‘Three’s Company’: Was ‘Mr. Roper’ Based on a Real Person?

Three’s Company came at a time when television was booming. The series premiered on ABC in 1977, competing with shows like Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days. It also introduced the world to actors John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Suzanne Sommers

During Three’s Company’s eight seasons, viewers watched many unforgettable characters. One of the actors even based his character on someone he knew in real life.

THREE'S COMPANY - "Night Of The Ropers" - Airdate: March 17, 1981
Norman Fell as Mr. Roper, John Ritter as Jack Tripper|Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

Norman Fell played ‘Mr. Roper’ on ‘Three’s Company’ 

Fell was born Norman Noah Feld in March 1924. He grew up in Philadelphia and attended Temple University after high school. After graduating college, Fell decided to pursue a career in acting. He began acting in New York and starred on a stage. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he landed small roles in movies like Ocean’s Eleven, The Graduate, and The Killers. Eventually, Fell found his television niche, appearing on Joe and Mabel, Needles and Pins, and Executive Suite

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In 1977, Fell booked the role of Mr. Stanley Roper on Three’s Company. Mr. Roper was the landlord of Jack Tripper (Ritter), Janet Wood (DeWitt), and Chrissy Snow’s (Sommers) apartment. According to The Los Angeles Times, Fell received a Golden Globe Award for Best TV Actor in a Supporting Role in 1979 for his role as Mr. Roper. 

Norman Fell based ‘Mr. Roper’ on a real person

For three seasons, Fell portrayed Mr. Roper on Three’s Company. The character was known for being overly involved in his tenants’ personal lives. Stanley’s wife, Helen Roper (Audra Lindley), also gave a hilarious take on Jack, Janet, and Chrissy’s living situation. 

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Although Fell studied acting, his inspiration for Mr. Roper came from his time growing up in Philadelphia. According to Alot, Fell based the character on a man he knew in real life. The actor said the man who inspired Mr. Roper “just can’t do things right…and yet he thought he was the cat’s meow.” The man he based Mr. Roper, also reportedly thought everyone wanted to look like him and admired his appearance. 

Norman Fell was typecast after ‘Three’s Company’ 

After two seasons on the show, Fell left Three’s Company in 1979. Following his exit, the actor joined Lindley for a spinoff titled The Ropers. The show lasted for one season and aired its final episode in 1980. Once The Ropers ended, Fell landed supporting roles on television shows. His last television appearance was as Mr. Roper during a 1997 episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom

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Fell died of cancer in 1998. The LA Times shared that the actor stayed at the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills until the day he died. His longtime manager, Stan Schneider, spoke about the actor with the outlet. He said toward the end of his life; Fell became tired of being known for his Three’s Company character. 

“I think he felt toward the end . . . it typecast him,” Schneider said of his client’s role. “But it was the one everyone knew him as. Everyone called him Mr. Roper, on the street, wherever he went.”