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Seth MacFarlane Gives Oscar a Lift

PARADE Published: February 24, 2013
fact, MacFarlane got his first paying gig at 9, penning his own comic strip for the Kent Good Times Dispatch for $5 a week.

MacFarlane at about age 3. “He wasn’t a kid who had lemonade stands,” says his sister, Rachael. “He was working hard at cartooning.”
Life at the MacFarlanes’ was traditional in many ways. Seth’s ancestors William and Mary Brewster were Mayflower passengers. His parents, Ann and Ronald, had a fierce work ethic, at one point juggling three jobs each. But the rules at home were loose: Cursing was okay. The TV stayed on during dinner. Off-color jokes got no push-back. “There wasn’t this puritanical fear of certain areas of humor or behavior,” says MacFarlane, who defines himself now as superliberal and religion-averse. “I remember my parents watching The Cosby Show and complaining about what terrible parents the Huxtables were, because they were so militant with their kids.” The laid-back approach worked for MacFarlane, who says, “I’m one of the few people in Hollywood who actually had a good childhood.” Sadly, MacFarlane’s mother passed away in 2010 of cancer. “She spoke in superlatives all the time,” he says, “and we kind of joke that since she had used them all up, what would she have said about [my hosting] the Oscars? But in all seriousness, I would have liked for her to have seen my movie. I would have liked for her to see the Oscars. It would have been nice.”

In college, at the Rhode Island School of Design, MacFarlane created a bawdy 10-minute cartoon for his senior thesis, The Life of Larry, which won him a job animating for Hanna-Barbera in Los Angeles. It wasn’t long before he sold Family Guy, which made him, at 24, the youngest person ever to run a network show.

If you haven’t seen Family Guy, picture an Archie Bunker type named Peter Griffin at the head of a blue-collar New England household. His wife’s a kleptomaniac who once dated Gene Simmons from Kiss; the dog drives a Prius and likes his martinis dry; and baby Stewie, whom MacFarlane voices in a British accent, is precocious beyond all reason (and once scoffed at his future self for still reading PARADE). Canceled in 2002, the series was revived after fans flocked to it in reruns and on DVD. At this point, though, MacFarlane thinks the end might be near regardless. “How much more is there to find out about these characters?” he says. “You don’t want to start concocting things like what if Peter finds out he’s half Chinese. I’ve never heard of a TV show that after nine seasons goes into its best years. It would be arrogant to assume that we’ll be the first.”

A movie version of Family Guy has long been rumored (“I think at some point that’ll happen,” he says). A Ted sequel is also in the works. But MacFarlane plans to make a western comedy first, à la Blazing Saddles, and he’s working on a live-action sitcom for Fox called Dads, about two young men whose fathers move in with them. He’s also the unlikely coproducer behind an earnest reboot of the Cosmos miniseries, hosted in the 1980s by famed astronomer Carl Sagan. The project, due on Fox in winter 2014, feels necessary right now, he says. “There’s been an unsettling rejection of science in the past couple decades. We used to have national pride in space travel. Now we only care about vampires and witches.”

For all his popularity, MacFarlane keeps a rather low profile. He lives alone in a Beverly Hills villa he bought a few years ago for $13.5 million. He says he has no real hobbies other than playing piano. He splurged on a horse he hasn’t seen, let alone ridden, in many months. He owns a DeLorean car that’s exactly like the one Marty McFly drove in one of his favorite movies, Back to the Future. Though he’s been linked romantically to Cameron Diaz, Amanda Bynes, Eliza Dushku, and, most recently, Game of Thrones beauty Emilia Clarke, MacFarlane folds his arms over his chest when the conversation turns to dating. “Do we have to?” he asks, but then obliges. “I’m wide open to getting married, but actors are not easy people to date. You end up sharing that person with this other mistress that is their career. I very much like the traditional courtship method of making a date. That’s what they do in normal places, but Hollywood’s not normal.”

Not normal might be okay tonight, actually. “You want Sacheen Littlefeather to come up and accept an award,” MacFarlane says, recalling other classic Oscar moments. As host, he’s looking to “find a balance somewhere between Billy Crystal and Ricky Gervais,” he says, though it was former emcee Hugh Jackman whose advice hit closest to home. “He told me, ‘Don’t be too kind. Shake it up a little bit.’ ” As if anyone needed to tell MacFarlane that.

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