Sat. Sep 24th, 2022

‘Mr. Belvedere’ star Ilene Graff recalls working with Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield: ‘I was just in awe’

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Before Ilene Graff starred in “Mr. Belvedere,” she briefly made her mark in “Mork & Mindy” where she went toe-to-toe with Robin Williams.

The late comic starred as an alien from the planet Ork in the hit ‘70s sitcom, which he first debuted on “Happy Days.” The series ran from 1978 until 1982 and co-starred Pam Dawber as a woman who takes in the interplanetary visitor.

“There was a two-parter that I was on with Jonathan Winters,” Graff recalled to Closer Weekly on Sunday. “The table read was like being in the Comedy Store. Robin Williams and Jonathan couldn’t stop [improvising], and one line would be funnier than the next. It was just remarkable.”

From left: Ilene Graff, Robin Williams and Pam Dawber in ‘Mork & Mindy’. Williams passed away in 2014 at age 63.

From left: Ilene Graff, Robin Williams and Pam Dawber in ‘Mork & Mindy’. Williams passed away in 2014 at age 63.
(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

The actress insisted that Williams was the real deal.

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“Robin was also really, really nice,” said the 73-year-old. “And a good acting partner. He was Julliard trained, so when the director said action, his eyes, mind and brain were with you. He was so creative. He never did anything the same way twice.”

Looking back, Graff said she was grateful to find success in the ‘70s.

“In the late 1970s, I fit the mold of what they were looking for,” she told the outlet. “My timing was right. I was cute and funny. And then I got older, and they were looking for young moms. It was just dumb luck and timing. I have friends that are so talented but nobody has any idea who they are because of luck. Their timing was off.”

Williams would not be the only comic that Graff shared the screen with. She went on to star with Rodney Dangerfield in the 1992 film “Ladybugs.”

American actor and comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 - 2004) in a scene from 'Ladybugs', directed by Sidney J. Furie, 1992.

American actor and comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921 – 2004) in a scene from ‘Ladybugs’, directed by Sidney J. Furie, 1992.
(Photo by John Bramley/Fotos International/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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“Rodney was an original,” she said. “In his heart, he was a writer. We would be doing a scene, and they wouldn’t be happy with the joke. So they would say, ‘Rodney, we need a better joke here.’ Within seconds, he’d have 10 or 15 new jokes. I was just in awe.”

These days, Graff has immersed herself in charity work. She is currently involved with Doors for Change, an organization in San Diego that focuses on homeless youth. She also works with the Entertainment Community Fund, which offered financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ilene Graff played Marsha Cameron Owens in ‘Mr. Belvedere’ from 1985 to 1990.

Ilene Graff played Marsha Cameron Owens in ‘Mr. Belvedere’ from 1985 to 1990.
(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

However, her greatest roles are that of wife and mom.

“We’re celebrating our 45th anniversary in August,” she boasted. “I think the beginning of it started with a friendship. Music was always very much part of our relationship and respect and admiration for each other’s talents. Plus we just like hanging out together.”

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As for her daughter, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, she has launched a successful career on Broadway.

“No matter how many times I whispered into her little baby ear, ‘Be a doctor,’ it didn’t work,” said Graff. “She was born dancing. She just knew how to do it. It has always been her happy place.”



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