Reflecting on Success
Magazine: The Chicago Tribune
Issue: Tuesday, September 26, 1995
Tim Allen says an Emmy is the only improvement his home really needs
By Lisa Anderson, Tribune Staff Writer
New York - Just when it seems you've got the blueprint for success nailed down, someone throws a spanner into the works. Ask Tim Allen. He'll tell you.
In fact, the notoriously sharp-tongued, cheerfully foul-mouthed star of the ABC hit sitcom "Home Improvement" has been telling just about anyone who would listen how deeply ticked off he is that his show -- sort of a "This Old House" on caffeine -- did not snag an Emmy Award nomination this year.
Of course, Allen, best known to TV viewers as the testosterone-charged, power-mad, Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor, did not use those words, exactly.
Even when he's not irritated, Allen tends to turn the air azure with his language. And, sitting in his suite at the Peninsula Hotel here on a recent afternoon, wolfing down a club sandwich and a plate of fries between interviews, Allen, 42, is in a prickly mood.
Forget that "Home Improvement" is now in its fifth prime-time season, has just moved into the lucrative land of syndication. Forget that Allen, star of "The Santa Clause," fourth highest-grossing film of 1994, has starring roles in two upcoming movies.
Forget that he's in town to promote the paperback version of his bet-selling 1994 comic autobiography, "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man," which Hyperion has just released in an initial printing of more than 1 million copies. Forget that the Hart Tool Co. has just cranked out the Tim Allen Signature hammer. A shapely nickel, steel and ash number, it is just the first in a toolbox-full of Tim Allen-designed implements for the upscale professional home workshop, some proceeds from which will go to charity.
What more could the man want?
An Emmy. At the very least, a nomination. "As for me, I can deal with it," Allen says tightly. "What I care about is that most of my crew doesn't earn what I earn, doesn't9 get any accolades. This is what they do and this is respect from the industry for what they do. It really hurts me."
That perceived lack of respect, a commodity Allen believes is woefully lacking when it comes to him and his show, long has bothered him.
"From the beginning, we've felt this prejudice. It sounds like I'm paranoid and there's this conspiracy. I certainly don't mean that at all," he says, conceding that he wasn't even in the running for a nomination last year because his show forgot to file the requisite paperwork.
He sighs, restlessly crossing the room to tap the keyboard of his Powerbook computer. "Up for Best Actor? Think of a list of best actors in a television sitcom, in your own heard, and you tell me if that doesn't seem a bit odd that I'm not in that group," he says tartly of this year's nominees for Best Actor in a Comedy Series: John Goodman, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling and (the winner) Kelsey Grammer.
"Did I do something wrong? Did they forget about me? My feeling is that I've done something wrong and I'm being punished. If that's the case, [expletive] them," he says, throwing up his hands.
What could he have done wrong? "I'm too popular, perhaps. Too many movies. Too many books. Too much happening. Let's let a real actor in there. I don't know what it is."
Whatever it is, it's rather unlikely that Emmy voters forgot about him. Disney, producer of Allen's TV show, movies and publisher of his book, signed up the University of Southern California marching band to hype "Home Improvement" for an Emmy nomination this year. it may have done more to irk than charm the Emmy hierarchy, Allen concedes.
When it is suggested that he may become the prime-time counterpart of Susan Lucci, the popular queen of daytime soaps and perennial loser in the daytime Emmy Awards, he shrugs, twirls his gold wire-rimmed glasses and nods.
"Oh, I think it's a done deal, especially after saying [expletive] like this." he says.
He has regrets
But caution has never been on of Allen's strong traits. For a man who drives race cars as a weekend hobby and got into standup comedy on a dare, risk has played a defining role in life.
One big risk he took, and lost, still haunts him. After graduating from Western Michigan University with a degree in television production, Allen got involved in "marketing" drugs on the way to becoming an advertising executive.
In 1979, he was convicted of selling cocaine and sentenced to federal prison. He didn't go to the kind with the tennis courts, as he recounts in his book.
Allen spent 28 months in the Sandstone Federal Correctional Institution in Minnesota, a Level 3 facility, "with guards and lock-downs," he notes.
