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A TERRITORY ALL HER OWN
Lawler, Sylvia . Morning Call ; Allentown, Pa. [Allentown, Pa]17 May 1992: T03.
ProQuest document link

ABSTRACT (ABSTRACT)
That didn't take either, and so for nearly 20 years, the 44- year-old [Beverly Archer] has been a television irregular.
Currently in residence on the CBS hit "Major Dad" as Marine Gunnery Sgt. Alva "Gunny" Bricker, Archer is one of the
best things about the three- year-old comedy. By-the-book military and headily experienced in the corps and in
romance, "Gunny" fits Archer to a tee.
Surprisingly, Archer has never heard of [O'Brien], she says by telephone from her California home one early morning
during "Major Dad's" hiatus. It was the wise-cracking comedienne, the late Thelma Ritter, who drove Archer on.
"She was always the one I had in mind. It was her career I really wanted," says Archer, who now has the terrain
almost completely to herself.
"I really love both of them but `Gunny' seems definitely closer to me. Iola got all of her strength from her weakness,
if that's clear, from her feminity and her goofiness. She was just such a lost soul, poor thing. But `Gunny' gets her
strength from her strength. She's a wonderful person doing a job exactly right and positive all the time. Those are
some things you'd want to emulate, more than with poor old Iola."

FULL TEXT
Five feet 10 inches tall, sharp-featured and clip-voiced, Beverly Archer knows she is not going to be cast as a
leading sex symbol. Ever again.
The one time it did happen -- in college when she was cast as a bordello madam -- the results were so disastrous
that the (usually) deadpan comedienne dropped out of acting altogether to retreat to a `normal' life.
But that didn't take either, and so for nearly 20 years, the 44- year-old Archer has been a television irregular.
Currently in residence on the CBS hit "Major Dad" as Marine Gunnery Sgt. Alva "Gunny" Bricker, Archer is one of the
best things about the three- year-old comedy. By-the-book military and headily experienced in the corps and in
romance, "Gunny" fits Archer to a tee.
Trying to describe Archer, writers usually overshoot the mark and end-up awash in cliches such as "de-sexed,"
"gawky," "like Nancy Kulp's Jane Hathaway," "like Margaret Hamilton," "like Andrea Martin ... " She reminds me most
of an MGM character lead from the '40s known as Virginia "Deadpan" O'Brien whose utterly blank-faced comic
delivery became her stock in trade in role after role, too.
Surprisingly, Archer has never heard of O'Brien, she says by telephone from her California home one early morning
during "Major Dad's" hiatus. It was the wise-cracking comedienne, the late Thelma Ritter, who drove Archer on.
"She was always the one I had in mind. It was her career I really wanted," says Archer, who now has the terrain
almost completely to herself.
She is always up early, says this avid gardener and potting shed habitue. "My husband and I go out walking in the
morning, read the paper and have coffee. We're on hiatus until Aug. 3, a tiny bit longer break this year, I think. I lose
track from year to year. More than three months off. It's one of the biggest benefits of this job which is an
embarrassment of riches: it's fun, you're well-paid and you have three or four months off."
Archer didn't come aboard "Major Dad" until its second season in 1990. The character dreamed up for Peggy Cass
to play in Major McGillis' (series' star Gerald McRaney) office sequences was deemed unworkable and never seen
after the pilot.
"Rick Hawkins (executive producer) created this character for me. He just made "Gunny" up out of whole cloth and
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sent me a scene he had written. It was pretty much the first scene I did in the series with Mac. And I just clicked
with who her character was."
Expectations for "Gunny's" character, she said -- "were that Jon Cypher's (General Craig) character and the major,
too, needed more conflict. He needed somebody around him to give him trouble. In comedy you always need a
conflict, somebody to bounce off of."
"Gunny" has gotten to do some fun things, including dying her hair blond, motorcycling with a younger boyfriend
and having "a thing" for Vice President Dan Quayle, who appeared on the show in 1990. But if you think you've seen
more of "Gunny" lately, it's probably not true. Nobody gets more storylines than anyone else on the show.
"It's been pretty balanced in the two years I've been on. Rick is very careful about that. I think if you went back to
chart it, you'd find the general has his storyline, the kids have their storyline, we all have two or three storylines a
year. And of course, `Gunny' is always sort of hanging around. She's always there. We can't get rid of the woman,"
she said dryly.
In fact, "Gunny" is apt to become the most indelible character Archer has yet created, perhaps surpassing her Iola
in "Mama's Family."
"I think so," Archer agrees, "maybe simply by virtue of being network vs. syndication, although I still have people
once or twice a week who'll ask me for a picture of Iola. They're still watching it out there. That's how much more
popular the show is than the people in Hollywood ever understood. They didn't like it but the people out there in the
real country did.
"I really love both of them but `Gunny' seems definitely closer to me. Iola got all of her strength from her weakness,
if that's clear, from her feminity and her goofiness. She was just such a lost soul, poor thing. But `Gunny' gets her
strength from her strength. She's a wonderful person doing a job exactly right and positive all the time. Those are
some things you'd want to emulate, more than with poor old Iola."
Archer didn't begin making her mark on television until 1976 when she was cast in "The Nancy Walker Show" as
the petite late comedienne's daughter Lorraine. She was a drama major at the University of California at Santa
Barbara who took her time hitting the Hollywood scene.
"I went to a Christmas party in 1974 and ran into a fellow I had done a play with in San Mateo in school. He was an
agent. He didn't sign me but he started sending me out." She wound up on Brenda Vaccaro's series "Sara" in 1976.
"One word was my television debut. My character got off the stagecoach and said `Marge!' wearing a hat with this
huge bow that totally obscured my face.
