Charles in Charge: 1987-1990
updated 06/26/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/26/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Suffering through puberty on television was extraordinarily painful for Josie Davis, who portrayed an unfashionable bookworm. "I would overhear fans say, 'Look, there's the ugly girl from Charles in Charge,' " recalls Davis, now 27, noting that viewers often compared her with her onscreen sister, popular pinup Nicole Eggert. "I had a complex for a long time." But not anymore. "I have grown so much, spiritually and emotionally," she says. Her TV grandfather James T. Callahan is proud. "Josie looks like a movie star now," he says. "She's got a gorgeous figure and a gorgeous face." Indeed, Davis—who will play a nightclub owner on Titans, a steamy Aaron Spelling-produced prime-time soap slated to air on NBC this fall—now competes for parts with her TV big sister. "We run into each other at the same auditions," Eggert says. Equally committed to working on her craft ("Acting is why I am here on this Earth") and her body (she exercises 90 minutes a day, six times a week), Davis, who lives alone in an L.A. apartment, isn't sweating her single status. "I don't need a boyfriend," she says. "I'm happy with who I've become."
As the youngest actor on the set, Alexander Polinsky often found himself with nothing to do between takes. "I had to entertain myself," he says. "I got into arts and crafts and just kept going with it." When the series ended, he got a job making movie-prop collectibles such as replicas of the mask worn by Jim Carrey in The Mask. The career switch helped Polinsky, 25, endure some difficult times. "I was overweight," he says, explaining that he couldn't get work as an actor. Polinsky recently shed 45 pounds by "eating only half of everything on my plate." But he still struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition he was diagnosed with at age 6. "I was obsessed with baths and the sound of water," says Polinsky, who has been in therapy for much of his life. "I've gotten through most of it." Today he is the voice of Pvt. Robert Higgins on the Sci-Fi Channel's animated series Roughnecks: Starship Troopers. And in a recent direct-to-video movie, Perfect Fit, he plays a serial killer. The role was a breakthrough for Polinsky, who "was always considered the little kid," he says. "We played a lot of practical jokes on him," confirms his series sister Josie Davis. That helps explain why Polinsky, who lives alone in Burbank, missed out on some adult opportunities. "On the entire run of the show," he says, "I never kissed a girl!"
His boyish good looks first endeared him to fans when he played Chachi Areola on Happy Days, but it was Scott Baio's boyish behavior that impressed his Charles in Charge costars. From hurling salad-dressing-soaked vegetables across the set ("We would have competitions," recalls Alexander Polinsky) to building a makeshift golf course on the studio lot so he could practice his swing, Baio "loved shocking people," says Josie Davis. "His laugh would always be echoing across the soundstage." Baio, who had an on-set romance with his Charles costar Nicole Eggert, also had a reputation as a ladies' man. Linked with Heather Locklear before the sitcom began, he was briefly engaged to Pamela Anderson Lee after the show's demise. "The rule in L.A. was, if you were blond and beautiful, you had to date Scott," jokes castmate Willie Aames, who was Baio's good friend on and off the set. Baio, 39, now shares his four-bedroom Encino, Calif., home with girlfriend Jeanette Ulrika Jonsson, a 24-year-old UCLA student. He recently appeared in Very Mean Men, an indie film that played at the Cannes Film Festival last month. He's also directing—episodes of UPN's Malcolm & Eddie and The WB's Jamie Foxx Show—a career turn he prepared for while starring on Charles. "We loved when he directed," recalls castmate James T. Callahan. "He said, 'Just have a good time and know your tines'—and he meant it!"
