What is there not to love about the Brady Bunch? There’s just something so endearing about the whole thing. From the insipid plots to the dated clothing to the unforgettable theme song. Somehow the squeaky clean clan of Mike and Carol Brady has managed to sink into our collective subconscious and has become the most celebrated TV family in the history of pop culture. However, what is probably most unique about the Brady Bunch is the fact that in many ways they are like the Phoenix of myth. No matter how many times the show was cancelled somehow the Bradys managed to rise out of the flames and live again. From feature films to holiday specials to animated features – the Brady Bunch never say cancellation. Cancellation just isn’t in their vocabulary. This never say die attitude is what keeps the Bradys in our hearts and our minds.
Brady resurrections started in 1977 when the crazy duo of Sid and Marty Kroft had another groovy idea. After members of the Brady cast had appeared on the Kroft produced Donny and Marie Osmond Variety Show, Sid and Marty decided to revive the Brady franchise. The Brady Bunch had ended two years earlier, but Sid and Marty strapped it to a gurney, shot some lightening bolts through it, added music and disco suits and faster than you could scream, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive!” the monstrosity known as The Brady Bunch Variety Hour was born.
However there was one problem. They couldn’t get the entire Brady clan back together again. Eve Plumb, who played neurotic middle sister Jan Brady, had other plans. She had little to no interest in a song and dance variety act. So what were Sid and Marty to do? You couldn’t have the Brady Bunch without Jan. Well there was one thing to do. A new Jan Brady was going to have to be hired. However, they’d do better than Sherwood Schwartz did. They were going to get a better Jan. A prettier Jan. A Jan who could sing and dance and really groove. They were going to get a Jan who would make sure that even if this Variety Hour thing didn’t work out that it could be momentarily saved by a Jan who would blow the whole thing out of the water. And that was what Sid and Marty did. Enter Geri Reischl. Already a veteran of toy commercials and horror films, Geri had sung with Sammy Davis Jr and Rene Simard and even headed up her own country band before Sid and Marty picked her out of over three hundred girls. And picked something special they had.
I first discovered what a force to be reckoned with Geri was earlier this year when researching a Brady themed article that was never finished. While watching clips of Geri singing songs like, You Don’t Have to Be a Star, Hey Mister Melody, Turn the Beat Around, Shake Your Booty, and Your Song via YouTube I discovered a dynamo who was making a show that has gone into pop culture history as one of the worst hours of television ever into something unbelievably special. So I went out to discover just who this Geri Reischl was. I quickly found her via her website, www.fakejan.com, and a few quick emails led to an interview with Geri herself.
My visit with Geri Reischl was possibly one of the most special moments of my pop culture journey. Geri and I took to each other immediately. The conversation was often interrupted by laughter. Geri Reischl is possibly one of the warmest and fun celebrities I’ve ever had the pleasure to talk with. Our conversation went on for hours but was full of stories that featured far more than just the Brady Bunch. Encounters with people like Elvis Presley, Red Skelton, Lon Chaney Jr. and Michael Jackson amazed me. Furthermore, Geri gave me the inside scoop on her involvement with such productions as The Exorcist and The Facts of Life. All this, and the real inside scoop on the Brady Bunch. Geri Reischl is an amazing woman with amazing experiences to tell about. Join me as we hear about her experiences growing up in 1970s’ show business as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PROUDLY PRESENTS
THE REAL LIFE OF FAKE JAN:
A CONVERSATION WITH BRADY BUNCH ALUMNI GERI REISCHL
Robotic-voiced Answering Machine: Hello. We are not available now. Please leave your name and phone number after the beep and we will return your call.
Sam Tweedle: Hi there. My name is Sam Tweedle. I’m calling for Geri.
Geri Reischl (picks up): Hi Sam!
Geri: Yes! Hi!
Sam: Hi! How are you!
Geri: I’m doing good! I’m awake… I think.
Sam: Are you? I hope I haven’t called too early. I mean, it’s four in the afternoon here.
Geri: No. I just had a big party weekend.
Sam: Well look. I want to thank you so much for talking to us today and I know it’s been a long time coming but it’s built a lot of excitement and anticipation.
Geri: Well why not? This is going to be fun!.
Sam: I’ve spent countless hours over the last couple of weeks looking up your career and trying to figure out what you’re all about… um… I hope that’s not freaky or anything like that.
Geri: No. I don’t care. That’s fine. As long as you don’t find the bad stuff.
Sam: I haven’t found any bad stuff yet.
Geri: I haven’t either, thank goodness.
Sam: No skeletons in the closet?
Geri: No. They haven’t come out.
Sam: Well that’s probably why we haven’t seen you all over the tabloids.
Geri: Right. I guess I have to do something and then I’ll have a skeleton.
Sam: So you’ve been busy these last couple of weeks. Have these been charity events or…
Geri: Oh yeah. I did the one in North Carolina for the James Stephens III Scholarship Foundation. That was a lot of fun. I was with Ernest Thomas, Raul Julia Jr., Jackee Harry, Roz Ryan and Reynaldo Rey. I spent the whole weekend in Rawling, North Carolina. Yeah. I’m kind of busy just doing things here and there.
Sam: So do you still do a lot of media events?
Geri: I haven’t for awhile only because I was raising my children and I thought that was more important to be a stay at home Mom and be with my kids instead of running around all the time and saying ‘hi’ in the morning and ‘good night’ at night – but now that they are almost 20 and 23 I am totally free to do all kinds of things and so that’s why you’re starting to see me more.
Sam: Well it seemed for a long time that you were this obscure mystery in the pop culture journey and all of a sudden people are suddenly becoming very aware of who you are, and you are coming back on the map.
