Thanks to her super straight hair, sparkling blue eyes and “groovy’ clothes, teen and pre-teen girls envied her, boys admired her and parents wished their kids were more like her. Maureen McCormick, 54, and her alter ego, Marcia Brady were household names in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And by all accounts, McCormick’s fairy-tale life seemed perfect.
And Marcia Brady’s life was even better. Marcia was the pretty Brady sister. And at the end of a half an hour, all her problems seemed to melt easily away leaving behind a meaningful moral and a happy well-adjusted teen.
But, portraying the perfectly all-American character of Marcia Brady every day left the real person, Maureen, feeling anything but perfect. And these feelings of imperfection led Maureen down a dark path that, over time, included eating disorders, depression and even drug addiction.
It’s a story of a lovely baby
Maureen McCormick’s story began in California. Born to parents Irene and Richard , she was an adorable little girl with golden hair and blue eyes. At age 6, she won the Baby Miss San Fernando Valley beauty pageant which set her on the path to stardom. At age 8, she became the voice of Mattel’s Chatty Cathy dolls and starred in the doll’s commercials. Then, at 12, came her big break. McCormick was cast as Marcia Brady in a new show set to run on Friday nights on ABC. “I thought my life was perfect, little did I know the nightmare was about to begin,” she says.
“My parents were both loving, family-oriented people and that’s how we kids preferred to think of them,” says McCormick, the youngest of four. “The truth is, they fought. A lot!” Halfway through production of the first season, McCormick’s parents stepped up their routine fighting. And one fateful evening the fighting plunged to a new low that started Maureen, then going on 13, toward a path of anxiety, insecurity and depression.
“My father told us my mother’s mother – our grandmother – had contracted syphilis, passed it to her daughter, and subsequently died from it in a mental institution.” Then he dealt the pre-teen another blow, unveiling another of the family’s dark secrets adding Maureen’s mother had been treated for syphilis to prevent infecting any of her four children. “Even though he mentioned she was treated, in my eyes the die had been cast,” she says.
“Suddenly, my mother was a curiosity to me,” she explains.
And McCormick’s relationship with her mother took a sudden and dramatic turn. “So did my perception about myself,” she adds.
“I began to be embarrassed being in public with my mother, fearing someone would somehow “know” our family’s secrets.” McCormick also became paranoid about her mother’s health, thinking she too, was somehow infected or would follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and go crazy.
While McCormick wrestled with her demons, the Brady’s popularity grew exponentially. And Marcia’s perfect image remained untested as Maureen felt haunted by her mother’s secret health history.
During the episode that had Marcia Brady getting braces, McCormick was required to cry, a lot. “As Marcia said in the script, I just felt ugly, ugly, ugly,” she says. And little did viewers or her cast mates know that when Marcia Brady shed scripted tears, McCormick, emotionally over-taxed from desperately trying to maintain a perfect persona, was the one crying. “That was the first time I cried since witnessing my parent’s huge fight,” she says. “Little did anyone know it felt so good to cry.”
McCormick went on to play Marcia Brady for four more seasons, which meant four more years of feeling insecure and imperfect in the shadows of her seemingly perfect character. And of battling her self image. “There was a lot of pressure to be thin so I always tried to hide my stomach,” she says explaining why Marcia cleverly held pillows and towels in front of her when wearing a bathing suit or something that may reveal her curves.
As production on the Brady Bunch neared the end, 17-year-old Maureen stepped up her ambition to attain her perceived perfect body image. She turned to bulimia, a life-threatening eating disorder to achieve the curve-less body she desired, until getting pregnant with her daughter, Natalie in 1988. “One day a friend showed me what it was, how to do it and how to hide it and I did it. And, I kept it hidden from friends and family for years.”
Her post-Brady late teens and early 20s found McCormick doing everything and anything to be un-Brady. And to bury the emotional pain she tried to hide. “I was introduced to drugs through a boyfriend. It was crazy,” she says. “On top of wanting to please people, I’m a very addictive personality and one “toot” of cocaine got me hooked.”
Taking a stand
Heavy into drugs and still bulimic, McCormick says she spent the next few years looking at the world through bloodshot eyes strung out on cocaine and experimenting with a host of other drugs. “I used drugs to “feel better”, try to gain acceptance and suppress the emotional pain of my childhood and depression. Bulimia was an avenue to gain the perfect physical image.”
Returning to work as Marcia Brady, five years after the original series ended, for the prime-time special The Brady Brideshad McCormick nearing rock bottom. And on the verge of losing the job because she was entrenched in her depression and drug use. But, then Jerry Houser was cast as Marcia Brady’s husband and he accomplished what several interventions and stints in therapy couldn’t: Point Maureen to the path to a healthy, drug-free life.
Meeting Michael, her husband of over 24 years, further strengthened McCormick’s footing on the road to overcoming years of bulimia, drugs, depression and shame.” Opening up to Michael about my drug filled past, mother’s secrets and my struggle with wanting to fit in and feel accepted was freeing,” she says.
Learning to just say no
For most of her life McCormick said “yes”. “I wanted to be perfect, to please people so they would like me. So, I always agreed or said yes to things regardless of how I felt or what I wanted.” As time passed, Maureen began standing up for herself. Finally admitting she needed help, she made the decision to try antidepressant medication.
At the urging of her daughter, in 2007 McCormick appeared on the fifth season of VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, a reality game show she won by losing 34 pounds. “Being “naked” in front of America, that was so hard because women guard their weight, that number, so dearly.” But the appearance did have a few habits threatening to resurface. “When you’re an addict you struggle with it forever.” That struggle made her fear relapsing back into bulimia by doing Fit Club. “But, I stayed strong and true to being healthy.”
Embracing her imperfect outlook, McCormick admits she’s gained a bit of the weight back, but is OK with that. “I’m 54 and it’s not easy to lose weight. You’re body changes as you get older and I have to exercise and really watch what I eat.”
Today, McCormick is free of the family secrets she once held so dear. In her book she’s opening up sharing not only her history, but her family’s battle with elder abuse, depression and drug use. “Telling “it all” was very liberating,” she says.
“I thought, “I’ve done my pretending and don’t have to anymore. I can love and accept myself for who I am.” She’s also wants to reach out to others who may be going through similar issues. “They should know they’re not alone.” And, that not-so-perfect is pretty darn groovy!