Friday, June 29, 2012

The Susan Olsen Experience

Susan Olsen today
(Used with permission)
Susan Olsen is a very complex person, at least from my standpoint. As a child actress, she played Cindy Brady on the Brady Bunch, so I thought writing an article on her would be an easy task. You know, ask a few questions, gather her answers, and write an easy article based on life as a child actress.

Easy speezy.

But I quickly found out that there's a bit more to Susan Olsen than her playing the part of a childhood icon.

She serves on the Board of Directors for Precious Paws Animal Rescue in Glendale, California. They are a non-profit dog and cat rescue organization that provides hope for companion animals which have been abandoned and/or abused. Ultimately their mission is to provide care and love for these animals and eventually provide them a safe and loving home. It's a daunting process which requires alot of time, patience, and even at times, heartbreak.

Times are pretty tough, especially in California where the economy borders on bankruptcy. People are being displaced from their jobs and homes, and more often than not the family pet suffers collateral damage. Desperate times call for desperate measures and animal shelters are filling up fast. In a financially strapped society, the family pet is often the first sacrifice a family makes in an attempt to regain a stronghold on it's economic situation.

An example of Susan's artwork that she sells to raise
proceeds for Precious Paws Animal Rescue
Susan Olsen is 100 percent committed to making a difference. She personally fosters animals in her home, taking in adolescent pets and weaning them in preparation to be adopted to loving and caring families. She is also an artist who paints vibrant pictures of domestic animals in order to raise proceeds for her organization. She is literally doing all that she can.

From her website:

Every rescue has their own qualities that make them unique and so worthy of a safe place to live and be loved. Every rescue has a story. It is my hope that I capture some of their beautiful spirits in my art.

Susan is also the creator of another line of artwork which she calls "Fluffart." In written word it's hard to explain. She takes an iconic image, recreates it a bit, and injects a jar of Marshmallow Fluff as the artwork's centerpiece.

Yep, I said Marshmallow Fluff.

For example, in this one she recreated Nirvana's Nevermind album cover.

"Fluff in Nirvana"

This is "a parody of one of my favorite albums," she said. "After doing this I became friends with Kurt Cobain’s sister and was rather surprised (happily) that the two of them watched ‘The Brady Bunch’ regularly while growing up.”

It's amusing to me that she is surprised that Curt Cobain and his sister watched the Brady Bunch. In the '70s and even the '80s, every kid in America watched the Brady Bunch. It was as much a part of  childhood as was bedtime and Christmas morning. Even today, my daughter asks to watch the Brady Bunch dvds that we have in our collection. She is 12, and a long ways removed from the lifestyles and simple ways of life in the '70s. The Brady Bunch is a timeless American institution that will forever be recognized as magical example of what can occur when television producers get it right.

Another iconic piece that Susan recreated is the Sgt. Pepper album. The original was a tribute to people that the Beatles deemed influential and worthy of admiration, including Bob Dylan, Lenny Bruce, (original Beatles member) Stuart Sutcliffe, Aldous Huxley, Marlene Dietrich, and Carl Jung to name a few. In Susan Olsen's version, she uses the same concept.

“This parody of the legendary Beatles Album ‘Sgt. Pepper’ contains a crowd of various mascots with online social network profile pictures of some of my friends." she explains. "Among the recognizable faces are: Charles Phoenix, Robbie Rist, Elayne Boosler, Zach Galifianakis, Geri Reischl, Erin Murphy, Gabriel Iglesias and Allee Willis.”

"Sgt. Fluffer"

The image also depicts fictional characters such as the Jolly Green Giant, Little Debby, and of course jars of Fluff.

I contacted one of the people depicted - Robbie Rist (played cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch, now a musician) - to gather his thoughts.

"Susan is the personification of the term 'bad ass'." He said. "Everything she does, she does well and does it the way she thinks it should be done."

He paused, then added, "And she is wicked funny."

I might add that she is wickedly talented. Look for her to be on the Today Show airing on July 5th.


Whatever happened to the Brady kids' other parents... The boys' real mother, and the girls' real father? Was that ever addressed?

It's been addressed in books but not in the show. The boys' mother was supposed to have died. But Carol was to be the first divorced woman on TV. That was always Sherwood's intention but the network would not allow it. So no mention was ever made of what became of the girls' father. The Schwwartzes had toyed with the idea of having Mr. Brady legally adopt the girls and their Dad showing up to contest that.. They sort of played that out in the sequel movie.

Could you please describe the process from when you auditioned for the part of Cindy Brady up until you were awarded the part?

