Susan Olsen was born on August 14, 1961. She is a divorced mother of one, a radio talk show host and serves on the Board of Directors of Precious Paws, an animal welfare organization. But she is almost certainly best known for her role as Cindy, “the youngest one in curls,” on The Brady Bunch.
I sort of enjoyed turning 40. I gave myself a party. I gave myself a luau. But 50? Nah. It’s weird, because I remember so well when my mom turned 50. We were on the set of The Brady Bunch, and I thought it was so cool. I told everybody, “My mom is a half a century old! Look at her! She looks great! She’s a half a century old!” And my mom’s going, “Susan, shut up. Would you please be quiet?” And I thought, “Why isn’t she proud of this? It’s so great, and so what if it makes her old? She looks terrific.” Everybody I say this to, they go, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe your mom’s that old.” And I couldn’t understand why my mom didn’t want me to shout it from the rooftops. Now I get it [laughs].
I don’t want to think of myself as a person that gets into superficial things like age, but I’m starting to feel another thing that my mother taught me: it’s not really the age. It’s the number and it’s other people’s perception of the number. So 50 now sounds old. I don’t really mind it that much, but boy I’m really going to be a bear when I turn 60 [laughs].
I don’t think that being unemployable is ever a silver lining. Even if I hadn’t had the typecasting I would be facing ageism. Unfortunately it’s true. It’s nobody’s fault. We don’t really want to look at wrinkles on the big screen. We just don’t. It’s like the life of a racehorse.
I mean, actors are like horses. A racehorse has a career of, at the very longest, four years. And if they’re lucky they can become a character actor [laughs] or hunter or jumper. You know, they can have another career. And maybe by the time they’re 10 they’ll still be useful. But horses live to be 30. I mean, it’s that crazy. We have this long lifespan, but we’re not seen as useful for very long.
You know what? I’ve met horses that are 27 years old, and they’re revered for their patience and their wisdom. They’re the ones that they use for therapy for handicapped kids, because these horses literally are very wise. And, as you can probably tell, I’m an animal person.
I had elderly parents who both have passed away now. That wonderful mother I was speaking of, she lost her mind and she needed to be in a facility. And my parents had paid into the system. Staunch Republicans, conservative, you know, pro-America. You can’t find more patriotic people. And their country basically let them down in their elder years. So I’m not counting on anything more than a kick in the pants from my country. I won’t see the Social Security that I’ve been paying into since I was 14 months old when I started my career [laughs]. I’ve been a workhorse since I was a foal [laughs].
Hers wasn’t Alzheimer’s. It was a lot of little strokes. So unfortunately I think about that all the time. It didn’t start until she was, oh gosh, mid to late 60s. And she got shingles. It began with post-herpetic neuralgia. And she was on pain pills all the time. And we didn’t realize… After Mom really, really did lose her mind, we were calling her friends and at some point my sister and I went, “Oh my gosh, everybody thinks Mom’s a drug addict. Everybody thinks that this happened, that her dementia was happening because of the pain pills.” And it wasn’t. You know, it was happening fairly organically.
In some ways it sort of has started because I am a migraine sufferer, which I got from my dad. It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that I had my first one, and my mom looked at me and she goes, “Oh sweetie, you got what your dad has. You’re having migraines.” And I went, “Oh, no [laughs].”
And with my migraines I have ischemic attacks, which mimic strokes. So understanding what a stroke patient feels like, I’ve been there. I mean, I’ve had attacks where I can no longer speak. And so it’s entirely real to me, and that’s makes it entirely scary, but what are you going to do? You’re going to just do your best.
And so the only thing that I haven’t conquered yet, and it really is my big personal hurdle, is my weight. And I’m not huge, but I’m bigger than I should be. I’ve been battling my weight since I was two years old. But I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do anything. And yeah, I was a kid of the ‘70s. You know, I did all kinds of drugs. I don’t do anything now. I look at every label. I actually eat very healthy, too, but I eat too much [laughs].
I’ve taken charge of everything that I can control. And I’m very good about it. The only thing that I’m not good about is, you know, saying No to Little Debbie [laughs]. She sings her siren song and I just go to her.
