Behind the Numbers: What You Don’t Know About Beverly Hills 90210

“Beverly Hills 90210” was the kind of show that defined a generation. With memorable characters, stunning plots, and plenty of style icons that changed the pop-culture landscape forevermore, this show has plenty of secrets hiding in its long history.
Getty Images Photo by mikel roberts
Getty Images Photo by mikel roberts
With five unforgettable numbers, it is one of the biggest shows to ever take over a state. From casting surprises to hidden secrets the actors kept from the showrunners, there are lots of fun facts and trivia to discover about this TV phenomenon.

Who Are You Calling Daddy’s Girl?

Anyone who watched the show will remember Tori Spelling as fashionista Donna Martin, but she originally tried out for the role of shy, awkward Andrea Zuckerman.

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She found out about the auditions thanks to her agent, and not her father Aaron Spelling – the show’s producer. Tori auditioned under a different name, and her father wasn’t even aware she had been cast until much closer to filming. No nepotism here – Tori earned the role all on her own!

Different Numbers

Darren Star, the creator of Beverly Hills 90210, had a different place in mind before the show was developed. He initially wanted to pay tribute to the place where he grew up and name it “Potomac 20854”, which was the show’s working title while it was in development.

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He ended up changing the name before it hit television screens, going off the idea that California had a little bit more natural energy as a setting than Maryland – can’t say we blame him there.

Cutting Dylan?

Few of the characters on Beverly Hills 90210 reached the popularity of bad boy Dylan McKay. Viewers tuned in every week to see how his on-again, off-again relationship with Brenda developed. Surprisingly, he almost disappeared after only the second episode!

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Fox network wanted him gone, but producer Aaron Spelling was having none of it. He enjoyed Luke Perry’s acting and the character so much he offered to pay the actor’s salary himself rather than watch him go – and a 90’s teen idol was born. Why Fox wanted the character gone is still a mystery.

Shannen Doherty’s Messed Up Audition

The other half of the famous relationship including Dylan McKay was Brenda Walsh, played by Shannen Doherty. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing this raven-haired beauty, but Shannen was astounded she ended up getting the part.

 

She bombed her addition – in her own words, it was “horrible.” She walked out thinking she had blown her shot at fame, but before she could even drive away, the casting director told her not to count herself out just yet. Somehow, Shannen got the part. Were they looking for someone who doesn’t wilt under adversity? Were there no other actors?

Ditching Hilary Swank

Which big name used to be part of this big show? None other than Hilary Swank. The Oscar-winner was supposed to appear in “Beverly Hills 90210” for a total of two seasons. However, she only managed to get in front of the camera for sixteen episodes before her character was written out of the show.

 

Swank took it hard, but she ended up getting the better end of the deal – she was soon given the lead role of ” Boys Don’t Cry” , about trans man Brandon Teena, which led to her getting an Academy Award.

The Cast Was Always Incomplete

While tuning into any random episode of Beverly Hills means you’ll end up seeing most of the main cast, there’s a good chance you won’t see them all.

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No single actor or actress appeared in every episode. While they were pretty much a permanent fixture on our screens during the show’s running, only four members of the main cast – Donna, Kelly, David, and Steve – were in all ten seasons. Actor availability, the storylines, and even actors that were let go led to this interesting piece of trivia.

Off-Screen Action

90210 featured what were some of the most attractive people to act in front of a camera at the time. It was a pretty good bet that even when the cameras stopped rolling, things remained pretty steamy.

 

Actor Jason Priestly has said that “various combinations” of people shacked up during the years of filming. Actress Tori Spelling echoed the thoughts, revealing she had a summer fling with one of her co-stars. However, Tori is staying tight-lipped about just which of the hunks was lucky enough to earn her affection.

A Diva Attitude

There was plenty more behind-the-scenes action that wasn’t as lovey-dovey. Shannen Doherty quickly earned a reputation as a diva when she complained about having a normal taxi instead of a limo for promos.

