Already have an account?
Get back to the
Movies & Shows

Robbie Rist: 10 Little-Known Facts About Cousin Oliver from ‘The Brady Bunch’

He's famous (or infamous) for Cousin Oliver, but you'll be surprised at what else he's done

One of the greatest tropes of sitcoms largely about kids is the idea that, when the main cast gets too old, you add a younger actor to bring back the cute (and usually in the final season), which was the case with Robbie Rist as Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch. Other examples include Rick Segall as Ricky Stevens on The Partridge Family, Raven-Symone as Olivia on The Cosby Show and Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, that one) as Luke Brower on Growing Pains.

In the case of Cousin Oliver (Carol Brady’s nephew, who comes to live with the family), he was pretty derided by most and, in fact, when other series have made such additions, it’s been referred to as “pulling a Cousin Oliver.” Yikes.

Robbie Rist himself explained to the media how this came about, stating that the idea did not start with Brady Bunch creator Sherwood Schwartz.

“From what I understand,” he said, “the character was a network decision, and not a production decision. The network said, ‘Hey guys, we’d really like the show to go another year.’ The Schwartzes [Sherwood and son Lloyd] said, ‘Why don’t we go out on top?’ And the network said, ‘Why don’t we do another year with this younger character?’ And they sighed and went, ‘Fine!’ So they don’t see the character as being part of the show necessarily, and I think that’s why I’m not in the variety show and all that stuff.”

The takeaway, of course, is that none of this “pulling a Cousin Oliver” stuff is the fault of Robbie Rist — born April 4, 1964 in La Mirada, California — he just had the “misfortune” of being the first in a long line of such characters. What may surprise you is the direction his career would take.

That career, he pointed out to MeTV, came about because he wouldn’t stop nagging his parents. “When I was a little kid,” he explained, “I was really obsessed with the Universal 1930s horror movies. At four years old, i was telling my parents, ‘I want to be in a monster movie! I want to be in a monster movie!’ And that just became, ‘I want to be in a movie,’ and my parents went, ‘Well, we can take him to an audition and he’ll see how boring it is and he won’t want to do it anymore.’ And then I got the next six auditions.”

1. Robbie Rist first promoted the Quarter-Pounder

His first job was in a student film for someone at UCLA, followed by a national Nestle’s Crunch commercial, which in turn led to a McDonald’s spot (the first promotion for the Quarter-Pounder) that ran on television for three years.

2. He became the forgotten Brady

Robbie Rist joined The Brady Bunch in the final six episodes of what turned out to be the series’ final season. To show how dismissive virtually everyone was of the character, he was never mentioned again in any of the subsequent Brady reunions.

The closest he came was the 2021 Lifetime movie Blending Christmas, which featured Rist with former costars Barry Williams, Susan Olsen, Christopher Knight and Mike Lookinland — though the rub is that they were not playing the Bradys.

The cast of Blending Christmas, 2021
The cast of Blending Christmas, 2021©Lifetime/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

In detailing the process that brought him into the Brady home, he explained, “I had read for a spin-off pilot they were going to do called The Kelly Kids with Ken Berry, and it was similar to The Brady Bunch, about a divorced or widowed guy and his two sons. And because Ken Berry is a brunette and I, alas, am not, I didn’t get the job! But when the Oliver thing came along, they called me in and, from what I understand anyway, called in about 500 other kids, and I won it.”

3. The fallout of Cousin Oliver could be painful

Robbie Rist attends the Chiller Theatre Expo Halloween 2022 at Hilton Parsippany on October 28, 2022 in Parsippany, New Jersey
Robbie Rist attends the Chiller Theatre Expo Halloween 2022 at Hilton Parsippany on October 28, 2022 in Parsippany, New JerseyGetty

“Let’s say you had a summer job as a kid,” Rist proposed to joeartistwriter.wordpress.com. “You were a camp counselor. You probably only worked there for six weeks, but for the rest of your life people come up to you and say, ‘Hey, didn’t you used to work at Lake Walla-Whatever?’ I had do a huge sort of emotional/intellectual reevaluation on myself, and I got depressed when I was in my late twenties. I was thinking, ‘Is it possible that the only thing I’ll be known for happened when I was nine, and I didn’t even know what I was doing?'”

He continued, “No one prepares you for the day it all goes away. I was nine. I had no idea that was going to be the highlight of my career, and it’s tough when the attention goes away. Since then nothing I’ve worked on has had that kind of impact, so how do you come to grips with that whole thing? By the way, I’m OK now, but it did do a number on me for a while.”

4. He has a very hairy inspiration

In an interview with noecho.net, Robbie Rist revealed the fact that he loves character actors in general, but there is one actor in particular who really inspired him: “The first actor who really hit me was Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolfman. It’s not only one of my all-time favorite movies, but, man, there is something about the melancholy of that story that really dug in deep very early for me.”

5. He’s also recognized for Big John/Little John

In 1976, he co-starred with Herb Edelman (best known as Stanley Zbornak on The Golden Girls) on the Saturday morning live action series Big John, Little John. In it, middle school science teacher John Martin (Edelman) drinks from the legendary Fountain of Youth and, as a result, finds himself changing — without any sort of warning — into his 12-year-old self and back again. The show lasted 13 episodes.

“The big thing about Big John, Little John is a whole thing about puberty,” Rist laughed on A Bionic Podcast. “The underlying theme is how much of a pain in the ass puberty is. I mean, The Exorcist is about puberty, too!”

