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After setbacks, Danza bounces back on boss [ - ]
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Author: Christine Koyama
Source: Chicago Tribune
Date | Issue: 03/15/1986 | NA
Topic: Tony Danza
Submitted by: mich_l81

After setbacks, Danza bounces back on boss

By Christine Koyama

At 35, Tony Danza, star of ABC’s popular sitcom series, “Who’s the Boss?” is beginning to hit his stride. The former pro boxer-turned-actor seems fueled by an endless supply of good-natured, wise-cracking energy, a streetwise determination to succeed and a competitor’s feisty will to test his own abilities to the limit.

Danza’s career thus far has been filled with its share of unexpected twists and turns. After growing up in Brooklyn, he went to college in Iowa and earned a history degree on a wrestling scholarship. Too restless to teach, he ran through a series of jobs before turning to boxing. After a short amateur career, he went pro, racking up a respectable 12-3 record.

A sharp-eyed producer spotted Danza working out in a gym, gave him a screen test. After starring in a go-nowhere pilot and landing a role in the movie, “The Warriors” (1979), he met producer James Brooks and became Tony Banta, one of the regulars on “Taxi.”

When the series was canceled in 1982 after five years on ABC, Danza was out of work for two years when nothing seemed to go right. A potential Broadway project fell through, and on top of it all, in 1984 he was arrested after a fracas with a bouncer at New York’s Mayflower Hotel. His sentence was 250 hours of community service, first at New York’s Bellevue Hospital and then at the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged, also in Manhattan.

The incident brought Danza the kind of notoriety that’s hard to live down as the media played up his “bad boy” image and wondered whether he would manage to get his act together.

Right now, things are on the upswing for Danza, who’s working hard to turn his life around. “I’m a different guy now,” Danza recently admitted in Los Angeles. “The situation [in New York] started out as the most painful and embarrassing thing that ever happened to me and turned into one of the best. I’ve grown up a lot since then. Public embarrassment is tough.”

Another factor in Danza’s life has been his 15-year-old son, Marc Antony, who came to live with him last year. “My son has probably changed me more than anything,” Danza said. “He’s my legacy and I have to teach this kid character and responsibility the way my father showed me. That takes honesty and love on both our parts. His being here at least makes me try to practice what I preach—not that I totally do, but at least I’m trying.”

Although Danza has to divide his time between rearing his son [his 3-year-old daughter lives with her mother in Albuquerque], putting in his community service work [which he recently completed] and taping episodes of “Who’s the Boss?” the success of the TV series seems to have given him a big boost and a sense of validation.

On the series, Danza plays Tony Micelli, a widowed father who quit his job as a ballplayer, packed up his young daughter, Samantha [Alyssa Milano], and moved from Brooklyn to a better life in Connecticut. He lands a job as the housekeeper for Angela Bower, a divorced advertising executive [Judith Light] with a young son, Jonathan [Danny Pintauro]. Katherine Helmond plays Mona Robinson, Angela’s wisecracking mother.

“Who’s the Boss?” was one of the three new ABC shows that survived the ’84-’85 season and returned this year. As of early March it was the 12th ranked show in the A.C. Nielsen rankings. Last season it finished in 37th place.

“Working on ‘Taxi’ gave me five years of the greatest schooling in the world. I was really able to watch the best work and work with them—[producers] Jim Brooks an Ed Weinberger and Danny DeVito. Instead of pressuring [me], they nurtured me and pulled me in with them. They really were my mentors.

“We had seven guys on ‘Taxi,’ so I used to get three episodes about my character each year and pray for the fourth. Now that I have my own show, I’ve already done 22 episodes this year. It’s a lot of TONY pressure. Every week, it’s gotta be funny, no matter how you feel when you walk in the door, you gotta go, baby.

“Now with ‘Who’s the Boss?’ I’m getting a chance to apply everything I’ve learned on ‘Taxi,’ and I’m involved in every aspect of the show from acting to directing to finished product—and it’s neat to be king. If things go wrong, I pick up the slack. That’s my responsibility because if the show ever gets canceled, they ain’t gonna remember [producers] Marty Cohan or Blake Hunter, they’ll remember Tony Danza got canceled—that’s why I’m involved.

“I directed my first episode this year on a dare. I said I can do this better than that guy [a director], and they said ‘Oh yeah? Show us.’ So I took it on. That’s the way I am, I just jump in. Don’t get me wrong, I was scared. For all my talk and bravado I was thinking, ‘Okay, big mouth, let’s see.’ Not only do you have to tell the actors what to do, but you gotta get it on camera so that each joke, each cut, works.

“Now I like directing and want to do more. It’s a tremendous responsibility, but it’s a great way to do the two things I like best in life—act and tell people what to do.

“I love this show. We’ve got a great cast that covers all the bases with the audience. But the biggest thing is that we like to go for broke, reaching for the stupid, the silly, the ridiculous or the far-fetched. Sometimes TV shows forget to be entertaining. But the thing about comedy is taking that chance and committing. Judith [Light] gave me a needlepoint saying that I have hanging at home. It reads ‘Sometimes a laugh is even better than discretion.’ That’s really the way we work, and this is where I have a lot of input. You gotta go for that edge; it’s scary and sometimes you fail, but the rewards are so much greater.

“The thing that really excites me about the show is that ‘Let’s see what happens’ attitude—taking chances. What distinguishes good TV comedies from the rest is whether they stand the test of time. By that I mean 10 years from now, when it’s [Who’s the Boss?] in syndication, will it still be funny? ‘The Honeymooners,’ ‘Taxi,’ ‘Mary Tyler Moore’—all of those shows still stand up, even though you know the jokes are coming they’re still funny and I’m gonna put my show in that category.”

Last year was a year of progress for Danza, from directing to launching a new career as a standup comic to fulfilling a lifelong desire by taking up tapdancing, which he’s tackling with the same gung-ho commitment he give to everything he does.

Danza observed, “When I first got to Hollywood, I though I was gonna be the next John Travolta. Do a series and then get into movies. Of course, that didn’t happen. But now I’m more disciplined. I’ve never been big on patience, but I’ve learned to have a lot more of it than I used to—with everything, including myself.”