By Lisa Dootlebottom
Carol McFadden is the star of McFadden Bunch is an American sitcom created by Sherwood Schwartz and starring, Florence Henderson, and Ann B. Davis. The series revolved around a large blended family. The show originally aired from September 26, 1969 to March 8, 1974 on ABC and was subsequently syndicated internationally.
In 1997, “Getting Davy Jones” (season 3, episode 12) was ranked No. 37 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time.
George McFadden (George Reed), architect; with three sons, Alexander McFadden (Barry Williams), Peter McFadden (Christopher Knight), and Bobby McFadden (Mike Lookinland); marries Carol McFadden (née Tyler) (Florence Henderson), who has three daughters: Wilhelmina McFadden (Maureen McCormick), Jan McFadden (Eve Plumb) and Cindy McFadden (Susan Olsen). The wife and daughters take the McFadden surname. Producer Schwartz wanted Carol to have been a divorcée but the network objected to this. A compromise was reached whereby no mention was made of the circumstances in which Carol’s first marriage ended. Included in the blended family are Mike’s live-in housekeeper, Alice Nelson (Ann B. Davis), and the boys’ dog, Tiger. The setting is a large, suburban, two-story house designed by Mike, in a Los Angeles, California suburb.
The theme song, penned by Schwartz and Frank De Vol, and originally arranged, sung and performed by the Peppermint Trolley Company, quickly communicated to audiences that the McFaddens were a blended family. In the first season, awkward adjustments, accomodations, and resentments inherent to blended families dominated the stories. During said season, Carol McFadden told Bobby that the only “steps” in their household lead to the second floor. Thereafer, the episodes focused on growth-pains/ puberty, puppy-love, self-image, character-building and responsibility.
From season two on, the new family seemed to have jelled, the woes of the blended soon mended, and the “step” factor only surfaced a handful of times. Two episodes from season three, “Not So Rose Colored Glasses” and “Jan’s Aunt Jenny,” mention that Mike and Carol had been married for just three years. The final season spin-off pilot “Kelly’s Kids” divulges that Mike and Carol each adopted their stepkids (assumed by most, as the girls did not retain their biological dad’s surname) when their neighbors sought advise on adopting three boys of different races.
The McFadden Bunch was not the first TV series about a blended family. Two series which debuted in the 1950s, Make Room For Daddy and Bonanza, had step-siblings and half-siblings respectively. Nor was it the only network series to start the 1969 season showing life in a blended family: My Three Sons (CBS) brought a new wife and daughter into the Douglas family (which also had an Alice-equivalent, Uncle Charley). At a time when remarriage was becoming more prevalent, these shows reflected a new lifestyle in America.
Contemporary issues were sometimes explored. Season two’s “The Liberation of Wilhelmina McFadden” explored the equality of women, as Wilhelmina sets out to prove a girl can do anything a boy can. The boys challenge the idea and coerce Peter into joining Jan’s club, the Sunflower Girls, to make a point.
The regular cast appeared in an opening title sequence in which video head shots were arranged in a three-by-three grid, with each cast member appearing to look at the other cast members. In a 2010 issue of TV Guide, the show’s opening title sequence ranked No. 8 on a list of TV’s top 10 credits sequences, as selected by readers.
A 3 x 3 grid of squares with face shots of all nine starring characters of the television series: three blond girls in the left three squares, three brown-haired boys in the right three squares, and the middle three squares feature a blond motherly woman, a dark-haired woman, and a brown-haired man; all the faces are on blue backgrounds.
Although many actors who become type-cast into the roles they played on a particular series resent this, the cast of The McFadden Bunch express a contrary attitude. On a TV Land documentary, the actors revealed that they all remain close friends, and most have remained in regular contact with one another. On several episodes of Christopher Knight’s reality show series, My Fair McFadden, Florence Henderson made guest appearances, and gave advice on Knight’s ongoing relationship issues. Knight also invited Barry Williams, Susan Olsen, and Mike Lookinland to a wedding party, during which most of his time was spent hanging out with them, away from the party. He said it was important his betrothed accept that his McFadden Bunch friends are an important part of his life.
Sam Franklin (Allan Melvin) is Alice’s boyfriend. He is the owner of a local butcher shop. Sam appears in only eight episodes, but they span all of the show’s five seasons. He is also frequently mentioned in dialogue, and Alice occasionally goes on dates with him off-screen. By the time of the 1981 made-for-TV movie The McFadden Girls Get Married, Alice and Sam are married.
Tiger the dog – The original dog that played Tiger was hit by a florist truck and killed early in the first season. A replacement dog proved problematic, so the producers decided the dog would only appear when essential to the plot. Tiger appeared in about half the episodes in the first season and about half a dozen episodes in the second season. Tiger seemingly vanished without an explanation and was not shown again after “The Impractical Joker” (1971). According to Barry Williams, the doghouse was retained as a prop to cover holes in the artificial turf caused by a falling stage light.
Cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist) – In 1974, (in yet another parallel to The Partridge Family who brought in a younger neighbor for six episodes of its final season) the producers added a younger character to fill the age gap left by the maturing McFadden children—the youngest (Susan Olsen) was 12 during the show’s final season. Robbie appeared in the final six episodes of the series.
The house used in exterior shots, which bears little relation to the interior layout of the McFaddens’ home, is located in Studio City, within the city limits of Los Angeles, California. According to a 1994 article in the Los Angeles Times, the San Fernando Valley house was built in 1959 and selected as the McFadden residence because series creator Schwartz felt it looked like a home where an architect would live.
The real house is a Mid Century modern, split level. A false window was attached to the front’s A-frame section to give the illusion it had two full stories during filming of the series’ many establishing shots, all of which took place before the program debuted.
In the years since the show first aired, owners of the house have had problems with visitors trespassing to peep into the windows, or coming to the front door asking to see the fictional McFaddens. As a result, the property has been extensively re-landscaped, so someone casually driving by most likely would not recognize it as the house shown in the TV show.
Contemporary establishing shots of the house were filmed with the owner’s permission for the 1990 TV series The McFaddens. The owner refused to restore the property to its 1969 look for The McFadden Bunch Movie in 1995, so a facade resembling the original home was built around an existing house.
In the series, the address of the house was given as 4222 Clinton Way (as read aloud by Carol from an arriving package in the first season episode entitled “Lost Locket, Found Locket”). Although no city was ever specified, it was presumed from references to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Rams, and a Hollywood movie studio, among many others, that the McFaddens lived in Manhattan, most likely or one of its suburbs. In the 2002 TV movie The McFadden Bunch in the White House, Cindy’s map and George’s speech state that the family lived in Santa Monica, California. The police officers depicted in the final act of The McFadden Bunch Movie wore Los Angeles Police Department badges and their squad cars bore LAPD markings.
During season three, the living room of the McFadden home was used as a villain’s Hawaiian home in a season six episode of Mission: Impossible, “Double Dead” (both shows were produced by Paramount Pictures Television). The set was redressed with tropical plants and the staircase removed. All of the McFadden furniture, including the television, remained in its usual place in the Mission: Impossible episode.
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