Here’s a book review I wrote for my original blog on January 23, 2019. I am reposting it as/is.
For the past week or so, I’ve been binge watching Family Ties. If you were around for most of the 1980s, you no doubt know what Family Ties is. Debuting in 1982, this was a sitcom that aired every Thursday night on NBC. It was “must see” TV, much like The Cosby Show was. Unlike Bill Cosby’s show, Family Ties has not been scandalized by the leading man’s sexual perversions. In 1982, one might assume Michael Gross, who played family patriarch Steven Keaton, was the “leading man” of Family Ties. However, after airing just an episode or two, it became clear that the star of the show was none other than Michael J. Fox, who played Alex P. Keaton for seven years.
I am about a year older than Tina Yothers, who played youngest daughter, Jennifer Keaton. I also happen to be named Jennifer (although no one calls me that) and as a kid, I looked a lot like Tina Yothers (and even blogged about it). Even if I hadn’t been Tina’s long lost sister from another mister, I would have loved that show. As I am discovering once again during my binge sessions, it’s very well-written and still funny, even though it was canceled thirty years ago this year. The cast was extremely talented and had chemistry. There was a very impressive array of guest stars, to include Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, and Geena Davis, just to name a few. And Michael J. Fox, who would become a huge movie star in his own right, was undeniably charismatic and funny.
A couple of months ago, I downloaded Michael J. Fox’s 2010 book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned. Amazon tells me he’s written several books. This is the first and only one I’ve read. I breezed through it relatively quickly, as it’s not a particularly long book. In fact, although Fox dropped out of high school to pursue acting, it reads a bit like a commencement speech. Indeed, new graduates are apparently the intended audience for this book. I haven’t been a new graduate in almost seventeen years myself, and that was for my graduate programs. However, as someone who didn’t really launch, I can still glean wisdom from Fox’s writing.
This book is written in a personal style, with Fox addressing his readers as if he’s sitting down with them. He offers anecdotes about his climb up the ladder of success. It’s not an exhaustive look at his career, but it offers plenty of important details about the milestones he reached, as well as some touching comments about his family members. To some people, it may seem like Michael J. Fox (whose real middle name is Andrew) has always been a star. But in this book, he explains that he was a starving actor when he auditioned for Family Ties. He had really needed the part and was not expected to become such a huge star.
Gary David Goldberg, who wrote and produced Family Ties, had originally wanted Matthew Broderick for the part. In fact, Fox’s audition hadn’t even impressed Goldberg. It was another staffer who had liked him and convinced Goldberg to give him a chance. And then, once he had that second chance, Fox had to be “sold” to NBC network executives, who weren’t convinced he’d be successful in the role. Several years ago, I read and reviewed Gary David Goldberg’s book Sit, Ubu, Sit. I think I remember reading the same tale about how Fox was a hard sell for the role that made him so famous. Unfortunately, I reviewed the book on Epinions.com and it never got reposted on this blog. My review is no longer accessible. Maybe I’ll reread the book someday and write a new review.
In any case, Goldberg turned out to be a great mentor, friend, and boss to Fox. In 1985, when Steven Spielberg approached his friend, Goldberg, about letting Fox play Marty McFly, Goldberg had allowed it. He did so, knowing that Fox could end up being a great success and want to leave the sitcom that had put him on the map. But although Fox did become a movie star thanks to Back to the Future, he remained loyal to Family Ties.
Before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Michael J. Fox was always freakishly youthful and energetic. As I’ve been watching him on Family Ties, I’ve been reminded of the late John Ritter who played Jack Tripper on Three’s Company. The characters are not similar, but the actors are both masters of physical comedy and delivering witty lines. I almost wonder if Fox didn’t study Ritter a bit. He doesn’t mention it in the book, and may not have ever had any dealings with the actor. It was just one of my observations.
Michael J. Fox also includes an insightful section on alcoholism. For years, Fox drank to excess, especially after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 30. He would take medications to deal with the physical symptoms of the disease, but then drink alcohol to drown the emotional pain he was feeling. He finally gave up drinking. I would have liked to have read a bit more about that, but then, this book is really meant for graduates… it’s like a speech. A speech would not be the place for a long story about alcoholism.
Anyway… although I may not have been the audience Fox was aiming for with this book, I did nevertheless find it insightful, well-written, engaging, and wise. I think it’s probably a great choice for people who don’t want to read long books. It’s long enough to mostly cover important subject matter, but short enough not to be boring or overwhelming. Fox has a number of life lessons to share with people who are starting out in the world, even if this book is already nine years old and Fox isn’t the mega star he was thirty years ago.
As a child of the 80s, I must endorse A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, although maybe today’s youth should watch a few episodes of Family Ties first. They’ll probably think it’s funny, too. Hell… my generation watched The Brady Bunch. Maybe later generations should watch the vastly superior Family Ties for a shot of television nostalgia. I dare say Michael J. Fox is more inspiring than Barry Williams ever was.
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As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon sales made through my site.