Susan Olsen Interview

Susan Olsen: The Youngest One in Curls

THE BRADY BUNCH phenomenon is something that will never go away. Not only is it one of the most remembered shows in television history, but it’s very universal. Okay, so the clothing is dated… But the stories and the characters are always relatable, especially with kids.

cindy brady picEach “Brady” child often dealt with something having to do with their age and/or position in the family: being the oldest, being in the middle, or – last but certainly not least – the youngest.

Susan Olsen, who played the angelic blue-eyed baby of the family, “Cindy Brady”, is as sweet, funny, cute, and honest as ever. She’s appeared in reunion shows, hosted a radio talk-show in Los Angeles; is an artist, a musician, a loving mother, an animal lover, and a die-hard Zeppelin fan!

INTERVIEW

What work did you do before “The Brady Bunch”?
I did commercials starting at the age of 14 months. Don't remember that too much. I got out of the business when I was 3 then I got "discovered" by a talent scout when I was five in kindergarten. I guess it was fate. I mostly remember doing episodes of “Gunsmoke” because I got to work with animals.

How old were you when you were cast in “The Brady Bunch”?
I had my first audition three days after my seventh birthday, which was in August. I was seven for the first episode but I was eight by the time we really got into production. I was playing a five year old.

What is your favorite episode of “The Brady Bunch” that centered on “Cindy”?
I really didn't like the ones that centered around my character. I have never liked watching myself but now that I'm older and can see that my son looks EXACTLY as I used to. I like the Fairy Princess Episode, "Eeny Meenie Mommy Daddy", because I am so young in it.

What is your favorite episode centering on someone else?
I like the one where Greg and Peter go on a double date and Peter is eating his moustache off. Chris Knight is really funny and so is Barry.

Was there any particular episode that was difficult for you?
The embarrassment of the Shirley Temple episode. I was too old for it. It had been an idea for me to do when I was 8 or 9 but at 12 I looked and felt like a dork singing "Goodship Lollypop".

How did you react to the show being cancelled?
Sorry to say that I was relieved. I felt the show had gone on long enough and I was going through a very awkward stage. The producers didn't know what to do with me. I felt I was getting uglier by the minute (and I was). It's hard enough to go through this stage but to have to do it on national television??? I mean people (God bless them) were already saying things like "Oh she USED to be so cute..." I wanted the show to end before there was some very special episode where “Cindy” gets her first bra or period or something equally mortifying.

Were you ever jealous of any of the other kids having bigger storylines or more time on screen?
I think we were all jealous of Maureen and Barry since the entire wardrobe budget (which I think was $100.00) was spent on them.

What was it like when Robbie Rist (“Cousin Oliver”) joined the cast?
I loved it! Yay: get the focus off me, now I don't have to be the youngest! I loved Robbie and still do.

Did you have any crushes during the show?
I had a mad crush on Mike Lookinland. I would go through times of having a crush on him, then thinking he was a pain, then just being best friends: then go through the whole cycle again. It taught me that love endures many phases and takes on many forms. He is still a good friend; I partially named my son after him.

Was your lisp real? If so, how did you end up getting rid of it?
It was very real and I worked with speech therapists but I still haven't entirely gotten rid of it. My Speech therapist when I was 19 said it was as good as it would get. I have a very small mouth, I didn't have enough room for my teeth (hence the attractive braces in the fifth season). I also don't really have room for my tongue. (But my foot fits in just fine.)

Have you heard from Russell Schulman, who played the notorious bully “Buddy Hinton”?
I'm sorry. I never even knew his real name.

You did voice-overs on “The Brady Kids” (cartoon)… How was the feeling being back with your “brothers” and “sisters”?
Actually it was during the show [“The Brady Bunch”] that we did that. I remember taking time during my lunch hour and going into an office and recording all my lines for one season. I didn't even know the stories. The director would occasionally say something like "Oh you're supposed to be surprised there." And I'd do it again. It was really weird. I remember my Mom walking back with me and we both thought it was so weird that I just made a season's worth of salary in 40 minutes. (A season of a cartoon: not lucrative at the time but is still good pay for less than an hour!!)

