They say a man never forgets his first celebrity crush, no matter how many pieces of paper say he needs to stay 100 yards away at all times. The 1980s were filled with plenty of options, too, from Phoebe Cates emerging from her swimming pool to Lea Thompson nonchalantly shaking her ass as she offered to share her bed with an alien duck. But like most of the kids who grew up watching the iconic TGIF block on ABC in the late 80s, my first real crush was born on October 21, 1988, when Danny Tanner was given his own local morning talk show, “Wake Up, San Francisco,” with his co-host Rebecca Donaldson, who was played by Lori Loughlin.
Up to that point, Loughlin’s career had been filled with mostly-forgettable roles, but her work as Aunt Becky would become the stuff of legends in the annals of really attractive family sitcom actresses. Sure, Becky ended up changing the whole dynamic of her character and the show by marrying the cool but sensitive Uncle Jesse Katsopolis, because the hot girl always ended up with the bad boy with a mullet made of feathers in the 80s, but she was still the girl who made a generation of hopeless geeks dream of one day falling in love with the girl next door and raising a family in their own brother-in-law’s attic.
Today, as Loughlin turns 50 years young, I wanted to pay tribute to my first celebrity crush by reminding the world that she was more than just Aunt Becky, the TV personality who sacrificed so much to help provide a responsible female role model for the three Tanner girls, who were otherwise being raised by an obsessive neat freak, rock star and grown man with a giant puppet on his hand. In fact, I’ve always been shocked and disappointed that Loughlin’s career wasn’t filled with considerably better roles, because when you think of all of the terrible actresses to make it out the 80s, she wasn’t that much worse than Drew Barrymore or Alyssa Milano.
She’s still going strong, though, with her Hallmark Channel series When Calls the Heart being renewed for a second season, and the occasional Full House nostalgia drawing her to Jimmy Fallon’s set. So I thought there was no better way to celebrate Loughlin than by going all the way back and cherishing the entire body of work in this love letter to the woman who was my very first celebrity crush so many years ago.
While we are years apart in age and you are presumably happily married to Mossimo Giannulli, whose clothing line was a staple of my mid-90s wardrobe, I couldn’t help but take this chance to wonder what could have been. From the earliest days of your career, you were appearing in roles that really spoke to the matters of my heart, like this commercial for Arby’s:
If my heart was an order of slightly-stale curly fries and a soggy Beef ‘N Cheddar, then you were the Arby’s Sauce that I poured all over it in order to make it all palatable. If you had done a commercial for Taco Bell, I’d probably be shouting at and cursing God and my parents for not creating me years earlier.
But then came your big break and very own Phoebe Cates pool moment in 1985’s Secret Admirer, as you played Toni, the beautiful girl next door in love with Michael, who was in turn in love with Deborah (Kelly Preston), who had a thing for big, dumb bros. Haha, the whole thing was just one massive misunderstanding set to goofy pop music.
Naturally, Michael couldn’t see how good he had things right in his own swimming pool, and he almost lost it all when Toni took off for her study abroad session, but thanks to that sense of 80s romance that caused teenage boys to chase their true loves through airports and, in this case, shipyards, Toni was able to risk her life by leaping into the ocean so she could be with her true love, even if it meant completely blowing off her educational responsibilities. If only that love letter had found its way into my locker.
The prom game changed forever the following year when you starred as Christian Holly in the inspirational BMX film Rad, which featured the greatest high school dance scene in the history of motion picture.
I wasn’t old enough to understand it then, but if I could go back and change everything, I’d have totally rode my old Haro into my senior prom. Sure, I didn’t know any tricks and could barely do a wheelie, and my date probably would have left with one of the pothead jocks by the time I’d even fit my bike into our limo, but I would have done all of that for you, Lori.
In 1987, a year before Full House would start and eventually turn you into a household name, you hitched your wagon to the star power of another generation with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Back to the Beach. This was one of those movies that HBO played every day during the summer when I was home all day with nothing to do, so I remember this one as vividly as any good movie from the 80s. And yet I wonder if this specific scene isn’t the reason that ska and its pop-punk cousin had such a big presence in the 90s.
I don’t think I’d even know who Fishbone was for several more years, so watching that clip again for the first time in God knows how long is really fascinating. Was Fishbone criticized the same way that the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were when they showed up in Clueless? I may never know the answer to that, but at least I’m the only person on Earth who cares. More importantly, Back to the Beach gave us this guy, and he’s a true hero of 80s cinema:
In early 1988, you changed your image a little by playing Tara in the prom hijinks movie The Night Before, starring Keanu Reeves as Winston, the clueless dolt who gets to take Tara to the prom and somehow ends up selling her to a little person pimp named Tito. You know, Lori, when I think back on all of the great 80s movies about the average dork trying to score a date with the hot girl, only to end up in a series of zany events that involve some serious crimes, it breaks my heart that The Night Before doesn’t rank up there with License to Drive or Sixteen Candles, among others, just because of a silly little thing like truly terrible acting.
