A kiss from the Golden Girl

Being member of elite group brings rich embarrassments

When Variety approached me to write a story about my first experience as an Emmy winner, I was quite flattered. The first thing I did when I hung up the phone was make a list of all the people they probably called before me who said no.

Please don’t take this as bitter or paranoid, I do that with everything. When I proposed to my wife and she said yes, I spent the rest of the weekend going through her phone book with a highlighter.

Most of what you will read is accurate. The only few untruths are to protect the neurotic or make me seem more creative than I really am.

Back in July of 1999, when the Emmy nominations were announced I was extremely excited. “Everybody Loves Raymond” was really hitting its stride and my character was starting to do more than just walk through a scene holding a rake.

The nominations were read at 5:45 a.m. and for some reason, the Academy never announced the supporting actors in a comedy during the live broadcast on E!. But, I was thrilled to hear them announce Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton.

Then I heard Doris Roberts on a phone patch with Steve Kmetko, and I knew she got the nod. More joy. Then they said they were trying to get hold of Peter Boyle for his elated reaction. Again, more joy, this time accompanied by a slight wave of nausea. I stared at my phone, praying someone would call me with my good news. Nothing. I looked over at my wife, Jill, who lovingly clutched my hand and said, “How about some eggs?” She always knows the right thing to say.

It was now 6:05 a.m., and it was official. Every actor on the show was nominated for an Emmy, except me. Even the Bulldog got a nod from the Ark Society and a $100 gift certificate for Petco. I got eggs.

But after working through my 11 minutes of self-pity and victimhood, I told my wife how happy I was to be involved with such an amazing cast, writers and crew. I was lucky just to “be on the bus,” working, doing what I love on a show that was being recognized by its peers in several categories.

The following year I received my first nomination along with the rest of the cast, making it one of the few shows ever in which the entire cast was nominated. As trite as this may sound, I was honored to be included in that gifted group of actors in my category.

Sean Hayes won that year, deservedly so. But it would have carried less of a sting if he didn’t proceed to hit on my wife at the Governors Ball. It’s been hard for me to watch his show since then, but even harder for me to stop.

Finally, through the grace of God, and some vigorous campaigning that included calling members of the ATAS at home and not speaking when they answered, just humming the theme to “Rawhide,” I was fortunate enough to take home a Golden Girl for the first time last September.

The only other time I came that close to taking home a Golden Girl was when I was forced to share a room with Bea Arthur at the Melrose Baths. To this day, I can’t watch a rerun of “Maude” or even use a loofah without welling up.

I’m grateful to have won. It’s nice to know that an awkward kid from the Valley can make a little noise. All I can do is thank the voters and be glad my brother is the governor of Florida.

CBS has been wonderful. The day after I won, they graciously gave me a drive-on. It has done wonders for my relationship with the cast and crew. I feel I now have their respect. Off-camera, Ray lets me call him “Mr. Romano.” He even asked me to help him move his wallet. Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle both recognized me on the set one day. And I hope that I will get the chance to meet Patricia Heaton before the show ends.

Also, I join an elite group who will always be known as “Emmy Winner.” In entertainment circles, this is an honor of immense importance. In everyday life, it can be somewhat embarrassing, such as when I went for a colonoscopy and the nurse felt obligated to announce to the entire waiting room, “Emmy Winner Brad Garrett, your proctoscope is ready.”

I often dream about myself late in life, surrounded by grandchildren as Emmy watches silently from the mantelpiece. I also have another dream where I pry her wings off and melt them down in order to buy a bottle of Muscatel.

Being able to work at what you love is the true reward, even though I have taken mugging to a whole new level.

Sure, it’s nice to have Miss Emmy hanging out in the office, but in the grand scheme of things it’s about “the big picture.” No, not the big studio picture I couldn’t get into this summer, but my family, who helps me keep it real.

I was humbled when my darling children took Emmy for a ride around the house in Barbie’s Dream Car. It brought me back to reality and taught me what is really important in life — to get a lock for the trophy cabinet.