“The Brady Bunch Hour” variety show… What did you think it?
It is doggy doody with glitter all over it. Actually in doing the interviews and such there were really a lot of great people involved and they were doing some really decent work. It's really kind of a sweet story that so many people cared so much and tried so hard and it still came out like...doggy doody with glitter all over it.

Any favorite skits of “The Brady Bunch Hour”?
Well Robert Reed really was having fun with the show. He loved the broad slapstick comedy and I wish they had given him more of that to do (and less singing which was painful for him... painful for all). He is totally having a blast in this Christopher Columbus Sketch. He is playing Columbus like a moron and he is great and having just the best time! It's so CUUUTE!

Describe the situation when, while on the set of the variety show, you met some of the original “Saturday Night Live” cast?
Just Chevy Chase and Paul Schaeffer. I was over the moon. I was NUTS about SNL! I thought it was the most ground breaking thing I'd ever seen. I was right. They were fun. Geri Reischl [who replaced Eve Plumb as “Jan”] and Mike Lookinland and I used to escape our studio school and go hang out in Chevy's production offices. He was making his first special. He had just quit SNL.

Okay, now’s your chance to kill all the rumors that have spread about you over the years… What were a few of them? 
I'm not dead. I did not do porn. I actually talked about these rumors in a recent radio interview I did. An interview that is supposed to have run only two minutes before I asked to excuse myself because I had a migraine but said it was my partner's fault for taking me to a bar the night before (we were performing together in a Comedy Club to raise money for an autism charity. We were at the station to promote the shows). I suppose that is the biggest rumor now: that I showed up at this station drunk and puked after two minutes. I never knew people could be so brazen about lying. I was on the air for about twenty minutes. I actually asked to leave during a commercial break but the DJ wouldn’t let me go. He promised that we would wrap things up quickly but he didn't. They had been video-taping without my knowledge and immediately sold the footage and a pack of lies to TMZ. These talentless DJs decided to make a big deal out of things and lied and got themselves their fifteen minutes of fame at my expense. Actually it is at my son's expense. I have an ex-husband who is an equally opportunistic creep and he is trying to make trouble in a custody case over it. I WAS NOT DRUNK! You can see that the interview was going fine. There are missing minutes as I know we took calls during commercial breaks. I think I was on the air for at least 20 minutes. Then they said I passed out in their lobby and wouldn't leave. Why? Because they're such fun people? I was miles away when they were saying over the air that they were calling the police to get me out of the building. People like this are truly worthless human beings and have no business taking up space on the planet.

In the 90’s you did a radio talk show on 97.1 KLSX in Los Angeles with Ken Ober (of MTV’s “Remote Control”)… How did this come about?
Actually it was after I made an appearance on Howard Stern. The station who syndicated Stern in Los Angeles wanted to go to talk and they heard me. I couldn't have been more thrilled. Howard is the one who made me want to do radio. He is the one who turned it into the honest medium that it can be. Getting a chance to do a show in Los Angeles was an unbelievable opportunity and Kenny was icing on the cake. We used to bicker on the air but he's a real sweetheart. We worked on separate shows at a dot com station called Comedy World a couple of years later. Just being around him is fun because he's funny and fiercely smart and opinionated. I got to personally witness him turn into an animal lover with his first dog, Monty.

You guys did a great memorial show on the morning after Jerry Garcia died… Are you a “Dead” fan like your “brother” Mike Lookinland?
I was never into “The Dead”. I'm just not that mellow. Having at one time been an aspiring guitarist, I always appreciated Garcia. But it's like I also think Dwayne Allman was just as good as Jimmy Page but it's Page that I worship and I would never buy an “Allman Brothers” CD. It's a matter of taste not principal. I may not care for “The Dead” but I respect them.

What were some of your favorite bits on the Ober/Olsen radio show?
Well, breaking the OJ verdict to Los Angeles and having Kato Kaelin there was a bizarre day (a lot more bizarre than having a former child star excuse herself because she's nauseous). The media milling around outside the building was weird and poor Kato was getting so much crap from people who would call in. I have home movies of that day.