Geri: Well yeah. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything though. I thought if I was going to have children that I was going to be at home and raise them and not have somebody doing that job because that was my job and I started acting when I was six and stopped when I was 23 when I got pregnant with my son, and my husband and I decided then that it was more important to stay at home and do that than do the other – and I never regretted it. But now I’m ready to go back out and have fun and do things and I’m a free woman again.
Sam: Was it hard giving that up?
Geri: It was, but I did so much work from age 6 to age 23 that at the time it was one of my chapters in my book and I was ready to go on to the next chapter. I knew I could always go back to where I started from so I just thought it was the right thing to do at the right time and at that time I didn’t miss it that much because I just loved being a mom. It was the ultimate. But I do miss it now and I want to get back into my singing and I love doing charity events and helping people out and doing things like that because I have a big heart and I love to be with a lot of people and you do things like that and it just makes you feel so good.
Sam: So you started at age six. Now was that something you wanted to do or was it the classic story of a Hollywood kid where somebody said, “Hey, you’re cute…” and you were suddenly pushed into it?
Geri: Well it started when my Mom put me in acting classes because she said I was just so outgoing and I had been singing around the house and she could tell I had a good voice I guess.
Sam: You have a fantastic voice!
Geri: Oh, thank you!
Sam: And that is the truth! When I started getting interested in your career I was writing an article which I’ve never finished. I sort of got derailed on it. Anyway, it was on Brady spin-offs and I was looking up clips on The Variety Hour and… well… I don’t know your opinion on The Variety Hour but the universal opinion on The Variety Hour is that it stinks.
Geri: Yes. It’s so sad. [laughs]
Sam: Yeah, but the way I looked at it was that when you appear on the screen… well… the way I wrote it was that if The Variety Hour was a toothache, your performances are like Ambesol, taking away the pain temporarily.
Geri: Well that’s good! I’m glad you didn’t use Preparation H!
Sam: Well that, for me, is what the show had going for it! You’re dynamic!
Geri: Oh, I loved doing the show because I’ve always thought my best talent was singing. I love the acting and I love the dancing but the singing is what I really loved because I had my own band for two and a half years and I sang with Sammy Davis Jr. and I toured with René Simard from Canada and I used to sing at all kinds of country and western clubs. I was always under age so I always had to sit in an office in the back and then when it was time for me to sing I would go out and do my show, then because of the alcohol, I would have to go back in the little office and sit and wait. But it didn’t bother me because I had so much fun doing it and, gosh, I didn’t care if I was singing in front of five people or a thousand people, it was just fun because you just connect with the people and you know they’re enjoying you, and you just get more energy inside you, and you just have more fun doing it. Then you don’t want to stop singing and you don’t want your show to end because you’re having so much fun with them.
Sam: So you started at age six.
Geri: Yes. I started at age six and my mother had put me in acting classes. It was at Melody Land Theatre in Anaheim, California. It was a round stage. It was a really neat venue. So I was cast as Gretel in The Sound of Music but what happened is they hired an actress to play Maria and she had five children and she wanted all five children to play the part of the von Trapps. She had a daughter who was a year older than me and the people who were running the production were sick about it because they wanted me so bad, but this lady, they wanted her, and she wouldn’t do it without her little girl doing it so I became a stand in, even though I learned everything. I had to be there every night. I never got to go on stage. I wanted so bad for that little girl to get the chicken pox but nothing ever happened but I guess it was meant to be because… you know how everything is meant to be… well I was getting a drink at a fountain and this man came up to my Mom and said, “Is this your little girl?” and she said yes and he said, “She’s just the cutest little thing. I would just love to try to get her into show business and TV and get her to do commercials and stuff…” and my Mom was quite wary about anybody like that, you know. But he gave her his business card and my Mom and Dad talked it over and about a week later my Mom called him. We went up to his office and we met him and his Mom was there and in the first week I went out for two commercial interviews and I got them both so that’s how it all started. So I guess I was always supposed to be the understudy and never be on stage. Who knows? He’d never seen me taking a drink a water.
Sam: So when you were doing the commercials, did you enjoy that as a kid? Was it hard work?
Geri: Oh! I loved it! It was just so much fun! I did forty commercials when I was working. Ten of them were for Mattel Toys.
Sam: You sent me the one for The Rock Flowers a week ago.
Geri: Yes. That was my going away present because I was outgrowing their toys and the one doll, Heather, they made in my likeness.
Sam: Did they really!
Geri: Yes they did. She has long blonde hair and they said, “Geri, this is really you here,” and I said, “Oh. That’s so sweet!” but they told me that I was getting too old for their toys. So that was when I was eleven and they said that this was my going away present. It was really fun working with them. But I always had to make sure I never had a broken nail. My cuticles were always perfect. I had lost a tooth and they said, “Oh Geri. We can’t use you in this commercial because you lost a tooth!” Everybody had to be perfect in the commercials so my mom went and had a fake tooth made but it gave me kind of a lisp so they said, “To heck with it. Take it out. We know kids lose their teeth.” So I was one of the first kids in their commercials to do one with a tooth missing.
Sam: So they really loved you.
Geri: Well yeah. That’s the thing. I guess they did.
Sam: I looked up this whole Rock Flowers thing and there is a real cult for that particular set of dolls.
Geri: I had no idea actually. I had no idea that people were holding it. Liking them. Well, you know Casey Kasem did the commercial.
Sam: He did the voiceover. Actually, just the albums themselves are sought out collectables and there was an LP compilation. Yeah there are people out there that just collect those dolls.
Geri: Yeah. Well I have the Heather doll. So that’s cool. Just for a fond memory.
Sam: Now when you found that commercial on YouTube, how long had it been since you’d seen a commercial with you in it? I mean, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing that they keep in circulation.
