It might have been every kid’s worst nightmare – having your parents just walk out on you. (Sure, it was cool if you walked out on them or made them disappear Home Alone-style, but the other way around? No way.) Punky Brewster made this fear a reality! Well – a fictional reality. You know what I mean.
The show, which got its start in 1984, ran in syndication in the late 80’s and was so memorable that it sparked up an animated spin-off that also aired on NBC at the same time as its live-action counterpart. It featured Punky – a nickname for Penelope – who found shelter in an abandoned apartment owned by Henry Warnimont, who quickly becomes her foster Dad.
The show was cancelled after a bummer finale, in which Punky and her classmates watched the Challenger explosion live. Not even a cameo by Buzz Aldrin helped the show secure a fifth season.
So – what happened to the cast?
Soleil Moon Frye as Punky Brewster
After Punky wrapped in 1988, our girl Soleil had a few bit parts that were actually pretty memorable – remember she used Screech for his legendary spaghetti sauce in Saved By The Bell, and played Mimi Detweiler on the Labor Day picnic episode of The Wonder Years? The early ’90s also brought her some vocal work on Nickelodeon shows Tiny Toon Adventures and The Ren & Stimpy Show. In 1999, she landed a role on Friends playing Joey’s girlfriend who kept (playfully) hitting him (hard) to the point of relationship termination.
Her next big role was on Sabrina The Teenage Witch, playing Sabrina’s college roommate Roxie King until 2003. Afterward, she voiced Zoey on The Proud Family until 2005, and then took on a role in the Bratz franchise voicing Jade. In 2010, she played Aseefa on the TV series Planet Sheen.
Soleil got married in 1998 to producer Jason Goldberg, and is a Mom of three – daughters Poet and Jagger, and a son who’ll be born pretty much any minute. (Seriously – she might be going into labor as you’re reading this.) Motherhood inspired her to open an organic specialty clothing shop for children, The Little Seed, in Los Angeles a well as host her own web series which focuses around child rearing and women’s issues. She’s written a book as well, called “Happy Chaos: From Punky to Parenting and My Perfectly Imperfect Adventures in Between”.
George Gaynes as Henry Warnimont
Who knew that Punky’s foster Dad would be known for appearing in all seven Police Academy movies? George should probably get a trophy for that honor. Here’s something else – the man is currently 96-years-old. And he only retired from acting roughly a decade ago.
After playing Henry, George stepped onto the set of the TV series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and played Arthur Feldman. Hearts Afire was his next series, which unfortunately ended after just one year (especially since it also starred John Ritter as well as a very young Clark Duke!) He also had a part in the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four. Yes, that was the version that Arrested Development poked fun at last season.
His last role was a bit part in the Ashton Kutcher & Brittany Murphy film Just Married, where he played Father Robert.
Cherie Johnson as … well, Cherie Johnson
Look closely, since you’ve seen Cherie in another role before. Yep – that’s Laura’s BFF Maxine from Family Matters!
Cherie was the niece of the show’s creator and producer, David W. Duclon. Through an audition, she managed to portray the role of Punky’s closest friend (that was named after her to begin with.) While it was her first role, she went on to many others. She played the role of Tiffany on a few episodes of The Parkers, and in 2009 she wrote, starred and produced the independent film I Do… I Did!
In fact, some of Cherie’s most notable work is behind the camera. She’s produced a few films, including the action film One Blood in 2012 and romantic comedy Crush in 2013. Cherie is also a writer – she’s written a few books, and also has a column in “Glam Couture Magazine”.
Susie Garrett as Betty Johnson
It has been rumored that Betty played Cherie’s grandmother, both offscreen and on. (Obviously on is true, but off has been debated. Won’t someone come forth with the truth!?) After having a small part in the 1989 comedy Wicked Stepmother, she didn’t appear in any more movies. She did, however, co-found the Crossroads Art Academy acting school in Los Angeles with her sister Marla, who was also an actress.
She narrated and played the part of Sojouner Truth in “The Sojouner Truth Story” which aired on PBS after she passed away in 2002 from cancer. Here’s a video of part of that performance, which many did not get to see.
What’s a family sitcom without the spoiled rich friend? Ami Foster fit the role of Margaux perfectly. And what a name, too. Ami got her start by appearing on Star Search before she even reached the double digits.
Fans of Troop Beverly Hills might recognize her as Claire Sprantz. A year later, she had brief roles on episodes of Charles in Charge and Life Goes On. In 1991, she made appearances on The Wonder Years, Empty Nest, and Step By Step. Her final role in 1995 sounds grim, but was meant to be informative – she appeared on a CBS special called Kids Killing Kids, which addressed the topic of gun control.
What were some of your favorite Punky Brewster memories?