When journalist Dave Itzkoff was writing his biography of Robin Williams, titled Robin, he sat down with former co-stars of the late actor to discuss what it was like on the set of one of his earliest television roles, Mork & Mindy. As it turns out, the always-playful Williams tended to go off-script and take things too far. Mindy, played by Pam Dawber, explained how she was harassed by him for the entire taping of the show.
Mork & Mindy launched Williams’ career
The ABC sitcom Mork & Mindy aired for four seasons between 1978 and 1982. It saw Williams playing an alien named Mork from the planet Ork who arrives on Earth in an egg, sent to study human behavior. When he arrives, he takes up living in Boulder, Colorado and moves in with a female roommate named Mindy. Mork is a quirky character trying to live in unfamiliar territory, perfectly played by Williams thanks to his knack for physical humor and celebrity impersonations. In the later seasons of the show, Mindy falls in love with Mork, the two get married, and they even have a son together named Mearth who ages backward, just like his dad.
The show was a spin-off of the television sitcom smash, Happy Days. Although it did not see the same success as its predecessor, which aired for a whopping 11 seasons, it did launch Williams’ acting career. His big debut on the silver screen saw him as the titular character Popeye (1980), followed by many illustrious starring roles in films such as Good Morning, Vietnam (1983), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), and Good Will Hunting (1997).
Williams constantly harassed Dawber on set, but she was cool with it
Dawber claims that while on the set of Mork & Mindy, Williams harassed her incessantly. “I had the grossest things done to me by him,” she explained. “And I never took offence. I mean I was flashed, humped, bumped, grabbed. I think he probably did it to a lot of people … but it was so much fun.” It seems Dawber was okay with Williams’ behavior because she saw it as him merely being playful.
Williams would grab her breasts and buttocks, expose himself to her on set, wrestle her, and break wind on her, and she was somehow able to just brush it all off. “If you put it on paper you would be appalled,” she said. “But somehow he had this guileless little thing that he would do – those sparkly eyes. He’d look at you, really playful, like a puppy, all of a sudden. And then he’d grab your [breasts] and then run away. And somehow he could get away with it. It was the 70s, after all.”
The show’s producer, the late Garry Marshall, confirmed Dawber’s account of Williams’ harassment: “He would take all his clothes off, he would be standing there totally naked and she was trying to act. His aim in life was to make Pam Dawber blush.”
Williams’ behavior was because he was ‘bored’
Director Howard Storm said Dawber took the brunt of Williams’ inappropriate conduct. “He’d be doing a paragraph and in the middle of it he would just turn and grab her [expletive]. Or grab a breast. And we’d start again. I’d say, ‘Robin, there’s nothing in the script that says you grab Pam’s [expletive].’ And he’d say: ‘Oh, OK.'” Williams apparently tended to act this way whenever he was “bored” on set.
Other people involved in the show were also subject to this kind of behavior from Williams. The older actress who played Mindy’s grandmother was once “goosed” by him when he poked a cane between her buttocks. Storm recalled this incident, saying, “I’m standing there watching this and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God’ and I just laughed. I thought she was going to turn and say: ‘How dare you stick a cane in a woman’s [backside]?’ That sweet old lady.”
Despite all this, everyone on set was okay with Williams acting the way he did because “It was just Robin being Robin.” Dawber even described her relationship with Williams as brotherly, regardless of his constant groping of her body. “I really loved Robin and Robin really loved me,” she said. “We just clicked.”