Geri: Well a friend had actually written to me and she had said, “Geri. Is this you in this commercial? Because it looks just like you…” so I first experienced it when I went to YouTube and clicked the link she had sent me and I said, “Oh my gosh!” So I sent it back to her and I said, “Oh yeah. That’s me. I can’t believe it but it got onto YouTube!” And I’m thinking, who in the world got a copy of it in the first place?
Sam: Exactly! I mean that’s what I think when I see stuff like that.
Geri: Oh yeah! I was amazed! I would never have thought of looking that up! I never look any of my stuff up actually; but I have friends and fans that will see things and then they’ll say, “Oh Geri. Have you seen this, or this?” or, “Do you know your episode of Gunsmoke is going to be on?” You see, I never look to see if I’m going to be on TV or anything but I’ve got great fans that will send me things and say, “Oh look, you’re going to be on TVLand in Gunsmoke next Tuesday!” and I say, “Thank you!”
Sam: So you did the commercials, and then you broke into horror films!
Geri: Oh! I know!
Sam: So, what’s that about?
Geri: Well it was kind of bizarre because I see an article or two that was sent to me where they call me a horror actress. So when I tell people that I’m a horror actress I have to really make sure to accentuate the ‘or’ on the end because, darn it, the other would be so much fun but, okay, I’ll accept that I’m a horror actress. But it was weird because I kind of noticed that and then they will go on to say, “And then she went on to play Jan on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and I had no idea that people were calling me a horror actress, but my two movies are pretty horrifying.
Sam: I just ordered a copy of Brotherhood of Satan but I haven’t gotten it yet. I’m waiting for it.
Geri: It doesn’t hurt for you to go on a little bit longer not watching it.
Sam: I Dismember Mama seems to be quite obscure.
Geri: Yes. I have that on VHS which I had put onto DVD so maybe I can have someone burn it and I’ll send you a copy because I have a lead in that one because it was really titled Poor Albert and Little Annie. I guess they didn’t think that was scary enough or would catch an audience’s eye so they called it I Dismember Mama instead.
Sam: And is it as bad as Brotherhood of Satan?
Geri: Well I think the movie is kind of bad. Most people who have seen Brotherhood of Satan have seen I Dismember Mama because they’re into horror movies so they have seen them both. But I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they love Brotherhood of Satan. It was one of the first movies to come out of that kind, because they made it in ’69 and I’m not sure if they brought it out in ’71, but I was nine years old when I made it. Now it is a bit of a cult classic.
Sam: I’d heard of it but I didn’t realize you were involved in it.
Geri: Right. And Strother Martin stars in it, of all people, strange because he always did westerns. So he’s in the movie playing the devil. He’ll give you creeps, I’ll tell ya. L.Q. Jones… oh I loved L.Q. Jones so much… and the late Alvy Moore. But yeah, it was a real fun movie to make but when we were in New Mexico we filmed by a lake and at the time we didn’t know that it was covered in mosquitoes so later that evening I was just covered in mosquito bites and it was so bad that they had to take me to the hospital. And one time they took me out filming where we were walking out on the road and it was super hot and my eyeballs actually got sunburned so it was so bad. But those were the only two bad things that happened when I was doing the movie so it was great fun. Ahna Capris was also in it, and Charles Bateman and it was just a really fun time during the summer. And then I Dismember Mama… my mom wasn’t going to allow me to do it because there’s, well now these days it would be super tame nudity, but there was nudity in it and, of course, I was twelve when I made it, and my Mom said, “No, you can’t be in a movie like that.” And they wanted me so bad that the director kept calling my Mom and begging her and begging and so my mom said okay and I only got my script – she didn’t want me to have the whole script – so I only got the script with my lines in it. So I didn’t get to see that movie until I was forty years old.
Sam: My god! Really!
Geri: Yeah. And I really wanted to see it so bad because I knew I had done a good job in it. I thought I had. I was proud of my work.
Sam: So why did so many years go by before you got your hands on it?
Geri: Well I didn’t realize the name had changed.
Sam: I see.
Geri: Because when I was flying out to Japan and Korea in ’72 it was out and I noticed it and I guess they had come out with Poor Albert and Little Annie because I had seen it at the airport on something and it was showing in Hawaii but then they changed the name and without computers at that time it was impossible to find stuff. But later, again, somebody told me that it was I Dismember Mama. So then I looked it up and got it when I was forty years old and watched it for my very first time.
Sam: And did you love it?
Geri: I did! I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wow, I did really good!” And of course this was at forty years old then but it was really cool to see my work ’cause that was one that I wanted to see so, so bad. It was really cool.
Sam: Why didn’t you go on to do more horror films? Maybe explore that genre more…
Geri: Oh. Okay. I was… well I know… [sigh] William Friedkin wanted me for The Exorcist. That would have been my next horror movie.
Sam: Wow! That would have been intense.
Geri: Oh, I know. But my Mom. Well I know I had three or four call backs on that one and I think I was on my final call back and a gentleman was walking by that was working at the studio and he said, “Oh, your daughter is so cute. What is she trying out for?” and she said The Exorcist and he said, “Oh no. Can I tell you something?” He goes, “I have teenage daughters at home and I have that book under lock and key. I won’t even let them read it.” He goes, “So maybe you might want to get the book and read it before you have her accept this part.” So my Mom went home and went to the library and read it and then she thought, “No, I just can’t!” At the time I was going to church and I would sing solos sometimes at church and doing a movie like that is so intense.
Sam: Did you ever meet Linda Blair?
