For millions of baby boomers, Eve Plumb was the once and future Jan Brady, the perpetually angst-ridden middle daughter of "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-1974), whom she played throughout the iconic family sitcom's network run and in several spin-off projects. Like many of her co-stars, Plumb found it difficult to break away from the Brady stigma in later years, but chose to make her own way as an actress, comedian and artist rather than succumb to the lures of nostalgia. In doing so, she forged an identity for herself that, while not as visible as some of her former castmates, was entirely of her design. Ironically, Plumb became what her TV persona, Jan, always hoped to be: an individual and eclectic performer.
Born Eve Aline Plumb in Burbank, CA on April 29, 1958, she was the daughter of Neely Plumb, a big band saxophonist who later became a top producer and arranger with RCA Records, and dancer Flora June Plumb. She began her acting career at the age of six, appearing in commercials and on episodic television shows like "The Big Valley" (ABC, 1965-69) and "Family Affair" (CBS, 1966-1971). Plumb also sang with the Jimmy Joyce Children's Chorus, an adolescent choral group that recorded with the likes of the Carpenters, Doris Day, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. In 1969, she was cast in the role that would largely define her onscreen career - that of middle daughter Jan Brady on "The Brady Bunch."
Stuck between the self-aware blonde charm of older sister Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and the adolescent cuteness of younger sibling Cindy (Susan Olsen), Jan was a bundle of teenage anxiety, with most of her storylines devoted to fretting over her glasses, lack of appeal with boys, and assumed inferiority to Marcia, which spurred her oft-quoted catch phrase, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" She frequently voiced her antipathy for the role in later years - when asked which "Brady Bunch" episode was her favorite, Plumb answered, "The last one" - and only briefly participated in one of the spin-off projects, the animated "Brady Kids" (ABC, 1972-74), which she abandoned after its first season due to contract issues. She was replaced by Erika Scheimer for the remainder of the cartoon series' run, and wisely avoided the bizarre "Brady Bunch Hour" (ABC, 1976-77), a surreal variety show that featured Geri Reischel as Jan. However, Plumb did record several albums and perform live with her co-stars as "The Brady Kids."
While starring on "The Brady Bunch," Plumb continued to appear in other television projects, including the suspenseful theatrical feature "House on Greenapple Road" (ABC, 1970), which was released as a TV feature and served as the pilot for the Burt Reynolds detective series "Dan August" (ABC, 1970-71). However, when the "Brady" cycle came to an end, she found it difficult to break away from Jan. There were earnest attempts to change her image, most notably in the TV movie "Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway" (NBC, 1976), in which she played a troubled Southern California teen who turned to prostitution after leaving home. A turn as Beth in a 1978 TV adaptation of "Little Women" (NBC) failed to generate a series, so she began landing guest roles in episodic television while cultivating a normal childhood offscreen, including a stint as her high school's homecoming queen.
But the Bradys remained an enduring favorite thanks to endless reruns - which, contrary to public belief, stopped paying residuals to Plumb and her co-stars after a period of time - as well as spoofs on sketch series and sitcoms. In 1981, she reprised Jan for the first of several reunion projects, starting with "The Brady Girls Get Married" (NBC). Its popularity spawned a short-lived spin-off, "The Brady Brides" (NBC, 1981), which focused largely on Marcia and Jan as married women. She later returned for "A Very Brady Christmas" (CBS, 1988), a more dramatic take on the family, with Jan struggling through a separation. Her final turn as Jan came with "The Bradys" (CBS, 1990), a dramedy that placed the Brady family in somewhat more realistic plotlines, including Jan's adoption of an Asian child after being unable to conceive with her husband. Nostalgic fans were clearly more interested in the Bradys as lightweight comedy, and the show lasted just six episodes. During this period, she also made numerous appearances with her "Brady" co-stars on television talk shows and game shows.
During this period, Plumb continued to make guest appearances on television shows while cultivating two new interests. She had joined the famed Los Angeles improvisational group The Groundlings, where she honed her comedic skills. Fellow troupe member Lisa Kudrow suggested that in order to distance herself from her past, Plumb should change her hair color from its immediately identifiable honey blonde color. After taking on a deep red hue, Plumb began to explore more comic roles, including an outrageous cameo as the Afro-centric wife of militant Clarence Williams III in Keenan Ivory Wayans' "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" (1988) and a two-year run as the mother of Judy Blume's preteen heroine "Fudge" (ABC/CBS, 1995-97). She also originated the role of Mrs. Burkhart, mother to Mila Kunis' Jackie on "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006) before being replaced by another '70s icon, Brooke Shields. Plumb also began working extensively in stage musicals while developing a second career as an artist working primarily with oil paints. A longtime resident of Laguna Beach, California, she served on the city's Board of Adjustments/Design Review Board. From 2010 to 2011, she made her New York stage debut as the lead in "Miss Abigail's' Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage," a spoof of '50s-era advice columns.