13 hail-worthy facts about 'Taxi'
The series would have been far different with Mandy Patinkin, Sheriff Bart and Tony Clifton.
Top image: The Everett Collection
A groundbreaking comic who blurred the lines between stand-up and performance art. A two-time Tony winner nominated for an Academy Award. A former boxer turned 1980s sitcom idol. One of the original stars of Grease, when it was just a small stage show in Chicago. Oh, and a member of the Grease film cast. Doc Brown from Back to the Future. The one and only Danny DeVito…
Taxi featured one of the most brilliant ensemble casts in sitcom history. There was serious pedigree behind the camera, too, with creators and writers who came from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and who would go on to start Cheers. It's no wonder that Taxi became one of the towering achievements of 1970s television — and that it remains eternally current.
The theme song was gorgeous, too. But more on that in a bit. Here is a baker's dozen of fascinating Taxi facts.
1. Tony Danza is driving the cab in the opening credits.
The opening sequence featured an iconic yellow Checker cab, built like all the rest in Kalamazoo, Michigan, cruising across the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. And that was not stock footage, nor some mere stunt driver. Danza himself took the drive, and the clip was looped throughout the credits.
2. The show was inspired by a 'New York' magazine article.
A light bulb went off over co-creator James L. Brooks' head when he was reading the September 22, 1975, issue of New York. The feature story "Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet" chronicled a motley bunch of drivers for the Dover Taxi Garage in Greenwich Village, dubbed the "hippie garage" for its free-spirited crew.
Image: New York / Google Books
3. Andy Kaufman only worked two days a week.
Andy Kaufman had developed his "Foreign Man" character in comedy clubs, and producers were eager to adapt the persona into a sitcom character, Latka. However, he was not jazzed about the prospects of full-time sitcom work, so his contract stipulated he work only two days a week. He turned up on Tuesdays for a run-through and again on Friday for filming. In the meantime, a stand-in filled Latka's jumpsuit.
4. However, Kaufman had two separate contracts to appear on the show.
"Tony Clifton" was another favorite persona of Kaufman's — a louche, boisterous lounge entertainer with bushy mustache and mutton chops. Always blurring reality and performance, Kaufman stipulated that Clifton sign his own separate contract, and the studio obliged. Clifton was meant to appear as Danny DeVito's brother in the season one episode "A Full House for Christmas." However, in an infamous behind-the-scenes incident, he was removed from set by security due to boorish behavior. Richard Foronjy (pictured) played the role instead.
5. Mandy Patinkin was almost the star of the series.
Mandy Patinkin, star of Broadway, The Princess Bride and Homeland, was close to nabbing the lead role of Alex Rieger. In fact, when professional boxer Tony Danza auditioned for the series, he read his scenes with Patankin in the role of Alex, not Judd Hirsch. That would be due to a case of cold feet…
6. Judd Hirsh did not want to commit to a TV series.
After reading the script, Hirsch knew the series had serious potential — which worried him. The actor was not thrilled at the notion of a three-, four-year commitment. He told his agent to make an offer the producers would never accept. They accepted anyway.
7. Danny DeVito cursed his way into winning his role.
Few actors can blow a fuse on cue quite like DeVito. To win the role of Louie De Palma, DeVito stormed into the audition room, slammed the script on the table, and asked the assembled creators, "Who writes this s**t?!" The room ate it up.
8. Cleavon Little of 'Blazing Saddles' was originally meant to play Bobby.
Jeff Conaway, soon to be known around the world as Kenickie in Grease, eventually won the gig to portray Bobby Wheeler. However, the character was originally envisioned as being a black man. Cleavon Little, who played Sheriff Bart in the Mel Brooks' classic Western farce, nearly nabbed the role.
Image: Warner Bros.
9. Christopher Lloyd provided his own wardrobe.
When it came to playing spacey 1960s burn-out Reverend Jim Ignatowski, Lloyd had the look down pat. He assembled his denim ensembled himself, throwing on his dirty old jeans and slipping on a jacket that his neighbor had found lying in the bushes outside the house. When Lloyd first turned up to the Paramount lot in the costume, the receptionist thought he was a homeless man.
10. The original theme song was more upbeat and funky.
Jazz fusionist Bob James provided the theme song, which was originally the title track from his Touchdown album. However, in the third episode, Alex goes on a blind date with a surly woman named Angela. Another cut from James' Touchdown album, the melancholy "Angela," was fittingly used to soundtrack the scene. The piece felt more appropriate for the tone of the series overall, and was installed as the theme song. Smart choice. It's a classic.
11. The actor who played Jim's father was only 10 months older than Christopher Lloyd.
Widely known as Batman villain King Tut, Victor Buono was cast to play Reverend Jim's dad in the season three episode "Coming Home." Both actors were born in 1938.
12. Marilu Henner has extreme memory skills.
Henner is blessed with hyperthymesia, a rare ability to recall every day of her life in extreme detail. So she's the one to ask about what happened on set.
13. The series almost ended up on HBO.
Taxi is the uncommon show to be canceled twice. ABC axed the show in 1982. The budding premium cable network HBO nearly picked up Taxi, but in the end it landed at NBC, who kept it in the same time slot. Despite piggybacking Cheers, the show failed to make it past another season.