 

She even had a years-long feud with fellow actress Jennie Garth. Their on-screen characters were conflicted as well. It’s been said the two have since repaired their relationship. Doherty also often showed up late to showings, much to the frustration of producer Aaron Spelling.

Casting Changes

Pilot episodes are often strange thanks to a shift in writing, switched details, and changed actors, such is the case with “Beverly Hills 90210”.

 

The original actor for the father of twins Brandon and Brenda was Lyman Ward. He is best known as Ferris Bueller’s father in the eighties movie ” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” . However, he was replaced – James Eckhouse became Jim Walsh for the rest of the series. The even reshot Ward’s pilot scenes with Eckhouse standing in. All this happened before the show even was aired, so few knew about this last-second casting.

Age Is but a Number!

When Gabrielle Carteris won the role of sixteen-year-old Andrea Zuckerman, she hid an important piece of information: she was almost thirty. Still, she was able to land the part and all was well… until Carteris got pregnant.

 

The writers decided to simplify things by making her character get pregnant as well. It wasn’t the first time writers had to do some tricky thinking to work around a cast member’s personal life, and it won’t be the last. Carteris isn’t even the only member of the cast to lie about age!

90210 Almost Had Drew Barrymore or Alicia Silverstone

Shannen Doherty’s diva antics finally reached a breaking point, and she was dropped from the show at the end of season three. In order to fill the whole her character had left, the producers knew they had to cast big.

 

The new character of Valeria Malone was first offered to Alicia Silverstone, then Drew Barrymore, then Alyssa Milano. However, none of them ended up in the role, which eventually went to Tiffani Amber Thiessen. This didn’t exactly please her boyfriend Brian Austin Green, who played David Silver. Austin didn’t want Malone to get together with anyone from the male cast.

The Magic Trio

One of the long-running conflicts on the show was the animosity between Dylan McKay and his father Jack.

 

Believe it or not, three different actors provided their skills to create Jack McKay. It began with Terence Ford (Harrison Ford’s brother), followed by “Independence Day” actor Arthur Brooks. They both put their spin on the wealthy businessman with a shady past. Finally, “Days of Our Lives” actor Josh Taylor stepped in until the character was killed off in a car bomb, shortly after Jack and Dylan made up. A car bomb? Really? Man, this show got wild.

Writing Scott Out

The geeky Scott Scanlon – at least, geeky by the show’s standards – was played by Douglas Emerson. Scott was David Silver’s friend and voice of reason when David was working on the many different schemes he attempted to rise in popularity.

 

Producers originally intended for Scott to stay around for the majority of the show, but Emerson had a different plan. He wanted to attend college and then join the US Air Force. The writers gave Scott a dramatic exit, and the character ended up dying in a gun accident at his own birthday party.

How the Gulf War Helped Ratings

The show may be well-known because of the young antics of its high school characters, but it began as a family drama, mainly about Brandon and Brenda.

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In a strange twist of fate, the first episode to focus more on the high school characters was aired the day the Gulf War began. While most networks covered the conflict, Fox – at the time, of course – had no news shows, and so 90210 was one of the few primetime shows on TV. Ratings skyrocketed.

The Age of Innocence

We already know that producer Aaron Spelling had nothing to do with Tori’s casting, but he exerted plenty of fatherly pressure on the show.

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Fellow producers have said that he demanded Tori’s character Donna stay a virgin until she – Donna – graduated from college. Aaron also had Donna’s abusive boyfriend Ray written out of the show before the actor’s contract ended. Plenty of people had been saying Donna shouldn’t be with him, and apparently Aaron agreed. We can only hope he did it all out of fatherly love.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow!

To be honest, Shannen Doherty’s diva behavior certainly put her on a short leash, but it wasn’t what got her fired – it was actually her hair. She got her hair cut during the filming of a season finale, which meant the show’s continuity was all off, and plenty of work had to be done for it to make sense.