I was in kindergarten. This was my first time to be around my peers. And I realized that life wasn’t fair because I was so lucky because I was a girl. And girls could play with boys’ toys and it was cool, but if boys played with girls’ toys, that wasn’t cool. So girls could go on both sides of the fence, and I thought, “Wow, how lucky am I?” And I also knew that I was born into the greatest country in the world, too. I thought, “Wow, life isn’t fair because there’s, you know, some kid in India who’s a boy, and he can’t play with dolls, and he’s in India [laughs].”
I think I had a lot of anxiety as a child. My biggest fear was replicants, that my parents would one day be replaced by space aliens [laughs]. And I give my brother [laughs] all the credit for that one. My brother is extremely warped. My whole family, we’re more like the Addams Family. We’re not like the Brady Bunch. And I love that about us. But my brother raised me on sci-fi and horror films, and he just loved having this cute little baby sister that he could warp.
I watched, gosh, which one was it? Invaders from Mars. Oh, it just killed me. The little boy, he comes home, and that mom is not his real mom. She’s a replicant [laughs]. And there was a day when my mom spilled gold paint all over herself [laughs] and she looked like something from Star Trek.
And I went, “Oh no! It happened! Oh my God, it happened!” And I went to my room and I put furniture in front of the door. And my brother was laughing so hard that it took a while to get to me because my brother was laughing too hard do anything, and finally he’s knocking on the door going, “Susan, it’s okay. Mother’s not a replicant.”
My role as a mother trumps everything, including gravity. My role as a mother is all there is. There’s nothing that supersedes it.
Actually since I’ve had a kid of school age—he’s 15 years old now, and because of budget cuts we’re actually starting school later now—my birthday tends to be the first day of school. And it’s like being called into the principal’s office: “Oh, I have to get my child ready for school.” And all of that crap from my childhood comes rushing into my brain. So I really haven’t enjoyed my birthday for quite a while [laughs].
I was exactly 46 when I found myself lusting after a 23-year-old, and I thought, “Oh my God, that’s just wrong.” And you know what? We’re actually very good friends. I subdued… It just seems so weird to me that my son had a hot guitar teacher, and I couldn’t go out with him because I’m twice his age. It was like, “What? Wait a minute. What? He’s not fair game for me because I’m old? Oh, crap. Wow. I am that old.” But you know what? I don’t think he ever saw that [laughs]. He would’ve gone out with me [laughs]. It was all about my son. I don’t want to fuck up my son by dating his teacher.
I totally understand when my grandmother would come to me and go, “The worst thing about being my age is I look in the mirror and go, ‘Who is that?’”
I was a graphic artist for about 15 years, and The Brady Bunch kept rearing its ugly head [laughs]. I mean, when you have a chance to be on a network series, or continue with your day job, gee, you know, what choice do you make? So I’ve always been doing this weird little dance with show business and real life. It’s always been that way. Even when I was a little kid I realized it’s not a good idea to bring your friends to the set, because this is bizarro world, and you don’t really want them to see you in bizarro world because they’ll think you’re a bizarro. So it’s always been kind of like church and state. You know, it’s always been very separated.
I got into a situation where I was doing what I wanted to do. I was in radio. And okay, now it’s time to get married and have a child, and I did that. The radio burned out, but I had other things in entertainment and entertainment allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom. And I could make like good chunks of money by working really hard for three to five days, and then, you know, I could go back home. And so it was like a perfect lifestyle. But for whatever reasons—maybe it’s just my own ebb and flow of how popular I am as a commodity and, you know, the nation having its own financial problems—the bottom fell out for me about five years ago. And so it all became about, Well, now what do you do to survive? And I’m a single mom. And I don’t get child support. I don’t get any support. And I have a child with special needs. You know, the system, I bless it, I caress it, I love it. It does provide some things, but it’s nothing to rely on.
And so you start flying by your wits, and in many respects it made life an adventure. And the fact that I’m doing this with my son at my side and saying things like, “Okay, honey, you’ve got to understand. These are the things that you get at the 99 cents store, because if you get them over there they cost way more.” And instilling these things in him, and looking for the creative ways to be a functioning person. And I’m back on my feet, but to be dealt that hand at this stage of life, I can’t help but feel like if God really is the casino dealer, he must have a lot of respect for me to deal me that bad hand this late and know that I would know how to play it. Because I have played it.
I say five years ago because that’s when I said, “Yep, I can see it. I can see it up ahead. I’m going to lose my house.” But I didn’t lose my house until exactly a year ago. But five years ago I knew it was going to happen, and I started packing. And I live in such a crazy world where I can call up my manager and I could sign a deal and suddenly be on easy street. So that’s how I lived for five years. I was trying to sell a reality show. It was really a good one, too, probably too good to actually see the light of day. And we were doing all these things and if any one of them had hit, you know, it would’ve not just put me in a comfortable place, it would’ve put me on easy street. And that’s the kind of world that I’ve dealt with.
I’m going to have to quote Christopher Knight, my brother, Peter Brady, in saying, “I seem to be uniquely qualified for this position.” I asked him how he was doing with his third divorce, and that was his answer to me. I’m like, “Well, you know, this is what I do. This is just how it is for me, and it always has been this way.”
All of the kids in my family got discovered by talent scouts and whatnot. There are four kids in my family, and my oldest brother was 24 years old when I was born. So there’s a huge age gap. And the other brother who raised me on sci-fi films, he was in an Alfred Hitchcock movie that they shot in England and Marrakesh, The Man Who Knew Too Much. He’s the little boy that gets kidnapped.
My sister remains the one that Mom claims was the best actor of us all, but there’s no footage of her because everything she did was on TV and it was all destroyed. And then she never was in a series that actually launched. But I got picked to do some commercials when I was 14 months old. That seemed to be a magical age for all us kids. And I did those. And then when my sister was old enough to say she didn’t want to do any of the stuff anymore, my mother took me out of the business, too, and I was 3 years old.
Everything was fine and dandy, and we lived like normal human beings until I was 5, and a talent scout came to my kindergarten and it was almost like there was this curse on the family that every child must be an actor, because I was picked from my classroom to be on The Pat Boone Show. And so my mom was called into the principal’s office at school, and they said, “Your daughter just got this wonderful opportunity.” And she said, “Oh, no. I’m trying to get away from show business [laughs].” So I remember very distinctly, she asked me, “Well, since it seems to have come around for you, do you want to be an actor?” And I said, “Yes.” And I was 5 years old. What did I know?
I knew that I didn’t want to see the appearance on The Pat Boone Show” because I screwed up. I had to sing the Monkees’ song “I’m A Believer,” and I messed up the words and to me that was just, well, that was horrible. I had done a terrible job and I didn’t want to see it. And so my mom had gathered people at her friend’s house, and all of her bingo club friends were all there and everybody was like, “We’re going to go watch you on TV.” And I’m just trying to think, “What can I do? What can I do to prevent this? I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to see it.” And suddenly the President comes on the TV and says, “We interrupt this…” [laughs]. And I don’t even know… I’ve been trying my damndest to find out what was it that they interrupted programming to announce. It might’ve been the invasion of Cambodia for all I know. But it was something to do with Vietnam and that pre-empted The Pat Boone Show, so I didn’t have to see it [laughs]. So now I’m going, “Thank you, God. That was really handy of you [laughs].” And so now I’ve got magical thinking on my brain for the rest of my life: “Wow, I’m really powerful.” But, you know, it was a double-edged sword, because my brother was in Vietnam, so it was like, “Oh, did I screw things up? [laughs]”
I thought that I was personally responsible for the Vietnam War.
Facebook is such nasty and wonderful drug. You can start talking to people and you get a debate going and you see both sides are not listening to each other. And that’s the problem. The right and left are not that different when it comes to the people. When it comes to the politicians they’re hugely different, but when it comes to people we’re not that different. And we do agree. We agree far more than we disagree. I don’t know what we’re going to have to do, but something. I think something major is going to happen. This is the most magnificent, the grandest experiment ever in humanity, the United States of America, and it’s a metaphor for every spiritual thing you could think of. This is such a grand, wonderful experiment. And to let it go the way that it’s going, it just ain’t right.
If your next door neighbors are both men and they marry each other, how does that harm you? Thomas Jefferson said it does not matter if my neighbor believes in one god or no god or a thousand gods. And the same thing holds true. It doesn’t matter if my neighbor loves the same sex. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t hurt you.
True conservatism does not concern itself with social issues. I used to say that as a conservative, but I don’t say that anymore because I hate the company that it puts me in.
I drive like Mr. Toad when it comes to politics. I go to the right and to the left and I go around in circles, too.
I’m the one that really depresses people with my age. Because this teeny, tiny little girl is almost 50. I take a tiny bit of fiendish delight in that [laughs].