What'chu talkin' 'bout, Bruce DuMont?
The Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N. State St., is hosting the original exhibit "The Life and Times of Gary Coleman," from June 26 to Sept. 14. Coleman, a native of far north suburban Zion, got his big break doing a local commercial for Harris Bank and became a household name as Arnold Jackson, the fast-talking adopted son of the wealthy white man Phillip Drummond played by Conrad Bain.
"This is the first time that anyone has really focused on one of the most popular personalities of the 80s," said Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the museum. "We learned that Gary Coleman's parents had a large collection of his artifacts. We reached out to the family."
Coleman's parents, Sue and Willie, not only gave the artifacts, including Coleman's first contract, "TV Guide" covers, photographs with Nancy Reagan and Lucille Ball and Coleman's writing samples. The couple will appear in a public talk discussing Coleman's life on July 20. Coleman died in 2010 at age 42 from a brain hemorrhage.
"He was a very talented young man, a kid with a big smile," DuMont said, adding the "Diff'rent Strokes" was groundbreaking in the sensitive issues it was willing to broach.
"Some of the issues that were dealt with on the program were drugs, discrimination, jokes abut short people," he said. "They deal with issues of pedophilia and child molesting. Not necessarily things you would expect to have on a sitcom."
The Colemans still live in Zion, but Gary Coleman's relationship with them was uneasy to say the least. He won $1.3 million in a lawsuit against them for misappropriation of the money he made on "Diff'rent Strokes." Willie Coleman told Joy Behar after Gary Coleman's death that when Gary turned 18, he put his parents "out to pasture."
DuMont said there is "debate about the specifics" of Gary Coleman's relationship with his parents.
"That is one thing that will come out during our seminar," he said. "This is also a cautionary tale...Though he brought great happiness to many people he may not have found the happiness he was looking for."