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Doherty herself has admitted it was one of the big reasons for her firing and even ended up saying that the producers were right to do so.

Going to School With Buffy

Torrance High School in California is famous. Not only did “Beverly Hills 90210” film there, but so did a number of other shows, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Medium”, and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”.

 

It even had appearances in several movies, such as “The Wild Life”, “Not Another Teen Movie”, “Cursed”, and “Bruce Almighty”. While not many shots were taken inside the building, the grounds and facade are often featured. Imagine Buffy meeting the cast of 90210 – now there’s a crossover event for the ages. Which 90210 character works best as a vampire?

The Walsh’s Real Home

The whole point of the show is the idea of a couple of midwest kids – Brandon and Brenda from Minneapolis, Minnesota – feeling out of place among the cream of the crop.

 

However, information gleaned from exterior shots of their home makes it seem like the Walshes actually live in Altadena California — more than thirty miles away. We can forgive the producers a little bit of fudging, though. After all, ” Altadena 91001″ doesn’t exactly have the same kind of pop when we’re talking about titles.

Jason Priestley Was Added Last Minute

“Beverly Hills 90210” is almost synonymous with the daring cheekbones and pouty lips of nineties heartthrob Jason Priestly. But, he was actually the last cast member added to the show.

 

Brandon Walsh was the only character left to be cast when Jason auditioned. Here’s how quickly it went: Priestly auditioned in front of producer Aaron Spelling on a Thursday, found out he got the job the next day, Friday, and filming began on Monday!

No Sunglasses

Beverly Hills is famous for its sunny weather, but none of the characters ever wear essential sunglasses. In fact, this was a rule from producer Aaron Spelling: he hated cast members wearing sunglasses almost as much as cast members getting last-minute haircuts.

 

Aaron’s daughter Tori spilled the beans on why: Aaron thought that viewers should be able to look into the character’s eyes during conversations and get the real, raw emotion. We also got lots of pretty squinting.

Valerie Malone’s Hand Double

Bad-girl Valerie Malone had a big problem: her actress, Tiffani Thiessen, didn’t know how to roll a cigarette.

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So, when a scene called for her to smoke up a little bit of wacky tobacky at the Walsh’s, the producers had to film someone else’s hands rolling the joint for her. She really did her best to build up our expectations of Valerie, and we can forgive her for not knowing how to roll a joint one-handed.

The Cast Was Actually Shouting Something Much Ruder Than Their Lines!

At one point in the series, Donna Martin’s classmates all began shouting that she should be allowed to graduate alongside them. The character was originally not allowed because she had gotten drunk at her prom, and the cast members all shouted “Donna Martin graduates.” At least, that’s what we hear. Jason Priestly revealed they were actually shouting other rhyming prophanities.

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A little bit of editing magic was worked in, and audiences were none the wiser. Donna Martin was allowed to graduate alongside her friends after all, despite this rather rude declaration.

Team Brandon All the Way

One of the biggest details of 90210 is the love triangle between Kelly Taylor and her two potential guys, Brandon and Dylan. These best friends spent the entire run of the show competing for Kelly’s affection, eventually deciding on Dylan.

 

Many fans thought she was wrong, including Dylan’s actor Luke Perry. In an interview, Perry said he thought Dylan was too unstable for Kelly, and that Dylan should have “fallen on the sword” and given Brandon the go-ahead. It would have been a big shift to the character but could have created one of the most famous moments in the show.

Lucky Number Five

The very first member of the main cast to land a spot was Jennie Garth, who played Brenda’s best friend Kelly Taylor. Her casting wasn’t all that breezy though. She had to audition five times before landing the part. The fifth time was the charm for Jennie as well as the producers.

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Jennie’s – and thus Kelly’s – ability to give important and tricky subjects the gravity they deserved ended up making her one of the most popular characters on the show. She was one of the few to appear in all ten seasons.