It was three days after my 7th birthday. My family were in Las Vegas vacationing. We came home early so I could go on this audition. It was important to me because it was for a regular role in a series - something I really wanted, a steady job. Oddly enough they never had us act. The producers just talked to us. They wanted to find interesting kids. I never read a script until I had the part. As I said, I wanted a series and there seemed to be three opportunities converging. It looked like I may be cast as "Prudence" in "Nanny and the Professor" and two episodes of Gunsmoke that I had done looked like I might be added in as a regular character. My Grandmother asked me which one she should pray for me to get and I told her "The Brady Brood " (The word "bunch" came later) because I would have five other kids on the set to play with. That was my first pick and I got it.

As a child actor, were you aware that you were famous, or did it all seem just to be a normal part of your childhood?

It was very weird for me and something I dreaded. I was afraid that I would get recognized and have my private life get weird. I had seen the Beatles and the Monkees having to run from girls chasing them. I worried about what fans did if they caught up to you. Fame has always been something that only separated me from humanity. It often separated me from my peers but not as much as you would think. Most of us Brady kids were very insistent on staying in public school and continuing to have normal lives as much as we could. I have never been real keen on fame, if it was accompanied by fortune I might feel differently.

As one of the youngest members of the Brady Bunch cast, what were some of the obstacles that you had to overcome that maybe some of the orther cast members didn't?

I think for the most part it was easier for Mike and I as the youngest. Young children have a wisdom that goes out the window when you hit puberty. I would think the fame aspect of my experience would have been much harder to deal with as a teenager who is on unstable ground with self identity. I think Mike and I were more able to look at the industry and see a lot of the experience as silly. One difficulty was that I was physically small enough that I could easily be picked up and possibly kidnapped.

Susan Olsen as you most likely remember her.
(From the Brady Bunch Blog.)
Do you have a favorite episode of The Brady Bunch?

I like the one where Peter and Greg go on a double date and Peter's such a dork, he eats his fake mustache off. I think Chris and Barry were genuinely funny in that one and the script was good. The favorites to actually make were the Hawaii episodes for obvious reasons.

With a bunch of kids on the set of The Brady Bunch, I can only guess that shenanigans ensued from time to time. Could you tell me about a couple of times when things got out of hand?

Paramount was a big spooky run down place when we started. (This was before we made them a billion dollars) It was gloriously creepy and since kids were not plentiful, there were few safety precautions. There was an old Commissary (cafeteria) that had been closed down and it wasn't locked. We would go in there and explore. One day we were playing a game of trust where we were locking each other in the meat lockers. I don't know if she instantly panicked or if we maybe sort of forgot about her, but Florence's daughter, Barbara, became very upset and was crying. We brought her back to our set and Florence was not pleased nor were our biological mothers. We were forbidden from playing there any more.

You have become a recognized creative artist... Could you tell me about that?

I've always done art, it was the first thing I knew I could do a little bit better than other people. We all did a lot of creative projects during the Summer months when we had down time on the set. As an adult I thought I had escaped the fickle world of entertainment by becoming a graphic artist. But entertainment opportunities kept coming up and they took me from that more sensible career. Being in entertainment allowed me to pay the mortgage and be at home with my son. As a single mother I was very fortunate to have been able to do that. The desire to make art never left me and I found myself messing around on the computer. I would get an idea and then set out to teach myself how to do it. The Fluffart started as a joke between friends and grew into a shared obsession. The animal art I am now doing is created to help generate funds for Precious Paws. I am on the board of directors for Precious Paws, an animal rescue group that focuses primarily on cats. I became involved in foster parenting through my local animals shelters. I was trained to care for unweaned puppies and kittens in their bottle baby program. The number of homeless kittens dwarfed the number of puppies. Cats are really in crisis. Four years ago, Chris Knight (Peter Brady) introduced me to his friend, Georgyne Lalone who founded Precious Paws. I have been working with them ever since. A percentage of the sales of these prints goes to Precious Paws.

Disclaimer: Images are Copyright Susan Olsen, and may soley be used only in conjuction with your requested interview with Susan Olsen and may not be distributed for any other use or to any third party.


Pertinent Links:

Susan Olsen Official

Susan Olsen's Animal Art

Susan Olsen's Fuffart

Susan Olsen Twitter

Precious Paws



CVEckian said...

Pretty neat. She was one of the best on that show by far and has maintained her cuteness to this day. I have visited all of her links and I definitely plan on picking up a couple of her graphic pieces to give to my cat-lovin' sis.

Another great interview, Troy!

Gary Roden said...

Starting during the Second Season of The Brady Bunch through the rest of the series run, did Susan Olsen wear a wig, or was that her own, real hair?