Nicole Eggert was living the life of a starlet. She'd segued from her sexy teen role on Charles to a two-year stint as lifeguard Summer Quinn on Baywatch. She'd gotten saline breast implants in 1993 (though she had them reduced a year later because she thought they were too big). She even had a romance with her Charles nanny, Scott Baio, 11 years her senior. But in 1996 a snowmobile accident near Lake Tahoe left Eggert with three broken vertebrae. She was airlifted to L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was bedridden for three weeks. The incident left her with residual pain "in cold weather or when I sleep the wrong way," she says—and had another profound effect as well. "It made me realize I wanted a family," says Eggert, 28, who is raising her 2-year-old daughter Dilyn (by a former boyfriend she won't name) alone in L.A. Remembered by Charles castmate James T. Callahan as "a very honest, straightforward young lady," Eggert is determined to resume her acting career; her newest movie, Murder Scene, just finished filming. But her first priority remains motherhood. "It has been a life-changing experience," she says. "And it only changes for the better as my daughter gets older."
James T. Callahan
He has appeared in more than 50 movies (Lady Sings the Blues, Tropic of Cancer), but it's his role as Charles in Charge's "blustery old grandfather," James T. Callahan says, that has garnered him the most acclaim. "More people like this show than any other I have done. I have truck drivers stop me and say, 'Mr. Callhan, that was a great show!' " The 69-year-old actor has been rolling along since the series ended, popping up on Cybill and Caroline in the City. His Charles colleagues considered him a delight to work with. "He was so affectionate with us," recalls his TV grandson Alexander Polinsky, while executive producer Al Burton says, 'He's totally real and very funny." Callahan says that he's a better man since his 1994 marriage to Peggy Cannon-Callahan, 61, who works for a production company. "I was an Irish bachelor all my life," he says. "Then I met her and realized what a real relationship is."
During his television heyday, Willie Aames was the poster boy for high Hollywood living. From drugs ("It was everything: Quaaludes, mushrooms, cocaine, pot, alcohol, black beauties") to sex ("I was the one who introduced Scott Baio to the Playboy mansion"), the actor—who got his break as dreamboat Tommy Bradford on Eight Is Enough—indulged his every desire, "Scott and I would take our Playboy dates to the Universal lot and dare them to do things like run up to the Psycho house at 1 o'clock in the morning," he recalls. "We pretty much owned that place." But by 1986, Aames—who'd already enrolled in a 12-step recovery program so he could remain sober on the Charles set—started wondering if he'd paid too steep a price for his freewheeling life. "I was pretty disillusioned with Hollywood at that point. Something was missing," he says. With the help of his second wife, actress Maylo McCaslin, 38, Aames turned to religion. "On the day that I accepted Christ," he claims, "I really became a new person." Aames, 39, lives with McCaslin and their 9-year-old daughter Harleigh (he also has an 18-year-old son from his first marriage to Victoria Weatherman) just outside Portland, Ore., where he is a children's pastor. But he hasn't abandoned show business. Since 1996 he has decked himself out in purple spandex tights and a cape to tour the country as Blbleman, entertaining children with a laser light show that focuses on the battle between good and evil. This year, Aames will reach even larger audiences when he plays several dates on the Rev. Billy Graham's Crusade, a nationwide tour of faith. "He has a cutting-edge show," says John Cass, counseling coordinator for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "He knows what kids are looking for, and he does a great job getting their attention." But then Aames never had a problem attracting attention. "He was so funny at playing this dumb, crazy character," says his Charles costar Josie Davis, "that I remember thinking there had to be something really wrong with him." Not any longer.
Often mistaken for actress Lily Tomlin or for John Travolta's mother (she's actually the 46-year-old actor's older sister), Ellen Travolta, 60, does have one role that has been undeniably hers for nearly 20 years: that of Scott Baio's TV mom, a role she filled on Happy Days, its spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi—and Charles. "It's like he and I are almost family," says Travolta, who could be equally maternal to her other costars. "She was helpful to me when I was going through puberty and I was not a happy camper," recalls Alexander Polinsky. Travolta—who has two children from a first marriage and an 8-year-old grandson—lives in L.A. with her second husband, actor Jack Bannon (Lou Grant), 60, and performs with him in local theater near their vacation property in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. She misses mothering Baio, especially now that she's filming a movie with him (tentatively titled Face to Face) in which, finally, he's not her son. Says Travolta: "I saw the woman who is playing his mother and I was like, 'Hey, you're not his mom—I am!' "