Hello again! Thank you for joining me to review “Jan’s Aunt Jenny”. It is an episode played mostly for drama, despite the whacky and eccentric visit by Aunt Jenny. In this episode, Jan fears being ugly one day instead of thinking herself to be that way in her current state. The episode’s guest star leaves little room for the b-plot in this episode where Mike tries to repair an antique gramophone. Although, it would not have been surprising to learn of a cut scene where Aunt Jenny fixes it with skills she learned from Thomas Edison. Let’s begin our review of “Jan’s Aunt Jenny”!
The episode begins with the girls, Mike, Carol and Alice carrying things downstairs. The Bradys are cleaning out their attic. According to Carol, they are getting rid of old junk to make room for new junk. As they carry the junk to the family room, one will notice large bags from Goodwill and The Salvation Army. Perhaps some older readers can confirm if these organizations once provided bags for donated goods. I’ve never seen it in my lifetime and I’ve given my old junk to Goodwill a couple of times. Jan and Cindy find a box of old photos and laugh at the bathing suit styles prevalent when the photo was taken of Carol’s great grandmother. Then another picture is found that appears to be Jan. Carol says it is of her Aunt Jenny and it was taken 40 years ago (1930s). It looks to have been taken 100 years before based on Aunt Jenny’s attire and hairstyle. One would almost expect to see Mary, Laura and Carrie Ingalls alongside Aunt Jenny. Poor Aunt Jenny must not mean much to Carol for her to allow this framed photo to be tossed in a box and stored in the attic. The resemblance between Jan and Aunt Jenny is uncanny. Jan is understandably interested to know what Aunt Jenny looks like today. She decides to write Aunt Jenny and request a photograph right away; she can hardly wait to see what this aunt looks like as an adult.
In the next scene, Alice laments being asked by Jan daily, for ten days, if a letter arrived for her. Jan is thrilled the reply has finally come. Alice questions who the letter was from. Over the course of ten days Alice never bothered to ask why Jan was so anxious to get mail? Jan reads the letter (with her glasses on) and soon finds her future crushed. The picture of Aunt Jenny is not very flattering. The background music played as Jan sees the photo is comical in nature with that “Whop whop waaaaah” vibe about it. We will soon learn Aunt Jenny is a woman of some means who brushes elbows with celebrities while traveling the world. Her providing this photo that looks to have been snapped in a photo booth is surprising.
Downstairs Mike is trying to get the old gramophone working again while Bobby is observing. The episode’s laugh out loud moment came for me during this scene. Bobby first uses the gramophone’s horn as a bull horn. Mike tells him to stop horsing around. Bobby then uses it as an ear trumpet and says he is a little “deef”. I laugh every time I see this part. His third act in the routine probably would have gotten The Brady Bunch cancelled if it aired today. After being asked to fetch some oil, he uses the horn as an old style Asian hat and does an impersonation, a-la-Jerry Lewis, of an Asian person while squinting his eyes. Recently, Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros was suspended for 5 games after making an eye squint gesture to Dodger’s pitcher Yu Darvish who is Japanese-Iranian. Bobby’s similar gesture made it to prime time in 1972.
With Bobby and his comedic gestures exiting the room, Jan enters. She questions Mike about genetics. Mike gives a distracted explanation about genes and chromosomes. He explains how chromosomes and genes carry a person’s heredity. That is why beans look like beans instead of cucumbers. Jan questions if two people look similar in their youth, are they destined to look the same into adulthood. Mike shares there is a chance. The distraction of antique repair must have caused him to not surmise Jan was asking because of the old photo of Aunt Jenny. We must give Mike some credit too when it comes to his dedication to repairing an antique. He’s been tinkering with the old gramophone or planning to tinker with it for 10 days now!
Upstairs, Jan tries to fight the aging process by pushing and squinting her face. Greg and Peter enter the bathroom and make the jokes typical to adolescent boys regarding Jan’s looks. Jan lashes out and says it is the cruelest of cruelty to kid a person about her looks. Greg tries to smooth things over by saying Peter was only kidding. With her over the top reaction, Greg says Jan is weird. In a cute scene, that I’m not sure was written to be that way, Jan’s mind immediately goes to Greg saying she is weird looking. Greg tries explain himself and says he only meant strange. Jan’s eyes bulge out at the outrage of being called strange. In her mind the insults are still about her looks. She says she can’t do anything about her face and asks, “..so why tease me about it?” She then exits the bathroom. This scene once again shows what a marvelous actress Eve Plumb is. During the course of doing these reviews, I’ve come to the conclusion she was the best child actress on the show. Don’t mistake me, all the kids were fabulous actors. However, Eve Plumb seemed to have an edge on the others.
After inquiring with Greg and Peter about what just transpired in the bathroom, Marcia goes to console Jan. The two have a sisterly heart to heart talk. Jan explains the reason for her angst. Marcia tries to talk some sense into her younger sister by pointing out the futility of worrying about something that won’t happen for forty years. Jan’s spirits are lifted briefly and that instills brief optimism that she may not look like Aunt Jenny someday. However, with another glance at the picture, she laments “But I will! I will!” and buries her face in the pillow crying.
