I was a child of the ’70s and ’80s, and if you were like me, you were a hardcore watcher of Diff’rent Strokes. Seems despite the urging of the theme song (“it takes different strokes to move the world”) every kid I knew made sure to have their fannies in front of the TV when the exploits of Arnold Jackson came on. As Arnold, Gary Coleman starred alongside brother Willis (played by Todd Bridges), as they struggled to adjust as the black orphans of a housekeeper to a new life as the adopted children of a white, wealthy businessman (Mr. Drummond, played by Conrad Bain) and his daughter Kimberly (played by Dana Plato).
Most, if not all, those names ought to be familiar to any pop culture junkie, but do you remember the character Dudley Ramsey, Arnold’s best friend, who got involved with him in plenty of funny (and some jawdroppingly not-so-funny) misadventures? Here’s a quick reel of some Dudley appearances on the TV show that made him famous:
So where has he been all these years? It’s almost like he’s been living under a rock!
Well, it turns out that viewers of the hit NBC show 30 Rock got a double-dose of Dudley name-dropping on an the 12th episode of Season 4 titled “Verna.” (Tina Fey’s character, Liz, underlines her anti-smoking case to Frank by saying “…the episode of Diff’rent Strokes about Dudley’s dad has proven incontrovertibly that smoking destroys your health and leads to ridicule from Willis.) I love the incestuous nature of pop culture references in TV, music and movies, and hearing Tina Fey evoke the name of a beloved character like Dudley (yes, he was beloved!) just pushes all the feel-good buttons in this 40-year-old’s soul.
You can watch the episode of 30 Rock at Hulu.com (if you’re a Hulu Plus member)
This bit of hip pop culture referencing fame just caught up to Dudley himself, the one and only Shavar Ross, who reportedly saw the episode in question while watching TV with his wife. According to Shavar’s blog, a friend on his Twitter feed alerted him to the mention and he just had to check it out. His reaction is caught for posterity on his blog, including trips down memory lane about the infamous smoking episode, where he and Arnold puff away on a nasty cigarette, and the even more infamous “very special episode” which featured Arnold and Dudley getting cornered by the bicycle-selling child molester played by Gordon Jump. (I remember every kid in school the next day looking as uncomfortable as I was! “Did you see Diff’rent Strokes last night?” “I don’t want to talk about it.”)
Here’s Part 1 of said episode. You’ve been warned:
Turns out Shavar Ross still has one foot in Hollywood with his entertainment blog, keeping up with the news about pop culture from a child star’s perspective. In addition, he’s got links to two books he’s authored about his time as an actor and on the set of Diff’rent Strokes: On the Set of Diff’rent Strokes: How I Beat Out 250 Kids for the Role of Dudley and 25 Things Every Actor Should Know Before Coming to Hollywood.
There was a sad legacy of tragedy that befell the juvenile members of the Diff’rent Strokes cast (Dana Plato died from a drug overdose, Todd Bridges had several lapses into drug use and run-ins with the law, and Gary Coleman struggled with his many demons to the very last day before his death). So it’s nice to know that Shavar has seemed to avoid all that, and at the ripe old age of 40 (he just turned the calendar on his fourth decade on March 6th) Shavar looks healthy, happy and successful in a life far removed from his days as a kid actor. But not far from 30 Rock!
We look forward to Tina Fey’s next invocation of the great Dudley Ramsey on 30 Rock! Until then, Dudley, you did right in life!
***It should be noted that this is our second post on peripheral Diff’rent Strokes characters, the other being none other than Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kim Richards! CLICK HERE to see her appearance on the show as a young girl.