In 1988, on “A Very Brady Christmas”, you were replaced by Jennifer Runyon… Why didn’t you appear as “Cindy”?
They were being stingy! I'm sorry but at this point Paramount had made a billion dollars off Brady and we make nothing on reruns. I had a honeymoon to go on in Jamaica as well. I decided to take a stand because they were doing this "You're the youngest so we'll pay you the least" thing. I was like, “They've GOT to be kidding" and what I didn't realize was that they didn't need me anyway. They only had to deliver five out of six "kids" in the cast so I was expendable. They only wanted to pay five of us. With that in mind, I was quite happy to go to Jamaica rather than be in the special. The only sad thing was to know that everyone was going to be together and I might not see them. Maureen McCormick arranged a dinner for us all when I got back from Montego Bay. That was nice and I had no regrets about sitting out for one reunion.

What did you think of Jennifer Runyan’s performance?
When I saw "Cindy" seated at the children's table I thought "Better her than me!" I think Jennifer is much prettier than I am so I was OK with her as a replacement. A few years ago we met, just by accident, at a Burger King! We were there with our kids. We hugged. She's totally nice and got out of the business to be a Mom. I think she's great.

You did appear in “The Bradys” (1990), which was supposed to be a serious show… What was it like filming this?
We called it "Brady Something". The critiques called it "Brady Nothing". I had a real problem with the shallowness of it. I was bugged at how Marcia could have a drinking problem but it's all resolved in an hour... Seventeen principal cast members were way too many to keep track of and I really didn't like the direction Cindy was going in. They had her dating her boss who was a widower and she was just being so insensitive about his loss. I guess maybe my problem with doing a serious show is that I'm a little too serious.

In “The Brady Bunch Movie” (1995) directed by Betty Thomas you have a cameo that was deleted... What happened in this cameo?
I barely remember... I played a postal worker. The role hinged on a sub plot involving the “Dittmeyers”. The whole sub plot was very wisely cut out. Betty Thomas called me and said she wanted to shoot something else. I really didn't care. I got paid, LOL. I really enjoyed the movie a whole lot more without me in it. Lookinland was cut too. I did enjoy the experience and I really really liked Betty Thomas!

What did you think of the actress, Olivia Hack, who played you in “The Brady Bunch Movie” (and the sequel)?
It's hard for me to imagine that they couldn't have found someone who looked more like me. Olivia did an excellent job but has brown eyes, she just didn't look quite right but I soon got passed that with her performance. Funny enough, she and I had quite a bit in common. We liked the same movies and had done similar things at the same age. The girl in Barry's TV movie [“Growing up Brady”] was more of a lookalike. Both were sweet and I had to reassure them both that I never lisped on SH words. BOTH came to me to ask because the scripts had the lisps written in phonetically. The writers were wrong, the little girls were right! I LOVED the first movie! The second one stank and there WAS a third one... third... rhymes with...

“The Brady Bunch” episode with Natalie Schaefer where you sang the Shirley Temple song… Were you already a Temple fan or did they have you study her roles for that performance?
I loved Shirley Temple when I was really little... like five. As I said above I felt very stupid playing a 12 year old who wants to be like her. I truly adore her now as a woman who grew up as a true example of how great a former child star can be. This is why you never hear of her. She had a wonderful attitude and far more of an adult career than most people know. I read her memoir and she is just so very classy and smart and forgiving of any misdeed ever done to her, a woman of true grace and dignity. She very willingly put family first and then went on to become a diplomat and Cancer survivor. She ROCKS! I'm definitely a fan of hers NOW.

Does the “Kitty Carryall” doll still exist?
I hear the three originals were stolen but I still have a mass produced one. Remco toys made her.

As you got a bit older and had played “Cindy” for a few years, did you want the producers/writers to have the character “progress” differently?
I was just really scared of how they might have her progress. It was such an awkward time. I just wanted them to give all my lines to Robbie and let me be in the background fixing a bike or something. I could be the “Silent Bob” of the Brady Bunch.

What were some of your favorite bands of the seventies and eighties?
Barry Williams hooked me up with his friend who was a ticket agent and encouraged me to get my first concert tickets: Led Zeppelin at the Forum. Thank you Barry!!! Great seats; rocked my world. The last time they played CA. Robbie and I both liked Queen a lot. I was also a ridiculously devoted fan of Emerson Lake and Palmer. In the 80s I discovered this very young band that turned all my friends on to. I watched them grow up; their name is U2. The boys have done quite well for themselves.

