TV URBAN LEGEND: Paramount required five of the six Brady kids before they would approve of A Very Brady Christmas.
All this month, I'll feature Christmas-related TV and Movie Legends!
The Brady Bunch was a popular sitcom that ran for five seasons from 1969-1974 about a couple getting married and co-mingling the three kids that they each had from their previous marriages into a, well, you know, bunch. The show was popular enough to last for five seasons, but it really took off when it hit syndication. It, along with Star Trek (and to a lesser extent, The Brady Bunch's sister series, The Partridge Family), was the poster child for shows of its era that become monster hits years after they were off the air.
The Brady Bunch was SO popular that they revived it TWICE in the late 1970s. First for a variety show starring almost the entire cast and then for a sequel series called The Brady Brides, where Marcia and Jan get married and have to live together due to a witch's curse.*
After nearly a decade without any new Brady Bunch material (and the show still being extremely popular in syndication), the original producers of the show convinced Paramount, the company that owned the rights to the Brady Bunch, to do a Christmas special in 1988.
A Very Brady Christmas saw the entire family get together for Christmas...
Including all of the daughters-in-law, sons-in-law and, of course, all those grandchildren (don't forget the Brady's beloved maid, Alice, to boot!)...
However, Cindy (played by Susan Olsen in the original series and the variety show, as seen here with Christopher Knight...
bailed on the movie and was replaced by Jennifer Runyon, who I'm always torn on how I remember her best as - either Gwendolyn Pierce on the first season of Charles in Charge or the wife on the pilot of Quantum Leap...
Despite the fact that Cindy should be, like, 28 at the time of the film, they play it as though she's a college student still.
Anyhow, years later, when interviewed about why she wasn't in the film, Susan Olsen dropped some fascinating behind-the-scenes knowledge about the production of the special...
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.
Amusingly enough, the Christmas Special was SUCH a success that they did a brand-new hour-long series called The Bradys and Olsen DID return for that, but this time Maureen McCormick bailed on the series, leaving them once again with only 5 out of 6 of the Brady kids (similarly, Eve Plumb didn't do the variety special in the 1970s).
Now we know, though, that you only need five of the original kids for the show to count as "The Brady Bunch!" I see no reason to really doubt Olsen's recollection, so I'm going with the legend as...
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Yes, I made up the part about the witch's curse, but I bet you almost kind of sort of believed it!