June 28, 2012 at 8:26 AM ET
When word came Wednesday of the death of Don Grady, who played Robbie Douglas on "My Three Sons," many a now-grown girl felt the sting of losing one of her childhood big-brother crushes.
There was a period in the 1960s-1980s when big brothers were a staple of TV sitcoms in a way they aren't today. Whether you were the youngest of seven or an only child, you only needed to turn on the set to feel a part of a rollicking, loving family, and so many of them had at least one big brother leading the clan.
These were big bros to be proud of. They were always handsome, always polite, and it was easy to imagine them quarterbacking the family in a game of touch football or gently carrying the littlest family member home from a picnic or fireworks show.
Here are a few of our favorite retro TV big brothers.
Robbie Douglas, 'My Three Sons'
We have to start with the late Don Grady. Robbie Douglas was one of the handsomest of the TV brothers, but he wasn't originally the oldest son. In the early days of the show, Mike was the oldest Douglas son, but when actor Tim Considine was written out, the sons shifted. Robbie became the oldest and orphan Ernie was adopted to keep the number of sons at three. Robbie was a great big brother, though, and eventually he married college classmate Katie, who gave birth to triplets -- the next generation of "My Three Sons."
Wally Cleaver, 'Leave It to Beaver'
The oldest big brother on our list -- "Beaver" actually began in the 1950s -- Wally set the gold standard for others to follow. Part of his appeal was that even though he was a heartbreakingly handsome athlete who made the girls swoon, he didn't know it. With his parents, and little brother Beaver, he was a humble goofball, always there for his mischievous little bro and a prime part of the family team.
Keith Partridge, 'The Partridge Family'
Hunky David Cassidy soon grew tired of his clean-cut image as Keith Partridge, lead singer of the Partridge Family and locker-poster heartthrob, even appearing nude (the photo was cropped) on the cover of Rolling Stone. But girls didn't tire of his gentle big-brother image and that irresistible feathered hair. We longed to ride that crazy multi-colored bus with him, and sit in the audience as he crooned "I Think I Love You."
Greg Brady, 'The Brady Bunch'
It was no surprise to 1970s TV watchers that Greg (Barry Williams) and Marcia (Maureen McCormick) snuck some kisses during the filming of "The Brady Bunch." After all, they weren't even biological siblings on the show, let alone in real life, and who could resist the many charms of Greg? Whether he was directing the blended family in a movie about Pilgrims or leading the family singing groups (the Silver Platters and the Brady Six), Greg was the big brother -- and the big crush -- 1970s girls adored.
Richie Cunningham, 'Happy Days'
Lucky Joanie. Red-headed Richie was no Fonzie, no epitome of leather-jacketed cool, but he was the ultimate big brother with a good head on his shoulders. He may not have had the teen idol looks of some of the other big brothers, but there was no denying the appeal of his clean-cut appearance and solid midwestern morals. Joanie loves Chachi, but we loved Richie. (And yes, for purists, there was an EVEN OLDER Cunningham brother -- the rarely seen Chuck.)
Theo Huxtable, 'The Cosby Show'
Big brothers had started to fade off of shows in the 1980s, and Theo Huxtable wasn't even the oldest in his family -- Sondra and Denise came first. But to Vanessa, Rudy, and later little Olivia, Theo was a great big bro. Sure, he was a little more hapless (that Gordon Gartrell shirt!) and a lot less suave than the brothers of decades past, but he was always funny and sweet, and by the time he was working with dyslexic kids as a college student, we loved him all the more.
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