How is it that a seven-year-old is able to start her own dog-grooming business or build her own treehouse? A little something called “Punky Power.” That combination of pluck, sass, and downright adorability made the charming and lovable Punky Brewster, played by Soleil Moon Frye (sister of Voyagers! co-star Meeno Peluce), braver than most adults. The orphaned bundle of sunshine was adopted by lonely, over-the-hill bachelor Henry Warnimont, who ended up learning a thing or two (or many) from Punky.
Punky (who turned her nose up at her real name Penelope) was abandoned first by her father, and then by her mother who went into a shopping center one day and never came back out. The waif wandered the streets of Chicago and finally hid out in a vacant apartment with her puppy Brandon. She was soon discovered by the conservative and stuffy building manager Henry, played by George Gaynes.
Punky’s future neighbor and playmate Cherie was actually the first to find her, and the soon-to-be best friends bonded when Cherie brought Punky food. When Henry found out, he sent Punky to an orphanage named Fenster Hall, but Punky quickly escaped. The dour, old photographer eventually gave in and became Punky’s legal guardian.
Quick-tempered but always forgiving, Henry was always scrambling to keep up with Punky. From breaking his new video camera while making a Jane Fonda-inspired workout video, to getting arrested for stealing a Christmas present, Punky kept Henry on his arthritis-ridden toes. Henry developed a soft spot for Punky, even searching through every dumpster in Chicago for Punky’s ratty old doll, which was accidentally thrown down the garbage chute. And if there were any doubts that the old man’s heart was softened, Henry opened up a restaurant in the third season—named Punky’s Place.
Neighbors included the loud and nosy Mrs. Betty Johnson (Cherie’s grandma) and Eddie, the quirky building handyman. Punky’s most visible pals and fellow classmates were the snobbish beauty queen Margaux Kramer and the sheepish Allen Anderson.
NBC Entertainment Executive Brandon Tartikoff (yes, the dog was named after him) christened the series in honor of his childhood crush. The real Punky Brewster was tracked down and given royalties for the use of her name, and even made a guest appearance as one of the teachers at Punky’s school.
In fall of 1985, NBC introduced a cartoon version of the show, which took Punky and pals on fantastical adventures courtesy of a hamster-looking magical being called Glomer. The cartoon actually outlasted the prime time Punky, which came to a close after two seasons. Those two seasons were enough to make a big impression, though—Punky’s colorful patch-covered clothes, mismatched funky bedroom and endless adventures became an inspiration to many young girls, who imitated their young idol in hopes of siphoning off a little “Punky Power” of their own.
USA / NBC – Syndication – Columbia – Light Keeper Prod / 88×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 16 September 1984 – 7 September 1986 on NBC and 1987-1988 Syndicated
Producers: David W. Duclen, Garry Marshall, Rick Hawkins, Liz Sage
Soleil Moon Frye as Penelope “Punky” Brewster
George Gaynes as Henry Warnimont
Eddie Deezen as Eddie Malvin (1984)
Cherie Johnson as Cherie Johnson
Susie Garrett as Mrs. Betty Johnson
Ami Foster as Margeaux Kramer
Loyita Chapel as Mrs. Kramer (1984-85)
Casey Ellison as Allen Anderson
Dody Goodman as Mrs. Morton (1984-85)
T.K. Carter as Mike Fulton (1985-86)