Geri: I did meet Linda Blair because I was one of the final three. William Friedkin had called my Mom and told me he wanted me and she had said no, but he had said, “Just let her do this last interview for me. Please. Just think about it.” So my Mom said, “Oh, okay. The final interview isn’t going to hurt.” So my Mom had to sign a waiver or a thing saying that it would be okay for me to be hypnotized. So it was Dawn Lyn – who they said was too young for the part, Linda Blair and myself. So all three of us went into his office and the thing was where they put a dollar bill on the carpet, and they hypnotize you to where they say that no matter how hard you try, you cannot pick that dollar bill up. But I wouldn’t go under. Maybe I was refusing or something but I wouldn’t be hypnotized so I could always pick the dollar up. So, yeah, you would have to be hypnotized to do some of the things in the movie and when my Mom heard that she said, “No, this just is not right.”
Sam: Well I read somewhere that Linda Blair got really messed up doing that movie.
Geri: I heard she had got her back hurt really bad and everything so in the long run, if I had done it maybe my career wouldn’t have gone on the way it did. There is a reason for everything, so I just wasn’t meant to do that. But the part that I did have, and that I was already studying for, and I was learning my lines and everything – I had the part of Blair on The Facts of Life.
Sam: Oh! No way!
Geri: I did. I was cast as Blair on The Facts of Life. I was already practicing with everybody else. We were at a big long table and we had our scripts and the kids from Diff’rent Strokes would come and visit us. But I had also tried out for a cereal commercial, which I had done a series of them, called Crispy Wheat-n-Raisins.
Sam: That’s the Wizard of Oz themed commercials.
Geri: Right. And they had interviewed three to five hundred girls and they wanted me really bad and of course I had accepted because I hadn’t heard of The Facts of Life yet. So I signed a contract to do those for them. So, what happened was that the commercial coincided with The Facts of Life and they came back to me and said, “Oh Geri. We’ve got terrible news!” They said, “We are so, so sorry but you are signed under contract to do these commercials and we just couldn’t work it out with them to allow you to do this too.” So I’m 19 when I’m doing the Crispy Wheat-n-Raisin commercials but I’m only supposed to be 13 but I’ve always looked very young for my age. So they liked that as well because when you’re 18 and up they can work you as long as they want for so many hours without schooling. So I said goodbye to everyone and they all gave me a big hug and I was walking in the parking lot I passed Lisa Whelchel and I didn’t really think of that at the time because I didn’t know who she was. But later I was all, “Oh… okay.” So it wasn’t meant to be and so I did all these commercials for Crispy Wheat-n-Raisins and in the last one that I did… how old was I… twenty two or twenty three. I started when I was nineteen. Well they said I was starting to look a little bit older so I had to put my hair in ponytails. And I guess because I didn’t get to play the part I guess it was meant to be because, look, that show went on for, what, six years? Well it went for quite a while. That means that I had only been married six weeks when I got the part. Who knows what would have happened to the marriage because that’s pretty stressful. So you see everything just falls into place. So see, I probably wouldn’t have the kids I have and maybe I wouldn’t have kids because of working so hard. So everything is meant to be.
Sam: So you don’t regret it.
Geri: I don’t regret it. I just look at it as I wasn’t meant to do that and for some reason I wasn’t supposed to play that part and I was supposed to do those commercials instead.
Sam: But really – would you rather be known as Blair or as Fake Jan?
Geri: Oh. Fake Jan. But everything in my career went the way it was supposed to go so I can’t complain about anything. So I didn’t do The Exorcist – oh well. It’s no biggie. And because I toured with René Simard that helped a lot, even though my singing was pretty good.
Sam: So let me ask you – here in Canada René Simard is a bit of a pop culture icon, although time has faded his popularity in English Canada anyways. Maybe he still has a big fan following in the French populace of Canada…
Geri: Well when I was with him we went to Ottawa, Montreal and Lachine and in ’76 he was like Elvis. I mean so popular! That really helped me because I did that tour in ’76 so in the Fall of ’76, when I tried out for Jan Brady, it helped me a lot because I still remembered my dance steps and the different songs I had done with René. With him I had to sing, and had to cry, and had to dance, and I had to do all that stuff – so those little routines I did for him really helped me out with that.
Sam: Well how did you get involved with him? I mean, geographically it seems really odd.
Geri: Well he was in LA interviewing dancers, singers, everything. I can’t remember who actually sent me out on this interview. Anyways, I remember going out to this dance studio several times and having to learn little routines at the snap of a finger and I guess he was just a year younger than I was and we really blended in together. And I guess they thought we looked really cute together, so they hired me and Vicky Thomas. She was older than both of us. She was maybe… eighteen? Nineteen? But she was the rock singer. I was the country. René had his style, I don’t know what you would call it but it was beautiful, whatever he did. I mean it was amazing. So we had variety in our shows. We toured the different fairs all over the states and in Canada.
Sam: So when you were working with René Simard you did a TV pilot called “René Simard and the ProTeens.”
Sam: Now that’s an awful title.
Geri: Isn’t it?
Sam: Well what was it?
Geri: Well what we would do is we would sing and dance and it was just a bunch of kids hanging around. It was similar to, I guess, “Saved by the Bell” I suppose.
Sam: Kind of like K.I.D.S. Incorporated?
Geri: Right. Right. We were just a bunch of teenagers. Kind of singing and dancing. You know, it’s kind of hard for me to even remember. I have a picture of myself doing it but in the picture I have a rag or something so maybe I was polishing in a scene? But it’s really hard to remember that part but yeah, we did it. It didn’t go anywhere but it was a fun little thing to do but it never really took off.
Sam: So after René Simard you fall into this Jan Brady thing.
Geri: Right. In the fall of ’76, that’s when I tried out for The Brady Bunch, and I think I only had to do three interviews for that but, again, it was like three of four hundred other girls. And I never understood why I had to cry for every audition, but I did, even though I never had to cry on The Variety Hour. But I would always have to sing and I’m so glad it was a variety hour because that was my specialty and that really helped them out a lot. Marty Kroft always told me, “Remember Geri. I’m the one who picked you for this part. Don’t you ever forget it. I picked you.”
