Empty Nest's Bear Is a Proud Papa, but It's the Cast That's Drooling

updated 11/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/12/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

These days, Bear—the 104-lb. mutt who plays Dreyfuss, Richard Mulligan's shaggy, shambling sidekick on NBC's Empty Nest—must be feeling like sweetly befuddled old Fred MacMurray on My Three Sons. Only, in Bear's case, it's My Six Male Puppies—now finished nursing, and yapping happily on the lot of Hollywood's Ren-Mar Studios.

As with Sons (and, come to think of it, with Empty Nest), the premise here requires a family minus a mom: Heidi, a nonacting Saint Bernard, just couldn't cope with her litter, which she delivered two months ago.

"Heidi was clumsy, and it wasn't working out well," says Bear's trainer, Joel Silverman, 31, who decided the dogs could be better tended in a playpen on the set. During the weaning weeks, the series regulars, including Mulligan, Kristy McNichol, David "Joe Isuzu" Leisure and Park Overall, helped out, bottle-feeding formula to Buster, Buddy, Butch, Bingo, Brutus and Banjo.

All of the dogs are potential stars, Silverman thinks—the Barking Barrymores!—and all will turn up in an Empty Nest episode later this fall. One lucky dog might even serve someday as a double for Dad, a 4-year-old mix of Saint Bernard and golden retriever who knows 20 tricks, including raising his eyebrows, barking on cue and, of course, exuding the slobbering charm that made him a star. "Bear is a sweet, warmhearted animal," says Mulligan. "People always ask me about him when they see me in the streets."

The inevitable puparazzi shouldn't pose a problem. Since the dogs have been exposed from the start to life on the set, Silverman says, "they'll get used to the distractions of showbiz"—a neat trick that, while eluding many human performers, is pulled off by Bear's entire family with aplomb. His pop, Boomer, played Merlin Olsen's dog on Father Murphy. Brother Bodi was the overly rambunctious pooch who dragged Shirley MacLaine all over town in Steel Magnolias. Another brother, Julio, currently serves as Bear's double on Empty Nest. (And why would the talented Bear need a double? Well, the script occasionally calls for an across-the-set sprint and. although he may be cross-eyed and a bit stupid, Julio is definitely the sprightlier of the two, Silverman says.)

Save one pup for Kristy though. "I've been trying to get them to give me the runt of the litter," she says. "I have two dogs now—one from the pound. At the end of the day. they jump all over me," excited by the puppies' scent.

Co-star Dinah Manoff has helped with the feeding too. But for her, it would be better if puppies could remain wee, squinty things. "At this size," she says, "before they're big enough to drool and ruin your clothes, they're wonderful. I don't know how I'll feel when they're bigger. I'm the cast's W.C. Fields." Or the dogs' Uncle Charley.

From Our Partners