The b-plot ends with the gramophone still not operational. Mike briefly plays an old record on it before it conks out. Carol is standing by to share the news that Aunt Jenny will be coming for a visit the following day. Aunt Jenny must not be much on planning ahead or giving advanced notice. She has sent this news via a telegram. Do any readers recall ever sending or receiving a telegram? Carol shares the news of the impending visit with Jan and asks “Isn’t that wonderful news?” Jan asks, “What’s so wonderful about it?” and walks off.
Jan’s icy reaction prompts a visit to her bedroom by Mike and Carol. It’s hard to imagine they were completely unaware of Jan’s gloom and doom at the receipt of the photograph. Carol rightfully states that Jan’s finding Aunt Jenny so unattractive is just her opinion. In my opinion, Aunt Jenny looks like a typical lady in her 50s/60s. Jan must have hoped to get a photo of one of those rare timeless beauties like Ann-Margret or Dolly Parton. Mike states that the photo Jan received is just a bad picture. He also shares that a person’s looks can be influenced by environment, diet and emotions. Jan ask her parents to guarantee she won’t look like Aunt Jenny. The scene ends with Mike and Carol giving Jan sad and concerned stares.
The next scene begins with Aunt Jenny’s arrival. For reasons not explained, she is being given a police escort. The officer escorting her rides up the driveway with his siren blaring. She gives the driver of the car, Sam, some instruction on car maintenance. This poor guy must have slept in the car and been told to stay out of sight for the duration of her visit. He is not seen or mentioned again! Perhaps Aunt Jenny put him up at a nearby motel while she visited the Bradys. Alice walks around the car and does appear to be speaking with him. Aunt Jenny and Carol embrace and share how wonderful it is to see one another. One would think here they were close and shared some kind of bond. However, Aunt Jenny acts as though she just found out Jan has five siblings and questions the duration of Carol’s marriage.
Inside the house, Aunt Jenny is introduced to the children, minus Jan. Jan not even coming down to meet Aunt Jenny is the epitome of rude. Instead of being so distraught at her looks, maybe Jan’s manners should be her chief concern! Aunt Jenny has come bearing gifts! In a funny line Marcia says that wasn’t necessary, but Bobby adds it is nice. Aunt Jenny replies, “Never look a gift aunt in the mouth”. Bobby’s gift is a basketball autographed by Wilt Chamberlain. This is one of two references to the famed basketball player on The Brady Bunch. This one is less infamous than the future one. Peter is given a pair of handcuffs once owned by Harry Houdini. Here we get the only reference that would suggest what Aunt Jenny does/did for a living. She says she and Houdini played the same vaudeville circuit where she did a tap dance and snappy pattern routine. How she would later come about her means to travel the world and brush elbows with the rich, famous and powerful is never made clear. Maybe there was a cut scene where she stated, with a wink and a smile “John Dillinger and I used to visit the same banks together”. Marcia’s gift must have been something Aunt Jenny had lying around and was looking to get rid of. She gives Marcia a shofar that is to be blown on Rosh Hashanah. Golda Meir gave it to Aunt Jenny. It is a strange gift for a teenage girl who past episodes would suggest is not Jewish. This was probably bound for the attic after Aunt Jenny left. What gift is given to Greg is never made known. If one looks closely, Cindy’s gift appears to be some kind of yellow shoes. The yellow objects are suddenly sitting in front of her as the scene continues, but we never see exactly what the gift was.
Jan finally comes downstairs and meets her “look alike” and receives the worst gift possible. After giving Aunt Jenny an icy reception, she is presented with a very unflattering caricature of Aunt Jenny and her assumed future self. Aunt Jenny states that Pietro created the unflattering image of her. Carol has to give Jan a nudge for her to acknowledge the gift with a word of thanks. Aunt Jenny immediately picks up on Jan’s icy demeanor.
Aunt Jenny visits with Mike and Carol in his den. Mike and Carol attempt to pass Jan off as just being shy and reserved. Aunt Jenny calls “balderdash” on this and wants to know why she got such cool vibes from Jan. She tells Mike and Carol to give it to her straight. Carol shares that Jan’s being down in the dumps all started when she received Aunt Jenny’s photograph in the mail. A few years ago, it was discussed on a message board Mike and Carol’s poor handling of this situation. It seems as though they were saying, “Jan thinks your ugly”. While this may have been true, it could have been worded in that at Jan’s age, looks are everything to a girl and Jan’s receiving a picture of an older woman not in tune with the styles and trends Jan finds flattering was a bit unnerving for her.
Now is a good time to pause and focus briefly on the episode’s guest star. Aunt Jenny was played by Imogene Coca. She began her entertainment career as a dancer but eventually segued into comedy. The acting gig that saw she was a permanent mainstay in the in the industry was on Your Show of Shows alongside Sid Caesar. While she never enjoyed the same level of success as she did on this show, she would remain a permanent fixture on television via other series and guest spots. She earned renewed notoriety to kids of the 80s when she played Aunt Edna is the 80s hit comedy film “National Lampoons Vacation”. Imogene Coca died in 2001.