“I don’t get recognized nearly as much for Galactica 1980 [which he would do later] as I do for a tele­vision show I did when I was 13 called Big John, Little John,” said Rist. “It ran for a year. It was producer Lloyd Schwartz’ first show after The Brady Bunch. That thing gets more juice than Galactica 1980.

6. Robbie Rist viewed acting opportunities as ‘just another gig’

Production taping began today for 'Kidds for Kids for Africa' including young actors singing including: (L to R) Steve Alterman, Robbie Rist, Gabriele Bennett-Rozz and Byran Scott, June 27, 1985 in Los Angeles
Production taping began today for ‘Kidds for Kids for Africa’ including young actors singing including: (L to R) Steve Alterman, Robbie Rist, Gabriele Bennett-Rozz and Byran Scott, June 27, 1985 in Los Angeles Getty

Interestingly, the actor never got overly carried away or starstruck with the other actors he was performing with, taking a pragmatic view of the shows he appeared on. They were all “just another gig. Not in a negative way, but I credit my small town European World War II era parents for this. They made it all about the work. I was appreciative for every job and I think that kind of helped me not get jaded. I was always just happy to be working.”

7. He was on Galactica 1980

Galactica 1980
Lorne Greene and Robbie Rist in Galactica 1980©NBCUniversal/IMDb

Although Robbie Rist made some guest appearances on different shows in the late 1970s, he was a regular on the Sanford and Son spinoff Grady and had a recurring role as Ted Baxter’s son on the last two seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but he scored a regular role on the followup to Battlestar Galactica, Galactica 1980.

Dismissed by pretty much everyone, Galactica 1980 only lasted 10 episodes. Co-starring Lorne Greene (reprising his role of Commander Adama from the original series), Kent McCord and Barry Van Dyke, Robbie Rist played Doctor Zee, a teenage prodigy who is supposed to be Adama’s counsellor, but oftentimes seems to be running things, even giving his superior officer orders. And, no, Zee didn’t fare much better than Cousin Oliver in pop culture history — not helped by the fact that Dr. Zee was recast with another kid actor halfway through the season.

“What I learned at seven years old was don’t be too attached,” says Rist in the pages of the Battlestar Galactica oral history book So Say We All. “When the Battlestar Galactica job goes away after I was recast, there’s a moment of ‘Aw, it sucks,’ but ultimately in entertainment, there’s always disappointment. Like my­-girlfriend-­has­-had­-sex-­with-­someone-­else disappointment. I actually did a low ­budget movie with Barry Van Dyke and now I’m wondering if I brought it up to him that we worked together before. I don’t think I did. I don’t think he remembered. He’s got a real career, why would he remember me?”

8. Robbie Rist enjoyed success as a voice actor

Robbie Rist has made a successful living as a voiceover actor, providing the vocals for Michaelangelo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie series, and then in projects like the film Balto, Batman: The Animated Series, Naruto, Mega Man Star Forde and the Disney Junior animated series Doc McStuffins.

Of getting his first big voice gig — Mikey from TMNT — he shared with tmntautographs.com, “I was in a band in ’87 or ’88 called The Orchids. They were originally from St. Louis. Bob, the lead singer, was a big comic book fan and he had all of the early black and white comics that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had done. I perused them and thought it was a nifty idea and all, but it almost completely left my mind. Move ahead a couple of years and I see there is a cartoon on TV with those characters and I at first thought, ‘The TMNT I remember seeing was way darker than this, but it’s still pretty funny.’

Then I booked the audition for Mikey and all I could think about the whole time I was doing the actual gig was, ‘All of this because of Bob from The Orchids.'”

9. The music industry has been a home for him

Robbie Rist and Anson Williams speak onstage during the 24th Family Film Awards at Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City on March 24, 2021 in Universal City, California
Robbie Rist and Anson Williams speak onstage during the 24th Family Film Awards at Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City on March 24, 2021 in Universal City, CaliforniaGetty

Few may realize that Robbie Rist has worked in the music industry and continues to do so, as a musicians and a producer. He plays bass guitar, guitar and drums, and can sing, doing so with a wide variety of Los Angeles rock bands. Today, he’s the drummer for the rock band Your Favorite Trainwreck.

Speaking to racerrecords.com, he reflected on how he got involved with music: “I just kind of did it,” he replied. “I took piano lessons when I was a kid. I was playing violin when I was 3. Like any other kid who played music, I used to just beat on my knees when the radio came on. I used to sing — I’ve always been that way. I’m reading a Bukowski book now, and somebody asked him how he chose to be a writer, and he said, ‘You don’t choose to be a writer, writing chooses you.'”

10. He played Robbie the Bus Driver in Sharknado

Actor Robbie Rist at The Hollywood Show held at Westin LAX Hotel on October 18, 2014 in Los Angeles
Actor Robbie Rist at The Hollywood Show held at Westin LAX Hotel on October 18, 2014 in Los Angeles Getty

Before it became a franchise, there was the original Sharnado in 2013, about a tornado that scoops up innumerable sharks and deposits them on unsuspecting people. Good friends with the film’s director, Anthony C. Ferrante, Robbie Rist strongly encouraged him to go after the directing job, asking that in return he be cast in the film.

Ferrante did and Rist was, as Robbie the Bus Driver. Beyond that, the duo provided music for the film, even writing six songs for it. Musically they’d collaborate again as the band Quint (named after Robert Shaw’s character in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws) on Sharknado 2 as well as Sharknado 3.

Let’s face it, that’s a pretty impressive career for a guy who got his start as a character that virtually everyone hated. Cousin Oliver comes out on top! Take that Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy!

Enjoy much more about the world of Classic TV!

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.