The people who worked at the Sunshine Cab Company on “Taxi” made us laugh – and occasionally cry – as we watched them struggle to make a living in an often hostile world where no one ever seemed to catch a break.
The acclaimed sitcom ran from 1978 to 1983 and won 18 Emmy Awards, including three for Outstanding Comedy Series. “Taxi’s” success was attributed to the strong ensemble cast coupled with outstanding writing and directing that appealed to all ages from all walks of life, a genuine “Everyman’s” show.
The series’ colorful cast members and incorporation of social issues into the scripts made it one of TV’s most beloved comedies.
Enjoy these fun facts and anecdotes ahead as you fondly recall “Taxi.”
Before Andy Kaufman (Latka) signed his contract, he asked producers to give guest appearances to Tony Clifton, who Kaufman said was a friend of his. They agreed, but Clifton showed up for the rehearsals late, falling-down drunk and flanked by barely clothed women, and was fired on his third day. Clifton turned out to be one of Kaufman’s characters.
Jeff Conaway (Bobby Wheeler) was found passed out on one of his filming days by a “Taxi” producer. Conway’s drug addiction was all over the Hollywood news, so he was just written out of the episode and his lines were divided up among his fellow actors. But wait, there’s more…
“Taxi” writer Sam Simon revealed on a 1990 episode of “The Howard Stern Show” that he realized Jeff Conaway (Bobby Wheeler) was easily replaceable when other cast members delivered Conaway’s jokes equally well or better during his first absence from rehearsal. Conaway was let go without fanfare during Season 4.
In Your Face
Long before the world became so hypersensitive and thin-skinned, TV networks freely threw jabs at each other. When ABC canceled “Taxi” back in 1982, HBO was set to buy the show but NBC won the bid. NBC’s promo ads for the show read, “Same time, better network.” Ah, those were the days…
Coming To Terms
In a bold contractual move, Andy Kaufman’s contract specified he only had to show up on set two days a week to shoot 14 episodes per season. Kaufman shunned sitcoms and initially turned down the part of Latka to concentrate on his stand-up comedy job. Producers wanted him enough to negotiate.
Kaufman arrived on the “Taxi” set with his character already established in his comedy act, including his signature line, “Tank-you-veddy-much.” “Taxi” writers created the name of Latka Gravas and Kaufman crafted Latka’s language, which he helped Carol Kane master for her role as Simka. Kaufman’s teaching technique was to take her to dinner and forbid her to speak English during the meal.
In “Taxi’s” opening credits, Tony Danza (Tony) is shown driving his cab across New York’s Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge. Sharp viewers quickly noticed the buildings in the New York cityscape kept recurring in the same place. The reason? The opening was only shot once in the middle of the bridge and then echoed several times during the entire credits.
Fiddler On The Taxi Set
Judd Hirsch had some stiff competition for the role of Alex. Danza revealed in a 2013 interview on the NPR program “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” that when he auditioned for the role of Tony, he ran his lines with Mandy Patinkin, who was auditioning for the role of Alex.
Ever wonder where the show got all those taxi cabs? The Checker Motors Corporation of Kalamazoo, Michigan provided all the cabs for the show before dissolving the business forever in 1982. No word if any cast members asked to take one of the legendary cars home as a souvenir when “Taxi” was cancelled.
One of the first season episodes of “Taxi” featured Danny DeVito’s character of Louie playing violin in a single scene. A tabloid sneaked a photo of the act attached to a story claiming DeVito was abandoning his acting career in order to perfect his violin skills. DeVito’s relatives took the bait and called him for confirmation of the fake story.
The role of Bobby was written with an African-American actor in mind. The producers had a variety of actors reads for the part and Cleavon Little was a finalist for the role. Jeff Conaway was originally in the running to play John Burns (who only lasted for the first season) but asked to try out for the Bobby character. Conaway was the only white actor who read for the role.
Inspired By Real Life
In 1975, “Taxi” creators James L. Brooks and David Davis read an article in New York magazine about a group of New York taxi drivers who worked the night shift. They were inspired by the article called “Night-Shifting for the Hip Fleet” by Mark Jacobson, and the seeds for “Taxi” were planted.
Make-up artists rarely get credit for their miraculous work. On “Taxi,” they made Victor Buono, who played Rev. Jim Ignatowski’s father, Mr. Caldwell, look believable for the role even though he was only 10 months older than actor Christopher Lloyd, who played his son. Likewise, Susan Kellermann convincingly played Latka’s mother Greta despite being only five years older than Andy Kaufman.
Roaming The Neighborhood
Before he developed drug problems in his pre-Taxi days, Jeff Conaway had a small part on the smash hit “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” another show directed by James Burrows. Judd Hirsch also appeared on “Rhoda,” a “Mary Tyler Moore” spinoff also directed by Burrows. Burrows apparently remembered talent as well as he recognized it.
James Burrows and James L Brooks, along with their group of top-notch writers and producers, were responsible for such iconic shows as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Rhoda and Phyllis.” The group wanted to expand their repertoire to include “guy shows” which spawned “Taxi” and ultimately “Cheers.”
The hit movie Grease helped launch the careers of two “Taxi” stars. Conaway starred in the movie version of Grease, the top grossing film of 1978 and the same year he landed his “Taxi” role. Conaway had also starred as Danny in “Grease on Broadway.” Coincidentally, “Taxi” co-star Marilu Henner starred in Grease as Marty in the original Kingston Mines Chicago production.
Jim Carrey played the real life version of Andy Kaufman in a 1999 movie based on Kaufman’s life and career called Man on the Moon. The offbeat film brought the entire “Taxi” cast back together again as they reconstructed the Kaufman-inspired drama and madness from the original hit TV show.
Carol Kane is well-known for her role as Simka, the eventual wife of Latka, on “Taxi.” But in 1979, concurrent with playing her hysterically funny role on Taxi, Kane starred in the slasher classic When a Stranger Calls, deemed by many as one of the most terrifying movies ever made. And another talented “Taxi” actor, Judd Hirsch, coming up…
Pushing The Limits
In 1980, when “Taxi” was at the peak of its popularity, Judd Hirsch starred in the highly acclaimed movie Ordinary People. A creation of Robert Redford, the heavy-handed family melodrama won the most Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture, although Hirsch’s outstanding performance left him empty-handed.
A TV cast often claims they are like family but apparently that was not the case with “Taxi.” Judd Hirsch has publicly stated more than once that the entire “Taxi” cast hated Andy Kaufman. Cindy Williams (Shirley on “Laverne and Shirley”) apparently disagreed; she dated Andy Kaufman for a long time while he worked on “Taxi.”