Will Smith has worked long and hard to firmly establish his reputation as the prince of Hollywood. And he’s probably considered the nicest guy there, right after Tom Hanks. Certainly some rumors and innuendos have floated his way, mostly related to whether or not he and wife Jada Pinket-Smith have a traditionally monogamous marriage. Oh, and the occasional Scientology-related thing here and there. But for the most part, it seems like everyone loves Mr. Smith. Well, everyone except Janet Hubert, who played the original mom on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Hubert’s written a book called ‘Perfection Is Not A Sitcom Mom’ that’s going to be released next year, and in it she says that Will was not the nice considerate guy he makes himself out to be. He was a diva on the show from the very beginning. If a guest star was too good and ran the risk of stealing the spotlight from Will, they were fired. No one but Smith was allowed to go on “The Tonight Show” for the first season. And then there was season four, in which Hubert was unceremoniously let go and her part recast, without any explanation or acknowledgement to the audience. And that’s bugged me since the fifth grade, so I’ve held a grudge on Hubert’s behalf.
In one excerpt from the tome, given to BV Buzz exclusively, Hubert writes: “Smith had people around him who made sure no one outshone him. I was happy to see Don Cheadle become the quality actor that he is, and often wondered how he made it past one episode, as Hilary’s boyfriend, being such a fierce actor. No one could be on ‘The Tonight Show,’ that first season, except Will. And I mean no one.”
“I recall the lovely and incredibly talented Countess Vaughn coming to guest star. Oh my God! The day of table read, she was pee-in-your-pants funny. The writers were howling, we were howling, so I knew she was history – banished into the cornfield. Many years later, after she had her own show, I had to tell her when she asked me why. ‘Miss Janet why did I get cut from the episode,’ she asked? Simply, my darling, you were too good,” she recollected.
[From Black Voices]
Hubert likens the negotiations the news that she was being fired as akin to a murder. First they offered her just 10 episodes, when the standard was 22-26. It would have meant a pay cut of over $100,000 a year, and Hubert had a three and a half month old son, a new house, an unemployed husband, and had just started a new business, signing a three year lease on an exercise studio.
“‘That’s not all,’ Michael [her agent] said. ‘They don’t want you to work on any other shows. You can only do two guest starring roles.’ What? Who? I stammered. I couldn’t breathe. What do we do, Michael? What do we do? ‘We pass,’ Michael said. ‘This is a dirty deal, and they know it.’ OK, I trust you, I said. Michael had been my agent for more than 20 years. ‘OK sweetie, I will call you back,’ he said.”
…”My mind was going in a million places. OK, I thought, they will come back; this is how they do it. They always come back. I started into the kitchen where Rayna – my friend, housekeeper and nanny was. She was doing dishes as baby E was enjoying a swing. I knelt down, kissed his head, and waited for the next round of negotiations. They never came. The next time Michael called he said, ‘They are going to recast your role.’ There was a beautiful stained glass window that I designed in the bedroom, and the windows were open, so my neighbors probably heard me scream. And that beautiful window probably has many cracks in it. Time of Death: approximately 3 pm. The real Vivian Banks was murdered,” the excerpt closed.
[From Black Voices]
Okay so the writing style is a bit overdramatic, but the point is certainly made. This was a massive financial and career setback for Hubert. And the implication seems to be that Smith was in some way responsible for it. She doesn’t directly say that he wanted her role cut back, but it seems like, if nothing else, he didn’t help her out.
Thanks to my freakishly restrictive parents, I was only allowed to watch two shows at that point in my life – Blossom and Fresh Prince. As a result, I’ve seen just about every episode – I’m not kidding here – at least two dozen times (thanks to reruns and strong Canadian T.V. signals). So I really think it’s safe to say that I am the world’s foremost expert of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
I can absolutely recite any episode right now. Just give me one. The song? Too easy, something harder. Anyway, I can say with absolute 100% authority that the show was not nearly as good once Hubert left. While she was a very good actress, the woman they replaced her with was absolutely beyond dull. She had no personality or character and the role just went flat. And frankly I just could never forgive the show the insult of assuming I wouldn’t notice some brand new woman walking around, calling herself Aunt Vivian, when clearly she was a sucky imposter.
Will Smith, you’re starting to lose some public favor. Frankly you’ve been losing mine since 1993. I think it’s time you make things right with Aunt Vivian. And let her throw you out the front door. That was a DJ Jazzy Jeff reference for you there.