In Brooklyn they tell it to you straight. “My mom used to say to me, ‘When you introduce me to Sinatra, then you’re a star,’ ” recalls Tony Danza, 49. The former boxer had five years of Taxi under his belt before he became boss’s muscle-bound maid and did just that. Sinatra played himself in a 1989 episode, and Danza flew in his mom, Anne, a bookkeeper who died in 1993. “He treated her like Queen Elizabeth,” says Danza. The actor’s family values extended to creating a G-rated set for his young costars Alyssa Milano and Danny Pintauro, whose report cards he would proudly post. “He was very fatherlike,” says Pintauro of Danza, married since 1986 to Tracy Robinson, 41, and a dad to Katie, 13, and Emily, 7, as well as Marc, 29, from a previous marriage. When the show ended, Danza says, “The hardest part was that I had been in a cocoon for eight years where everything I said was right.” Though his 1995 series Hudson Street and 1997’s The Tony Danza Show failed, the actor got good reviews for serious roles on Broadway in A View from the Bridge (1998) and last year’s The Iceman Cometh. He has since filmed the pilot for a detective series, Homewood, P.I., and in April brought his popular cabaret act to Manhattan. In the four years he has been doing the stage show, there have been some familiar faces in the crowd. “If any of us is doing anything,” says Katherine Helmond, Mona on Boss, “the other ones go.”
After eight years of what he calls “a ton of fun” as Judith Light’s son on Who’s the Boss?, 16-year-old Danny Pintauro took on the role of a typical sophomore at Montclair Prep in Los Angeles. “I was really focused on finishing school and getting into a good college,” says Pintauro, now 24. “I was in the honors program, a smarty pants.” And the apple of his TV family’s eye. “I was very proud of him,” says Tony Danza. Katherine Helmond brags about how “Danny was tops in Boy Scouts—he made Eagle Scout!” Pintauro, who now goes by Dan, went to Stanford University and in 1998 earned a degree in drama. His performance last year in a one-man Off-Broadway show about a naive street hustler called The Velocity of Gary (Not His Real Name) was well-received. This year, Pintauro got some backstage experience as an assistant stage manager at Manhattan’s City Center theater. “I’ve been an actor since I was 2, but I had to prove myself all over again,” says Pintauro, who aspires to direct but plans to reprise Gary this fall in San Francisco. He has also proved that honesty is the best policy in handling rumors about his sexuality. In 1997, Pintauro spoke publicly about being gay after a tabloid threatened to out him. “It turned into a positive thing,” he says. “I had nothing to hide. I was not at all secretive about it. There was nobody in my own life who didn’t know.” But Pintauro does have one secret, which he’ll share:” Who’s the Boss? is on every day now, and I have to admit that I do watch it. For me, it’s like looking through an old yearbook.”
As Boss’s sassy, liberated and libidinous grandmother, Katherine Helmond “just nailed it,” says the show’s co-creator Martin Cohan. “In one episode she came back from a date with her sweater on backward, but she was able to make it funny, not smarmy.” Adds co-creator Blake Hunter: “Katherine brought so much more to the role than the little randy thing we had originally written.” That’s because “I thought Mona was terrific,” says Helmond. “She wasn’t a slut, but suddenly in her life she had the freedom to flirt and date. I hope I projected a positive image to older women.” The role won her a second Golden Globe; the first came in 1981 for playing the wealthy, whacked-out Jessica Tate on the sitcom Soap. Neither character, she says, was true to life. “I am so much more reserved. And if I really behaved like Mona, I wouldn’t be married 38 years!” exclaims Helmond, who met her husband, painter and set designer David Christian, in 1962. Now playing Ray Romano’s very proper mother-in-law on Everybody Loves Raymond, she keeps connected to her Boss family via phone. “We had a great run,” she says. “We ended up friends.”
Few actors go as far as Judith Light has gone to distance themselves from the roles that once defined them. For her starring turn in Wit, the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a professor dying of ovarian cancer, the actress shaved off the long blonde hair that helped shape her identity as boss’s uptight advertising executive and divorced mom. Light, 51, began her Off-Broadway stint last August and then took the show on the road for a five-city tour that ended this month. “When you are stripped of your hair, your crowning glory, as so many people call it, you have to look elsewhere for your power,” Light told the Miami Herald in April. In Wit, the actress—who lives in L.A. with her husband of 15 years, actor Robert Desiderio, 48—delivered what The New York Times deemed a “harrowing and deeply affecting” performance. Raves Boss costar Tony Danza, who dined with her after catching the play last fall: “She was magnificent, and what guts!” While playing opposite Danza on Boss, Light needed guts, says Bud Wiser, a writer on the show. “Tony is such a powerful character—in real life he dominates—but Judith was never overwhelmed. She was strong.” Funny too. While taping a scene in which Tony walks in on Angela in the bathroom, Light opened her robe and bared her breasts. Danza says his stunned reaction was real. “I was shocked,” he says. “Judith was willing to do anything for a laugh.”
It was as inevitable as a sitcom laugh track. She arrived a fresh-faced Brooklyn-bred kid of 11, a veteran of nearly two years touring in Annie. Then four years into her turn as Danza’s spirited TV daughter, “she became a celebrity,” says costar Dan Pintauro. Milano. now 27, used breaks from Boss to appear in 1985’s Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger and make a successful 1988 exercise video for teens. “She was definitely primed for that teen-celebrity thing,” says Pintauro. She was also a stunner. “All of a sudden there were boys coming to rehearsal,” Danza recalls. “I’d say, ‘Whaddaya doin’? Get outta here.’ I used to chase them away.” However, he couldn’t stop them from seeing Milano without a stitch of clothing in the 1993 pages of Bikini magazine. “I worried about her, but it wasn’t my place to say anything,” explains Danza. “I played her father, but I wasn’t her father.” Milano got a wake-up call when she discovered that nude photos of her (some were stills from her 1995 film Embrace of the Vampire) were circulating over the Internet. In 1998 she and her mother, Lin, successfully sued the Web sites to drop her image. That same year, Milano (whose 1999 marriage to rocker Cinjun Tate, 28, ended after 11 months) signed on with Charmed, joining Shannen Doherty and Hotly Marie Combs as three sisters who are witches. “She’s beautiful, professional and a pleasure to work with,” says Charmed executive producer Aaron Spelling. TV dad Danza has stopped worrying.