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Video: ‘Cindy Brady’: Variety show was ‘spectacularly bad’

TODAY books
updated 8/31/2009 9:11:39 AM ET 2009-08-31T13:11:39

Susan Olsen, best known as little Cindy on “The Brady Bunch,” along with co-authors Ted Nichelson and Lisa Sutton reveal the disasters behind the set of the programming disaster that was “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.” The following is an excerpt.

It Was the Seventies, Man!
That’s what I find myself saying when it comes to talk of drug use having an influence on the Brady Bunch Variety Hour and the whole decade in general. Certainly in Los Angeles drug use was fairly normal.

I think that saying that you did cocaine in the seventies is no big admission. Drugs had yet to play themselves out. In time people would see all the great talents get literally wasted. Reliability and good work ethics would return to being in vogue, but for a while things were very loose as long as the job got done. While I had yet to really begin my tasting of all the mind altering substances life had to offer, Maureen was obviously having a problem with substances.

Bear in mind that if Maureen had not revealed that she had a drug problem in her own book, I would not be talking about this at all. We Bradys are fiercely protective of each other. There's been a feeling of "Wow, she got away with it, nobody has ‘told on her’ and we certainly won’t.” I’ll admit that I’m glad she told on herself because it would be difficult to tell the story of the Variety Hour without including our trouble with Maureen.

As anyone who has had a family member with a substance problem knows, it’s a tough road that goes from fear and compassion for the person and anger at them. This production had enough difficulties. Never knowing when or even if Maureen would show up for work added a lethal straw to the camel’s back on a few occasions.

While I now understand that hiding behind a fake persona of perfection was a protective measure Maureen took to shield herself from the pain of her real life, the result of this was a personality that seemed less than sincere. There were times when it was difficult to relate to her because it didn’t seem like there was anyone real in there.

Mo often seemed to have her head in the clouds, so making her the brunt of practical jokes was so easy it could not be resisted. If Maureen seemed high on drugs or out of it, so what? She’d been acting since she was thirteen. Those of us who knew her found her phoniness less than becoming. I can’t really say that we saw through Maureen because if we did, we might have seen what was going on inside her. I think the “Let them eat cake” attitude, along with being blessed with an unfair amount of good looks and talent, kept us from really looking.

So when we were all left waiting for hours for her to show up for work, our reaction was less sympathetic than it would have been for somebody else. It just seemed like Maureen getting away with not caring how much she put other people out. She gets away with it because she’s beautiful and talented and popular — Maureen Maureen Maureen! (Sorry, I had to.)

But there came a point where she could not get away with it. Finally Mart Krofft had had enough and he took take a stand. Right in front of all of us, he let Maureen have it with both barrels. He gave her a tongue lashing that was truly scary. Physically, Marty is a presence. He is big and tall and has a booming voice.

When Marty began his rant I think we all were in his corner. I know I was. How dare she? Who does she think she is? You tell her, Marty! But then it was like watching an elephant stomp on a fly. It was frightening. When he was done yelling, I experienced a dichotomy of emotions I will never forget. Maureen looked wounded. Fighting tears, she looked to all of us. She looked at us with these gigantic, sad and beautiful eyes.

Image: Brady Bunch book
I felt awful, I wanted to hug her. I know she wanted to be hugged. I know she wanted us to say “It’s OK, we still love you.” She was looking for that from us but we couldn’t give it to her. Our hands were tied. Marty was right. He had given her what she deserved. To take away the sting of his verbal spanking would have disrespected him. It also would have done Maureen no good.

Still, it was a terrible feeling and I’ll never get that image of her out of my head.

Unfortunately nobody was very savvy about drugs at the time. These were the days of indulgence; the days of interventions being fashionable were yet to come. My friends who visited the set were not strangers to recreational pharmaceuticals (soon, I wouldn’t be either). They took one look at Maureen and said “Oh, she’s all coked up.”

After the Marty smackdown, Maureen always showed up to work. I think she was on time too. However she often seemed high as a kite and sometimes refused to open her dressing room door. Mo was very into health food. This was common back then for drug abusers. I found it funny that these folks would get high but never touch a head of lettuce that had pesticides on it. I assumed this practice was to make up for the damage they were doing to their bodies with drugs. I guess when you do enough coke to send an elephant into cardiac arrest, it might be a good idea to cut out caffeine.

One day we encountered Maureen in the parking lot arriving to work on a happy high. She was hugging my Mom and loving the world and saying how fabulous she felt. She went on about how AMAZING lecithin is and how healthy she feels now that she’s taking it. She floated away and I looked at my Mom and sarcastically said, “Well there you have it, she’s just on lecithin.” Mom said, “She must be smoking it.”

I’m sorry we didn’t know any better. I’m even more sorry that when we reunited for the next Brady reunion (“The Brady Girls Get Married,” which led to “The Brady Brides”) Maureen was not any better; in fact she was worse. It’s easy to feel guilty for not doing anything, but it’s also so rare for doing anything to be of any help. I really doubt that any of us would have had that much influence on her then. All we could do was love her and protect her privacy.

I might also add with amazement that Maureen NEVER looked bad. Just like she never went through an awkward age, she went from being a beautiful baby to being a beautiful woman; she was also a beautiful coke addict. There is an inner glow to her; even drugs couldn’t snuff it out. While I’m happy that Maureen survived substance abuse, I am mostly glad that she is letting down the act and able to be herself. She is comfortable in her own skin and in my eyes, she’s never been prettier.

Republished from “Love to Love You Bradys” by Ted Nichelson, Susan Olsen and Lisa Sutton with permission. Copyright © 2009. Available Sept. 1 from ECW Press.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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