The next scene has Jan and Aunt Jenny in the girls’ room hanging up Aunt Jenny’s clothes. The Bradys have no guest room, so I couldn’t help but ponder the sleeping arrangements during her visit. In this scene, Aunt Jenny shares with Jan she knows the reason for her angst and distance. Jan is embarrassed to have Aunt Jenny know this, but Aunt Jenny is a good sport about it. She says, “I’d rather look like Raquel Welch myself”. She goes on to share that if she had desired to do so, plastic surgery would have been a option to pretty things up. Instead, Aunt Jenny decided to own her unique look and not stop her busy life to change it. Jan finally gives Aunt Jenny a genuine smile at the end of the scene.
Down in the kitchen, Aunt Jenny is cooking up a meal with Carol and Alice. She shares the origin of the recipe as being one given to her by Emperor Hirohito’s chef. As dinner is prepared, she receives a phone call informing her she was given a llama. She acts as though it is no big deal. The reason the llama was given and Carol’s questioning what she will do with it follow. Aunt Jenny says it is no big deal; the llama can graze out back with her zebra. This scene seemed longer than the one I remember. I don’t remember it being shared that the humane society gave the animal to her or Carol asking what she’d do with it. Only that a llama was delivered and her reply that it can graze with her zebra. The extended dialogue slows down the crazy fast paced scene I remember. While this is shared, Jan listens in from around the corner and is amazed at what she has heard.
The next scene has Aunt Jenny and the Bradys sitting in the floor eating the Japanese meal. Aunt Jenny passes around a cup of tea for everybody to drink from. She encourages them all to take big slurps. Maybe this cup was also Houdini’s as there is no way that tea would hold out for nine people taking big gulps like that. During the course of the dinner, we find out about more of the famous people Aunt Jenny knows. She talks of meeting the king of Thailand and receives a phone call inviting her to a birthday party on Aristotle Onassis’ yacht. She says she isn’t missing her Peace Corps assignment in Bolivia to go to his party, but she does enjoy Jackie O’s company. Unless the party was in the next couple of days, did her secretary have to call with that news? The next phone call is to inform her that “Lester” has sent a dozen long stem roses with a marriage proposal. Marcia questions who Lester is and Aunt Jenny replies, “a United States senator.” The kids are in awe that a senator has proposed marriage.
Okay friends, let’s pause again for a minute. A few years ago a message board poster bemoaned Aunt Jenny’s constant name dropping and it started a fun online conversation. As a kid watching this, I never noticed how often Aunt Jenny had to make known the famous people she knows. Perhaps that is because I didn’t know who most of them were at the time. The online conversation stated how easily this globe trotting lady could have replied to Marcia’s question with, “Oh, just an old friend” or something like that. It got me thinking of how it might have been less obnoxious if Carol had passed along, “Lester Goldwater sent a marriage proposal”. Mike says, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think that was Senator Lester Goldwater”. Aunt Jenny could give a knowing smile and wink. Instead we just get some celebrity/famous person reference with most every scene that includes Aunt Jenny. Just for fun, I poked around and found a politician named Lester who was a sitting Senator at the time this episode was filmed. Let’s hope that guy wasn’t married and didn’t face some kind of political fallout from this episode!
Dinner is cut short with the third phone call Aunt Jenny receives during the meal. She forgot all about a dinner she was to attend at the American Embassy in Paris. She is leaving the Brady house right away. First she gives little notice that she is coming for a visit and then leaves abruptly. She is happy to know that Jan wishes she would not leave. Jan has come to find herself very fond of Aunt Jenny in a short time. Aunt Jenny says she will return. As Aunt Jenny goes upstairs to pack her international traveling duds, Jan says she hopes to be just like Aunt Jenny when she grows up. Where she was before distraught at the chance that her genes may cause her to resemble her aunt, she is now hopeful of the prospect.
The epilogue gives us one last round of name drops. While visiting Europe, Aunt Jenny broke her leg and it had to be in a cast. She has mailed the removed cast to Jan chock full of famous people’s autographs. Maybe Aunt Jenny’s high society life kept her from sweating much in that thing. I can only imagine that thing stunk if it was on her leg for any length of time. As Mike, Carol and Jan marvel over the signatures on the cast, Jan gets a phone call from a boy asking her out. She accepts but warns him she won’t be ready to settle down until she is at least 60 years old.
I wanted to share some nicer photos of the guest star before we conclude the review.
Thank you for joining me in the review of “Jan’s Aunt Jenny”. While the episode is annoying in some aspects, it is not necessarily one I dislike or loathe. It is just kind of a bump in the road when it comes to watching The Brady Bunch. It’s there and enjoyable enough. I don’t care for how Jan was so disenchanted with Aunt Jenny until she learned that she enjoyed a celebrity’s life despite her looks. What if Aunt Jenny was a retired secretary who worked at a hosiery mill for 40 years and had spent her last penny to fly across country and visit Jan? With no tales of scaling the Sphinx with Andwar Sadat, would Jan have ever taken a liking to this woman? Let’s hope so. Next week, we review “The Big Bet”. See you then!