Growing Pains: 1985-1992
updated 06/26/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/26/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
"I always knew that Growing Pains was not going to go on forever," says Joanna Kerns. "I remember thinking, I'm going to enjoy every moment of this.' Kerns clicked with her castmates, especially TV spouse Alan Thicke. "We never went on a date," he says, "but we had chemistry, which our unrequited romance preserved for the entire show." Kerns also made a wise choice with her money. As a divorced mother raising a daughter, Ashley, now 21, she says, "I invested. I wanted to cushion the future. I'm a financial success!" Married since 1995 to Los Angeles architect Marc Appleton, 55, Kerns, 47, played Winona Ryder's mother in last year's Girl, Interrupted. She is also a director, which is no surprise to her TV daughter Tracey Gold, who recalls, "Joanna was always helping me with my scenes." Last year, Kerns helmed the Thanksgiving episode of Ally McBeal. Of her latest behind-the-lens effort, the June 27 season opener of Showtime's TV-industry satire Beggars and Choosers, Kerns warns, "Don't be shocked, but it has nudity." Still, she doesn't scorn her sitcom past: "Growing Pains opened every door. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
DR. JASON SEAVER
When he auditioned for Growing Pains, Alan Thicke was best known as the talk show host who took on Johnny Carson—and bombed. That didn't faze the sitcom's creators. "We looked at 150 actors before we came across Alan," says producer Michael Sullivan. "He brought a certain charm and charisma; we thought he was a godsend." Adds TV spouse Joanna Kerns: "Few men are that smart and that funny." After Growing Pains was canceled, Thicke, now 53, starred in the short-lived sitcom Hope & Gloria, but he found his real niche as a host of game shows and specials, such as the 1992 Miss World Pageant, where he met titleholder Gina Tolleson, 31, who became his second wife two years later. (Thicke has two sons by actress Gloria Loring, 53: Brennan, 25, who works in film production, and Robin, 23, a lyricist who has written for such pop sensations as Christina Aguilera and Brandy.) Although Thicke and Tolleson split last year, they share custody of their son, Carter, almost 3. "It's just him and me three days a week," says Thicke, whose $1.2 million San Fernando Valley mansion is overflowing with stuffed animals. "We have so much fun together, neither of us can let the other out of his sight."
While playing the Seavers' studious older daughter, Tracey Gold endured some agonizing growing pains of her own. In 1989, at age 19, she developed anorexia. "You could tell she was starving herself to death," recalls Seaver mom Joanna Kerns, who advised Gold to seek help and offered a shoulder to cry on. Says Gold, now 31, of her TV folks: "Joanna and Alan [Thicke] were very nice, but there was nothing they could do." By the final season of Growing Pains, the 5'3" actress had wasted away to 80 lbs.; she was briefly hospitalized and missed three of the show's last four episodes. Despite her affection for her castmates, Gold was relieved when the series ended. "Being out of the limelight helped me," she says. "Everybody knew me so well that nothing was private." After taking a year off to grapple with her illness ("Tracey showed a lot of courage," says her younger sister Melissa, who played Katie on Benson), she settled down to making TV movies. Gold has appeared in 30 so far, most recently this year's Wanted. "I've gotten to the top of the Movie of the Week industry," she says jokingly. The actress, who is no longer painfully thin, is wrapped up in another production as well: her family. Married since 1994 to private school swim coach Roby Marshall, 35 (they were set up by Kerns), Gold is mother to Sage, 3, and Bailey, 1. Most mornings she and the boys get in the car for a three-minute drive to visit her parents at their San Fernando Valley home. "I want four children," says Gold. "I'm not done at all." But if she can help it, none of them will be watching reruns of Growing Pains. "It's so embarrassing," says Gold. "I was so dorky!"
