Eve Plumb's other TV sisters, and how she rose from the dead in Little Women
You don't need to be a TV expert to remember Eve Plumb as Jan in The Brady Bunch. It's the character that made her famous. As was the case with all of her Brady costars, when that show came to an end, Plumb had to decide how much of it to take with her. However, unlike the rest of the Brady clan, Plumb opted out of reprising her role for The Brady Bunch Hour. Despite persistent rumors that Plumb no longer wished to be associated with the show, the truth was that she just wouldn't commit to the five-year option producers wanted if the show was successful.
While her former costars were caught up in the fervor of further Brady reunions, Eve Plumb was showing the world that she was capable of being more than just Jan Brady. First, there was the 1976 television movie Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. Tellingly, the film was about a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, striking out from her family to try for a life on her own. Jan had left the nest and stayed aloft in the '78 sequel, Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn. However, that same year, Plumb would find even more success in allowing herself to join another family. This time it was a family bringing up four very lovely girls.
In the 1978 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," Eve Plumb starred, initially as the ill-fated Elizabeth 'Beth' March. Fans of the novel, or any of its several adaptations, will know that Beth is not long for this world, so Eve Plumb was not long for our screens. The production was originally conceived as a three-hour miniseries, airing in two parts on October 2-3, 1978. This version differs slightly from other popular adaptations in the time it spends setting the table for the story to unfold. Little Women '78 is careful to contextualize its events within the greater tapestry of real-life events like the Civil War, the abolitionist movement and women's suffrage. However, just like in every other telling of the story, Beth falls chronically ill and eventually passes away in Part Two.
However, this was not the end of Eve Plumb in the Louisa May Alcott Cinematic Universe on TV. Happy to capitalize on viewer interest, NBC cashed in with a weekly Little Women series that premiered in the middle of that winter. One of the first things the producers did in moving forward with this new series was to bring Eve Plumb back into the fold. This was, of course, despite the fact that her character, Beth, had already died on TV.
Instead, Plumb was reunited with her second TV family, the Marches, as cousin Melissa visiting from Georgia. In the series' second episode, there's Plumb on the March family doorstep, being embraced by new actresses playing her old (new) sisters. The production attempts to allay any confusion by having Jo exclaim, "My God, you look just like Beth!"
So what did Eve Plumb think of this second character she played in a Little Women adaptation?
"Melissa is a Southern belle," Plumb told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "She's a younger Scarlett O'Hara, vowing never to be poor again."
The fact that this character, Melissa, was not a part of the original novel did not bother Plumb, who was happy to defer to writer Suzanne Clauser on the matter.
"Suzanne has a good understanding of the Alcott scene," said Plumb. "Melissa fits right in. I like her because I used to read all the flamboyantly romantic Southern novels about characters like Melissa. I always preferred their melodrama and their flair."
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