Twenty-four-year-old Johnny Depp thought that his starring role in the 1987 TV series 21 Jump Street would not last a whole season. After a few weeks of playing a young-looking cop who goes undercover at high schools to catch drug dealers, the Kentucky-born actor began to feel that the spying he performed in each episode was immoral. Worse yet, Jump Street was a breakout hit, and Depp's busy schedule kept him from accepting movie offers. The resentful teen idol tried to provoke his bosses into terminating him. His onset antics included lighting his underwear on fire, constantly changing dialogue and suggesting wild plot lines, such as having his character cover his entire nude body with peanut butter. The program's creators realized that their leading man was the main reason viewers tuned in and held him to his contract. Johnny did a professional job and appreciated Jump Street for making him a household name, but compared his being able to leave the show in 1990 to the freeing of imprisoned South African leader Nelson Mandela.
After years of playing dingbat society types, Natalie Schafer (1900- 1991) was perfectly cast as the spoiled but kind-hearted Lovey Howell on the Gilligan's Island pilot in 1963. For the veteran actress, it was all about getting a quick paycheck, plus a free vacation to Hawaii. The script about seven castaways, without a single luxury, was so stupid; there was no way that the network would pick it up. With this kind of material floating around Hollywood, she couldn't wait to move back to New York. The Red Bank, New Jersey, native did a professional job, and then quickly forgot about being marooned. A few weeks later, Schafer was vacationing in Puerto Vallarta with some friends when she received a phone call. "What! Oh my God, no!" Her companions, assuming that it was bad news about her ailing mother, ran to comfort her. To their surprise, Natalie's tears were caused by CBS 'decision to make Gilligan a weekly series, which the actress was now contractually obligated to be on. At that moment, Schafer was crushed to have the new, wellpaying employment that would make her famous.
James Garner became a popular TV star because of the Warner Bros. western Maverick (1957-1962). But to the Oklahoma born actor and Korean War veteran, the show was often purgatory. The studio refused him permission to earn extra money on weekends making personal appearances, and turned down his requests for a raise. He finally got out of the show through a breech of contract suit, and stated bitterly "If you have any pride in your work you don't go into TV." When he returned to TV after 11 years of films to The Rockford Files (1974-1980) he again quickly became unhappy with working conditions and staged a successful sit down strike in his dressing room to get what he wanted.
Sometimes a seeming big break can turn into a nightmare. Stage actress Vivian Vance was thrilled to get the role of Ethel on I Love Lucy (1951-1957). Vance, who was a good-looking woman, even acceded to Lucille Ball's demand that she be twenty pounds overweight. Each summer she would get an irritating phone call from Ball, "Viv, we start shooting in a couple of weeks, start eating." But playing a frumpy, second banana weighed on her. One day sitting in her make-up chair she complained for all to hear, "Can you believe they have me married to that old coot, William Frawley? He should be playing my father. Every morning when I get my script I say please God , don't let me have any kissing scenes with the old coot. " During her diatribe the old coot was standing right behind her, which started a long and famous feud. Later when Desi Arnaz proposed creating a spin-off show called The Mertzes, which could of made them both rich, Frawley jumped at it, but Vance killed the idea stating, "Six years is long enough to be married to the old coot."
Not everyone is unhappy in television. Comic actor Don Adams faced a difficult financial choice when he played the bumbling Maxwell Smart in the 1965 television series Get Smart. The producers offered him two options: he could take home a healthy paycheck each week or get very little money in exchange for a one-third ownership stake in the show. The ex-Marine swallowed hard and gambled for the long term. Get Smart stayed on the air for five years and was shown constantly in reruns. Viewers repeated Adams' made-up catch phrases like "Would you believe" and "Missed me by that much" often. The now wealthy star, who claimed he hated performing, was able to spend the last years of his life playing cards at the Playboy Mansion and traveling the world with his seven children. When asked how he ended up with such a large brood, the three-times-married Don shrugged, "No big deal. It only took seven minutes."