Answer Man: What's up with TV characters who disappear?

News-DemocratFebruary 8, 2014 

My wife and I are fans of the TV show "Parenthood." In the first season, one of the main characters was Haddie, a high-school-age daughter of one of the adult siblings. She is no longer on the show, is not in the opening credits, and is not even mentioned anymore. That got us to talking about what other TV shows had a family member "disappear" (not due to death)? The only one I can think of is "Happy Days," in which Richie Cunningham's older brother vanished after the first season. -- W. Craft, of Edwardsville

I don't know if you could call her a "family member," but you've certainly dredged up the most traumatic TV MIA experience I suffered as a teenager.

Being a huge science-fiction buff, I was a devoted Star Trekker from the first time I heard "Space, the final frontier ..." on Sept. 8, 1966. But while the trials and tribulations of Kirk, Spock and Bones were uppermost on my mind, I could always count on Yeoman Janice Rand to get my hormones bubbling.

How could she not? Sporting one of those totally dysfunctional uniforms the Enterprise's female crew members wore, Rand had a micro-miniskirt that went up to the stratosphere, a blond hairweave piled up a foot on her head and a throaty, come-hither voice.

As Kirk's personal assistant, she probably was conceived as a continuing love interest for the starship captain. But as actress Grace Lee Whitney wrote in her book, "The Longest Trek," limiting the great James Tiberius to one gal just wasn't going to work.

"(It) was not good for him and it wasn't good for the audience," wrote Whitney, who admits taking amphetamines to stay thin so she could fit into her costume.

"That's what they told me, so I was written out. There were two blond girls and one black girl. ... One of the blondes had to go. The other one was engaged to the boss, so guess who went? I just about killed myself. I drank, that's what we do, we drink to get rid of pain. My God, was I bitter."

Whitney appeared in eight of the first 13 episodes, but her role went from a central character ("Charlie X") to serving Kirk coffee. After "Balance of Terror," in which Mark Lenard (later Spock's dad) first shows up as a Romulan, she was simply jettisoned into the TV vacuum. She had cameos in several of the movies and "Star Trek: Voyager," but by then it just wasn't the same.

So, Whitney, now 73, remains my heartbroken example of what is called the Chuck Cunningham Syndrome -- regular cast members who vanish without explanation as Richie's older brother did from "Happy Days." (At least they told you that Haddie had gone off to Cornell before her last episode on Dec. 11, 2012.)

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but see how many you remember:

Judy Winslow, the youngest child on "Family Matters": Reports are that when Jaimee Lee Foxworth -- listed as a Belleville native in online biographies -- asked for too much money, she was written out of the show. Later doing adult films under the name Crave, Foxworth, now 34, once joked that she simply went up to her room and never came back down.

Mandy Hampton on "The West Wing": As a PR consultant, actress Moira Kelly's character must have fallen out of political favor, vanishing after the first season.

Dr. Erica Hahn on "Grey's Anatomy": Actress Brooke Smith says the suits at ABC did not like the direction Hahn's lesbian character was taking so early in the eighth season she went out to the parking lot and never found the OR again.

Bud Bronski on "Wings": After Lowell left for the witness protection program, Brian Haley came on board as Bronski, but inexplicably disappeared eight episodes later.

John Burns on "Taxi": Randall Carver had taken his last cab ride by the end of the first season.

Joey and Wanda Henrickson on "Big Love": After murdering Roman the prophet, the Henricksons went on the lam and were never seen again.

"Spearchucker" Jones and "Ugly John" Black on "M*A*S*H": They became casualties of the TV wars by the middle of the first season.

And, finally, a trifecta on "Boy Meets World": Stuart Minkus (Lee Norris) disappears after the first season, only to show up at his graduation four years later. (He'd been "on the other side of the school.") Morgan Matthews (Lily Nicksay) disappears in season two and a new actress (Lindsay Ridgeway) reappears the following year. ("That's the longest timeout I ever had.") And Topanga's sister, Nebula, shows up in only two episodes.

Today's trivia

Who is the only person to win medals at the summer and winter Olympics in the same year?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: When Julie Andrews was considering accepting the role of Mary Poppins, she said she did not like her song, which was called "Eyes of Love" at the time. So, Walt Disney ordered Robert and Richard Sherman to redo it. As the story goes, a frustrated Robert Sherman went home and learned that his children had received the polio vaccine that day. Thinking they had been given shots, he asked them if it had hurt. Oh, no, they said, it was an oral vaccine given on a cube of sugar. Sherman quickly sat down and wrote "A Spoonful of Sugar."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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