Andy Griffith pushed for Kari Lizer to join Matlock
It was her first regular role on a series, and it completely changed her life.
When Kari Lizer joined Matlock, she couldn’t believe her luck getting cast to play a law student named Cassie Phillips.
After eight long years of hard times scraping by in New York and L.A., sometimes holding down three waitress jobs at once, it was the first time she was getting paid every week for her acting.
"I really can’t yet fathom being in a series with a weekly income," Lizer told The Herald in 1987. "The job means everything to me and not just because of the money. The whole quality of my life has changed."
Lizer’s acting career started when she was in high school.
At the age of 15, she joined an acting workshop with a friend, and by the time the workshop had ended, the workshop teacher had become agent to both her and her friend.
Lizer got cast right away in commercials, mostly selling stuff like soda pop or cheesing for brands like KFC. She told the Chino Champion in 1978 that doing commercials taught her to respect everyone’s time onset.
"Filming commercials is fun and exciting, but it’s scary too," Lizer said. "There’s all this money and time being spent and everyone’s depending on you. But so far, it’s been very nice."
Lizer had hoped that her acting career would continue picking up, but unfortunately, she faced hard times instead.
A quirky young woman, when she couldn’t afford the fashionable clothes she wanted, she invented her own personal style.
"When I was starving, I bought a lot of secondhand men’s silk pajamas and boxer shorts," Lizer said. "I sewed up the flies and wore them in public because they were fun and unusual. I couldn’t afford to be fashionable, so I decided to go for laughs. But my parents don’t see the humor."
Before Matlock, Lizer featured in small roles in movies and TV shows like Who’s the Boss? and Growing Pains.
Then, her agent got her cast to guest star in an episode of Matlock called "The Angel," where Griffith’s character defends her character — a Madonna-like rock star — and she was so impressive that Griffith took notice.
That’s why when Linda Purl backed out of Matlock after the first season, Griffith personally recommended the series cast Lizer as her replacement.
For Lizer, catching Andy Griffith’s eye completely changed her life, but she said she was so determined to continue acting that even if she didn’t get offered the role of Cassie Phillips, "I would have kept trying."
She was happy for the opportunity when the Matlock role arose.
"This is a wonderful role for me," she said.
Lizer appeared on Matlock throughout the second season, with her final appearance in the episode "The Genius."
After Matlock, she joined The Van Dyke Show, playing Barry Van Dyke’s wife. She continued acting through 2011, more recently contributing to TV as a producer.
Although it took her time to find her footing as an actor, she said she was grateful she experienced so many growing pains when she was young because she felt it helped her grow into the person she became.
"In a way I’m happy I didn’t land in a television series when I was 15," Lizer said.