"Then he sent me to Norman Lear's casting director for a general interview. They were in the midst of casting
Nancy Walker's daughter. They wanted a physical type closer to Nancy Walker. She was so tiny - - God bless her,
she's gone -- and obviously that would let me out, but they couldn't find what they wanted so they had me read for
it. Not only did I get the job but the agent finally signed me."
As for the no-nonsense, unsmiling persona now so closly linked to her: "I came across her through another show, a
short-lived cable show, "Washing-toon" on Showtime. Tom Patchett wrote a character that was somewhat like that
and between the two of us, we evolved her. So when I read the `Gunny' character I sort of plugged right in. She's
different but the core is the same, that no-nonsense unsmiling approach to life."
Is she now locked in, by producers and casting people, to playing stringbean after stringbean? "I think that's
probably always true in Hollywood," she laughed. "I've not been necessarily type-cast in terms of attitude, maybe
partly because of Iola, which is 180 degrees from `Gunny.' To let me break out of the character mold? Nobody's
going to let me play a normal human being, certainly not a lead. Certainly not a normal next door neighbor. I'm
there to add a character twist. That's my living and with this mug, what do you expect?"
Once, she'd given up acting altogether. "When I got out of school I wanted nothing to do with it and went to work
for a bank. I had a very dear teacher my last semester who wouldn't let me leave school without playing a lead,
even though even then I was typecast in character work.
"He gave me the part of the madam in Jean Genet's "The Balcony." It was the worst possible casting, she said,
which became a horrendous experience because of the extreme reaction from other people and the audience. "He
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was doing me a favor but it was my first experience with being not well received by people. They were just appalled
that he gave me this part and that somebody who looks like me would be playing a madam.
"I took off to have normal life and moved to San Francisco, confronted the 9 to 5 business world and said `This is
even worse.'"
She has the best of several worlds now, being also a writer and story editor when time and the spirit allow her. "At
this point I have to say I prefer the acting, only because I love my job so much. The last year of `Mama's Family'
doing both at the same time it was hectic. I didn't have much of a life. My poor husband would sort of look forelorn
at me across the kitchen table like ... were we going to have dinner that night?".
And you can probably forget those rumors about "Major Dad" star and co-executive producer McRaney being the
puppeteer when his wife Delta Burke was having her problems on "Designing Women," at least from what Archer's
instinct and experience tells her. He just doesn't operate that way, she says. Take the double hat he wears on
"Major Dad":
"Mac has it figured out. He does not impose himself on us. He has those two things quite compartmentalized in
his mind. He has his meeting with Rick and the staff and then he comes to the set and acts. If there's something to
be communicated to us it doesn't come from Mac. He doesn't do any of that throwing his weight around. In fact we
tease him about it. If there's some question to be answered we say `You have to call the shots, you're the executive
producer.' But he's not that way."
The show's popularity escalated along with Marine esprit de corps during the Gulf War. "It really did and I think
credit there goes to the writers who were very sensitive to the whole situation. And it was very hard for them. We
have a 4 to 6 week time lag between the time we shoot and time it airs. For them to write an event of such
magnitude while it was unfolding at the same time ...
"They couldn't just refer to folks as being hot and bored in the desert because the shooting could have started at
any moment. It was a touchy situation and they handled it magnificently. There was one camp in town that said we
should just ignore it, ignore the whole war. Stupid. It's a show about the modern day Marine Corps.
"I understand the temptation. We're just a sitcom after all, not anything important or real. But it was a very fine line
for the writers to tread."
Archer sounds equitable and level, but a small spark is set when it is implied that "Major Dad," an entertaining
family show but not written in the same league as its bunkmate "Murphy Brown," is lucky to be in that golden
Monday night lineup.
"We're hearing a lot about that Monday night lineup," Archer says, and you can feel a little dander rising. "They put
`Brooklyn Bridge' in our time slot for a couple of weeks to try it out and that's okay. But everytime I hear that `Major
Dad' has been given a spot on this `great Monday night lineup' I want to say `There was no great lineup before we
were there.'
"We created it. As for the network pundits giving someone else a chance in `that fabulous time slot,' it wasn't a
fabulous time slot before we were there. And that's my pet peeve of the week. We do deserve a little bit of credit
along with the other four shows on that night. It wasn't just serendipity. It didn't just happen."
Illustration
PHOTO by UNKNOWN CAPTION: Gerald McRaney stars in the hit CBS comedy series, "Major Dad." (Appeared on
cover page of TV Channel Choices.) PHOTO by UNKNOWN. CAPTION: Beverly Archer as `Gunny' Bricker

DETAILS
People:

Archer, Beverly McRaney, Gerald Hawkins, Rick Walker, Nancy

Publication title:

Morning Call; Allentown, Pa.

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Page 3 of 4

Pages:

T03

Number of pages:

0

Publication year:

1992

Publication date:

May 17, 1992

Section:

CHANNEL CHOICES

Publisher:

Tribune Interactive, LLC

Place of publication:

Allentown, Pa.

Country of publication:

United States

Publication subject:

General Interest Periodicals--United States

ISSN:

08845557

Source type:

Newspapers

Language of publication:

English

Document type:

NEWSPAPER

ProQuest document ID:

392517130

Document URL:

https://search.proquest.com/docview/392517130?accountid=1995

Copyright:

Copyright Morning Call May 17, 1992

Last updated:

2011-09-14

Database:

US Newsstream

Copyright  2017 ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.
Terms and Conditions

Contact ProQuest

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