Tales of TV Moms

Title Card for the Mother's Day Salute to TV Moms from 2008

Title Card for the Mother's Day Salute to TV Moms from 2008

Mothers are special. They give us life. They nurture us. And, they shape the way we think and act. TV Moms are special too. They are our imaginary surrogates, and they remain a fixture in our childhood memories. In May of 2008, I paid tribute to some of those small screen surrogates when I produced and moderated “A Mother’s Day Salute to TV Moms” for the Television Academy. In attendance that night were: Cloris Leachman who was the original Mom on Lassie (and later played Ellen DeGeneres’ mother on The Ellen Show); Diahann Carroll who played a single mother on Julia; Marion Ross, the matriarch from Happy Days; Tichina Arnold from Everybody Hates Chris; Holland Taylor from Two and a Half Men; Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time; Catherine Hicks from Seventh Heaven; Marjorie Lord from The Danny Thomas Show; and, Meredith Baxter, who played Michael J. Fox’s mom on Family Ties. Also appearing at the event were real-life children of those TV Moms, as well as actors and actresses who played their on-screen offspring. In celebration of this Mother’s Day, here are some highlights from that special evening, beginning with recollections from those TV Moms about their own mothers.


Meredith: My Mom, Whitney Blake, was an actress (Hazel), but she did not push me to acting. I actually wanted to be a singer and I even sang with Mom for a while. Then I went into acting just to get out of the house.

Bonnie: Mom made sure that all five of us kids had singing and dancing lessons. She wanted me to have poise and grace, even at age four.

Tichina: My Mom was a stage Mom. My first acting role was as a doll in a children’s play, and while all the other moms were waiting off stage, saying how great their kids did, my Mom said, “Oh my God. That was awful!” Mom is my best critic [laughs].

Holland: My mother was a reserved woman, and did not interfere in her children’s affairs, and did not heap praise on the kids. Mom died just before I started Two and a Half Men, and a few months after she passed away, I took a hike up in the Hollywood canyon, and I heard my mother’s voice. I saw a pale hologram of my mother’s face on the sky, and it was an image of her at her best, around age 37. And she said, “Hi Honey.”

Marion: My mother was Canadian, and she and my father had that immigrant spirit, believing that you can be anything. My Mom died when I was 40, and as soon as she died, I became her.

Diahann: My Mom was very middle class and very old-fashioned. She and my father thought anything having to do with show business was out of the question, because show business was for “racy ladies”.

Cloris: My mother was quite magical, and a darling little woman, standing only five feet, one inch tall. We never had any extra money because Daddy was always putting all of the money back into the Leachman lumber company, so Mamma had to be creative with money. I learned that from her. She also told funny stories and I learned that from her too.


Later in the evening, the TV Moms’ on-screen and real-life kids praised their respective role models.

Jasmine Guy, who played Diahann Carroll’s daughter in It’s a Different World, told Diahann, “You taught me a lot about growing up as a woman, a woman in this business, a mother, and an actress. Thank you for having my back in so many ways.”

George Englund, the son of Cloris Leachman, said, “How would I describe Cloris? An unusual mother [laughs]. She’s great.”

Academy Award nominee Anne Archer (Fatal Attraction) said of her Mom, Marjorie Lord, “I was always proud that my Mother was so elegant. There was a beauty about her, an inner beauty that radiated in everything she did, and it’s something I carried with me.”

The late Erin Moran (Joanie from Happy Days), said of Marion Ross, “This woman was such a mentor to me. I was able to do my first play only because of her. You’re my best friend and my second Mom.”

Commenting on Holland Taylor’s character in Two and a Half Men, Jon Cryer said, “I don’t think there’s enough representations of sociopathic mothers on television, so thank you Holland [laughs].”

Charlie Sheen followed Cryer, saying, “I have an amazing Mom in real life, but if I had to have a substitute, it would be you. I love you.”

Tyler James Williams paid tribute to Tichina Arnold, his Mom on Everybody Hates Chris, by saying, “Any part of comedy that you will ever see me do is because of Tichina. She challenged me to become a better actor and a better comedian.”

Tichina herself added, “Once you become a Mom on TV, that’s it, you’re always a Mom.” Truer words were never spoken, and they also apply to our real-life Moms.

Happy Mother’s Day!

You can view the entire “Mothe’s Day Salute to TV Moms” program on Jim Longworth’s website.


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