For Jeremy Miller, the worst thing about being a child actor was having to leave his TV family every year. "When the season was over, he'd cry," recalls his TV mother, Joanna Kerns. Miller, 23, still mourns the show's demise. "The closeness is what I miss the most," he says. Yet while he was on the series, he also missed the freedom of an ordinary childhood-and he has been making up for it ever since. "For about two years, I was a little wild. I was out partying, having adventures," says Miller, who tried to attend college at USC but dropped out after a year. "I have attention deficit disorder, so sitting in a classroom is not the best thing for me." Today, his life is more subdued, although he says that he still enjoys a game of high-stakes poker and "taking 9 or 10 people out for dinner and popping for the check." Miller, who lives in a modest house in Van Nuys, Calif., spends much of his time helping care for his half brothers Adam, 11, and Tanner, 8, the children of his mom, Sonny Levine, 43, a preschool administrator. With his Growing Pains savings dwindling, Miller says he's "hungry to get back into acting," and he recently shot a sci-fi pilot called Space Trucking. He nurtures another dream as well. "My grandmother was a chef, and she taught me to cook," says Miller. "One day I want a restaurant, a small Italian grill. That's my aspiration."
"Whenever he appeared on the set, it was like Beatlemania," recalls producer Michael Sullivan. "There were girls jumping around in the bleachers." Kirk Cameron brought a dose of glamor to his portrayal of the oldest Seaver sibling. But the actor (whose younger sister Candace was on Full House) was anything but a good-time guy. As a teenager, he told reporters that he planned to be a brain surgeon; he also followed a strict diet that involved baking his own bread. For Cameron, now 29, teen stardom "was just my job. I didn't see it as my real identity." At 20, he became a born-again Christian and married Chelsea Noble, now 35, who played his TV girlfriend Kate. The couple are raising their three children—Jack, 3, Isabella, 2, and Anna, 1—at their home in the Santa Monica Mountains, and they don't keep in touch with the rest of the Growing Pains cast. Although he was invited, Cameron did not attend the weddings of Tracey Gold, Alan Thicke or Joanna Kerns. Kerns wasn't surprised. "In the last years of the show he stayed separate from the rest of us," she says. Rarely apart from his own family, Cameron chooses projects that allow him to work with Noble. They are now shooting Left Behind, an independent film in which millions of people around the world suddenly disappear. "It has a soul-stirring message," explains Cameron, who says he hasn't completely turned his back on the Seavers. He's game for a Growing Pains reunion show, tentatively scheduled to air in November. "I've read the script," he says. "Mike is married to Kate and has five kids. I think Mike would say to me, 'I'm right there with you, man.'
When Growing Pains had its season premiere in 1990, viewers got a surprise: The littlest Seaver, who'd been played by 3-year-old twins the previous spring, was suddenly 7. "I got some mail about that," says Ashley Johnson. "People wrote, 'What happened? Why did you grow up so fast?' " The change, says producer Michael Sullivan, occurred because "we knew that if we made the character older, we'd have more to play with. And when Ashley walked into the audition, she knocked everybody's socks off." Johnson had her share of scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio, who played a homeless boy taken in by the Seavers during the show's last two seasons. She remembers him "as a goofy boy. I didn't have a crush on him then, but now I do! I saw him a couple years ago, and my hands were shaking. I said, 'Hi there, Leo DiCaprio.' And he jumped up and yelled, 'Ashley!' and gave me a big hug. I didn't want to take a shower for the next four days!" After Pains, Johnson landed roles on the sitcoms Phenom and All-American Girl, as well as a recurring spot on ER ("I played a cancer patient, and George Clooney had to cut off my leg"). Now 16, the actress—who lives in the San Fernando Valley with her mother, Nancy, 48, a writer, and her dad, Clifford, 52, a retired ship's captain—just got her high school diploma via home schooling and is considering college. In the meantime, she's shooting the comedy What Women Want, due out this December, in which she plays Mel Gibson's daughter. "It's my first big role in a big production," says Johnson. "I'm having a blast."