"But more fun is seven years on parole, checking in every week and getting your urine tested," he adds wryly.
Although he writes with dark humor about his time in prison, Allen worries how he will explain it to his 5-year-old daughter Katherine, called K.D., when she asks.
"That's the hardest question. I just don't know. I don't know what I'm going to say to her about a million things," he says.
Asked if the incident might not be forgotten by then, he firmly shakes his head.
"No, it won't. Someone's going to tell her. She always asks about criminals and I'm so tempted to tell her, `You know, your dad was a criminal.'"
When it is suggested that he wasn't the kind of "bad guy" children K.D.'s age imagine, he bristles.
"I was a bad guy," he insists. "If you had seen me in blue lockup clothing and shackles -- there's no difference in the penitentiary about what you did. You're all losers!" he says, drawing the last word out in a shriek of sarcasm.
"There's no [expletive] difference. Murderers end up in the same place as rapists, child molesters, drug dealers, bank robbers. We're all [expletive] losers who decide to take a shot and go the easy route and we're still losers."
Loss is a theme on Allen's mind these days. His most painful loss remains that of his father, who died at 40 in a car accident when Allen was 11.
One of a family of seven children born in Denver, Allen moved with his family to the suburbs of Detroit after his father's death. There, his mother married her high-school sweetheart. He was a widower whose wife also had died in an auto crash and, says Allen, "he made the whole family whole again."
Nonetheless, at this point in his life, Allen wishes he could have known his real father as a man. "Oh God, I would have loved it. It's conflicting emotions, but I still miss my real father. he was a very funny guy. I'm older now than he was when he died. It's a very funny feeling," he says quietly.
Tim Allen, family man
Married for 12 years to Laura Deibel, who manages his business affairs, Allen admits he's still grappling with his role as a father. "There are no books on this [expletive]", as he puts it.
A man who likes to come home and watch three hours of TV news, Allen has adopted a new regimen to spend more time with his daughter. "Now, I spend an hour with her every day. I bought us both bicycles and we play tag," says Allen, who maintains family homes in Los Angeles and a Detroit suburb.
One issue Allen knows he'll have to confront with his daughter is that of his own real surname, which she bears: Dick. After years of enduring the name that shaped his humor and caused him many uncomfortable moments in boyhood, Timothy Allen Dick opted to drop the Dick in public life.
He acknowledges that business magnate A.B. Dick, author Philip Dick and TV newsman David Dick seemed to handle the name with aplomb. But, he says, "Those guys, like my mom, thought it meant private eye. Around the year I was born, it turned from private eye to penis."
Thus, he is ready for K.D.'s objections. "There will come an age when she'll come to me and she'll go, `What on Earth were you thinking?' but I'm giving her the option. I assume she'll go through three states: Katherine Dick until she knows. Katherine Deibel, because she wants to be Mom's girl. And, when she really needs help, Katherine Allen," he says, laughing.
Saturday's he reserves for himself and Laura. They shop, drive race cars together, and play golf. "It's something my wife and I like to do, time alone, slow time to talk about our marriage," he says.
Allen is well aware that the success he's achieved comes with a price tag.
"Of course, it's already taken a toll. A nurse told me once about cigarettes and any kind of abuse -- you only have a finite number of heartbeats in a heart and the more you push it the more you use it up early," Allen says.
But he is pushing it. In November, Walt Disney Pictures will release "Toy Story," an animated feature in which Allen stars as the voice of Buzz Lightyear, a macho spaceman action figure who shares a toybox with Woody, a cowboy doll with a voice supplied by Tom Hanks.
Next spring, Allen will begin filming "Indian in the City," the story of a man who discovers that he is the father of a child whom his estranged wife she raised in the Amazon.
"All of this seems to me to be by the grace of God," says a suddenly humble Allen. "I'm like everybody else, born equal to everybody else and somehow I've been able to do magnificent things. And it's pretty obvious that I had nothing to do with this. So there must be something that I have to accomplish. I hope I haven't accomplished t yet, because I'm enjoying the ride."
Thanks to Andrea Denninger for sending this article.