Today is the birthday of Dick Van Patten (b. 1928-2015). A likable character actor, usually in comedies, he became best known for playing real life Sacramento newspaper editor and columnist Tom Braden on the ABC dramedy series Eight is Enough from 1977 through 1981.
This show achieved something not far short of a miracle I think in revitalizing what was by then a MUCH hackneyed genre: the “this family is too darn large” genre. Which well pre-dates even The Brady Bunch, by the way, thanks to films like With Six You Get Eggroll and Yours, Mine and Ours (both 1968). Unlike those others, the titular family in Eight is Enough wasn’t the result of any fusion of two more managebly sized families…the couple simply had eight children. Must have been Catholic! (sorry)
Unlike those earlier stabs at the genre, which relied on a lot of slapstick and chaos and English sheepdogs, Eight is Enough was a little subtler in dealing with the challenges of having such a large family. It was full of gentle, modern humor not too different from that on James at Fifteen. And like that show, it was all about selling the heart-throb kids on the program to young audiences. I was 12 when the show premiered, so you must know that I was in love with all five girls in the cast, as well as Betty Buckley, the attractive young stepmother who came on in the second season when the original mom (Diana Hyland) passed away. (I was too young to have seen Carrie at that point. Eight is Enough was the first introduction to Buckley for me and probably for most of the country). And I know that all the girls at school were in love with the three boys on the show (including young Adam Rich, who was the poster boy for cute for a couple of years). Thus the only person on the show who was no heart throb was…Dick Van Patten.
I’ve always thought the theme song has some of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard. “Eight is Enough, to fill our lives with love”. I don’t think they thought very hard about that. If you have seven children, that ISN’T enough to fill your life with love? But eight is sufficient, you’ll stand pat at that? Okay.
Sorry, I’m starting to sound like Frank Fay.
To find out more about show biz past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc