When ABC revived The Brady Bunch as a song-and-dance variety show in fall 1976, one cast member famously sat out: Eve “Jan” Plumb (surprise!). Producers scrambled to find a replacement and whipped up the lovely, musically talented and, at first glance, eerily Eve-esque Geri Reischl. A winsome country singer and child actor whose resumé includes the cult films I Dismember Mama and The Brotherhood of Satan, Reischl proved endearing to fans and Bradys alike. Three decades later, “Fake Jan” remains one of TV’s most memorable phonies, and Reischl endures as a genuine cult phenomenon. This faux Plumb has been spoofed on The Simpsons, inspired a band and even launched her own cheeseball-laden holiday: “Fake Jan Day,” celebrated, fittingly, on Jan. 2. Eat your heart out, Marcia Marcia Marcia. (Uh-oh. I think Mar. 3 just became a holiday, too.)
Jan Brady has gone down in TV history as the quintessential conflicted middle child and tragicomically insecure younger sister of the beautiful, talented, popular Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. As Fake Jan, you gave the girl some spunk. How did you perceive the character as portrayed by Eve Plumb, and how did you approach the “grown up/Fake Jan” as presented in the bizarre Variety Hour format?
Geri: I always knew that Jan being the middle child would have some issues so I knew I would have to approach this part differently then how I lived my own personal life. Jan would have to be somewhat annoying, always bummed out about something but she would also need to be a strong individual at the same time. I needed to find a fine balance between the two. I had to be on top of my game since I was replacing such a well known tv character. I wanted to be accepted by the audience and fans so I knew I needed to come across as likable.
Ironically, you were the Brady sister with the true singing talent in real life. Were you aware going in that you’d be carrying the Brady girls musically? Also, did your musical background help or hurt your “outsider” or “new kid on the block” status with the Brady cast?
Geri: I had no idea I would be carrying the Brady girls. I didn’t really think about that. I just went into this knowing I would be doing what I loved to do more than anything and that was singing and dancing. I knew it would be right up my alley. I never thought of it as work either. I guess it would be like a kid going to Disneyland knowing you were going to have the best time of your life. I really think my musical background helped. The whole cast knew this was a variety show. I believe my singing and dancing abilities were greatly appreciated by the other cast members.
From country music to I Dismember Mama, you certainly had a varied background in TV, film and stage. What were your professional goals heading into The Brady Variety Hour, and how did the series influence your career path?
Geri: My professional goals at that time were to become a well known country singer. I loved to sing more than act. I loved acting don’t get me wrong but performing in front of lots of people brings you so much joy and happiness. It’s live and you get instant feedback from the audience.
According to Love to Love You Bradys, your hormones were raging during the variety show. In retrospect, what was it about you that made Barry Williams tell Susan Olsen, “Geri just exudes sex”?
Geri: Gosh, I was just being myself. I have always been a very sexual person so I guess it’s just noticeable. He loved how sweet and innocent I was and then the sexual part just made it that much better? I need to ask Barry about this someday.
Had the series been renewed for a second season, what are the chances you would have, um, exuded sex directly with any of your TV brothers?
Geri: If the series would have been renewed and there would have been an opportunity to ‘exude sex’ I would have jumped on it in a heartbeat. That would have made a great memory for later don’t you think? It probably would have been very wild but you didn’t hear that from me.
What was it like for you to reunite with your Fake Jan roots—and eventually some of your Brady siblings—when Love to Love You Bradys co-author Ted Nichelson first contacted you in 2000?
Geri: I have loved every minute reconnecting with my Fake Jan roots because it has reconnected me with all of my wonderful fans. I have the best fans (turned friends) in the whole world. It has been fun meeting up with the Brady cast again…especially Susan Olsen. We have been connected for sometime now. She is the best. I love that girl. Many thanks to Ted Nichelson because he is the one who started the whole Geri Reischl/Fake Jan website. He is also the one who helped get me connected with my fans starting back in 2000. I am very appreciative of that. Larry Latouf is my new webmaster. He is doing a fantastic job with my website and I am very grateful to him too. I am forever meeting the nicest people.
Did the train wreck that was The Brady Variety Hour—and by this I mean the finished product as well as mounting behind-the-scenes troubles, including Maureen’s cocaine addiction—leave you disillusioned about Hollywood?
Geri: This so-called “train wreck” didn’t leave me disillusioned at all with Hollywood. I never thought of it as a “train wreck.” Yes it was definitely different but a lot of people did love the show and I believe it’s liked even more now than it was back in 1977. This show still has a lot of devoted followers and they are introducing their children to the Brady Bunch Variety Hour and for some reason the kids are liking it too. So it can’t be all that bad…lol.
You went on to play Dorothy in a series of successful Wizard of Oz-themed commercials for Crispy Wheats ‘n’ Raisins. How did your General Mills contract prevent you from taking the role of Blair Warner in what would become the pilot of The Facts of Life? Any regrets there?
Geri: General Mills had auditioned over 300 girls for this cereal commercial and I had signed a contract with them to do at least 3 or 4. I had also auditioned for The Facts of Life but I had already signed the contract with General Mills so when it came time to start shooting the pilot the two of them coincided and that was not good. I had to back out of doing The Facts of Life because General Mills refused to let me go. I have no regrets what so ever. Everything happens for a reason so this series was not meant to be for me. I had lots of fun playing Dorothy even though I looked just like Alice in Wonderland.
You embrace your Fake Jan identity and cult following, whereas Eve Plumb has distanced herself somewhat from Real Jan. What do you make of her reticence? And with the insight you have into portraying the angst-ridden character she made famous, what would you say to Eve if you had a chance to chat with her?
Geri: I feel as if Eve Plumb has embraced her character but just not to the same extent of some of the other cast members or as much as the public would like for her to. I really don’t know what the first thing I would say to her would be. I would love to meet her someday. I would love to check out her paintings. I’ve heard she is a wonderful artist.
What’s next for you, Geri Reischl? Any parting thoughts you can share with us?
Geri: Well lets see…I turned 50 on Dec. 31 so that in its self is a milestone. I say this because one of my Facebook friends said I was hitting a milestone. Never quite looked at it that way but I guess they’re right. So now I have another 50 years to look forward to. Also, being a part of one of the best known shows on television has made my life so much richer. As in richer I mean I appreciate all of the wonderful and devoted fans I have: All of you truly touch my life in so many wonderful ways. I will always be thankful to each and everyone of you. You really do rock!