What are some of your favorite bands on the nineties/present?
I have some eclectic tastes. I pretty much love anything that rocks hard and honestly. When we were in CO I had my son with me because we were supposed to see the Stone Temple Pilots at Red Rocks but our flight was cancelled. We got there too late for the show (so I ended up at a bar with Chris Fonseca...oh dear) and I also have this thing for Eastern music. Anything in a harmonic minor scale. I like Gogol Bordello and I like Bhangra music from Punjab. Rachid Taja is cool. He does Rai music which is Algerian punk. I still miss Three Mustaphas Three. Hey I love my buddy's new band: INSERT SHAMELESS PLUG HERE:"Danger Invites Rescue" [www.myspace.com/dangerinvitesrescueroughtrax]

Being famous as “Cindy Brady”, was it tough for you in high school?
Most people got past it right away and accepted me for me and couldn't relate to me being “Cindy” at all. Those who didn't were not people I wanted to hang with anyway. I was very insistent that I go to a public High School and lead a normal life. I always went to public schools except for grades 6&7. I didn't want a sheltered existence.

You took acting in college… Was it hard to shed the “Cindy Brady” persona during this time (or after)?
Only professionally. I would read really well for parts that I wanted, parts where I could play a heroin addict or an axe murderer. But then they would go "We just can't cast HER in that role." I hated the type casting and soon realized that I wasn't really all that fond of acting. I got into art instead.

Being so young on the show, what were some of the memorization techniques involved?
I had lots more brain cells back then. It was never hard. My Mom would just go over the lines with me in bed before I went to sleep. When I woke up, I usually knew my lines and everyone else's.

Who were some of your favorite guest stars that appeared on “The Brady Bunch”?
Hal Smith! He played Santa Claus. What a wonderful character actor and a super nice man. He also played the Cartoon King and I think I worked with him in a Disney Movie. He told me that he was really Santa Claus and I kind of believed him. Of course Davey Jones and Desi Arnez Jr. were a thrill. Imogene Coca was a trip. She was so brilliant yet so very very shy.

During “The Brady Bunch”, you and your “siblings” toured with music… What was it like going from studio work to performing live in front of audiences?
I completely loved it but hoped that we could shed our image and do real rock. I didn't know how unlikely that was.

Do your own children have any favorite episodes?
My son likes the one where Jan is allergic to Tiger.

A few words for each of the following:

Bobby Brady MIKE LOOKINLAND… Best friend.
Greg Brady BARRY WILLIAMS… Total pro.
Peter Brady CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT… Awe shucks kinda guy.
Marcia Brady MAUREEN MCCORMICK… A flower.
Jan Brady EVE PLUMB… Artist.
Mike Brady ROBERT REED… Dad.
Carol Brady FLORENCE HENDERSON… Taught me to be prepared.
Ann Davis ANN B. DAVIS… A classic.
ALLAN MELVIN (“Sam the Butcher”)… Magilla Gorilla.

TIGER… Chip, Rupert and Tiger (the three dogs that played him).

Were there any TV shows or movies during the seventies or eighties that you auditioned for?
"Time Square" starring Tim Curry. I was nearly cast in “General Hospital” as John Stamos's girlfriend but the casting director wanted to go with someone younger so she could grow up on the show. I was 18.

Of the cast of “The Brady Bunch”, who do you keep in contact with the most?
It really varies and goes in waves. Eve and I will have spurts where we keep in touch, then it's Mo and me. Robbie and I keep in touch the best now because we both do Myspace and because Robbie is awesome and I love him and he DID NOT KILL THE BRADY BUNCH!

Any advice to up-and-coming child actors?
Make sure it's what YOU want to do and pursue a back-up career. Even if you succeed there will be lulls where you need to do something else. HAVE something else you can do!!! Also education is always good. It's like push ups for your brain. Be of strong mind! 

Any closing words?
Excuse me: I have to go throw up now. (I think I'm going to do that at the end of everything from now on. It can be my trade mark). Ha!

Interview by James M. Tate


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