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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : Shawn Harrison finds that 'Family Matters' --along with his friends

June 18, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Watch out, Urkel. Waldo Faldo may be stealing your thunder.

Producers of ABC's hit sitcom "Family Matters' introduced actor Shawn Harrison's endearingly dim Waldo in the series' second season and he's been in demand ever since.

"I really have been doing more and more on the show," says Harrison, who plays best friend to Eddie Winslow (Darius McCrary) and irritant to Steve Urkel (Jaleel White). Of late, Waldo, with his 1.0 grade-point-average, has found his calling in cooking. Now he attends culinary school.

Harrison, 21, sips lemonade in a Los Angeles coffee shop and points out that Waldo first appeared in a guest role as sidekick to the school bully ("Menace II Society's" Larenz Tate) who terrorized Urkel. When bully and buddy were asked to return on a regular basis, Tate declined, but Harrison went for the chance to co-star on the popular series, which begins its seventh season this fall.

"Since Larenz wasn't coming back, they changed Waldo to Eddie's best friend," says Harrison, who joined the regular cast for the third season. "I'm kind of a foil on the show. Waldo thinks only in the moment. He has no memory of what happened 10 minutes before. But he's not stupid; he's pretty complex. He just doesn't grasp concepts in a conventional way."

The most frequently asked question of the actor may be, "Are you as stupid as Waldo?" and obviously the answer is no. Harrison finished two years at Los Angeles Harbor and Cerritos colleges and will attend UCLA in the fall. On hiatus since late March, he's in the throes of a summer math class.

"I've just been so busy," Harrison says. He works on "Family" five days a week and has classes each night.

Even before he attended elementary school, Harrison, at age 4, told his mother, a computer engineer, that he wanted to be an actor. After he enrolled in a children's workshop, he landed a role as Steve Martin's youngest sibling in the 1979 movie "The Jerk."

When auditions cut seriously into his playtime in his Compton neighborhood, Harrison's interest in acting waned but was revived in the fifth grade. Before sixth grade, he had been hired in seven national commercials, including ones for Burger King and Fruity Pebbles cereal.

Harrison worked frequently in commercials and in TV guest spots, enough that his mother left her job to not only manage her son but other aspiring actors as well.

The actor's mother died suddenly 3 1/2 years ago, right after his first full season on "Family Matters." "We were both so happy about my getting the part. ... Her heart just stopped." Harrison now lives alone in the home they shared from the time he was 6 months old.

"I like living there," he says. "I've lived there for so long. You just never know how long you're going to be on a series. I'm comfortable there. I have family, aunts and cousins there."

He's close to his "Family Matters" friends as well too. "Well, there are three people you tune into the show for to laugh at: Urkel, the dad [Reginald VelJohnson] and Waldo. And we all work well together." Kellie Williams, who plays Laura, is his closest friend.

Harrison says he may study to be a family counselor. "An educated, intelligent actor is going to be more successful than one without schooling," he explains.

"Maybe because I'm in TV right now," he says, "but I'm really interested in producing. I see myself acting for no more than five years. I want to produce a show about blacks where we show that the diversity, the black experience, is very universal, kind of like what they do on 'Family Matters.' It's about characters and family, not color."

"Family Matters" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. on ABC. For ages 5 and up.

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