Sam: What was working with Sid and Marty Kroft like?
Geri: Oh. They were really really nice. Super guys. They were very, very professional. I don’t know. I really really liked them. They were really nice to me. Everyone accepted me right away.
Sam: Well that was one of my questions. I mean, the media would like everyone to believe that the Brady Bunch, like most casts, are a real tight knit group. Now if that’s true or not remains to be seen but we did an interview with Davy Jones not long ago and he revealed that he’s never hung out with any of the other Monkees outside of having to do a concert or a tour but, for some reason, it seems that the whole Brady thing is a whole different ballgame.
Geri: Well they see each other. I mean, they keep in contact occasionally, like special events they do something together but it’s not like they hang out together. And each of them have their own lives and they do their own things. I mean, I’m best friends with Susan Olsen so we’re doing things all the time, but not all of us keep in contact with each other because look how many years ago that is… but if you need to do something together it’s like you’re all one big family again.
Sam: So when you showed up to replace Eve Plumb they took you in?
Geri: Oh! Yes they did! They were so sweet and so nice and, in fact, Robert Reed told me, “Geri, it seems like you’ve been a part of our family the whole time. Like you started with us at the beginning or something.” And that just made me feel so good, like that this was going to be so cool. Everybody was really nice to me. Mike Lookinland and I became very good friends and Chris was always so sweet to me, and Barry and Maureen and Florence… and Bob Reed was just the biggest sweetheart in the world.
Sam: Now I wanted to ask about Bob Reed. I am a huge Robert Reed fan, mainly because I see him as one of the most tragic figures in pop culture history on this side of George Reeves because he is famous for hating the whole Brady thing and trying to shut down the original show. Now why did his attitude seem to change so much with The Variety Hour because I read that he loved doing it!
Geri: Yeah. He did! It was like a new thing for him and he could just let loose and it was something like he had never done and, no, he was always good on the set! He was always nice and friendly. It was a little bit difficult for him to do some of the dancing and stuff but he just put his all into it. He was just one of the nicest people that I have ever met. He was just so sweet, so kind, so nice. I never saw him negative at any time. Yeah, he was super. Now Susan, Mike and I were always in school together. We had three hours of school a day and Susan and I would kind of get in trouble sometimes because we would ditch and go and hide out and go upstairs to this office where Chevy Chase was playing the piano and we’d hang out with him. So that was a lot of fun and the teacher would come looking for us and we’d have to go back and my Mom would go, “Oh gosh, those girls are in trouble.” Or we’d go to Denny’s everyday for lunch. We’d leave the studio and go to Denny’s or walk to Arby’s or something and go have fun. So they were all really really nice to me. So what happened is I’d gone on the interviews and I was at school. I was a junior in high school and so a note came to one of my teachers who said, “Oh Geri. You have to go to the office right away,” and I thought, “Wait a minute. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m an A/B student. I’m a good kid. I’ve never even ditched school yet.” So I go into the office and my counsellor, Dr. Abrams, he said, “Oh Geri. I have some news for you.” I thought, “Okay…” He goes, “Well I hate to say this but you’re going to be leaving us tomorrow.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Yeah, you got the part of Jan Brady and you start working tomorrow.” I said, “Oh my god!” And I started jumping up and down and I thought I was going to hit the ceiling and he said, “Well Geri, you know I’m going to have to tell your teachers to get all the work ready for you.” Because I’d had to leave to do other things so I knew the drill. He said, “We’ll contact all your teachers and get your school work ready for you and let them know what’s going on.” The very next day I went up to the studio and we met and started learning our dance steps that first day. So it was a lot of fun. It was a lot of dancing and singing and then going and recording the songs and then going back to the dance studio and then going and filming it. I’m glad that it was easy to do because it was one right after the other. Like, “Forget that dance, forget that song. We’re going to something else.”
Sam: And you were working with professional choreographers.
Geri: Yeah. Joe Cassini was our choreographer. He was really cool. Really nice and so it was a great time for me. I had worked before with Susan on a Mattel toy commercial and we had been on interviews before together. She’s a year and a half younger then me.
Sam: So you two already knew each other.
Geri: Yeah. We had already kind of knew each other so it wasn’t just total strangers or anything like that and then Mike and I became friends and I’d go over to his house and we’d go cruising around in his new car.
Sam: Are you still in touch with Mike Lookinland?
Geri: I’ve talked to him a couple of times and I make sure that if Susan is seeing him that I tell her to tell him hi. I know he lives in Utah and has a family but I’m not in touch with him like I am with Susan.
Sam: Now I was just wondering how he’s doing. I know he’s had some troubles in the last couple of years and I’ve always liked Mike Lookinland a lot and I was just wondering if you know if he’s doing alright?
Geri: Oh, from what I’ve heard he’s doing fantastic. He and his wife have two young boys and for what I’ve heard just recently he’s doing fine. Things are a lot better.
Sam: That’s good to hear. I mean, I’m not trying to dig up and dirt or anything. I’m just checking. So well what I want to know is, well, let’s talk a little bit about Eve Plumb. Have you met her?
Geri: No, I have never met her. She never came to the set of The Variety Hour. I would like to meet her someday. I think that would be cool! The two Jan’s finally meeting! But what I’ve heard is that she doesn’t talk about The Brady Bunch too much. Now she has her paintings and she does galleries and showings and she’s really into her art work and I’ve seen some of it and it’s fantastic. She’s a really good artist.
Sam: Why didn’t she do The Variety Hour?