Ian Ziering and the Trashed Dressing Room

It isn’t just the rock stars who will take their anger or energy out on their dressing room. Ian Ziering once had a powerful moment of his own when he found out so many of his scenes had been left on the cutting room floor.

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There was one episode where his character, Steve Sanders, was accused of rape. While Ziering thought he had brought his A-game, the producers brought the scissors to the editing room. Ziering, feeling betrayed, took his anger out on his dressing room in a fit of artistic rage.

Did Tori Spelling Get Shannen Doherty Fired?

We already know about the wild things Shannen got up to before being fired, but rumors still fly as to what the real reason was. Tori Spelling seems to think it was her fault.

 

Spelling was the main pipeline to her father, the show’s main producer, about what Doherty was getting up to behind the scenes. Doherty has certainly admitted to being the show’s biggest back-stage brat. Still, Spelling has always felt that the things she told her father contributed to the greater pressure and scrutiny on Doherty, which eventually led to her firing.

Luke Perry Could Have Played Steve

Luke Perry became one of the teen heartthrobs of the nineties. He played bad-boy Dylan, the kind of guy you can’t take home to mom because she might steal him. However, Perry originally auditioned for rich brat Steve Sanders.

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The casting directors definitely got it right when they decided to have Perry play Dylan, and let Ian Ziering have the part of Sanders. Both characters changed over the course of ten years of 90210, and both got the chance to show their sensitive sides too.

No Farewell Part for Priestley

After spending nine years of his life playing lead character Brandon, Jason Priestly had also gotten a taste of producing and directing TV. Despite these accolades, his last day on the show left him with a sour feeling.

 

When his final scene was done, he gave farewell hugs to members of the cast and crew, packed up all his stuff, and got in his car. There was no party, no big speeches, or anything else. He said he felt like he had wasted nine years of his life – but he could have stayed longer.

Just Peachy

The Peach Pit was one of the most well-known settings from the show — a diner and favorite hangout of all the characters. According to executive producer Charles Rosin, the setting was based on a real diner called The Apple Pan in West Los Angeles.

 

While The Peach Pit is pure fiction, The Apple Pan is still around. As musician Tori Amos says, it even serves the best burgers in the world! What fan of the show didn’t want to spend an afternoon with all the characters chowing down on some delicious food?

Lying by Omission

Other than Gabrielle Carteris who played Andrea, there’s another famous face who was much older than the character he played. Ian Ziering chose not to tell producers his real age when he auditioned for the part of sixteen-year-old Steve Sanders. He was twenty-eight, but that question went unasked.

 

He later said that during the audition he was thinking: “If they’re going to buy it, I’m going to sell it!” He sold it well enough, and the producers, as well as audiences all around the world, bought it.

Tori Spelling Acted as Peacemaker

Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty had legendary battles on set, and it usually fell to Tori Spelling to break it off before things escalate. Garth says that Doherty never kept her ideas to herself, even though Garth relates she never did it very nicely.

 

They may have acted like best friends – or at least frenemies – on the show, but putting teenager actresses together and you’ll often find flying sparks. Spelling tried her hardest to smooth things over, but more often than not failed. Doherty and Garth have since made up, and they might have Spelling to thank for whatever remained of their relationship.

Pitt and Priestley

The friendship between Jason Priestley and Luke Perry was a match made in bromance heaven. Did you know there was an even more legendary friendship brewing behind the scenes? It turns out Priestley was rooming with none other than future megastar Brad Pitt while he was filming the show. Pitt may have even tried out for the show!

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Pitt probably didn’t mind that much, since it was during that time he landed a big break as Geena Davis’s love interest in ” Thelma and Louise”. The rest is Hollywood history.

The Cast Thought the Show Would Fail

“Beverly Hills 90210” wasn’t a hit when it first aired, and even the cast members thought they would soon be looking for work. James Eckhouse, who played Mr. Walsh, says he and Priestly had bets with each other on when the show would get cut from the lineup.

