As you probably figured out, I watch a lot of television. I love television. I've been watching television since I was first able to switch on that big, black & white number my parents bought to babysit me (I assume). Saturday mornings were filled with the cartoon antics of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Underdog... as well as some forgotten favorites like Milton the Monster and Fearless Fly. During the week, I watched sitcoms, most of which I didn't understand. Sure the humor was broad, bordering on slapstick, but they were geared towards adults. The offerings on Friday nights on ABC, however, were made for a kid.
The line-up kicked off at 8 o'clock with The Brady Bunch, followed by The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple and This Is Tom Jones, which was replaced by Love, American Style after the Welsh singer's swiveling hips fell out of favor with middle-age American moms (my mom included).
I was nuts about The Brady Bunch. Watching their unrealistic adventures was fascinating to me. The show presented a household that was like nothing I had ever seen, despite the fact that my brother bore a slight resemblance to eldest brother Greg. I enjoyed watching the kids interact. I liked the fact that Mom and Dad never really lost their tempers. It was simple and silly and I ate it up. Of course, as the kids got older, I got older. And like every other prepubescent boy I knew, I stared dreamy-eyed at Marcia Brady. She was beautiful. I especially liked the "Marcia-centric" episodes of The Brady Bunch — even the painful "Oh! My nose!" episode, because the ending tied everything up in a pretty Brady Bunch bow. Somewhere around Season Four, perennially troubled middle child Jan blossomed into a beauty, becoming a formidable rival to Marcia for my imaginary affections.
The final season of The Brady Bunch kicked off strong with the iconic "Adios Johnny Bravo!" episode featuring the Brady kids final performance on the show as a singing group. January brought the back-door pilot "Kelly's Kids," a "show-within-a-show" and a possible vehicle for Ken Berry, coming on the heels of the cancellation of Mayberry R.F.D. Just three episodes later would come the beginning of the end for The Brady Bunch. Season Five Episode 17 was entitled "Welcome Aboard," and introduced one of the most innocent, yet notorious, characters in television history — Cousin Oliver. Played by 10-year-old veteran actor Robbie Rist (he already had two network television appearances under his belt when he was cast as Carol Brady's nephew), "Cousin Oliver" was an unwelcome addition to the Brady household. First maligned as a jinx, attitudes were quickly changed when the family was awarded the grand prize (while on a tour of a movie studio), because they had an extra person in their group. It was obvious that the pint-sized character was introduced because the two youngest Bradys had outgrown their cuteness, despite attempts to keep 13-year-old, puberty-sprouting Susan Olsen (as Cindy) in youth-evoking pigtails. For the next five episodes, Cousin Oliver delivered punchlines or offered reaction shots that were previously reserved for Bobby. The series wrapped up unceremoniously and the Bradys (with the exception of Florence Henderson) were relegated to "typecast hell."
I grew up. Got married. Had a child. And I still watched a lot of television.
Just a few years ago, I became very active on social media, specifically Twitter. I tweeted about everything — music, current events, movies, even "off limits" topics like politics and religion. And, yes, even television. One of my tweets caught the eye of a one-time child actor living in California. I don't even think it was about television, but he responded. And I responded. And then we "followed" each other. And a bond was formed. It was Robbie Rist.... after all these years. We corresponded regularly on Twitter, soon discovering that we had a lot more in common that me being a fan of a show he was on forty years ago. We had similar tastes in music with affinities towards bubble gum pop, glam rock and throwback kitsch. I had albums by a couple of the dozens of bands with whom he was affiliated. (A DJ friend of mine once assessed that Robbie — at one time or another — was a member of every indie band in Los Angeles.) Although Robbie would disappear from Twitter for long stretches of time, he would reappear and our correspondence would pick up where it left off, without missing a beat. After a while, I stopped seeing him as just "that kid who played 'Cousin Oliver'."
Over the past twenty five years, I have attended more than my fair share of fan conventions. I used to collect autographed photos until I abandoned all forms of collecting. My wife and I sold off our 30+ year collection of Disney memorabilia and other mementos we had accumulated, in an effort to streamline our possessions as we approach the twilight years of our lives. Our basement walls are covered with framed evidence of a quarter century of meeting and greeting celebrities of varying levels of fame. Most were pleasant encounters with a few cringe-worthy tête-à-têtes in-between. This past September, I saw that the annual RetroCon, held in nearby Oaks, Pennsylvania, would welcome, as one of its guests, the celebrated Robbie Rist. Mrs. Pincus, who had grown weary of the autograph portions of collector shows, agreed to accompany me — as I already insisted that we go. I suggested that perhaps she could wheel and deal for some merchandise to sell in her eBay store and she was on-board.
We arrived at the massive convention center, situated just outside of Philadelphia, smack in the middle of nowhere, but visible from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Let me remind you that Robbie has never met me and never spoken to me. I, of course, like a host of other late period Baby Boomers, watched Robbie grow up, so I clearly have him at an advantage. We waded through the vendor tables, with the promise of perusing them closely on our way out. We made our way to the area where the invited celebrity guests had set up to meet fans and sell autographs. Sitting between Felix Silla (the original 'Cousin Itt' from the Addams Family television series) and a guy I never heard of was Robbie. He was a little older and a little grayer than depicted in some of his promo photos that decorated his table. But, then again, so was I. Robbie was putting the finishing touches on a signature for a young man in front of me. They were ending their conversation about Robbie's vocal contribution to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film franchise (He voices Michelangelo). I waited patiently. Robbie asked his young fan if he'd like to sign up for his mailing list and he presented a clipboard obligingly. I still waited patently.
Finally, it was my turn.
Robbie smiled and greeted me with a friendly "Hello." I picked up the clipboard and said to him, "I don't wanna sign up for your fucking mailing list."
|Robbie by JPiC
Robbie is a good guy. Mrs. Robbie is a good guy, too. (Oh, you know what I mean!) We have remained in touch via various other social media outlets besides Twitter... with which Robbie has had a contentious relationship. It's just still a little weird because I used to watch him on TV when I was a kid.
And now he's my friend.