Married With Children star reminisces about her childhood in Winter Park

By : Tom Dyer
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As if to disprove an old axiom, out television actress and director Amanda Bearse was greeted warmly on March 19 at the Winter Park Welcome Center.

“When the circumstances are right, you can go home again,” Bearse told close to 100 people, many of them former school classmates, who came to hear her talk about her three decades career in television and reminisce about her childhood in Winter Park.

Bearse also spoke about her decision to come out in 1993 – four years before Ellen – while starring on the hit sitcom Married With Children. That groundbreaking disclosure, and her local roots, landed Bearse on the cover of the first issue of Watermark in August, 1994.

AmandaBearseIsBackLate Bloomer
Bearse moved to Central Florida in 1965 and remained until she graduated from Winter Park High School in 1976, where she was a student of theater teacher Ann Derflinger.

“She taught me discipline, respect and passion. Without her I wouldn’t have had the career I had,” Bearse shared. “If I ever win an Oscar, she’s the person I’ll thank…just like Tom Hanks did when he won for Philadelphia.”

Under Derflinger, who died in the 1980s at just 44, Bearse played leads in productions like The Skin of Our Teeth. She was hooked.

“When you get that applause or that laugh…that’s the glory,” Bearse said.

After earning enough credits to graduate early, she returned for a senior year at Derflinger’s request to star in an ambitious production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Bearse attended several colleges, including Rollins College in Winter Park, before graduating from Birmingham Southern College.

“I was a late bloomer,” she laughed.

With her parents’ blessing, Bearse then headed for New York to see if she could forge an acting career. She studied with acclaimed instructor Stanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and in 1981 she landed a plum role on the ABC soap opera All My Children.

But her big break came in 1987, when Bearse was cast as Marcy D’Arcy, the uptight neighbor and comedic foil to Al and Peg Bundy on the hit Fox sitcom Married…With Children. She remained with the show throughout its 10-year run, and eventually directed more than 30 episodes. She primarily works now as a director, with credits that include Mad TV, The Big Gay Sketch Show, Reba, Dharma & Greg, Veronica’s Closet, Jessie and Ladies Man.

Idyllic Childhood
Bearse was clearly delighted to be back in Winter Park for the first time in more than a decade.

“It was idyllic to grow up in this beautiful little town,” she said after attending the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival the day before. “I’m happy to see that so much of it hasn’t changed. Thanks for keeping it so wonderful.”

Bearse reminisced about walking to Park Avenue Elementary from her home near Genius Drive. The school was located in the building that now houses Restoration Hardware. Her first acting role was as the mother in a second grade production of Little Red Riding Hood.

“I must’ve been destined to play supporting roles,” Bearse quipped. “But I got some laughs, and that’s all it took.”

She recalled riding on the neighborhood T.G. Lee dairy truck, swimming at the Langford Hotel, paying for movies at the Colony Theater with bottle caps, and learning to water ski at age six.

“My first career ambition was to be a water skier,” Bearse said. “My friends and I used to ski through the chain of lakes to junior high where the ninth grade center is now. We’d drop at Lake Virginia – usually soaked – and then walk the rest of the way. I spent many a school day dressed in my blue P.E. uniform.”

But plans changed under the tutelage of Derflinger, a former Broadway actress who played Mammy Yokum in the Broadway production of Li’l Abner. The teacher took her theater students to New York each year, and Bearse says Derflinger’s enthusiasm for her former stomping grounds was infectious.

“We got on the train in Winter Park, and by the time we got off at Penn Station she was transformed,” Bearse recalled. “She lit up like a neon sign, and the rest of us got to see it all through her eyes.”

After Bearse graduated from high school her family moved to Atlanta. Even though she was college-bound, Bearse was saddened.

“I felt like I’d lost my home base,” she said.

She described her four-year stint on All My Children as an extraordinary learning experience.

“You’re acting every day,” Bearse said. “It’s the closest thing to repertory theater you can find in television.”

And she characterized the success of Married…With Children as a blessing and a shock.

“Back then there were only three commercial networks – CBS, NBC and ABC. People said there would never be a fourth,” she recalled. “And lo and behold this crazy little show became the anchor that allowed Fox to grow from one night of programming to a full lineup.”

During that period, Bearse took classes and began directing episodes. She continued directing, but left Hollywood after an unpleasant experience with Chuck Lorre, the infamously difficult creator of Dharma & Greg, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

“He’s a moneymaker, so people put up with him,” Bearse shared. “But I thank him because he motivated me to leave Los Angeles and raise my kids in the south.”

Bearse specializes in directing two-camera situation comedies, and continues to work extensively with the Disney Channel and other television producers.

Bearse’s local appearance was presented by the Winter Park Historical Society. Presented with another piece of history – the first issue of Watermark – Bearse expressed pride in the newspaper’s success and talked about her decision to come out in 1993, when it was unprecedented for a television star.

“I was adopting a baby, and I knew the tabloids would run a disparaging story,” she said. “So I decided to tell people the truth: that I come from a loving family and that I hope to grow a loving family.”

“And twenty years later…all is well.”

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