Meet the two actors who played Danny Tanner's mom on Full House
Before there ever was a Full House, the family sitcom was just another unaired pilot.
In the never-aired pilot, the character of Danny Tanner is introduced right after losing his wife in a car accident.
The entire cast for the pilot was the same as the eventual sitcom, except that playing Danny Tanner was not Bob Saget, but a little-known actor named John Posey.
In addition to the main cast, the pilot also featured an appearance by Danny Tanner’s mom, played by Alice Hirson.
Once the sitcom got green-lit, Saget got subbed in to star, and in the series premiere episode, they basically re-filmed the pilot with the new cast.
Although the actor playing Danny Tanner changed, in the sitcom premiere, the actor playing Danny’s mom Claire Tanner remained the same.
Hirson was an actor who had been on TV since the 1950s, but then things seemed to falter and she took on only a few roles in the 1960s.
In the Seventies, her career picked up steam again, including recurring roles on The Waltons and a few soap operas.
As more TV work came in, Hirson was soon tapped in the Eighties to contribute cartoon voice work on a Scooby Doo show, and she also nabbed a recurring role on the high-profile soap opera Dallas.
Then in 1987, she got tapped to play Claire Tanner on Full House, and she seemed lined up for her next recurring role on a hit family show.
But Hirson would only appear on Full House once more in an episode called "The Return of Grandma." After that, she would return no more as Claire Tanner.
Instead, the next and last episode to feature Claire Tanner was called "Granny Tanny." It cast a new actor to fill Danny’s mom’s shoes: the delightful character actor Doris Roberts.
In the 1980s, Roberts started joining TV casts of hit shows like Angie and Remington Steele, after spending three decades building her reputation as a character actor.
For Roberts, this was a remarkable time in her career, but it was also very difficult, having lost her husband of 20 years to cancer right around when shooting began for her on Remington Steele.
"There’s always an emptiness," Roberts told the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 1985 about how she felt losing her husband.
Mourning her husband – who used to call her every day on set – Roberts determined that she would make the most out of the rest of her time she had to pass without her husband by her side.
"I feel that women who are past 45, who have raised their children, who feel their purpose in life has been fulfilled, sometimes feel obsolete ... and they shouldn’t," Roberts told The Daily Oklahoman Sun in 1984.
"The gift of life is so precious... I think it’s a shame not to use it fully," she said in 1985.
Continuing to act while mourning her loss helped her get through the hard time.
"You feel better; you feel younger, you feel needed and wanted and that’s terribly important," Roberts said.
When Roberts’ career was just starting out, Lily Tomlin saw her on Broadway and asked her to be a regular on The Lily Tomlin Comedy Hour, then Mary Tyler Moore came calling.
"I went from that to a series with Mary Tyler Moore called The Mary Tyler Moore Comedy Hour," Roberts told Gannett News Service in 1985. "And then to Angie, and then to Maggie, and then... I did four pilots. I love work coming my way."
When none of the pilots worked out for Roberts, that’s when Full House lined up to give the actor work as the new Claire Tanner in "Granny Tanny," the same year she appeared in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Seven years later, Roberts would take on perhaps her most iconic role as Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.
In 2016, Roberts passed away, acting in movies and TV right up to her death at the age of 90, playing many memorable grandmas.
"I was my daughter’s age when we worked together," Full House star Jodie Sweetin told People in 2016.
"I was five, and I remember just holding her hand and saying goodbye at the end of the week. But I also grew up watching her and it’s always sad to lose someone that has been a part of our lives in that way."
Despite being the second actor to play Claire Tanner, it was Roberts who Sweetin considered "a grandma to an entire generation."
For the original Granny Tanny, Alice Hirson, she was not forgotten, although her short-lived sitcom was.
Like Roberts, Alice Hirson got cast as a grandma on a 1990s sitcom called Home Fires. Unfortunately for Hirson, critics raved about the cast, but it seemed that audiences preferred Raymond’s snarky brand of comedy more than the earnest family sitcom Home Fires.
Now over the age of 90, as recently as 2021, Hirson has continued appearing in select TV roles.
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