The naïve Balki entertained viewers with his cultural missteps as he adjusted to life in Chicago after he migrated from the tiny fictional Mediterranean island of Mypos, leaving behind his life as a shepherd.
Bronson Pinchot, who played Balki, will forever be associated with the character from the ABC show, even though he’s had tremendous success on the big screen in films such as “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Risky Business,” “Courage Under Fire” and “The First Wives Club.”
But Pinchot had a change of heart, and 12 years ago he left the spotlight of Hollywood to indulge an unlikely passion – home restoration – in one of the most unlikely places: the rural town of Harford, Pa.
The Yale graduate traded auditions for antiques, and has embarked on a one-man restoration journey, buying up dilapidated properties and transforming them into architectural wonders using only salvaged objects.
So how did it happen?
“I was in New York City and I was doing a Broadway show and I was on a computer and I happened to see country houses with land around them that were the cost of half a New York City studio apartment and I just got into my head that I had to have one, and then I got another one and another one …,” he told Lara Spencer on “Good Morning America.”
In addition to a Greek revival in Harford that serves as his main residence, Pinchot owns four more houses nearby.
Pinchot, who had no training when he embarked on his restoration career but learned by trial and error, even bought and reconfigured the town’s working post office.
His passion for restoration is being documented in “The Bronson Pinchot Project,” a new series on DIY Network.
Pinchot has embraced his post-Hollywood life, and says he doesn’t miss Tinseltown.
“I never did love Hollywood, I just loved the work,” he said. “In California you say to somebody, ‘Could you help me carry this heavy thing?’ ‘No, ’cause it’s bicep day at the gym and I don’t want to pre-exhaust the muscle.’”
But his time on “Perfect Strangers” remains close to his heart, and he maintains a unique bond with co-star Mark Linn-Baker, who played Balki’s cousin, Larry, on the show.
Asked by Spencer if he and Linn-Baker ever talk, Pinchot replied, ”We mostly don’t talk. We mostly just laugh. We just look at each other and start to giggle. And nobody knows why. We can read each other’s minds, literally.”
Balki Bartokomous resonated with people all across the country, particularly the character’s hilarious misuse of the English language, his favorite phrases — “Don’t be ridiculous!” and “Get out of the city!” — and his dance of joy.
“Perfect Strangers” first ran from 1986 to 1993 on ABC.
Pinchot admits that being such an iconic part of pop culture can have its downside.
While acknowledging that he loves the huge impact that the show made, he added, “But I really have to say that there is a potentially awkward disconnect when someone expects you to be a character and you’re not. You can see the disappointment and even offense that they take.”
“The Branson Pinchot Project” seems to have changed that for him. Fans are now asking him for home improvement advice, rather than chanting the name of his TV persona.
“What happens now is people will sit next to me on the plane. They’ll go, ‘So, Bronson, I’ve got this crud, like, in between my tiles,’ and I’m like, ‘muriatic acid, but make sure you wear a mask,’” he said.
His new passion offers him a kind of freedom Hollywood never could.
“I have more fun than anybody really has a right to,” he said. “I mean, it’s what I love.”
But has he totally closed the book on Balki? Not quite.
Pinchot told Spencer that he would “love” to do a “Perfect Strangers” reunion, but he wants to lose enough weight so he can fit into the vests Balki used to wear.