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The Krofftettes were a dance troupe, who also performed water ballet, featured on The Brady Bunch Hour from 1976 to 1977. They were the first to perform synchronized swimming as a regular feature on a prime-time network program.
The group was created by Sid and Marty Krofft as a spinoff of The Ice Vanities, which performed skating routines on their other variety endeavor, Donny & Marie. When ABC programming executive Michael Eisner asked the Kroffts to create a new show for The Brady Bunch, Sid decided that the next best thing to ice would be a gigantic swimming pool, inspired by Esther Williams movies of the 1940s and 50s.
On October 25, 1976, the Kroffts held auditions for the group with choreographer Joe Cassini in the ABC headquarters at 1313 N. Vine in Hollywood. There they met Charkie Phillips, a classically trained dancer from Florida and competitive swimmer with an extensive background in water ballet. Phillips was selected to help Cassini choose dancers who could also handle the rigors of synchronized swimming.
The core group of Krofftettes consisted of eight women:
- Charkie Phillips
- Christine Cullen Wallace
- Susan Buckner
- Linda Hoxit
- Judy Susman
- Lynne Latham
- Dee Kaye
- Robyn Blythe
Originally, ten Krofftettes were featured in the pilot episode of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour on November 28, 1976, and also included Laura Steele and Michelle Horowitz. However, they did not come back when the show returned the following January leaving only eight members.
Alternates included Michele Adler, who filled in for Linda Hoxit on the pilot.
Valerie Jean Miller (for Dee Kaye) and Susie Guest (for Susan Buckner) also served as alternates on synchronized swimming, one episode each. Laurie Bartram appeared with the group in one dance number featuring The Hudson Brothers.
The Kroffts obtained the services of a professional pool company, and the pool arrived in sections that were bolted together and sealed. They had to get clearance from the City of Los Angeles that the substructure of sound stage would hold it up, and because the water weight distributed itself evenly over the floor the pounds per inch was given approval. The swimming pool was forty-five feet long, twenty-five feet across, and sixty-eight inches deep, and was constructed on Stage 2 at KTLA in Hollywood above the floor. It contained 47,756 gallons of water complemented by spiral staircases, psychedelic lights, steep water slides, rushing water jets, and overhead runways. Seven porthole windows along the sides of the tank and underwater cameras allowed crew members to film the swimmers performing “aquabatics.” The production crew ended up having to put Sparkletts bottled water in the pool and install a recycling pump station outside the sound stage. Finally, an overhead camera was installed to film the pool from above as the swimmers formed kaleidoscopic shapes in the water.
Both the swimmers and stage crew faced many challenges with the swimming pool during production. Because the pool was located next door to the ice rink for Donny & Marie on Stage 1, the Krofftettes entered exited the water in frigid air temperatures while rehearsing for the pilot episode. This caused steam to rise out of the water. Attempts to equalize the temperature of both the water and air then turned the pool into a warm bath. Because the pool had no indentures along the sides or ladders, the swimmers were forced to tread water for lengthy periods of time.
Unlike traditional synchronized swimming, the Krofftettes were expected to sit on the bottom of the pool floor in various formations. In order to accomplish this, the women had to completely exhale all of their breath so that they would sink in a state of hypoxia. The ABC network would not allow the use of goggles and any unsightly air bubble escaping from a desperate nostril was absolutely forbidden.
Because the Krofftettes had double duty as dancers on stage with the Bradys during the day, swimming sequences were often relegated to late night hours. This required the women to work more than 15 consecutive hours on days they were filming.
Other hazards with the swimming pool included props weighed to the bottom which presented unwelcome obstructions. In addition, the Kroffts decided in one production number to have gas canisters in the pool which they ignited during filming as a special effect. The Krofftettes were also forced to smear Vaseline into their scalp so that everything would stay in place while under water. This could only be removed with a recipe of Spic and Span along with Joy dishwashing liquid which turned everyone’s hair green. Turbans and other head pieces were then used for the remainder of the series.
At one point, Sid Krofft wanted to put dolphins in the pool with the Krofftettes. When he was informed that they would die in chlorinated water, Sid is credited with replying, “Well, how long would they live?”
The Krofftettes were the first water ballet troupe to be filmed on video tape, which presented its own set of challenges. The Kroffts experimented with an under water camera but relied more on large porthole windows in which cameras taped from outside of the pool itself. Cast, crew, and visitors alike were known to visit the stage and observe the young women during rehearsals through these windows, which included Chevy Chase and Paul Shaffer who were working at KTLA on a television special. Shaffer noted in his autobiography, We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives, that Chase would cut production meetings short so that everyone could go watch the Krofftettes perform.
The Krofftettes brought water ballet back to a national audience for the first time in nearly 15 years, following Esther Williams's final film in 1963. Choreographer Charkie Phillips also staged synchronized swimming for thirteen episodes of NBC’s The Big Show in 1980, and then with Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper (1981). Many of the original Krofftettes appeared in both productions, in addition to a notable water ballet sequence in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1. In 2009, a comprehensive documentary of The Krofftettes was featured in the book Love to Love You Bradys by Susan Olsen.
- "Love to Love You Bradys," page 135-162
- The Brady Bunch Hour at the Internet Movie Database
- The Brady Bunch at the Internet Movie Database
- Complete Guide to The Brady Bunch Hour
- Interview with Linda Hoxit
- The Brady Bunch on TVLand.com
- The World of Sid and Marty Krofft at MySpace
- Sid Krofft at the Internet Movie Database
- Marty Krofft at the Internet Movie Database
- Krofft.net - The Krofft Fan Network
- The Great Muppet Caper at the Internet Movie Database