Cousin Oliver was just the beginning.
1969 marked the end of a decade of political turmoil, civil unrest, and cultural change, all capped off by the Moon landing, the Vietnam War, and Woodstock. In the year’s wake, the Hippie generation rebelled by embracing music, marijuana, and making love. But on the other end of the cultural spectrum, ’69 also saw the premiere of one of the most wholesome, straightlaced TV shows ever created: The Brady Bunch.
As with many family sitcoms, the child actors playing the half-dozen Brady children — Greg, Marcia, Jan, Peter, Bobby, and Cindy — grew up before viewers’ eyes. But lest the series lose its saccharine schmaltz and family-friendly appeal as the kids became teenagers, the producers opted to bring in fresh faces to keep the show young. The most well-known, of course, is the infamous Cousin Oliver, but he wasn’t the only attempt made by the producers to up the show’s cute quotient.
As we look back fondly on the sitcom 50 years later, here’s a list of every so-called “adorable” kid tacked onto The Brady Bunch.
Carol reveals to the Bradys that her eight-year-old nephew is coming to live with the family as her brother Jack and his wife are going on an archaeological expedition to South America. With the wire-rimmed glasses and bowl-shaped haircut of John Denver and yet none of the appeal, Cousin Oliver was a hamfisted attempt to artificially amp up the adorability factor. Oliver’s antics were utterly reviled by fans and, according to rumors, the rest of the cast as well. His reign of precociousness ended with the cancellation of the series.
Carol’s daughter from her secret second family, Ruthie
Carol reveals to the Bradys that she actually splits her life between the Brady household and her secret second family in Pomona, the Humes. When her other husband, Chester Hume, is called away on an indefinitely-long business trip to Japan, eight-year-old Ruthie Hume comes to stay with the Brady family. Unfortunately, ABC censors didn’t like the idea of two men “putting applesauce on Carol’s pork chops.” Chester’s business trip was “suddenly cut short” and Ruthie returned to her father’s home. The Humes never appeared on the show again, however, eagle-eared superfans know that in later episodes Carol would occasionally remark off-hand that she was “picking up Ruthie from jazz-tap class” and Mike Brady would coyly refer to Carol as “Mrs. Hume” in bedroom scenes.
Mike Brady’s clone, Mike-Two
Mike reveals to the Bradys that before he remarried, he invested in an organ donor clone just in case something should happen to him before the boys were old enough to take care of themselves. But now, with six mouths to feed and a maid to pay, he can’t afford to keep his duplicate at the clone farm up in Oregon anymore. So Mike-Two comes to live with the family, a perfect genetic copy of an eight-year-old Mike in every way, except for the character’s trademark garbled speech and constant vomiting. Cloning technology not being what it is today, Mike-Two’s entire biology begins to deteriorate on a cellular level, as one-in-three clones at the time were prone to do. The family buries Mike-Two in the back of Mike’s crypt in the Brady family mausoleum in a touching Thanksgiving episode.
Cindy’s girlfriend, Marnie
As Susan Olsen, the actress playing Cindy Brady, grew up, it was clear the writers couldn’t keep writing childish stories for her character. But instead of simply turning the youngest Brady girl boy-crazy, Cindy reveals to the Bradys that she’s attracted to girls too, and starts dating Marnie, a free-spirited, eight-year-old feminist who had skipped three grades into Cindy’s class. Marnie jazzed up the Bradys’ dinner table conversations by pressing Carol on whether choosing not to enter the workforce is ethical during the Women’s Liberation Movement and chastising Greg’s chauvinist alter ego Johnny Bravo. But when Cindy finds Marnie’s notebook is filled with poems obsessing over Jan’s bone structure, she calls their relationship off and Marnie enrolls in an all-girls school across town.
Jan’s alien friend, Gizbor
Jan joins a ham radio club in another failed attempt to become popular. But she quickly strikes up a friendship with a voice on the other end of the receiver. When they agree to meet, she’s surprised to find out she’s actually been talking to a tiny green alien named Gizbor. Gizbor reveals to the Bradys that he’s been observing Earth ever since humans landed on the Moon, and has been assigned find a host vessel to impregnate and return with him to his home planet of Karalak. The Bradys all agree this is Jan’s best prospect for a relationship — but behind the scenes, actress Eve Plumb’s lawyers reminded the show’s producers of the penalties for early termination of her contract. In the next episode, Gizbor is taken away in a windowless van by government agents and dissected while Jan watches from the gallery.
