyes in Australia, I was almost certain Bebe Newirth's character was based on Ritter. Maybe on some sub-conscious level....?