She Played Marcy on "Married… with Children." See Amanda Bearse Now at 63.
The actor and director is a Hollywood trailblazer.
For all 11 seasons of Married… with Children, Amanda Bearse played Marcy D'Arcy, neighbor to (and arch-nemesis of) the show's bumbling every-American schlub protagonist, Al Bundy. Ever the butt of Al's jokes, feminist yuppie Marcy thought she was the better person but often found herself stooping to his level. Offscreen, Bearse was far different from her character. Focused on building a career as a lesbian woman at a time when Hollywood was dominated by men, she was determined to succeed behind the camera as well as in front of it. Keep reading to learn what happened to her after the sitcom ended and what she thinks of the show today.
Her first big acting role was on a much different kind of show.
Bearse's acting career didn't begin with Married… with Children. Born in Florida and raised in Atlanta, she moved to New York City in the late 1970s to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse, an acting school in Manhattan, and then relocated to Los Angeles in 1981. By 1982, she'd landed a role on the popular daytime soap, All My Children.
After leaving that show in 1983, she began working on films, including the low-budget teen sex comedy Fraternity Vacation (including an early appearance from Tim Robbins) and the cult horror classic, Fright Night.
While acting on Married… with Children, which ran from 1987 to 1997, she appeared in the TV movies Goddess of Love and Here Come the Munsters, as well as the action thriller The Doom Generation, directed by Gregg Araki.
She moved behind the camera after the comedy ended.
After Married… with Children ended, Bearse seemed to disappear from TV screens—but that was by design. During the show's sixth season, she kicked off a plan to transition from acting to working behind the camera and became the first member of the cast to direct an episode. She'd go on to direct 31 episodes of her own show by the series finale.
"I quit acting after Married… with Children and that was purposeful," Bearse told The Fayetteville Observer in 2020. "[The show] gave me my second career as a television director."
Bearse logged credits directing episodes of some of the biggest sitcoms of the 1990s and early 2000s, including Veronica's Closet, The Jamie Foxx Show, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, Jesse (starring her former castmate Christina Applegate), Dharma & Greg, and Reba. She also directed 21 episodes of the comedy sketch show MADtv and every episode of The Big Gay Sketch Show, which aired on the Logo network from 2007–2010 and was created by Rosie O'Donnell.
"At the time I was one of very few women who were behind the camera in television, and it was a very different time," she told GLAAD in 2021. "I was grateful for the opportunity, and it wasn't easy. Hollywood was a white-male-dominated society—and it still is—but women's voices, LGBTQ voices, people of color's voices are getting louder [today]."
She came out of the closet years before Ellen.
In 1993, four years before Ellen DeGeneres famously came out to the world both on her self-titled sitcom and the cover of Time, Bearse became the first actor on a primetime network television series to come out as gay, doing so in the cover story of the Sept. 21, 1993 issue of The Advocate.
Though she had long been out to her friends and coworkers, she hadn't spoken publicly about her sexuality. Tabloid rumors about her had been swirling for years, she told The Advocate, so when she was about to adopt a child (daughter Zoë, with TV executive Amy Shomer), she decided to finally go public.
"I felt like this was such a sacred and important event in my life that I wanted to tell my story my way," she said while accepting the 2021 Trailblazer Award from Out on Film at the Atlanta Film Festival. "It was just the best thing I could have done because I was so proud to become a mom. I lived my life with integrity. There was never any shame for me about being gay, and I just wanted to tell my story my way."
She has continued to speak out on behalf of LGBTQ+ causes.
After coming out, Bearse continued to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Beginning in the late '90s, she served as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. She has also expressed support for the Human Rights Campaign's National Coming Out Day and queer visibility in Hollywood. "It's harder to discriminate against a face than an abstract." she told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1994. She has served as a Gay Games ambassador, as well.
In 1997, Bearse's personal life brought attention to the barriers faced by gay parents when her partner at the time, TV producer Dell Pearce, was involved in a custody dispute with an ex-partner with whom Pierce had adopted a child.
She made a return to acting.
In 2000, Bearse moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta to raise her daughter, during which time she ran a coffee shop with Pearce, before the couple split. She recently told GLAAD the move away from the pressures of Hollywood was the "best decision ever" for her family.
In 2010, Bearse married Carrie Schenkman, a businesswoman from Seattle, and the two split their time between Atlanta, where Bearse lived with Zoë, and the Pacific Northwest, where Schenkman was raising her own daughter.
Around the same time, Bearse began to dabble in acting again, appearing in episodes of the TV series Drop Dead Diva and Anger Management, the satirical horror film Sky Sharks, and the second season of the Prime Video series Smothered. She will next appear alongside Billy Eichner in Bros, a romantic comedy in which two commitment-phobic men try to make a relationship work, from director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). The studio has touted the film as "the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio," according to The Hollywood Reporter.
"I thought, I'll just give this a go and see what happens, and as long as it stays fun and exciting, I'll stick with it," Bearse told The Advocate in 2021. "I'm just having a good time acting again. It's really been such a very long time, and I didn't realize how much I'd missed it."
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She's still friendly with some—not all—of her former castmates.
Bearse is on good terms with many of her Married… with Children co-stars. She shared in her Fayetteville Observer interview that she's still close with Applegate ("I'm one of her hugest fans.") and David Garrison, who played Marcy's first husband. But she isn't friendly with series star Ed O'Neill, and it seems she never really has been.
Discussing their relationship at a fan convention in Raleigh, NC in 2018, Bearse said that she preferred not to air dirty laundry but that there was "no love lost" between them.
In a 2013 interview for the Archive of American Television, O'Neill was more blunt, naming Bearse as the only member of the cast he didn't get along with. He also noted that he and David Faustino (Bud) were the only castmates not invited to her wedding. According to O'Neill, when he took offense and confronted her, she told him that she thought he and Faustino would have laughed at the sight of Bearse and her wife in tuxedos, which he admitted he did find funny—proving Bearse's instincts were pretty right on.
As for the show itself, 63-year-old Bearse isn't much of a fan all these years later. "It was a mean-spirited and misogynist show," she told News Corp Australia in 2018. "It was just so completely inappropriate. Today I don't think the show would be produced, because it's so globally offensive." That said, she admits Marcy is a character "near and dear" to her. "I have great affection for her and I really appreciate a lot of the writing that went her way," she added. "Hers was a different voice than any of the others on the show."