Geri: I think at that time, and this is just what I’ve heard because I haven’t spoken to her, but I’ve heard that she just didn’t want to do anything Brady and that she wanted to branch out and do movies and just get a little bit of separation and didn’t want that to follow her in her career and didn’t want to get typecast. But, you know, that’s going to happen when you’re on a show like that. You’re never going to lose it. I think what she did is she went and did a couple of movies like Dawn, Portrait of a Teenage Runaway but she just wanted to try something new so she wouldn’t be labeled. You know. Some people just like to go and try new things.
Sam: But then she turns around and does The Brady Brides a couple of years later.
Sam: Now I read that they hit the wall with her a few times during negotiations for The Brady Brides and that she wasn’t going to do it but finally they got her. Now at any time were you approached to be Jan on The Brady Brides?
Geri: No I wasn’t.
Sam: Is there any rivalry between the two Jans?
Geri: Well not from me! I love everybody! I mean, I’m just so happy to have played the part and I love being called Fake Jan. I love having my own identity because I would never want to take that away from Eve. I mean she is THE Jan Brady. I was the Fake Jan and I love being the Fake Jan. I think it’s cute, it’s different and it sets me apart. It’s catchy.
Sam: And it makes you notorious.
Geri: I’ve never heard anything bad about Eve Plumb except that she doesn’t like to talk about The Brady Bunch and to me I think that’s really sad.
Sam: Well it is. Look at Barry Williams! He embraces it and it keeps him in the public spotlight.
Geri: Oh my god! He is so cool! I was with him the other night and he was just, “Oh Geri!” And he gave me a big hug and then he was all serious and he said, “Are you still singing?” And I said I hadn’t for a while but I love singing still and he goes, “Well of course. You were raising a family.” And he was so cool and so nice and then his agent wants to talk to me and stuff and I don’t know what’s up with that.
Sam: So let’s leave this whole Brady Bunch thing for a minute. I want to go back to before the Bradys again and talk about Sammy Davis Jr.
Geri: Oh yes.
Sam: Now I am a huge Sammy Davis Jr. fan. When you worked with Sammy Davis – how long did you sing with him?
Geri: Well let’s see. I was with him for a little over a month. That’s with rehearsing and everything and I was what was called a “Sammy Davis kid” and I did it in Lake Tahoe. We performed for two weeks. We’d do two shows nightly and on my website, you know, you can see the pictures.
Sam: So you’d be singing stuff like The People Tree and Candy Man…
Geri: The Candy Man and all that stuff. Well one night… he was a really really nice guy but he also could have a little bit of a temper. He was so great with me. So sweet and so nice and he would come into my dressing room and he would have on just pants and no shirt and he would have fake fangs and he’d come in my dressing room and pretend to bite my neck and chase me around. Well one night when I was performing I got the hiccups on stage and he said, “Okay, do you have the hiccups?” And I said, “Yeah.” I just kept singing. I don’t know. I guess I should have kept my mouth shut but I just kept singing. I’m fourteen years old and I was, “I got to do the show. I got to keep dancing and keep singing.” So he was, “Who has the hiccups?” and I was, “Awww… I got the hiccups. I’m so sorry.” And he said, “That’s okay.” And, oh my gosh, he stopped the show. He makes a big huge deal out of it. He walks me to the front of the stage and thank goodness it wasn’t the opening night because Elvis Presley was in the audience sitting there with his little daughter Lisa Marie, watching us on opening night. Watching us with his sunglasses on and he’s all in white. I was like, “Oh my god.” I was so excited to have Elvis Presley watching me sing. But anyway Sammy Davis asked the people in the table that was right against the stage, “Does anybody have a glass of water so maybe I can help Geri get rid of her hiccups?” So he gets the glass of water and I drink some and he knew my hiccups were going and I knew he knew I was so scared and I felt terrible about getting the hiccups, but after the show… I don’t know how he did it, he must have got someone to do it but I don’t know… I got a big thing of flowers and a big huge lollipop and a stuffed animal and it was like telling me it was okay. It was no big deal. That was great so from that night on he told every show that we did, he told the audience that I got the hiccups. He put that into his show every night that, “Oh, here’s Geri. Isn’t she just the cutest little thing, but guess what she did to me? She got the hiccups!” and made a big deal out of my hiccups every night. Except during one show, I guess, I don’t know how many shows we were doing, I guess he got kind of mad at something one time and he hit the wall really hard and broke his hand. On my website there’s a picture of me with his arm around me, and if you look at his hand closely there’s a cast on his hand. So he had to go to the show and then to the hospital, put a cast on his hand, and then had to do the rest of the show with a cast on his hand. But I never saw his moodiness. I never saw anything. He was just the sweetest, nicest guy to me and funny. I mean, he’d come in and tease, you know, and be goofy and pop out of no where and scare you and he had a great sense of humor and his show was really, really good. Billy Eckstein opened for him. It was cool because when I was there we went across the street to the Sahara and that’s where Michael Jackson – the Jackson Five – were performing so I met Michael Jackson. And well, just during rehearsal, he asked me up on stage and he said, “Hey Geri” and I said, “Yeah…” and he said, “Let’s dance!” So I was dancing with Michael Jackson.
Sam: You danced with Michael Jackson! Wow!
Geri: I couldn’t believe I got to do that! It was amazing! And then Glenn Campbell was closing the night before we were going on and I got to meet him and I was like, “Oh wow! This is just a great experience.” I sat next to Billy Eckstein on the plane going up to Lake Tahoe and it was like, “Oh gosh, this is quite an event!” I mean, for a fourteen year old…
Sam: Through all of this you must have met dozens of legendary people!
Geri: Oh yeah. Through my career… oh definitely. Gosh. I met Lon Chaney Jr. and Charleton Heston and Gregory Peck and Edward G. Robinson.
Sam: Now what was Lon Chaney Jr. like?
