Three’s Company featured an eclectic cast of characters, each brimming with personality. As it turns out, one of the most prominent, Stanley Roper, was based on a real person.
Landlord Stanley Roper was unique, to say the least. Norman Fell, the actor who played Roper, once stated he based the character’s mannerisms and personality on a man he knew in Philadelphia. “I was thinking of a guy I really know in Philadelphia,” Fell said. “The clothes are all wrong … He was innocent and a guy who just can’t do things right, whether it’s being with a woman or fixing something. “
Fell goes on to describe his acquaintance, and while doing so, it’s easy to see the parallels between him and Roper. “And yet he thought he was the cat’s meow. He thought he was attractive, he liked his clothes. He thought people were looking at him because of how well-preserved he looked.” Fell bluntly concluded, “He thought he was all things he’s not.”
Fell’s description matches Roper pretty closely. He was cheap, often bickered with his wife, and really did seem to think he was “the cat’s meow.” His character was so well received both he and his wife tried their hand with a spinoff, The Ropers, though it didn’t pan out in the end.
Norman Fell Introduced ‘Three’s Company’ to ‘Breaking the Fourth Wall’
Norman Fell basically made Stanley Roper’s character, but he also contributed to the show in other ways. For example, he’s the one who began “breaking the fourth wall” on the show.
Breaking the fourth wall refers to acknowledging the audience, typically by talking or speaking to the camera. George Sunga, the producer for Three’s Company, said it was initially Fell’s idea. During an interview with The Television Academy Foundation in 2008, Sunga said the role was good for Fell. “Norman Fell, who always played a cop and even bad guys – I think this was an ideal situation for him,” Sunga said. “To be able to come to a place every week, do a character, get laughs, mug …”
It seems this role helped Fell and prompted him to begin breaking the fourth wall. “You know, (Norman Fell) introduced us to breaking the fourth wall. That isn’t done too often. Where he would look directly into the camera and give a facial expression that could only boost, you know, the reaction. That’s how inventive (Fell was). No one said to do that. He did it.”
Fell took his character’s popularity to a spinoff, The Ropers, and it seemed to work at first. The show drew the second-highest ratings for a series debut in TV history at the time back in March 1979. However, its second season didn’t fare well and it ended up getting canceled.