 

Zuckerman assumed she would have to get a waitressing job, and Ziering thought the show was too “superficial.” Thankfully, they all turned out to be wrong, superficial or not – the show lasted ten whole seasons and was one of the biggest television hits of the nineties.

Luke Perry Almost Quit Acting

When he went to read for the part of Steve Sanders, Luke Perry was a construction worker. When the producers told him he wasn’t right for the role, Perry was so discouraged that he almost gave up his acting career for good.

 

Thankfully, the producers were still trying to find the right person for the role of Dylan, the squinting, cute-as-a-button bad boy. They called Perry back and had him read as Dylan, and a star was born. The construction industry may have lost a hard worker, but the show gained a standout.

Jason Priestley Would Have Stayed for Kelly

Fans of the show around the world cried out when cutie Jason Priestly said sayonara, deciding not to reprise his role of Brandon after season nine. The creators had to find a way to remove Brandon from the show, eventually turning the character into a working journalist.

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However, Priestly has admitted he wishes he had stayed. He said that Aaron Spelling was pushing the storyline in a way that would have stopped Brandon and Kelly from getting together. Had Spelling gone with Brandon, Priestly was much more likely to stay. Happily ever after is always preferable.

Missed Her Chance

Shannen Doherty wasn’t the first actress to be offered the spot of Brenda Walsh. That award goes to Kristin Dattilo, who actually turned down the role of Brenda for reasons unknown.

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She ended up playing a one-off character named Melissa Coolidge, who appeared in season one. Gabrielle Carteris, who played Andrea, was also up for the Brenda role before producers decided she would be better as Andrea. Kristin went on to have plenty of credits to her name, both as a lead actress and in guest spots. She was even in an episode of “Friends”!

The Producer’s Biggest Regret

Producer Aaron Spelling was pretty happy with how the show went as a whole, but he knew it isn’t without its faults. His one major regret was the all-white cast.

 

For a show that tackled tough, controversial issues, an all-caucasian cast stands out in a bad way. Even the spinoff show, “Melrose Place”, managed only a single black character who ended up vanishing due to a lack of storyline.

The Curse of 90210

The cast has seen many tragedies: Luke Perry died of a fatal stroke the very same day the reboot version of the show was announced. Shannen Doherty is battling breast cancer. Tori Spelling has had developed wild spending habits, and was hilariously forced to reign them in when her husband Dean McDermott was unable to afford a vasectomy.

 

Jason Priestly got into a bad car crash while driving under the influence, Jennie Garth was diagnosed with a leaky heart valve, and Brian Austin Green had a tumultuous divorce. Ian Ziering has also had a pair of divorces.

Young Character, Old Actors

While some cast members played a character much younger than themselves, others really were near high school age. The youngest of them was Doug Emerson, who was sixteen. Then there were Tori Spelling and Brian Austin Green, who were both seventeen when the show started.

 

Jennie Garth was eighteen, Shannen Doherty was nineteen, and then things start to go off the rails. Jason Priestly was twenty-one, and Luke Perry was twenty-three. For reference, the actor and actress playing the Walsh parents were thirty-five (James Eckhouse) and forty-two (Carol Potter).

The Prez

In 2016, she became the president of the SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actor’s Guild, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. One of her very first causes was to sponsor California Bill AB 1687, which would require entertainment websites and databases to remove actors’ ages if they request it.

 

The bill would help to prevent age discrimination in Hollywood and other areas. We can’t help but think this has something to do with all the ribbing she took acting someone half her age.

Why So Serious?

As the show went on, Luke Perry smiled less and less in the opening credits. In the first season, the credits only used stock footage from the filmed episodes, and in the second and third seasons, Perry is sporting an ear-to-ear smile. In the fourth season, Perry has a small grin with a closed mouth, and in season five his character is giving the camera an approving yet unsmiling look. He’s changed to a poker face by season six.

