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Betty Buckley Recalls Outdated Gender Roles on “Eight Is Enough”: ‘They Put Me in the Kitchen’ (Exclusive)

The star of the new horror movie 'Imaginary' played Abby Bradford on the popular '70s and early '80s TV series

<p>ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; John Boal</p> Betty Buckley (left, in 1978) starred on

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; John Boal

Betty Buckley (left, in 1978) starred on 'Eight Is Enough' for four seasons.

Eight is Enough remains a fan-favorite TV show for millions of Americans, but for star Betty Buckley, making the 1977-81 ABC comedy-drama could be difficult at times.

Buckley, who’d made her movie debut in the horror film Carrie in 1976, was cast as Abby Abbott, a teacher and widow who falls for and marries the series’ patriarch, Tom Bradford (Dick Van Patten), himself a widowed father of eight.

Future Cats Tony winner Buckley, 76, was brought on as a mother figure to replace Diana Hyland, who had previously played Tom’s wife Joan. The actress (who was in a relationship with Buckley’s Carrie costar John Travolta at the time) died of breast cancer at age 41 after filming just a few episodes of the series.

Hyland’s death was written into the series, and Buckley's Abby was slowly introduced to viewers as well as into the Bradford household.

“It was the first time I'd been to Hollywood and gone through a big negotiation with attorneys and stuff like that. I had to hire a major gunslinger attorney to handle them,” she tells PEOPLE, adding of production company Lorimar, “They were very, very tough to deal with.”

Related: Why Carrie and Imaginary Star Betty Buckley Is Up for Playing 'Weird, Crazy Ladies' In Horror Movies (Exclusive)

Her negotiation to join the series would be the first of many times she butted heads with the powers that be.

“The first season they promised me this character who was getting her doctorate and drove an old green MG, and they made her sound like this really interesting modern person,” says Buckley.

<p>ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty </p> From left: Susan Richardson, Laurie Walters, Connie Newton, Dick Van Patten, Adam Rich, Grant Goodeve, Betty Buckley, Willie Aames, Dianne Kay and Lani O'Grady in a 1978 'Eight Is Enough' cast photo.

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

From left: Susan Richardson, Laurie Walters, Connie Newton, Dick Van Patten, Adam Rich, Grant Goodeve, Betty Buckley, Willie Aames, Dianne Kay and Lani O'Grady in a 1978 'Eight Is Enough' cast photo.

But that wasn’t the case. “They put me in a muumuu and put me in the kitchen. And so I was like, ‘You guys, this is pre-1950s. Come on,’” says Buckley, who was in her twenties at the time she began filming the series.

The actresses who played her stepchildren, including Laurie Walters, Lani O’Grady and Dianne Kay, were Buckley’s age or just a few years younger. Buckley says she was forbidden from wearing jeans on the show because she’d be seen as trying to be “competitive” with the girls, which was a no-no.

She even pitched a food fight to the writers after an encounter with Laverne & Shirley actress Penny Marshall, who thought Eight is Enough needed to “lighten up,” as Buckley says. But on the day it was set to shoot, she was excluded.

“I was so excited because this idea that I had passed along from Penny Marshall was going to be used [and] they came to me and said, ‘You can't be in the food fight because Abby's a role model and ABC standards and practices said no,’” she recalls.

“They wanted me to behave and act with the maturity of a 40-year-old woman because Diana Highland, who was the original mother, had been a 40-year-old woman,” she continues.

<p>ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty</p> Adam Rich and Betty Buckley on 'Eight Is Enough' in 1979.

ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

Adam Rich and Betty Buckley on 'Eight Is Enough' in 1979.

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“One day I was sitting in my dressing room  and one of the girls [who played a stepdaughter], I won't say her name, she came in. She goes, ‘Betty, I know you're going through a really rough time. I just want you to know I'm older than you are.’ So amazing. It was funny,” continues Buckley.

Despite the frustrating moments, Buckley has said working on the show was still a “dream job.”

“I look back on it — 29 episodes a year for four years — it was an extraordinary gift,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. “I grew into a better actress. I’m very proud of it.”

Buckley remained close with her cast mates and would often see them whenever she was in Los Angeles at outings arranged by the late publicist Jeff Ballard, who used to work as Van Patten’s assistant.

“He was always getting us all together,” Buckley tells PEOPLE of Ballard. “‘Betty's come to town!’ And they'd get everybody to come see me in concert and hang out.”

She also has fond memories of her onscreen stepson Adam Rich, who died in 2023 at age 54. “I think some of my best scenes on the show were working with Adam,” she says. “He was just a great little kid.”

Her latest role in Imaginary is far from the motherly Abby of Eight is Enough. In the horror film, she stars as Gloria, a nosy neighbor living next door to Jessica (DeWanda Wise), a Louisiana woman whose stepdaughter finds a terrifying teddy bear in their basement.

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