In our latest “Return to the Nest” interview, we’re taking a Leisurely stroll down memory lane for a unique perspective on what life was like on set with Maya Leisure, daughter of series star David Leisure.
Empty Nest TV: As someone who was both young and a spectator of sorts, how would you describe your experience with Empty Nest? How big a part of your own life was the show?
Maya: Empty Nest was definitely an experience. I was probably the only child of an actor walking around the lot. I don’t remember anybody else having a child there. I was there from the age of 8 or 9 until around 15 or 16, when they did the last episode. They would start filming before school would start, so I would spend the end of my summer at the lot. And I would get dropped off on Wednesday nights at Witt Thomas Harris Studios, when they would tape the episodes. So here’s this little girl at the gate with an ID badge, trying to get onto the studio lot. Sometimes they’d know me and be like, “Oh, it’s David Leisure’s daughter. Let her in.” But if it was somebody new, they’d be like, “You’re just trying to sneak in.” So I’d get asked a lot of questions, and they’d have to wait for my dad to come out.
ENTV: So what all did you do roaming around the lot all day?
Maya: It was a very small lot. I remember the parking lot being really smooth. Park Overall would roller skate between reading sessions. She’s an amazing roller skater. It was as smooth as glass when she’d skate. My dad saw that and was like, “Oh, I should get some roller blades.” He’s always trying to figure out different ways to stay in shape and be healthy. He bought a pair of roller blades and almost immediately took those back and exchanged them for a pair of roller skates.
Also, when you get off from school, the first thing you want to do is eat, and the best place to find food is on a TV set. There’s always a buffet of food set up, they had this kitchen, there was candy everywhere. They had this giant jar of Milk Duds. I wound up teaching myself, because the studio ceilings are really high, how to throw Milk Duds up in the air and catch them in my mouth, because I was bored and hungry! But there’s everything there. There was pizza one day – it was cold, it looked old, I didn’t know, so I ate it. The next thing you know, Bobby Church [the prop master] is like, “Hey, who ate my prop?”
All those sets were close together. Mayim Bialik’s dressing room was across from my dad’s. So I could pop into any set I wanted. They didn’t really restrict me. I would pop into Golden Girls and watch them rehearse. I would pop into Blossom and there’d be Joey Lawrence. I once went to an NBC party and they were all there. I pretended to bump into Joey Lawrence and was like, “Oh would you like to dance?” and he turned me down. But it was worth a shot! Come on, it was Joey Lawrence.
ENTV: What were your interactions like with the cast members?
Maya: Dinah Manoff was one of the funniest people in the world. I had this really short, boyish haircut when I was about 13. It was right after Ghost came out, and everybody wanted the Demi Moore haircut. So I wasn’t looking very feminine, and Dinah tried to do my makeup behind set one day. She wound up using this bright purple lipstick and this bright green eye shadow. I couldn’t stop laughing! It did not look good. Sorry, Dinah! I love you!
And Kristy McNichol. Oh, Kris. Everybody loves Kris. She is the best. There was a show called My Sister Sam, and there was an actress on there who had gotten killed by one of her fans. So after that, they didn’t have any of the name plaques on anybody’s doors for safety. Well, Kristy went around with a Sharpie and started writing nicknames on everybody’s door. I don’t remember what any of them were, but I just remember her having that funny personality. I wish I’d spent a little more time with her. She was great. She left the show, and she was always welcome to come back, but she didn’t come back until the last episode, so at least I got to say goodbye. I was taking a TV production class at the time, and I got tickets for my entire class to see the taping, so I was there.
ENTV: Everyone I’ve interviewed has always spoken so highly of Richard Mulligan. Did you get to interact with him at all.
Maya: He mostly kept to himself. I was a small child and he was an older man, so maybe that’s what it was. We didn’t interact that much. He was a nice guy. I remember him being very polite. I was with my dad in an office supply store when we heard that he’d passed in 2000. It was a very unfortunate loss.
ENTV: Were you around much in the later years when Estelle Getty and Marsha Warfield were there ?
Maya: Oh, Estelle. Okay, “Picture it,” Sophia with these thick glasses, and she’s got that far-off look. She was the only person that read cue cards. So when she’s giving you that far-off look – that very Sophia look – she’s staring off at her cue cards, trying to see through those thick glasses that are impossible to read through.
