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Posted at 10:40 AM ET, 08/31/2006

Catching Up with Robbie Rist

By Liz Kelly

I am a dork. A huge dork. You read the blog, you know this. I am caught up in "Rock Star: Supernova," I wrote a thesis yesterday about "Celebrity Duets" and I admittedly worship a William Shatner video. We all have issues.


Cousin Oliver, circa 1974.

I wasn't aware of how big of a dork I am, though, until I was on the phone with a certain Robbie Rist and spied my reflection in my darkened computer monitor. I was grinning from ear to ear like a corn-syrup-addled six-year-old. That's because Rist is, you guessed it, the guy in the picture to the right here. Cute, wholesome, precocious Cousin Oliver from "The Brady Bunch" and if you, too, were reared by the television in the early- to mid-70s, the Bradys are also a part of your extended family.

So, when I found myself talking to Rist on Tuesday, I knew I was experiencing a landmark moment in my life. One my mother wouldn't get, that my husband would mock, that my colleagues would eye roll, that probably would weird Rist out just a little. I knew you would understand, though.

The fact that Rist only appeared on six episodes of "The Brady Bunch" attests to his lasting impact.

"The most reviled character on television," is how he describes his series-killing run. "I'm one of the poster children for JumpTheShark.com. I've never talked to the guy. Maybe I should and thank him for the career boost."

Brought on board in an attempt to boost ratings, Rist's Oliver was meant to re-engage a younger audience likely growing impatient with the aging Brady brood (Greg was 19, Bobby was sharking people at the pool table) and freaked out by Mr. Brady's new look (perm). Doubtless, network suits thought bringing in the younger, fresher Oliver character would recapture that carefree, irrepressible Brady spirit by this time bleached out of the girls and lost in Greg's psychedelic attic pad.

As history now shows, Oliver's addition to the precarious Brady chemistry was disastrous and he, along with the show, became television history.


Robbie Rist, circa 2006.

Rist has been busy post-Brady, though. He's an accomplished musician (visit Rist on MySpace, where Peter Noone is listed as a friend), voiced Michelangelo in the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movies and even produced an indie horror film ("Stump the Band") now making festival rounds.

Excerpts from the interview -- including how Rist ended up on the Bradys, which castmembers he keeps in touch with, what he did to Bryant Gumbel and how he avoided the sad fate of many other former child stars -- after the jump.

Liz: Do people recognize you on the street?

Robbie Rist: Oh ya, it happens with great frequency. Usually with the cycle that the shows are on -- if those six episodes I was on happen to be on TV that week, I'll avoid the mall.

Liz: How did you end up on the show in the first place?

RR: I was called in to read because they were going to do a spinoff show of the Bradys with Ken Berry called "The Kelly Kids" and they did sort of a pilot tied into the Bradys, but I didn't get that job because Ken Berry had dark hair and I had blabbity-blah.

The network wanted the show to continue. It seems like Lloyd [Schwartz] and Sherwood [Schwartz] were sort of done with it and so they said no let's give it one more year. We'll put a little kid in it and do that little Ricky sort of thing. So, from what I understand, 500 kids read for the thing and I picked it up. So for something that was the length of a summer job, here I am talking about it 30 years later.

Liz: Well, hopefully it was a good experience.

RR: Oh, it was awesome. How many people even get to -- my ride has not been one of making huge cash from it. I got a house out of it and that was sort of cool, but it wasn't a major stardom hit. But I've been involved in a couple of things between that and the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" that have entered the cultural zeitgeist.

Liz: So nobody ever comes up to you upset that you're credited with getting the show cancelled?

RR: Oh ya. Really, I think any sort of celebrity "moment" for want of a better word (and I'm not saying I'm a huge celebrity or anything) -- it's just anybody who's sort of seen anyone on TV, they have always wanted to say something to them and so whenever they get that moment they just play out the things they wanted to say their entire lives. A long time ago I figured that out. It's really their moment. It's not about me at all. I'm fine with that. I'll play along with your moment.

Liz: So you sit back and let them have their say?

RR: I think anyone in the public eye even remotely, you run into all kinds of people. I bet there are ex-presidents who have to go to the grocery store at some point and somebody goes, "Hey man, I didn't vote for you, I didn't like what you did." So, the thing about being in the public eye is that you never know what you're going to get. You don't know who is out there. So you're kind of malleable. However it goes is however it goes.

Liz: So you are talking about this as something you did 30 years ago and I know you've done a lot lately and we'll get to that, but have you been approached to do any of these reality show type stuff with all this celeb-reality stuff out there now?

RR: I did like a "Star Dates." If they're gonna pay me and they're gonna ask me, I'll do it. To me all of this entertainment stuff is just a job. If you want to pay me to put on the monkey suit and throw pooh at the audience, I'll do it.

Liz: So do you still keep in touch with any of your former Brady castmates?

