TV URBAN LEGEND: Waylon Smithers was originally going to be black and have a wife and kids.
With the great news that Harry Shearer will, in fact, return to "The Simpsons" for two more seasons, I thought it would be nice to spotlight a legend about one of the many characters he voices, Waylon Smithers, Montgomery Burns' sycophantic second-in-command at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.
Smithers has been a constant presence since early in the show's first season. However, did “The Simpsons” nearly go in two very different directions with the character? He first appeared as an African-American in an early episode. Was that the original plan for Smithers? And did he nearly have a wife and kids?
One thing that’s abundantly clear about the early days of "The Simpsons" is that Matt Groening and company were still thinking things out as they expanded the “Simpsons” universe beyond just the core family. Nearly everything was on the table. I noted in a TV Legend some time ago that, early on, Homer was going to secretly be Krusty the Clown! So it wouldn't be all that shocking if the writers originally conceived Smithers as an African-American character and changed him after his first appearance in the third episode of Season 1, "Homer's Odyssey.”
However, Groening says that was never the intent. He told TMZ a while back:
He was always yellow, and they painted him wrong once. At the time we didn’t have enough to do retakes, so when there were glitches and mistakes it stayed that way. He was never “black," it was an accident.
Early “Simpsons” animator David Silverman has confirmed as much, stating it was simply a mistake by the color stylist for the episode, Gyorgi Peluci. The producers briefly considered going with the mistake, but they didn't like the idea of having an African-American character being so subservient to a rich white guy. So Smithers went back to his originally intended yellow for the fourth episode, "There's No Disgrace Like Home."
The part about the wife and kids, however, is true. Early on, “The Simpsons” writers tended to view Smithers' romantic feelings for his Mr. Burns as a sort of mystery. In other words, was Smithers gay or was he attracted only to Mr. Burns? “Simpsons” writer and producer Al Jean famously coined the phrase "Burns-sexual" to describe Smithers, noting that he believed the character would be attracted to Mr. Burns if Burns were a woman. "Is he gay or not?" was a gag the show worked for years: In“The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular," host Troy McClure answers viewer questions, which include, "What is the real deal with Mr. Burns' assistant Smithers? You know what I'm talking about." Following a series of clips that show Smithers' infatuation with Burns, McClure sums it up with, "as you can see, the real deal with Waylon Smithers is that he's Mr. Burns' assistant. He's in his early 40s, is unmarried, and currently resides in Springfield. Thanks for writing!" Eventually the show established that Smithers is, indeed, gay.
However, early in the series' run, Smithers had a wife and kids, and they disappeared for the same reason Eric Cartman’s father and sister did on "South Park" (as established in this old TV Legends Revealed): A line was cut due to time. In the Season 2 finale of "The Simpsons," Mr. Burns needs a blood transfusion and, as it turns out, only Bart Simpson has the matching blood type. When Smithers first hears that Burns needs a transfusion, he tells the doctors to take the blood from him, saying, "Just leave me enough to get home." Originally, the line was "Just leave me enough to get home to my wife and kids," but the last part was cut for time. By that point, Smithers was already clearly infatuated with Burns, but it would have still been interesting to see where the writers were planning to go with that line. However, because it was cut, Smithers remained a confirmed bachelor.
So this is a rare example where the answer regarding the legend is split, and thus it is...
STATUS: False on the African-American part of the legend and True on the wife and kids part.
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