Marilu Henner admits she had her pick of the litter during Taxi‘s five-year run. She was the only female co-star of the beloved sitcom about NYC’s Sunshine Cab Co. when it debuted in 1978, and “within three weeks, Tony Danza and I were dating,” she has said of her hunky ex-boxer co-star. “I mean, c’mon! Oh, and I dated Judd Hirsch, too, the same year. Why not? There were 77 guys on set and me! You think I wasn’t going to date at least two of them in five years? Please!”
Not all the cast members got along so swimmingly. Andy Kaufman, the stand-up performance artist cast as foreign mechanic Latka Gravas, refused to rehearse and only came into work on Fridays, angering his theater-trained colleagues.
“Before we shot scenes, I would always say to him, ‘I got mad because you didn’t want to rehearse,'” Carol Kane has said, who played Latka’s love interest, Simka. “And he would say, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t rehearse.’ By the time we went out to play a couple, we were [in sync], and it was kind of fantastic.”
Andy’s idiosyncrasies also irritated Judd, who played the show’s lead, sardonic cabbie Alex Reiger. “At one point, Judd and Andy almost came to fisticuffs,” said Frank Lovece, co-author with Jules Franco of Taxi: The Official Fan’s Guide.
On camera, the chemistry was unparalleled among the ensemble, which also encompassed Danny DeVito as Louie De Palma, the dispatcher with a Napoleon complex; Jeff Conaway as narcissistic actor Bobby Wheeler; and Christopher Lloyd as spaced-out hippie Rev. Jim Ignatowski.
“Judd did not present himself as the single star, and everything had to revolve around him,” Lovece has said. “He very generously thought of it as an ensemble show, and that gave the other actors a lot more room.”
Taxi was a top 10 smash right out of the gate, airing as part of ABC’s powerhouse Tuesday lineup with Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and Three’s Company. Three days after the show premiered, the previously unknown Marilu was walking in New Orleans during a trip to see the Muhammad Ali/Leon Spinks fight with then-boyfriend John Travolta and her Taxi co-stars.
“Pretty soon, people were honking their horns at us and yelling our names,” she said. “That’s when I thought, ‘Gosh, our lives are about to change.'” The series remained popular with critics and Emmy voters: It was nominated for 34 and won 18, including two for Judd, Christopher, and Carol, and one for Danny. But ABC shuffled it around the lineup and its ratings dropped.
After four years, it was canceled by the network and picked up for one last season by NBC. “We were devastated when the final ax fell,” Marilu has said. “We had a 24-hour wake.” Sadly, two Taxi cast members have passed away: Andy, of lung cancer at 35 in 1984, and Jeff, of a drug overdose at 60 in 2011.
Marilu, who’s currently co-starring in Broadway’s Getting’ the Band Back Together, says the surviving co-stars are still close. “Everyone is vibrant and vital and has the same sense of humor,” she reported. “When we get together, it’s crazy — it’s a blast.”
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