RR: On occasion. Susan Olson and I talk maybe a couple times a year. We talk about her kid and whatever I'm working on. I think the last time I saw Mike Lookinland was at a shooting for the CBS Morning Show. They had all the Brady guys on, so it was Barry [Williams], Chris Knight and myself in New York with Mike on a remote TV screen and oddly, with that episode, I was on the morning Bryant Gumbel quit. Coincidence? I don't know.

Liz: Cousin Oliver strikes again.

RR: I'll take credit for it. What the hell?

Liz: So let's talk a little bit about what you're up to now. I saw your Web site, robbierist.com, but it hasn't been updated in about a year.

RR: Well, mostly I'm doing it all through MySpace now -- as is everybody else.

But, a lot is going on. I just produced a movie. Go to stumptheband.com. There's a trailer up there. The trailer's fine. It's for an R-rated movie, but its okay. It's a low budget horror movie. We're just starting to put it into festivals now. I produced it, did sound -- six guys did everything. I wrote the score, put together the soundtrack. We found bands from all over the United States -- it's about a female rock band -- so largely all female rock bands on the soundtrack. We were in our first festival in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and won for best sound, so apparently I know what I'm doing.

I have a recording studio so I produce a bunch of bands, a bunch of which are between my site on MySpace and another site called the Boathouse, which is my studio, there's a reel up there and there's a bunch of the people I'm working with.

I just got interviewed for Spin magazine. There's an underground sort of powerpop music world out here in Los Angeles and all over the place so they interviewed me because it's a kind of music I've been playing for a while. The Spin thing comes out in November or maybe December.

What else am I doing? God, I make people's voiceover tapes. I have a voiceover job in about five minutes, so I'm still doing that. I consider myself just an entertainment guy at this point so if somebody wants to do a movie and wants me in it, hey, if you're buying I'm in it. I just want to do stuff at this point.

Then I play in a bunch of bands. I play like five instruments. A couple of years ago -- there's a music festival out here that goes on for a couple of weeks. Bands come in from all over the world. It got to a point where everyone knew I played all these instruments and if someone was coming in from like Spain and needed a drummer they'd call me up for it. So for one week-and-a-half period I played with 17 different bands on three different instruments. Twelve [bands] of which I've never played with before. What do you do after that? Set yourself on fire?

Liz: It seems that as child stars go, you're definitely beating the system.

RR: I was lucky in the fact that I had really good parents. I gotta say that in every case of a kid actor screwing up, I can draw a line back to the parents and tell you exactly where they went wrong. I've known kids -- when we were growing up we would all talk about this stuff and some of them I know as adults -- and some of these peoples' parents were like "Right on, go hang out with the crew guys." You don't let your kids hang out with the crew guys, they're animals. I like hanging out with the crew guys now, but not then.

My mom, like, I was on a commercial once for a Christmas thing. We're shooting it in June at this beautiful house in Beverly Hills. So they have the fire going because it's supposed to be a Christmas thing. Well, one of the tech guys had just left the gas on to light the thing up so when he went to light the fire for the shot the entire room went up. One of the actors totally jumps on top of me and protects me. My mom walks into the building and grabs and says, "Goodbye everybody, my kid's going home." The director says it's breach of contract and she says "You almost killed my goddamn kid, so don't talk to me about breach of contract."

So between my mom who spent the time with me doing that, both my parents said if you act up we can make another one just like you. We're not all that attached to you. So whatever, go act like an idiot and then we'll just beat the crap out of you - although they never did. It was more of a threat than anything else.

Liz: Thank you so much.

RR: Thank you.

By Liz Kelly  | August 31, 2006; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  Catching Up With..., Celebrities, Pop Culture, TV  
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Comments

Thank you for this interview, Liz! It made my morning a little brighter. :)

Posted by: born in 1965 | August 31, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

As I recall, Greg's attic bedroom wasn't particulary "psychedelic" as Liz described in her post. His psychedelic room (beads, lava lamps, head band, etc.) was in his dad's den. Isn't that right? He thought he was too cool for square dancing with his "square" family, but when he realized that he was missing out on the fun, he returned to his Brady roots. So long, Groovy Greg in the fringy buckskin vest...

Thanks for the memories! Cousin Oliver rules, and he's not a jinx!

Posted by: Ron | August 31, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Liz:

I just realized who you remind me of - the hit-on receptionist at the Doonesbury Vet Center.

Posted by: Fairfax | August 31, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Nice to see that "Oliver" survived the Brady Bunch. I should mention that he was my personal favorite way back when.

Posted by: Joanne | August 31, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe his parents told him that if he messed up, they'd make another one just like him. What a great line! I guess it did keep him from getting too full of himself - although his mom gave herself away when she dragged him out of the exploding commercial.

Liz, did he say if he had any kids of his own? He seems to have lots of talents and to be enjoying life.

Posted by: Obie | August 31, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Um, Ron, Greg's brief stint in the den was when he started out as a freshman in HS. He moved up to the attic years later.

Liz, LUCKY! The only thing scarier than Oliver's current picture is the excitement I felt when I noticed the link to your article. Hey, can you get that kid that agreed to be Cindy's secret admirer on the horn?

