• July 19, 2024

Whatever Happened To: The Cast Of “Mama’s Family”

“Mama’s Family”…the classic sit-com that revolved around the wacky misadventures of the Harper Family and their matriarch, Mama Thelma Harper, a buxom, blue-haired, purse-lipped, 65-year-old widow who is not only explosively quick-tempered but is also abrasive and brash.

Thelma Harper and her family had a rather unique history on television.  What started out as a sketch on the “Carol Burnett Show,” made it’s way to a tv movie…before becoming a network sitcom which got canceled, then reshaped and resold into a series for syndication that ran for many years.  That’s a whole lot of Mama.

Vicki Lawerence played Mama and stayed throughout its entire run, but the family evolved.  In “The Family” sketches on “The Carol Burnette Show,” Thelma has five children, including three sons, Larry, Jack and Phillip, but in “Eunice,” the made for tv movie, she only had three kids, with just one son, Phillip, played by Ken Berry who would also go on to star as the only son Vinton on the sitcom.

In the series’ first run on NBC, Rue McClanahan played Mama’s younger uncomfortable and uptight spinster sister Fran Crowley, who eventually chokes on a toothpick and dies, and Betty White played Mama’ eldest daughter, elitist Ellen, while Carol Burnette played Eunice, the tempestuous, antagonistic middle child, appearing only in  a guest-starring role.

Even with the star power and successful ratings, NBC canceled “Mama’s Family” after two seasons in 1984 but it was far from over.  In 1986, production houses Lorimar had merged with Telepictures and were looking for projects for first-run syndication, and after seeing “Mama’s Family” gain and gain in the ratings during the summer reruns, it was decided that the show needed a second chance and ordered 100 new episodes.

But there were a few problems.  The original sets had been destroyed, a new set had to be constructed and both Rue McClanahan and Betty White had both gone on to star in the “The Golden Girls,” rendering them unavailable to return. (Although Bette did return as Ellen for one episode in 1986 in the first episode of the revival when Fran was killed off.)

Also not returning were Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman who decided not reprise their roles, resulting in their characters being written out. In the show, Eunice and Ed Higgins moved to Florida.

The new cast would be Vicki Lawrence (Thelma), Ken Berry (Vinton) and Dorothy Lyman (Naomi) returning as regulars from the original sitcom, but Vinton’s kids from his first marriage, Buzz (played by Eric Brown) and Sonja (played by Karin Argoud), who were regulars in the show’s first life, did not reprise their roles for the show’s revival.  Their characters, though mentioned briefly in the first episode of the show’s syndicated life, were never to be spoken of again.

To fill the void they added Bubba who was the son of Ed and Eunice. Bubba was ordered to live with his grandmother after being released from juvenile hall and placed on probation. Bubba (Allan Kayser) and the rest of the family are now often visited by their neighbor Iola (Beverly Archer,) who was also Mama’s best friend.

A bit confusing, but if you are wondering what happened to the last of the cast….we got ya covered.

And all together one last time:

UPDATE:  Ken Berry passed away at the age of 85 on Dec 1, 2018

Now if you want to visit the house featured in the show open from the first two seasons of Mama’s Family…it’s located at:

18 West 59th Street in Kansas City, Missouri

while the residence used on-location during those seasons can be found at:

675 South Oakland Avenue in Pasadena.  

And the property featured in the show open during Seasons 3 through 6 is at:

1027 Montrose Avenue in South Pasadena.

Mama’s Family…we❤️ya!!!

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