Saturday night television will be poorer this season for losing a Belushi, but not to worry. It’s gaining another. John Belushi, for four years the manic samurai of Saturday Night Live, is saying sayonara with sidekick Dan Aykroyd for the greener pastures of movies like their upcoming The Blues Brothers. But Jim Belushi, 25, is arriving to labor in CBS’ new Working Stiffs and to establish himself as more than just a kid brother (by five years). “There’s no hostility to John—he’s been very supportive,” Jim stresses. “But I like to be my own person.”
That may be difficult. There’s a strong physical resemblance. And as Working Stiffs’ bumbling brother janitors, Belushi and co-star Michael Keaton (no relation to Diane or Buster) turn their office building into, well, an animal house. The show already has been described as a male version of the blue-collar Laverne and Shirley. “They should be so lucky,” quips Penny (Laverne) Marshall, who directed Stiffs’ first episode. “Call it physical comedy in an Abbott and Costello vein.”
At 5’11” and 215 pounds, Jim is taller than Costello and fatter than Abbott, thanks to consuming quantities of cheeseburgers, pizza and ice cream. “This is a Chicago belly. Every cop you see there has one just like this,” grins Jim, patting his paunch. “I say to myself, ‘I worked hard. Maybe I should eat something. I deserve it.’ ” His junk food addiction, in fact, has hampered his adaptation to L.A., where he says both the conversation (“all they talk about is deals and projects and concepts”) and the victuals (“I haven’t found a great hot dog”) are thin fare. His heart as well as his stomach remain in his Windy City. “Every time there’s a hiatus on the show—wham!” says Stiffs’ exec producer Bob Brunner, “Jim’s on a plane back to Chicago.”
One reason is his girlfriend of two years, Sandy Davenport, 24, an actress with the famed Second City troupe, where Jim and John both started. “I wasn’t looking for a boy and he wasn’t looking for a girl,” says Sandy of their meeting. “I loved him as a friend first.” “It’s kind of expensive, but it’s been worth it,” says Jim of their commuter dating. “She’s a growing actress. I don’t want to take from her career by saying, ‘Come out here and join me.’ ”
The offspring of Albanian immigrants, Jim and John (as well as beautician sister Marion and college freshman Billy) grew up in suburban Wheaton, which Jim remembers as “a dry town—it had as many churches as gas stations.” Their father owned a succession of Chicago steak houses before retiring with his wife a few years ago to a Southern California ranch. Jim and dad now enjoy horseback jaunts through the mountains. “He always wears a black shirt and rides a white horse,” says Jim, who has incorporated himself as White Horse Productions. “He looks like John Wayne.”
After his 1972 graduation from high school, Jim earned a theater degree from Southern Illinois University, then toured with Second City and made commercials. Just over a year ago, producer Garry (Happy Days) Marshall caught Jim’s act. Though he overslept after flying to the Coast, stumbling in late and unshaven for an audition, he won a part in last season’s NBC turkey, Who’s Watching the Kids? Marshall was impressed enough to lure Jim from Chicago for Stiffs.
Jim rents a comfortable apartment on Chicago’s North Side, still decorated with his old college furniture. (He also has a small L.A. crash pad near Paramount studios.) He recently bought his first color TV. “I figured I was in the industry, I should have one, too. But those things cost a lot of money.” From his new eminence he might even see a future as accomplished as brother John’s. “You get a TV series, and you don’t know if you’ll ever play Othello,” muses Jim, before breaking into a mock announcer’s voice. “You saw him on Working Stiffs, ladies and gentlemen, here he is, your lovable ‘Ernie O’Rourke’ as Othello.”