Alice’s and Sam’s bastard son, Chuck
When a boy shows up at the front door with a small cardboard suitcase and a T-bone tied around his neck, Alice reveals to the Bradys the reason for her tenuous romance with Sam the Butcher is that he accidentally impregnated her on their first date eight years ago. Alice gave birth to — and ultimately abandoned at a fire station — a son who the ground beef-loving Sam cutely referred to as Chuck. Given only the clue of his steakbone jewelry and a fireman’s description of “a woman dressed like a dental hygenist,” Chuck was able to find his way back to Alice. Sam refuses to meet the boy, a clear telegraphing that Chuck’s arc on the series would be his attempts to reconnect with his father, however series creator Sherwood Schwartz thought the themes of loss, abandonment, and returning home were too similar to his other series, Gilligan’s Island, and thus Chuck was written off the series by being accidentally drafted to Vietnam.
Architect Mike reveals to the Bradys that he once designed songwriter and Smokey and the Bandit actor Paul Williams’ Malibu home, but an unforeseen structural issue caused it to collapse during one of Williams’ particularly raucous “BYO Quaalude” parties. Feeling guilty, Mike invites Paul to live with the family until the insurance money comes through to rebuild. Since Paul and Bobby are about the same clothing size, the two begin sharing everything together and Paul simply becomes “one of the boys,” acting like just another kid inside the Brady household. But for the 38-year-old actor, imitating a child on long shooting days required mountains of cocaine, a cost the show’s production budget couldn’t incur given the high fee for such a celebrity cast member in the first place. With a standard (in the 1970s) “blow or go” contract and no coke waiting in his dressing room, Williams walked away from the series after two episodes.
Bobby’s twin’s ghost, Ricky
Bobby reveals to the Bradys that the cause of his chronic bedwetting is a recurring dream about his dead twin brother Ricky (who perished in the same potato sack racing accident that killed Mike Brady’s first wife). As he’s wringing his pajama bottoms out in the bathroom sink one night, he unwittingly chants Ricky’s name into the mirror three times, causing the perpetually eight-year-old ghost of his twin brother to appear. Ricky reveals to the Bradys that he must have some kind of unfinished business in the material world as he’s been wandering the space between the spiritual and corporeal planes since the accident that killed him. Having a ghost on the series was certainly a thrilling plot-broadening device for the writers, however, for the producers, the translucence special effects to give Ricky his paranormal appearance were a logistical nightmare. Ricky was written out by discovering that his unfinished business was simply to win a potato sack race against Bobby, fair and square. Crossing the finish line, Ricky fades away as does an exciting addition that could have revitalized the show for seasons to come.
Cousin Oliver’s Cousin, Oliver
Despite the poor reception of Cousin Oliver, focus groups revealed to Brady Bunch producers that audiences simply demanded a second, cuter, blonder, more thickly-bespectacled child. An Oliver from the other side of First Oliver’s family tree (on which, it’s explained, Oliver is a very popular and traditional family name) was soon added to the series. Second Oliver was a ratings hit, with his adorable stutter and shrugging catchphrase, “Me no know!” Overcome with jealousy, Robbie Rist, the actor playing First Oliver, secretly poisoned Second Oliver’s specially requested soymilk from craft services a little each day until, one morning, actress Maureen McCormick arrived on set to discover the eight-year-old Second Oliver unconscious and half-buried under the astroturf lawn. Rist was only given a slap on the wrist thanks to Los Angeles County’s “Hollywood Hijinks” statute, which severely limits liability for crimes committed by celebrities for “reasons of ego and intoxication.” Denny Dimple, the actor who played Second Oliver and perhaps the cutest and funniest child ever to appear on television to this day, quit acting completely, changed his name, and was never heard from again (until he later returned to acting under the name Paul Rudd).
Wow! It’s hard to believe The Brady Bunch is 50 years old. With such an enduring legacy, vintage charm, and a controversial cast of slapdash kid actors, it’s sure to stick around in our hearts for 50 more.