 

Some have suspected that this gradual change may be a foreshadowing of Perry’s leaving the show for more serious roles.

The Inspiration

Darren Star, the creator of “Beverly Hills, 90210”, was only twenty-seven years old when Fox told him they wanted to create a series about teenagers in Beverly Hills.

 

Star wanted the show to focus on real issues teenagers faced and used a few famous pieces of media to build his framework. The first was “Thirtysomething”, which featured issues involving teens and their lives. The other was John Hughes movies such as “The Breakfast Club”, which had teens’ points of view as they worked out their own problems.

That’s How You Know You Hit it Big

As the show rose in popularity, it attracted more attention, even from the kinds of people you don’t want to look your way. Actress Jennie Garth recalled that, at one point, they even had a bomb threat.

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During a season finale, in which the characters graduated from high school, someone hid a bomb under the bleachers. While this shook the actors and crew, Jennie Garth said she knew they had made it if someone had the nerve to do that. For weeks afterward, security was heightened with young police officers hired as extras.

Name Changes

Donna Martin’s role grew from more minor appearances as the show continued, and the producers made some changes to her as the show progressed. While she’s known as Donna Martin, a season one episode has the character audition to be the school’s DJ, using the name Donna Morgan.

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In addition, Donna’s mother’s name was Nancy – played by Jordana Capra – while in season two and beyond the name was Felice, played by Katherine Cannon. Perhaps there’s a story that was hidden between the lines the entire time…what happened to the first mother, and why did Donna change her name?

Just the One

While the show is remembered fondly by almost everyone now, it didn’t exactly light up the awards circuit at the time. It received four Golden Globe nominations – two for Jason Priestly and two for “Best Television Series – Drama”.

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The single Emmy nomination it got wasn’t even one of the main cast: Milton Berle was nominated for “Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series”. He came on as Saul Howard, an ex-entertainer in the senior home where Steve performs community service. Berle lost the award to Paul Winfield, acting on an episode of “Picket Fences”.

Putting Off College

Apparently, Tori Spelling put off going to college to act on the show. She kept telling herself to put it off another year, never expecting the show to go as long as it did. USC waited year after year for the show to end and for Spelling to start attending classes, but the show just kept going. “I’ll go when I’m done,” Spelling told Entertainment Weekly in 2000.

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Of course, then the show ended up going for ten years. By the time she was ready to get to work, Spelling was twenty-six…and she never actually went to college.

Another Reason to Fire Her

A lot was said about how Shannen Doherty got herself fired – showing up late on set, feuding with her co-stars, getting a haircut, and more – but apparently she also wrecked Ian Ziering’s car. While driving too fast – with Ziering in the car – she drove it into a ditch, and Ziering’s Corvette bottomed out.

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Incredibly, Ziering and Doherty had a strong relationship – so strong, even, that Ziering took the blame for the crash. We hope that Doherty kept a handle on her diva behavior around Ziering because he seems like a cool guy.

Breaking Down

Jennie Garth has revealed – and gone into great detail about – her mental health. Becoming an overnight superstar at nineteen led her to extreme anxiety. It became difficult for her to even leave her house for groceries. She says in her book “Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde”, that it was paralyzing. She began to have panic attacks, leading her to become even more withdrawn.

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With the pressures of the show, producers, fellow cast members, and even fans and media, we can imagine anyone could crack. Thankfully, Garth has gotten the help she needed and has openly shared her story in order to help others.

I’m a Nice Guy! Really!

Jamie Walters played Donna’s boyfriend Ray Pruit. When he was fired, it came at a spectacularly bad time. You see, Ray had just pushed Donna down the stairs.  The problem is, so many people now saw Jamie Walters as his character. Not the apparently very nice and genial actor and musician he really was.

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They ended up bringing him on a few more times after he pleaded with them, just so he could rehab his image. Ray Pruit went to therapy, got engaged, and even helped David out of a tight spot. All that just for the actor.

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