Catching Up with Robbie Rist
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.
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.
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.
| August 31, 2006; 10:40 AM ET
Categories: Catching Up With..., Celebrities, Pop Culture, TV
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