Thank goodness for YouTube perverts being able to edit all of the scenes of 24-year old you acting like a teenage girl chained to her bed in her underwear, but what really matters is the bravery that your character Tara showed. Sure, a giant hairy man was about to have his way with you, a high school goody-goody, but Tara knew how to keep her composure in this situation. Other, so-called “real” girls would have freaked out and cried and screamed, but you knew better, Lori. That’s probably why the next role would change your life forever.
Rebecca Donaldson showed up on Full House as an ambitious media personality who wanted the people of San Francisco to welcome her into their homes each week. Some Full House fans – or Tannies, as they’re known at their annual conventions – probably thought that Becky would end up with Danny Tanner, as if their on-air chemistry would blur the lines of their personal relationship.
Becky was too much of a professional and way too good for a colossal goober like Danny, though, and that led to the eventual courtship by Jesse Katsopolis. It was love at first site for Jesse, too, as he laid the “Have mercy” charm on thick right in front of his entire family, but Becky wasn’t like other girls at first. Eventually, after dozens of more “Have mercy” moments, though, Becky caved and let Jesse steal her heart, much to the dismay of myself and men everywhere.
Of course she went for the guy who used to wear a bolo tie with his black leather vest and mullet. Those guys always get the best girls, especially when they’re in totally rad bands with Scott Baio, and their groupies deliver the most righteous fist pumps in the world.
Holy sh*t, are we sure the Russians didn’t win? Eventually, Jesse would get Becky pregnant with twins and they’d go on to have a happy, loving family, despite the fact that nobody ever thought to have a DNA test performed to make sure those kids weren’t Uncle Joey’s, since they didn’t exactly share Jesse’s Greek heritage.
After Full House, your career seemed to stall out. First, there was Hudson Street with Tony Danza, but how on Earth were we ever expected to believe that Aunt Becky would end up with Tony Micelli? That would have been like Sam Malone falling in love with Dorothy Zbornak, so I don’t know what the hell ABC was thinking when they tried to drop that one on us. From there, we only had you in our lives in the form of TV movies we’d never watch and cameo roles on sitcoms including Suddenly Susan, Spin City, The Drew Carey Show, and, of course, Seinfeld.
HOW DARE YOU, JERRY SEINFELD?!?! You don’t raise your voice to Aunt Becky, who was in another league by the time “The Serenity Now” aired on October 9, 1997. Did Seinfeld really end after that ninth season, or did the TV gods cancel it because of the way that you were treated, Lori? I think we both know the real answer to that question.
Another one-off role that deserves mention is your turn as the Black Canary in The WB’s 2002 after-Batman superhero drama Birds of Prey. To this point, “brave” had never been an adjective used in describing your career choices, but I think that most people would agree that this acting performance should be reviewed and offhindsight Emmy consideration.
Then came the biggest shot of your career with the 2004 WB series Summerland that you co-created and starred in. The show focused on a hotshot clothing designer in California whose life was flipped, turned upside down when her niece and nephew from Kansas show up at her doorstep after the deaths of their parents. The show wasn’t anything groundbreaking or spectacular, but it co-starred teen heart throbs Jesse McCartney and Zac Efron, as well as True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, who I’ve often referred to as the greatest actor in the history of mankind.
Additionally, C. Thomas Howell reunited with his Secret Admirer co-star to play Efron’s alcoholic dad on Summerland, because every good drama needs an alcoholic dad, and no one was better fit for that role than the star of Soul Man.
But this is about you, Lori, and your ability to keep delivering as one of the most attractive and charming women on TV throughout three decades and counting. That’s why you were an obvious choice for the role of divorced mom of two Debbie Wilson on the first three seasons of the CW’s 90210 reboot. I admit that I had no clue there were multiple seasons or that your character even had a name, because I’m an adult male and would rather get my soap opera drama from shows about vampires and professional wrestling, but that clip of some hot car lovemaking showed me everything I need to know about what I missed out on.
I guess what baffles me most about your long, but inconsistent career, Lori, is that I don’t know how you haven’t been in better movies. I respect the fact that you’ve never pulled an Elizabeth Berkley and took it all off and flopped around in a Las Vegas pool like a dying dolphin to show us your edgy side, but you had to have been able to do better than f*cking Old Dogs, right?
I know that you’re not actually in that trailer, but I wanted to be a man and apologize appropriately for the fact that I won’t ever watch that heap of dung again to single out a clip of you. The fact is that you deserve better than small roles in Nut Shots: The Movie, starring Robin Paycheck and John Travolta’s Hair Plugs. That’s why I’m glad that you’ve most recently found success in Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart. I’ve never actually watched it, because I’d probably keep making When Smells the Fart jokes the whole time in between napping, but you deserve all the success in the world after this long career of yours.
And should you ever decide that you’d like to give marriage to another Burns man a shot, well, 50 is pretty old, to be honest. Nonetheless, thanks for being my first crush, Lori, and let me know if you ever need someone to write a screenplay for you and Diane Lane about two former sorority sisters who rekindle their special bond after 30 years on a road trip to visit their old house mom (Helen Mirren) in prison. Anything for you, Aunt Becky.