Geri: To me, because I was young when I met him, it was a little bit of frightening. A little bit scary. He had his trunk all full of his disguises with all his things in it and I wanted to open that trunk so bad and look in it. No, but he was really cool. Really quiet and being a young kid and seeing him was just a little bit scary to me. But he was nice though. He was one of a kind. Definitely one of a kind. So I’ve met some very big stars. But you know, in the 60s. You know, the stars from then. Like wow! So, yeah, I got to meet quite a few.
Sam: That’s amazing. Who was your favourite?
Geri: Oh my gosh. Ummm… let’s see. Red Skelton. Love the man. He actually opened for René Simard. For our show. The most amazing. It was just a thrill to meet him and he turned it all around and made it as if it was an absolute thrill to meet me and he asked if he could have picture taken with me and I was just in awe. I was just flabbergasted that he would because I wanted to ask him. I mean, look who this is! It’s Red Skelton! But, no, he was so excited to meet me and he wanted his picture taken with me and I will never forget going into his dressing room and talking with him and just laughing. That’s one of my greatest memories – meeting that man.
Sam: That’s just fantastic.
Geri: That’s what I thought. I mean I couldn’t believe that was happening.
Sam: So the 70s happened and you pretty much quit in the 80s because you had your son.
Geri: Yes. I worked until 1983. I quit in ’83.
Sam: Now in your opinion, I know what my opinion is, but in your opinion, why is Fake Jan more notorious than Fake Marcia and Fake Cindy? Because there is a Fake Marcia and Fake Cindy. Why is Fake Jan the favourite?
Geri: I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I played it longer than the others. I mean, I don’t know how long they played their parts, but I think maybe because I was the first replacement of a Brady. Nobody else had ever played a Brady. They were always together. The six of them. And I was the first one to ever replace a character so maybe that’s the reason. I don’t know. I mean I’ve always been kind and gracious to my fans.
Sam: Well that is for sure. I’ve learned that first hand.
Geri: And I think maybe also because they did a spoof of me on The Simpsons.
Sam: That’s my opinion and I wanted to ask you about that.
Geri: And I’ll tell you something. I never think of anything like this happening. I mean, I played the part. I never really think of it in depth.
Sam: Well let me tell you something. When The Simpsons spoof you, you’ve hit it.
Geri: Yeah! And I’m on the poster of all the characters! I think I’m on the top row on the right.
Sam: Now the musical director on The Simpsons was the music director on The Variety Hour.
Sam: Did you know you were going to be spoofed on The Simpsons or was that one of those things that just shocked you.
Geri: It was a shocker. I later found out about it, and I didn’t even know about Tiny Toons… the cartoon when they did a midseason replacement and they called her Fake Jan.
Sam: Oh! I didn’t know that.
Geri: Yeah. So it was a midseason replacement and that was me and they do some things and I find out after the fact most of the times. But The Simpsons thing was really, really cool. And then there is a band in Illinois called Fake Jan, so I thought that was cool too. Who actually called me Fake Jan first was Nickelodeon – Nick at Nite in the 90s when they were showing “The Variety Hour” and they would say, “The all new Fake Jan – Geri Reischl” so they started calling me the Fake Jan and it just stuck. So that’s pretty cool. I like having my little own identity so I don’t take anybody else’s away.
Sam: Now I need to ask you something honestly. Now I’m not saying The Brady Bunch Variety Hour isn’t fun… I mean I’ve seen two episodes of it now and enjoyed every minute of it, but I also love Ed Wood films. Now what do you think went wrong when it came to The Variety Hour? I mean, something went wrong. TV Guide puts it in the top ten worst television programs of all time!
Geri: Yeah. I think we were number four. I’ll have to look that up again, but I was proud.
Sam: Now were you above or below Hello Larry?
Geri: Now number one was Jerry Springer. At least we didn’t get number one. But number four… I thought that was funny as heck because we even got on the cover of that TV Guide and then on the inside they have us girls in trashcans. I mean c’mon!
Sam: Now that’s not fair to you. I’ve heard Maureen McCormick sing, Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma and maybe that’s fair to her, but that’s not fair to you.
Geri: I know. But I look at all of this and I laugh and I just think its funny. I just see it as, good or bad, the show is still getting publicity. You know what I mean? And I don’t think there’s anything about it that is that bad, but they still are talking about it! Look how many years ago that was, and they are still talking about it! I don’t know if it had something to do with the writing. I mean, it was kind of corny. Kind of funny but at that time variety shows were in. Look when we would be on Nick at Nite, afterwards it would be Sonny and Cher and The Captain and Tennille and then Donny and Marie.
Sam: Even Starland Vocal Band had their own show.
Sam: Starland Vocal Band. The one hit wonder that did Afternoon Delight. Tony Orlando and Dawn.
Geri: I watched that!
Sam: My earliest memories are watching Sha Na Na with my dad and mom.
Geri: Oh my gosh! I love that! That’s great! I don’t know. I don’t know if the audience were ready to accept Bradys singing and dancing and maybe it was just too close to the other series and they were just so used to it so this was a real shock. Maybe we didn’t have a good time slot. I mean, all of those things factor in.
Sam: I love the camp factor. I love the costumes. Some of those disco suits are just a scream. Barry Williams dancing. That’s always funny to watch.
Geri: Yes! It’s great, isn’t it?
Sam: Yeah. Someday I might just write an entire article about Barry Williams dancing because it’s some of the most flamboyant dancing I’ve ever seen. Now was he choreographed, or was that actually Barry?
Geri: No, it was done by Joe Cassini and that was what he was given to do and he did it the best he could. Now he is a great singer!
Sam: Oh, Barry Williams can sure sing!
