Use the scroller on the image above of Shelley Long to see her in a 1982 “Cheers” episode, left, and in 2012 in “Best Man Down,” right.
By Doug Most | Globe Staff
She was born in Fort Wayne, Ind.,Indiana, she studied at Northwestern, she was a product of the famous Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, and yet somehow she feels like she belongs to us. That’s what happens when you play so memorably a bright blond Boston barmaid named Diane Chambers alongside the studly Ted Danson, who himself is playing an alcoholic ex-Red Sox pitcher named Sam Malone, for a decade on one of TV’s greatest comedies, “Cheers.”
Such is the blessing and the curse of being Shelley Long, who, at 64, and after plenty of off-screen drama, is back on screen in a new movie this week called “Best Man Down.” Almost unrecognizable from her “Cheers” days in the 1980s, she plays Gail, the mother of the bride in the movie starring Justin Long (no relation).
On “Cheers” there were so many memorable exchanges between Sam and Diane, a love story that had more twists and turns than the Jamaicaway. But one of the most repeated was this one, when a heated argument turned into an even more heated make-out session.
Sam: “My God, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna bounce you off every wall in this office!”
Diane: “Try it, and you’ll be walking funny tomorrow. . . . Or should I say funnier.”
Sam: “You know, you know I always wanted to pop you one! Maybe this is my lucky day, huh?”
Diane: “You disgust me! I hate you!”
Sam: “Are you as turned on as I am?”
The more that “Cheers” became ingrained in the Boston consciousness, the more its actors and their characters became a part of the culture here, from George Wendt bounding down the steps every night to a roar of “Norm,” to Woody Harrelson’s clueless bartender Woody Boyd to John Ratzenberger’s know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin. But it was Sam and Diane the audience pulled for, and Diane in particular who tugged at our hearts, even though we wondered each week what she possibly saw in Sam besides his meticulously coiffed hair.
Before and after “Cheers,” Long built up a career of middling TV and movie appearances, but nothing came close to the stardom she earned on the sitcom. She was silly alongside Tom Hanks in “The Money Pit” and cringe worthy as Carol Brady in “The Brady Bunch Movie.” Her most famous movie role was probably in 1982’s “Night Shift” with Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler.
But as she told GQ magazine in 2012, “I was doing the movie ‘Night Shift’ when I read ‘Cheers.’ I was not looking for a sitcom, because the philosophy at that point was that you had to make a choice: Were you going to do movies or TV? You couldn’t cross over. Then this script came along, and it was the best TV script I’d ever read.”