Today, Susan Olsen has a neutral view of her time on The Brady Bunch. Cast at age 7 in 1968 as the adorable "youngest one in curls," she loved doing the show and had great chemistry with her castmates. But she did have something in common with her TV father, Robert Reed, in that she often felt very uncomfortable about how her character, Cindy, was portrayed in many episodes. Instead of a cute little girl who went through the normal phases of growing up, Cindy was often played as immature and a snooper.
That really grew to a point when the Season 5 episode "The Snooperstar," when Olsen — then 12 — was asked to don a wig and play "the new Shirley Temple," thinking that a client of her father's was actually a talent scout coming incognito. But signs of Cindy's growing frustration with her character reached their high point (until "The Snooperstar") with this episode, "The Tattletale."
It seemed that Olsen's friends at school, themselves being 7 and 8 years old, had limited to no ability to distinguish television from reality, and that she, as an actress, was asked to play a young girl her age who was learning the difference between tattling (reporting minor misdeeds of her siblings and Alice and specifically when she was not asked her opinion) and being asked to tell when something "really important" happens. These friends, after watching this episode, somehow concluded that the fictional Cindy and their real-life classmate and friend, Susan, were one and the same and began shunning her, even after Susan insisted that she was no fink and was good at holding secrets in their strictest confidence.
Therein lied another problem — the "something important" issue, as portrayed in this episode. Rather than have it truly be something important ... such as perhaps the mailman doing something inappropriate with Jan or Marcia, Cindy refusing to tell because she took her parents' admonition to "not tattle" seriously, and then Mike and Carol finally realizing they need to clarify the difference between tattling and when she might be expected to tell the truth and report when somebody is doing something wrong and dangerous and could hurt themselves or someone. Instead, for reasons unknown, it was merely Tiger (doing what he did best, as this entire episode bears out) doggie-swiping a claim voucher for a new stereo Alice had won in some hokey advertising jingle contest.
So with this very G-rated story that ABC eventually approved, the gritiest things got came in the opening act, when Cindy is spilling the beans about a conversation she heard the neighbor, Mr. Dittmeyer, having with his wife. They were building an addition onto their house, and Dittmeyer was irritated over the slow progress of the nearly completed room, and particularly annoyed that his mother-in-law will now come to visit ... permanently. Mike is also annoyed ... annoyed that Cindy had listened in on a private conversation and that it was none of her business. But Cindy doesn't seem to get the message, as — shortly after the top of the salt shaker falls off and spills its contents onto Mike's breakfast, she tells that Peter was responsible (he was using the salt shaker top as a strainer for the fish tank). Mike is more firm as he repeats his admonition: No tattling. (By the way of his delivery, the morning exchange at the breakfast table is not the first time he has talked to Cindy about tattling.)
Later on, after Carol questions Greg on why he's not wearing his new pair of slacks to school, Cindy lets slip that the eldest Brady — maybe trying to impress his latest chick — tore them playing a game of basketball, upsetting Greg ... and Carol can't blame him as she reminds Cindy about her habit. She gets on Bobby's wrong side when she reveals that he used one of Carol's lipstick tubes to decorate his skateboard, and by now Mike has about had it. It isn't long before her siblings quickly shun her.
Meanwhile, Alice — the only one talking to Cindy by this point — has entered that radio jingle-writing contest and the doorbell rings ... and it's the mailman. And he has a letter from the advertising agency that was sponsoring the jingle contest. And Alice opens the letter and reads it. And Alice has won! In her over-excited state, she impulsively grabs the mailman and plants this huge bearhug on the guy. And the mailman, trying to pull himself away, is wondering to himself, "Who is this cuckoo lady?"
While all this was going on, Cindy has answered the phone. It's Sam, who was calling to confirm what time to pick Alice up for their date tonight. But Cindy, being Cindy, gives a blow-by-blow account of what was going on, and by the way she was making it sound and not knowing all the details and articulating it as a 7-year-old might, it all comes out in a way that Sam is led to believe Alice was having a secret, sordid affair with the mailman. An angry Sam hangs up.
