Diana Canova: A Big Girl Now

I was certainly aware of actress Diana Canova (b. 1953) when I was a kid, for her’s was a frequent television face throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Though she was attractive, talented, and funny, I don’t know that I would been inspired to pay tribute to her with her own Travalanche post if I didn’t learn of her show business pedigree. She is the daughter of vaudeville, radio and screen star Judy Canova, and Cuban musician Filberto Rivero. 

In 1974, Garry Marshall, who had a huge affection for old school show biz stars like her mother, cast Diana in a memorable episode of Happy Days. She played a tall girl Richie went on a date with, creating much awkwardness. (She’s only 5’9″ — the height was fudged.) After this came episodes of Chico and the Man, Starsky and Hutch, the second Love Boat pilot (and several Love Boat episodes), Fantasy Island, Barney Miller, and most importantly the role of the promiscuous daughter Corinne on Soap, which she played 1977-80. (Her most memorable story arc had her giving birth to the devil). She was also frequently booked on Hollywood Squares and The Mike Douglas Show, which she occasionally co-hosted.

So popular was Canova on Soap that in 1980 ABC gave her her own sitcom, I’m a Big Girl Now, on which she played a divorced mom who moves back in with her dad, played by Danny Thomas. She also sang the theme song on the show.

Despite good publicity and the talents involved, I’m a Big Girl Now only lasted one season. But three additional sitcoms followed. In Foot in the Door (1983) Harold Gould played an aging man who decides to become a swinger. Canova played his disapproving daughter-in-law. This only lasted six episodes. She had better luck with Throb (1986-88) a syndicated show that lasted two seasons, on which she again played a divorced mom who gets a job working at a new wave record company. Since she had recently married real-life music producer Elliott Scheiner, the show seems at least partially inspired by real life. Jonathan Prince played her boss. The cast also had Maryedith Burrell of Fridays, Jane Levees (later of Frasier) and Paul Walker, who would later star in The Fast and The Furious.

Canova’s last show was Home Free (1993), in which she played yet another divorced mom who moves back in with her family, in this case disturbing the cushy life of her younger brother, played by a pre-Friends Matthew Perry. This one also had Marian Mercer, who had been on Foot in the Door. It only lasted one season. Following this she guested on St. Elsewhere and Murder She Wrote. By the late ’90s she was strictly doing voice-over work. Today she works primarily as an acting teacher at the college and high school level and gives private acting lessons. I hope these kids know their teacher’s both a star and the child of a star!

To learn more about vaudeville, where Diana’s mom Judy Canova got her start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,