Geri: I loved singing with him. We did a version of Shining Star…
Sam: Yeah! That’s amazing! Oh, and in the music medley, when you do Hey Mister Melody, you really, really groove! And wow! One of the worst things that I’ve ever seen on television in my life, not the very worst, but one of them, is the Bradys doing Do the Hustle and Shake Your Booty. That right there has the potential to be, well not the potential… it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen but, man, somehow you made it sound good! You had the solo and the moment you start singing it suddenly goes from crap to really amazing! It’s almost as if your singing had the ability to perform pop culture miracles!
Geri: But do you notice on that clip our mouths don’t match?
Sam: No I don’t.
Geri: Well now that I’ve told you that, watch it again and you will see that when we say Do the Hustle our mouths don’t match. Of course my solo does, but I don’t know if it was the dubbing or whatever, but something happened. It doesn’t match and we just laugh… They always left all sorts of bloopers like that in… And I’m famous for my dying lines. “I could just D-I-E, die! Oh why couldn’t I just be dead!” That was, of course, the beginning of the show. Later on I guess I decided I wanted to live. You’ll notice the ribbon in my hair, with the poodle skirt, it keeps working down my ponytail and then it just eventually falls out. You’ll also see Barry skating and you’ll see him actually fall. Another one is we are walking away with our knees together, us kids, and Susan is behind me and I’m walking around the couch and I trip over the pull out rug but miraculously I pop up like that. There’s just so many things.
Sam: The only one I noticed is, again, during the, Do the Hustle number is that Bob Reed can’t keep up and completely loses it at the end – he’s no longer even trying to dance along.
Geri: There’s just so many. I mean, there is one where it’s at the beginning and we’re dancing around at the pool on those platforms. Well you’ll see one where all of our hands go up and you’ll see Chris and he goes down, and all of a sudden his arms go up and you just barely see a chuckle laugh on his face because he goes, “Ummm…darn it.” But you’ll see a lot of bloopers that maybe somebody else doesn’t notice but we do and we have just the biggest laugh when we watch them.
Sam: Well in Barry’s book he writes a Brady episode guide where he points out all the on-screen bloopers of the original series.
Geri: I’m trying to think. That was the book where they were looking for me and a lot of people were saying to me, “Oh my gosh. It’s like you fell off the face of the planet…” This one person wrote to me and told me that they were about to check if there was a death certificate on me because they didn’t know where I had gone. And a couple of weeks ago I called a big fan of mine in New Jersey for his fortieth birthday. He was having a big surprise party and his friends had set it up and he was just so thankful that I had a website because he said that he probably wouldn’t have ever found me again. He would have never known what I had been doing in my life or what was going on and he thanked me for that. But I didn’t start my website. A gentlemen did and I contributed to it and we’ve become really, really good friends now. I didn’t even know I had a website until somebody let me know that it had been started up on me. It started out as, “Where’s Fake Jan? Does anybody know where Fake Jan is?” Yeah. So nobody knew where I was.
Sam: So were you surprised, when you finally came out of the woodwork, about the reaction that you got?
Geri: Actually I was. I was like, “Wow!” Because I hadn’t thought of it after I finished being the Fake Jan. But I was really surprised when the website started because, oh my gosh, because I would have five hundred emails in no time! I still have them everyday and it’s going to be thirty years later, well next year officially. It started in 1977. Well it’s been thirty years and people still write to me and nobody has ever been negative, which is really sweet. But then, I have a lot of younger people who write me. A lot of younger people who are in their mid-thirties to forties and then some of them who are a lot younger because they have got the DVD of the Brady Hour. So people are still remembering it to this day because I guess it just stands out.
Sam: Well Geri, I’m glad that you do have that website because if you didn’t then I would have never found you! I mean, I think it’s just such an honour to be talking to you about all of this!
Geri: Oh! Very cool! Well it’s been such an honour talking to you because this has been so much fun, you know? You know what I mean? It’s been great!
Sam: Well it’s people like you that have the real stories to tell. That’s the way I look at it. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, and I hope that you’ll stay in touch still. I love getting the occasional email from you.
Geri: Oh don’t worry. This isn’t the last you ever hear from me.
Sam: I’ll be looking forward to it.
And so ended my visit with Geri Reischl. You know what the most amazing thing about that interview was? It wasn’t just me doing an interview with a celebrity. That afternoon it was like I felt that I sealed a friendship, which is more special than anything else I can even think of.
WANT TO KNOW WHY I LOVE “FAKE JAN” SO MUCH? DISCOVER GERI REISCHL’S CAREER VIA YOUTUBE!
Fake Jan: The Movie - A fan-made film featuring Geri’s finest moments on the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Completely classic.
Geri’s “Rock Flowers” doll commercial for Mattel Toys – Featuring Casey Kasem as the voice announcer. The Heather doll was based on Geri herself.
Geri and the Sand Dabs perform on the short lived family drama “Apple’s Way”
Geri as Jan Brady singing Elton John’s “Your Song” – One of the rare good moments on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Elton John didn’t even realize how good this song could be!
The Brady Bunch sing Do the Hustle and Shake Your Booty – One of the campiest moments in television history is saved only by Geri’s solo. Man – dig those space-aged disco suits. Kind of an Ace Frehley meets Battlestar Galactica thing. Man the 70′s could be weird.
Geri and Barry “Greg” Williams sing “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” – Geri really grooves.
The Brady Kids do “Turn the Beat Around” – Eat Your Heart out Vicki Sue Robinson. Dig the wigs on the Water Follies. YIKES! Also features Rick Dees on Disco Duck and…the What’s Happening Kids? WOW!
Geri as a guest on Pop Goes the Country
And now I hope you get why Fake Jan has become my all time favorite Brady. Perhaps now she’s your all time favorite Brady too!