Most child actors nudge cautiously into interviews.
Handlers lurk nearby. Producers and co-stars show up to do most of the talking.
None of that was needed when “Punky Brewster” began in 1985. Soleil Moon Frye, 8, strode in alone; she soon was talking to reporters about everything from horror movies to footware.
Her show lated four years and Frye then faded from attention; most young actors do. But now a new “Punky Brewster” series (shown here) arrives Thursday (Feb. 25) on the Peacock streaming service, with Frye still in the title role, now as a mom. “Punky is such a part of me,” she told the Television Critics Association. “I don’t know where I end and she begins.”
Cherie Johnson, her co-star in both versions, agreed. “She is that free-spirited, spunky little girl.”
You can think of it as spunk or survival. “My father was a Golden Gloves boxer,” Frye said, “and my mom was a single mom raising us. (I learned) when you get knocked down, you get back up.”
That was especially true on the day of “Punky” auditions, she said. “A little girl said not to go in, because she had already gotten the part. And so my mom was actually like, ‘Okay, let’s (leave).’
“And I was like, ‘No way, I’m going in there! I got this part.’”
She already had some examples of acting success, from her older half-brothers. Meeno Peluce was starring in NBC’s “Voyagers”; Sean Frye had a small role in “E.T.”
The family had merged when Sondra Londy Peluce, a caterer, married Virgil Frye, an actor and former Golden Gloves champion. Each brought a son from a previous marriage and they had Soleil together.
She was 2 when they divorced … and when she started auditioning for commercials and roles. “It was somehing that I begged and pleaded to do,” she said.
She became Punky, the free spirit who was abandoned (with her dog) by her mother in a supermarket and was adopted by Henry, an elderly and stately gentleman.
Frye was cast first and fit that free-spirit notion. In his memoir (“The Last Great Ride,” Random House, 1992), former NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff described Fred Gwynne showing up to audition for Henry, tryiug hard to look nothing like his best-known character: Frye “bounded onto the couch (and), without missing a beat, said, ‘Hey, aren’t you Herman Munster?’”
Disappointed by his failure to transform, Gwynne gave “what was far from his best reading.” The role went to George Gaynes.
For the kids, Frye recalled, this was cheerful turf. “Cherie and I were on pogo sticks (and) jumping off of furniture. And riding our scooters all over the lot and running away to Johnny Carson’s office.”
In a no-win Sunday timeslot, “Punky” had slim ratings for two years, was canceled by NBC, but did two more seasons of syndication and even had a cartoon series.
It was canceled just as Frye was enterig her teens. “I went through my differet years of awkward stages and all of that kind of stuff of growing up. And yet I always had such an appreciation for Punky.”
She landed a lot of small roles (particularly cartoons voices) and at 24 began a three-season run as Sabrina’s friend in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.:
By then, she had married Jason Goldberg, a producer who went on to have success with offbeat reality shows. They have four children, all with names that (like Soleil Moon) are distinctive – Poet, Jagger, Lyric and Story; last year, they separated and filed for divorce.
It’s a life that fits “Happy Chaos,” the title of her memoir. “Life is messy and we go through roller-coasters of emotion,” Frye told the TCA. She wanted the reboot to fit that mood.
The show finds Punky in an apartment with her three kids, often joined by her ex-husband (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and her friend (Johnson). Then she meets Izzy, a feisty orphan.
After a so-so start, the remake finds its charm. The world gets fresh bursts of Punky-ness.