Fonzie’s "Little Brother" was actually Punky Brewster's big brother
Meeno Peluce was one of the Seventies' biggest child stars, and his half-sister Soleil Moon Frye followed in his footsteps to become an Eighties icon.
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At the start of the 1980s, Meeno Peluce was Hollywood’s "It" kid.
Starring in The Bad News Bears and Best of the West TV shows, media called him a face to watch and TV absolutely embraced the rising child star.
In 1981, a top-20 rated show Happy Days even cast young Meeno to play Fonzie’s "Little Brother" when TV’s coolest cool guy decides to join the Big Brother Program in an episode called "Potsie on His Own."
Although Meeno played one of the Seventies’ most iconic TV character’s one-time little brother, in the real world the actor was actually the big brother (well, half-brother) of the child star who would actually overstep her brother to become the Eighties’ most iconic child star: Punky Brewster star Soleil Moon-Frye.
In 1984, Soleil told The Daily Record that her big brother Meeno inspired her to become an actor.
"I went to the set with my brother all the time," Soleil said. "I really liked it on the sets. I never asked if I could be an actress till I was about 5. Then I said to my mom that I would like to try the acting business."
Poor Meeno tried the same thing when he was 5, but their mom, who worked for a movie studio catering company at the time wasn’t as cool about it then. She said absolutely not.
"When I first wanted to act, I was like 5 and 6," Meeno told The Chicago Tribune in 1982, during a time when he had just been cast to star in this third TV series Voyagers! "My mother thought I was too young for it; the getting jobs and not getting jobs and all that."
Meeno had to wait until the ripe age of 7 before he could go on-camera. His mom finally agreed after he won the lead in a school play and one of the family’s friends gave Meeno a meeting with a casting agent for his seventh birthday.
Meeno proved he had the goods at his very first casting call.
"The first interview I went out for was a part on Starsky and Hutch," he said. "I got it, and since then, I really haven’t stopped working."
For Soleil, she convinced her brother’s agent to take her on too, and right away she was cast not on TV shows but in commercials, flashing that future Punky Brewster smile for major brands like Minute Maid and McDonald’s.
By the time she was called in to audition for Punky Brewster, Soleil had two years of acting experience under her belt, and she beat out 1,000 young hopefuls to become the coolest TV orphan since Annie.
On his TV shows, Meeno had gained a reputation as being an actor who even the adults turned to for help adjusting to how things work in the studio. His Voyagers! costar Jon-Erik Hexum recalled how Meeno was professional beyond his years.
"On the first day we were doing a scene and Meeno was standing behind the camera," Hexum told The Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1982. "I was in front of the camera. I couldn’t figure out why Meeno was behind the camera. I finally asked him, and he said, 'Because we’re doing your closeup, you idiot.' There was a lot of technical things he helped me with. Now we’re more like equals. The directors are so rushed, we talk out our scenes and get them set up. He has great timing, which makes it easier for me."
Likely the young actor gave tips to his rising star sister as the world came to know Soleil as Punky Brewster the same way classic TV fans recognize Henry Winkler as Fonzie.
When Meeno was young, he didn’t see acting as the only future in store for him, though, telling The Austin American-Statesman in 1982, "When I grow up, I’d like to be a marine biologist, an Astro physicist or a rock star."
And so it wasn’t completely surprising when Meeno ducked out of the spotlight in 1985 at the age of 15, one of his final appearances on Punky Brewster. He had other dreams to pursue, including a family, a farm and a quieter future as a substitute high school teacher.
Meanwhile his sister Soleil Moon Frye finished her hit series after four years and has continued appearing onscreen and growing as a voice actor. This year, Peacock will debut a reboot of Punky Brewster, starring Soleil as Punky all grown up.
That level of stardom was the future many believed was in store for her brother Meeno, but in the end, his was more of a supporting role in her enduring acting career. As a kid, he described how happy he was with his decision to become a child star.
"I’m not missing out on a normal childhood," Meeno said. "I’m having a great childhood — on weekends, with friends, having them sleep over and like that. But then I’m having more. I get to do this and learn things and have the extras and meet nice people."