Posted by: Heather | August 31, 2006 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Never heard of him. Never saw that character on the show. Any Brady Bunch pic with him in it???

Posted by: Rich | August 31, 2006 1:44 PM | Report abuse

when my best friend named her baby "oliver", all i could think of was that oliver is the horrible child who killed the brady bunch!!! how could she name her own baby "oliver"???? it did give her pause, but she didn't change the name! oof.

Posted by: wats | August 31, 2006 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I think he made a number of guest appearances on some other shows around that time -- he was the go-to guy if you needed a cute nerdy kid.

He used to look like John Denver, now he looks like Warren Zevon.

Posted by: Cosmo | August 31, 2006 2:24 PM | Report abuse

and it was JAN who didn't want to square dance with her family. she wanted to be an only child in that episode. so all the siblings gave her the silent treatment and wouldn't let her borrow their things. ha! that taught jan a lesson! eventually, she joined the potato sack races.

Posted by: wats | August 31, 2006 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I always hated that kid. He has a face I so badly wanted to punch!

Posted by: Boob Tube | August 31, 2006 3:28 PM | Report abuse

yeah, that was the "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia..." episode, wasn't it?

Yeah, and Yay for Robbie; he should have kids because he'll make a great dad! We need more kids out there ready to take responsibility for themselves out there!


Posted by: also born in 1965 | August 31, 2006 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Hey, whatever became of the actor who played the old blind Cha'an master who gave David Carradine's character the nickname "grasshopper" in the old "Kung Fu" series?

Posted by: Kung-Fu Fan | August 31, 2006 3:57 PM | Report abuse

He didn't just kill the Brady Bunch, he killed the Mary Tyler Moore show too...Ted & Georgette adopted him in the final season. I wonder if he'd be willing to join the cast of Two and a Half Men.

Posted by: Linda | August 31, 2006 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah, and just whatever did become of Vera Lynn, anyway?

Posted by: Kung-Fu Fan | August 31, 2006 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Who would win in a fight between Cousin Oliver and Seven from "Married With Children"?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2006 4:08 PM | Report abuse

It was Oliver who was the "millionth fan" to visit the movie studio on an episode. Oliover wasn't feeling like he was fitting in, but when he won screen tests for the whole family (which ultimately became a piue fight) he realized that had it not been for him, they wouldn't have won.

ANd they all lived happily ever after...

(I can't believe I remember this sh*t!)

Posted by: Glover Park | August 31, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

As I recall, the family was going camping when Greg decided he was going no where with the Johnny Bravo bit.

Posted by: brian | August 31, 2006 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I think my favorite episode of the Brady Bunch was when Alice came back from the grocery store early and unexpectedly found Greg and Marcia... nevermind.

Posted by: jon | August 31, 2006 5:23 PM | Report abuse

The Kung Fu guy was named Key Luke.

And Eve Plumb (Jan Brady) became so hot in the last year - hotter than Marcia - that they should have kept the show going just so I could follow her progress.

Good thing Marie Osmond was just around the corner.

Posted by: Ick | August 31, 2006 7:54 PM | Report abuse

I guess what's really sad is that I remember Robbie Rist in the 1976 TV series, "Big John, Little John," about a forty-something who took a sip from the Fountain of Youth and then kept changing into a 12-year-old kid (Robbie Rist) at inopportune moments. I thought it was brilliant and wish they'd air it on TV Land sometime. Of course, I was only six years old at the time, so what I thought was brilliant, I might now think isn't so brilliant.

Posted by: Geoff | August 31, 2006 11:11 PM | Report abuse

Always ignore your husband's eye rolling lol! And yes I do understand, lol! You should see my face when I get near Barry Williams, lol! :-)

http://suzq.textamerica.com/?r=2344303

Posted by: Suzie | September 1, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Robiie is as real as they come. He is more fun than a barrel of monkees, a great musician, and lord knows, he is tough to keep up with. I'd even say a greater entertainer than Liza.

Posted by: assassin32 AKA John L | September 1, 2006 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Robbie is as real as they come. He is more fun than a barrel of monkees, a great musician, and lord knows, he is tough to keep up with. I'd even say a greater entertainer than Liza.

Posted by: assassin32 AKA John L | September 1, 2006 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I actually met Rist about 6 years ago. He was part of the house band for a VH1 taping of Celebrity Karaoke. He was very cool.

Posted by: Rev | September 1, 2006 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Robbie is awesome. I met him a few times and he is always tons of fun. He is a great musician too! ... can you say, "Next Will Smith."?!?!

Posted by: ATXSpud | September 3, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Rist was the kiss of death to TV shows. He also appeared in "Galactica 1980" as a super-intelligent being and we all know how that show fared. It's nice to see he has a good sense of humor about it all.

Posted by: BSG guy | September 3, 2006 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Robbie Rist is by far one of the most talented human beings on planet Earth. I've been a fan for years. I'd like to know more about the horror film that he produced. When will we get to see it?

Posted by: Vic | September 6, 2006 9:10 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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