From 1977 through 1981, television audiences watched Connie Needham growing up: The high school student from Anaheim was playing an all-American teen-ager in the popular ABC family series "Eight Is Enough."
"You know the type--a real nice kid, but just a little noisy, not that crazy about studies and who talks all day on the phone . . . just like I was," Needham said with a grin this week in the new home she and her husband, David, have just bought in Rowland Heights.
The show followed the Bradford family of eight kids and their dad. When it went off the air, Needham--then 21--came back to Orange County to start raising a family of her own. She also continued to act, in TV dramas and commercials.
And now it's one more time for the Bradford brood. A two-hour film for NBC-TV, "Eight Is Enough: A Family Reunion," is airing Sunday night at 9. All eight of the actors who played the Bradford kids and Dick Van Patten, who played their father, will be featured (Betty Buckley, who played the Bradford kids' stepmother, was making a film with Roman Polanski when the reunion movie was shot and will be replaced by Mary Frann).
It's the latest such resurrection in what's becoming a TV fad: The "Leave It to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" clans have already regathered, and there have even been encores for the townspeople of Matt Dillon's Dodge City and Andy Griffith's Mayberry.
But in the case of "Eight Is Enough," Needham said, it was more than that. It was also a matter of tying up loose ends.
The 15-day shoot at Lorimar's Culver City lot last summer was "like we had never been away," recalled Needham, now 27. "We'd left the show (after the 1980-81 season) thinking we might be back in the fall. Then we were dropped so abruptly, so we never got the chance to really say goodby."
However, Needham has kept in touch with several of the cast members, especially Dianne Kay, who remains active as a TV actress.
In the new movie, "we're all grown up, all the kids married and meeting again for the father's birthday," Needham said. "If this movie is a hit, who knows--we might be able to do another special."
Needham plays Elizabeth, the youngest Bradford daughter. She was attending Canyon High in Anaheim when the original series was made and had taken some dance classes, done a few TV commercials and spent one Disneyland season as one of the "New Mouseketeers."
"They seemed to want kids who weren't experienced actors, but real natural types," she recalled.
Since the show has been off the air, she has been seen in supporting roles in TV movies and such series as "Fame," "Boone" and "Love Boat," and in various commercials.
Upcoming this fall is a dramatic role in the award-winning "L.A. Law" series. Needham will play the mother of a child with birth defects.
But Needham's main task, she said, is caring for her own brood.
She and husband David, who have lived most of their married life in Newport Beach and Yorba Linda, have a small daughter, Kimberly, who's nearly 3. (David, a set decorator on such TV shows as the "The Law and Harry McGraw," is the son of director Hal Needham.)
"I think that's what life is all about--your own family," she said. "I'm lucky to be in the (acting) business. But you can be sure, my family will remain No. 1."
Spoken like a true, all-American Bradford.