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This Former Child Star Was Allowed to "Run Wild," Co-Star Says

Family Matters actor Marie Jo Payton details an on-set disagreement with Jaleel White.

Steve Urkel became a beloved sitcom character for annoying his neighbors, the Winslows, on Family Matters, and it seems that there were some off-screen issues between them, too. In a new interview with Entertainment Tonight, Marie Jo Payton, who played Harriette Winslow, said that she experienced an incident with Jaleel White, who played Steve, that could have become a physical altercation. According to Payton, it was the young actor's fame going unchecked that lead to the situation.

This is not the first time talk of tension between Family Member cast members has been brought up, and White himself has mentioned issues in the past. Read on to see what Payton had to say about one particularly dramatic moment.

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Payton says the incident happened during the final season.

Marie Jo Payton and Reginald VelJohnson on "Family Matters"
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Family Matters aired for nine seasons, from 1989 to 1998. Payton told Entertainment Tonight that it was during the ninth season that she and White had a major disagreement.

"There was one time he actually wanted to physically fight me," Payton claimed. "We were doing an episode called '[Original] Gangsta Dawg.' There was something that he wanted to do, and I said, 'We can't do that. Standards and practices is not going to let that pass.'"

Matters escalated from there.

Jaleel White on "Family Matters"
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Payton claimed that White "was so mad, he started kicking and screaming and stuff." The actor said she walked away, but overheard White say, "She must want to melee." Payton asked what a "melee" was and found out that it means "a fight."

"Darius [McCrary, who played Eddie] grabbed me," Payton continued. "I was gonna whip [White's] behind."

Best Life reached out to a rep for White for comment but has not received a response.

Payton doesn't entirely blame White for his behavior.

Marie Jo Payton on a TV One special in 2019
TV One TV / YouTube

Payton told Entertainment Tonight that she doesn't give White "all the credit" for what he did, pointing out that he was "just a kid." During the season in question, White would have been around 21 years old, but he joined the series when he was 12. Steve became the breakout character early on in Family Matters, making White hugely famous at a young age. He is now 45.

"I give some of those adults credit, too," Payton said without elaborating on who she was talking about. "Letting him run wild and do whatever he wanted to do, thinking he can say what he wants to say, you know, and hurt people's feelings and all that."

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White has said he wasn't welcomed by the cast.

Family Matters is a spinoff of Perfect Strangers meant initially to revolve around Harriette and her family. But, as Family Matters took off, Steve Urkel became a much bigger presence than initially planned.

In an interview with Uncensored in 2021, White said (via Entertainment Weekly), "I didn't see how I was stepping on anybody's toes, I was taking anybody's shine. It's very important that I say this: I was not very well welcomed to the cast at all, okay? And I don't need to rehash that with the adults over and over again. They know what it is." He explained that Payton, Reginald VelJohnson, who played Carl, and Telma Hopkins, who played Rachel, "all entered this show with the idea that this is [their] vehicle to break out."

White said he doesn't have a problem with any of his co-stars now, however. "I do think they do deserve credit at times for having helped foster a more harmonious environment by Season 3, by Season 4, by Season 5," he said. "And we did become very much a family."

Payton said there was resentment about his bigger role.

Marie Jo Payton and Reginald VelJohnson on "Family Matters"
Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Also in 2021, a True Hollywood Story episode about Family Matters aired. Payton talked about the moment the network told the cast that the "dynamic was going to change" to focus more on Steve Urkel. "And we said 'Okay,'" Payton said (via E! News). "We weren't happy about it. I think along the way it got to be a little resentful but it was just an adjustment that we had to make."

In her new interview with Entertainment Tonight, Payton was asked about White saying he wasn't welcomed by the cast, and she responded, "He needs to get over whatever it is that's biting him. He didn't have the etiquette that maybe I and some others had."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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