That night, Alice is all dressed up, but might not have any place to go. Sam's later than usual and Alice doesn't know why. Carol — thinking perhaps there is a reasonable explanation, such as car trouble, stuck in traffic or having to fill a late order at the store that is causing him to run behind — encourages Alice to give Sam a call and see what's delaying him. All she gets is an angry rant and that she can go to the dance with the mailman. Alice is clueless and, near tears, has no idea what Sam is talking about or why he'd me making such an off-the-cuff accusation. Cindy overhears the conversation and admits that she had talked to Sam earlier. Mike and Carol are now really pissed and demand to know exactly what she told Sam, and she lets spill the details. While Carol calls Sam and helps Alice clear up matters — yes, all is forgiven, boys and girls — Mike helps her understand that her tattling, or more accurately in this case reporting misinformation, gives Cindy a final, very stern warning: Stop your tattling, or else you will be punished.
Cindy seems to have finally gotten the message, but instead of that gritty R-rated situation that fans could have gotten (and thus made this a must-see episode), this is what unfolds:
The next day, the mailman comes back with a second letter ... this one containing the claim voucher for Alice's prize (which was a $500 stereo system). It is Cindy that answers the door. At least here, the mailman is on his best behavior, and even points out how professional Cindy is in signing for the letter. What we get instead of inappropriate behavior from the mailman is Tiger — the Bradys' dog in his swan song appearance — swiping the letter from the ledge where Cindy had just laid it for a moment. She immediately tracks the pooch to his doghouse, the site of where her famed doll (Kitty Karry-All) and Bobby's kazoo were taken and is trying to get him to put it down ...
... but then gets distracted as Carol and Alice arrive home from grocery shopping and ask for her help. The phone rings, and it's the electronics store calling to see if Alice had gotten her claim voucher.
"Claim voucher? I don't remember getting one," replies Alice.
Carol steps in and asks Cindy what she knows about this letter. Cindy won't tell, as it might get someone in trouble. Carol then has to explain, hastily, that this is very important to Alice, after which Cindy finally reveals that Tiger had taken the slip. Alice and Carol quickly retrieve the certificate from Tiger's doghouse, and 30 minutes later, Alice is picking out the stereo system that will grace the Bradys' family room for the rest of the series' run.
And that's that ... confusing way to relate a "don't tattle unless it's important" moral, and Susan Olsen's broken friendships left in the wake.
Tropes present in this episode:
- Annoying Younger Sibling: When they can't make headway with Cindy about her tattling, Mike and Carol are ready to concede that it is a phase she is going through and that she will eventually stop on her own.
- Cannot Keep a Secret: In-Universe, to the point where Marcia and Jan won't talk to each other while Cindy is in earshot. In real life, Susan Olsen suffered the negative effects when her classmates watched the episode and shunned her — in this case, unjustly so — believing she was just as loose-lipped as Cindy.
- From the Mouths of Babes: Cindy's blow-by-blow account to Sam of Alice at the door with the mailman ... and it isn't accurate, either.
- G-Rated Situation: A variant of G-Rated Drug with the "something important" situation that arises and Cindy is expected to tell the truth ... in this case, Tiger swiping Alice's voucher to claim a prize by a fast-approaching deadline, Cindy witnessing it and then being reluctant to tell what she knows for fear of getting the pooch into trouble. This being a clean show, Cindy was not being pressed to tell, for instance, whether she witnessed the mailman behaving inappropriately with one of her sisters at the door, a situation where she most certainly expected to tell the truth and then also be told that it was the mailman who got himself into trouble for doing something wrong, and that it is OK to report things you know are wrong or if someone is in danger of hurting themselves or others. As nothing has ever been written about the awkward G-Rated situation that was used, it is unknown whether any such gritty storyline was even considered; it is clear that the situation with Tiger was the one decided on in the end.
- Loose Lips: Cindy's nearly sank Alice and Sam's relationship.
- Only One Name: For Alice ... until this episode. According to both Barry Williams and Lloyd Schwartz, no one had ever thought to give Alice a last name — indeed, to this day, some fans believe that Alice's last name is "Brady" — and it wasn't an issue until John Wheeler, the actor who played the postman, mentioned it when reading through the script. He thought it was a little weird that Alice didn't have a last name ... and so on a lark, the writer quickly penciled in the name "Nelson" at the end. note
- Radio Contest: Which Alice enters ... and wins. The prize: A new stereo system for the family room.
- The Stool Pigeon: Although more or less innocently so for that tattler, Cindy. Even her ratting Alice out for being too, well, huggy-huggy with the mailman can be seen as innocent.
- Un-Dog and Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Tiger, following his appearance in this episode. The family dog's absence following this episode was never explained.