ENTV: I understand she used the cue cards even later on in The Golden Girls to help with lines.
Maya: And it was the same studio lot where they did Empty Nest. I’ve met all The Golden Girls, and when people find that out, they’re like, “What? Really? No you didn’t’!” Yeah, I did. And the weird thing was seeing them walking through the studio lot, all together, no makeup on, in jeans and a t-shirt, and here they come, The Golden Girls.
ENTV: I can barely envision Bea Arthur walking around in jeans and a t-shirt. I’ve always heard that Betty White is exactly as advertised, just as kind as you hope she’ll be.
Maya: 100%! My dad and Betty were on an episode of Animal Crack-Ups with Alan Thicke when I was six. That’s where I first met Betty White. I’ve met her a few times, but she probably wouldn’t remember me unless you said, “This is David Leisure’s daughter!” And she’d go, “Oh, okay!” Then because she’s met so many people throughout the years, she might be polite and say, “Oh, yeah, hi, how are you?” even if she still didn’t remember. She’s everybody’s hero, you know!
ENTV: Did you interact much with the dog?
Maya: Bear! I loved Bear! So one day they’re doing this photo shoot for nine hours in North Hollywood, and I’m hanging out with the dog. He was huge! He was half Beethoven and half Golden Retriever. His trainer, Joel, taught me to put my arm out and Bear would rest his paw up on it. He was a great dog. Dreyfuss’s eyebrow thing, that was a command from Joel. He’d move his fingers up and down to get Bear to move his eyebrows up and down.
ENTV: You mentioned you were at the taping of the finale. What was that like?
Maya: Oh, it was like, okay, this is how it ends! This is so great! But, wait a minute, it’s ending. It broke my heart. It was such a big part of my life at that point. It had been half my life. I was familiar with these people, the sets.
ENTV: When you look back on that time, and that show, what do you think Empty Nest’s legacy is? What do you hope people remember about it?
Maya: For me, the legacy would be different than what people saw. It has to do with what I remember myself, and that is seeing these people go to work and have fun with their friends. They brought life to the characters because they really enjoyed being with each other. They had a lot of fun. It wasn’t like work. It made it look like, if you’re going to do anything in your life, this is the easiest job in the world, because you’re just hanging out with friends all day long.
ENTV: And they made a success of it. I always like to remind people that Empty Nest, during those last few seasons of The Golden Girls, actually had the higher ratings of the two.
Maya: Did it? Well, that would simply have to be because of my dad! You have no idea how many “golden girls” were out in the audience. We’d have all these people come in from Florida and be like, “Oh, David Leisure! He’s so handsome!” All these older women flocking to him, to try and get his autograph and compliment how handsome he is in person.
ENTV: What’s he doing now? I did an interview with him a few years back and chatted with him briefly in Los Angeles last year.
Maya: He’s protective about his privacy, so I won’t say where, but he’s living in a city he loves. He used to love golfing, but now that golf is something he can do all the time, it’s not as fun anymore. He took up biking and has gotten onto this nutrition kick. He’s doing well. He told me that he was never so happy to be wrong about going to see a nutritionist. He mentioned that he got back down to his high school weight.
ENTV: The “Return to the Nest” interview I did with him was definitely one of the funniest of them all.
Maya: You know, if he’s trying to be funny and trying to make me laugh, I’m like, “Eh, you’re not that funny, Dad.” But when he’s not trying to be funny, when he’s trying to be serious, thats when he comes across as the funniest. He told me a few years ago that he was going to audition for a show like CSI or something. It was a car salesman part on a serious show. So he does the audition in that serious vein, and they’re like, “Uh, that’s the funniest audition we’ve seen all day, now can you do it straight?” So, that’s him.
ENTV: Lastly, tell me a little more about yourself. Your dad is obviously a skilled performer. Does that talent run in the family?
Maya: My grandmother (Dad’s mom) was a well respected member of the school district. His older brother, Dennis, was also an actor and a teacher. While I love being in character, it’s reserved for Halloween. I am a school bus driver. Two years ago, I lost my front tooth due to an old injury. So, I went with it. I sewed my own costume, and drove my school bus as a Wicked Witch. I stayed in character the whole day. I’d cackle, “Oh Children…” It was great – hot, but great. The kids loved it!