Philip McKeon is perhaps best known as the blonde-haired, blue-eyed teen idol from the 1970's sitcom Alice. For nine years, he played the part of Tommy Hyatt on this popular series, from age 12 in 1976 until age 20 in 1985. Who was Philip, and what were his thoughts on growing up on this popular series?
Philip was born on November 11, 1964, and grew up in Westbury, New York. His professional career began at age 4, when his parents toted him and his sister Nancy, age 2, off to a nearby modelling audition.
Unfortunately, Philip, who didn’t particularly enjoy the idea of standing still and posing for the camera, did not get chosen but his sister was picked immediately. Over the next several years, however, he did audition for and get numerous modelling stints, followed also by several parts in stage and films. In was in a Broadway performance that Linda Lavin first saw Philip and thought he was bright and talented and recommended him for the part of Tommy. Alfred Lutter, who played Tommy in the original movie, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, as well as in the pilot episode of the series, was thought to be too old for the long haul and was not chosen for the part. Philip and two others were flown out to California for auditioning, the final auditions to be held on Saturday. Philip was told he had the part on Saturday evening and had to report for work Monday morning, which left no time to fly home and say his farewells. Philip remembers being very excited about landing the part. "I was so happy. I was jumping around the hotel room, and I remember my mom calling my dad back home in the East and asking, "What did we start?""
As was customary for child stars, Philip was required to have a tutor while on the set of Alice, and though not particularly fond of that teaching arrangement, took it all in stride. He was also able to spend some time at regular schools but admits it was hard to establish any true friendships as he wasn’t in the school system for very long and any so-called friends were often simply out to take advantage of him.
Over time, he developed a remarkable relationship with each of his Alice co-stars. His father, Donald, once commented in an interview: "We had always heard back in New York how callous people were out here, with no consideration for anyone else. But with Alice we had a show where not one of the actors was the "Get-away-from-me-you-little-brat" type." In fact, Philip’s co-star, Vic "Mel" Tayback commented, "it was easier to talk to the kid. He was the only one who was making sense."
Through the course of time on the show, each one of the actors took turns being surrogate parent to Philip, taking him on outings and throwing birthday parties for him, but it was his relationship with Vic that was especially close. Vic’s own son was one year older than Philip, and when Philip’s dad was away in New York, Vic would take the boys to Dodgers games and horseback riding. Confesses Philip, "when I got older, he got me interested in going to the track and gambling," he says with a grin. "When I was little, I wanted to grow up just like him." When Vic died in 1990, Philip took his death particularly hard and truly felt he had lost someone close to him.
Philip’s success on the show and his easy-going relationship with others perhaps comes as no surprise to anyone, even to those he worked with. He readily admits he is close to his sister Nancy, and Linda Lavin once commented: "[His] family is very strong, very structured, very close by. His father was there every lunch hour, throwing a ball around with him." His father, who became quite dedicated to his son’s career, even sold his travel business in New York after Philip landed the part in order to manage his career full time. Inevitably, this also helped pave the way for sister, Nancy, to take on larger and bigger roles, and in time she too landed a part on the major television series, "The Facts of Life."
Philip was known to have middle-aged tastes even at a tender young age. For his very first car at age 17, he chose a Cadillac Coup de Ville. This surprised most who knew him. Confessed Vic, "instead of a sleek sports car, he shows up in this big family thing, like a limo. It was sort of weird." Philip, however, was quite proud of his purchase. He would never have traded his first car for anything and found it amusing when people yelled, "hey, got your mommy’s car for the night?" But according to Nancy, the car was Philip through and through. "He's a creature of comfort. His idea of camping out is the nearest Holiday Inn. The car was comfortable, relaxed, easy to be with - the kind of person Philip is."
Philip today, with sister Nancy
Also, he took up golfing as a youth and became an avid player. He was the youngest member at the Woodland Hills Country Club in California. Unfortunately, he was also extravagant in his spending habits. He liked to buy almost anything and everything. "The stupider, the better," he once said. "A fur sink, battery-operated socks, things like that."
He loved his time on Alice and admits, "I wouldn't trade it for anything. That experience was mine. Nobody else can say they did that.” By the time the show ended, Philip was an adult and he was earning well in excess of a six-digit salary. He had grown to a height of 6 feet 3 inches, a height which Vic Tayback was all too keenly aware. "He’s so tall and lanky. I refuse to stand next to him on the show anymore," said Vic. Philip also had a few suggestions for the show. He had found his voice changes throughout the years amusing, and wanted all the "two or three hundred times he said "hi mom," spliced together, starting with a real high voice and ending up really deep. Some of those clips were eventually spliced together and used in the series’ final episode.
Since Alice ended in 1985, Philip spent additional years in the television industry. More recent acting credits include “Sandman” (1993), and “Ghoulies IV”(1994). He has also produced or directed in numerous films, such as “Teresa’s Tattoo” (1994), “Murder In The First” (1995), and “The Young Unknowns” (2000). However, it’s his role on the television series Alice that Philip McKeon is, and perhaps will be, most recognized and most remembered.
Following his successful acting career, Philip continued to work for 10 years in Los Angeles's radio station KFWB News 98, in its news department. His later years found him relocating to the Austin, TX area to be nearer his sister, Nancy, her family, and their aging parents. He co-hosted a morning radio show called, "The Breakfast Taco," on KWVH 94.1 FM.
Sadly, his life was cut short when he passed away at the age of 55 in December, 2019, after a life-long illness. His untimely death occurred two months after his father passed away.