6 Secrets from the Brady Vault
The Brady Bunch debuted 40 years ago this week. To celebrate, we’re re-running Kara’s excellent story about the series, which was originally posted last year.
Here’s the story of how a show started as a typical formulaic sitcom, but grew into a syndicated monster. From the time Greg Brady got high to the reason Cindy Brady started balding, here’s a quick rundown of all things Brady you probably didn’t know.
1. In Real-Life, Jan Gave Marcia the Complex
Maureen McCormick played Marcia, the eldest Brady daughter, and the object of lust of many a teenaged boy during the tenure of The Brady Bunch. What the public didn’t know, however, was that “Mo” always felt inferior to Eve Plumb, who played middle sister Jan. Eve had longer, blonder, more luxurious hair. Eve developed curves before Maureen did (and took pleasure in flaunting her blossoming physique by going braless under her tight-fitting tops in later seasons). The very slender Mo also felt that she had a bit of a tummy “pooch” and during the time the entire cast was en route to Hawaii for an exciting “on location” three-part episode, all she could think about was her horror at having to appear on camera in a bikini. Watch those Hawaii episodes when they rerun and you’ll see that Maureen always manages to hold a beach towel or robe in front of her lower torso in any bathing suit scenes.
2. Barbershop of Horrors: Why Cindy Started Balding
With the parents in place, the team of brown-haired boys and blonde girls made the final cut, with one exception. For the role of Bobby Brady, the youngest boy, producers favored Mike Lookinland, who had strawberry-blond hair. He was hired only after his parents agreed to let Miss Clairol do her thing on their son’s locks. Savvy viewers will note how Bobby’s hair color varied between dark brown and jet black before the make-up folks found just the right shade of hair dye for him. Susan Olsen had a different problem; she was a natural blonde, but producers felt the youngest Brady wasn’t blonde enough. They ordered eight-year-old Olsen’s hair to be bleached regularly to give her that adorable towhead look. When her hair began falling out in clumps during the second season, a tearful Susan complained to Sherwood Schwartz, who immediately ordered the staff to leave “Cindy’s” hair alone.
3. Gene Hackman Almost Played the Lead
The producers started testing kids to fill the roles of the six Bradley children. Since the parents hadn’t yet been cast, they had to have two full sets of kids at the ready – one set with dark-haired boys and blonde girls, and another set with the opposite coloring. The first choice to play Ma Bradley was character actress Joyce Bulifant (who would later go on to play Murray’s wife on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). However, once comedic actress Ann B. Davis was cast as Alice, the producers decided that a more “serious” actress was needed to play the mother. Florence Henderson ultimately got the job, but was forced to wear a wig during the first season because her own hair had been cropped short when she co-starred in an off-Broadway revival of South Pacific. For the role of Mike Brady (the family’s surname had changed by this time), producers were debating between a then-unknown Gene Hackman and Robert Reed. They finally chose Reed because he had marquee value from his co-starring role on the popular series The Defenders.
4. Greg Brady Liked to Get High
In one first season episode, Greg Brady succumbed to peer pressure and smoked a cigarette. The on-camera coughs and chokes of a novice smoker were a true acting stretch for Barry “Greg” Williams, who’d been inhaling a pack of Marlboros per day since the age of twelve. Williams’ “smoking” experience was not limited to tobacco. Like many teens in the 1970s, Barry was known to occasionally share a doobie among friends. He’d been sparking up one afternoon (on one of his days off ) when he received a call from the studio that certain scenes of the “Law and Disorder” episode needed to be re-shot. Barry dutifully reported to the set, but it became obvious to all present that something was not quite right with Greg Brady. Aside from his stumbling over nothing in the driveway, there was the glazed look in his eyes and the stilted delivery of his few lines regarding Dad’s purchase of a boat that tipped the producers off and caused furious re-writes to reduce Greg’s part in this episode.
5. The Brady Bunch Might Never Have Made it Without Lucille Ball
Back in 1965, producer Sherwood Schwartz was browsing through the Los Angeles Times when a sidebar caught his eye; it was a “filler piece” statistic box that stated 31% percent of all marriages at that time included a child from a previous relationship. He grabbed a notepad and started scribbling ideas –- the types of sibling rivalries that could emerge in “blended” families, the problem of a parent showing his “natural” children favoritism, etc. From his notes he developed a concept for a TV series he called Yours and Mine. He shopped his script to the three major networks and was turned down each time. Three years later, United Artists released a film called Yours, Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, which told the story of a widow with eight children who married a father of ten. The film did well at the box office, and suddenly ABC was interested in Schwartz’s script (then called The Bradley Brood).
6. Robert Reed’s Hard Life
Robert Reed’s homosexuality had been an unspoken secret on the Brady Bunch set. In the early days of rehearsals, Florence Henderson commented to the producers about Bob’s reticence in kissing scenes. With many years of theater on her resume, she had an intuition when it came to fellow actors and boldly asked Sherwood Schwartz at one point “Is there something wrong with me, or is Bob Reed gay?” According to close friends, Robert Reed led a tortured life and was a self-hating homosexual – he thought of his sexual preference as an “illness” or “disorder” and tried to suppress it. Despite his antagonism towards Sherwood Schwartz, Reed doted on his TV “family” and even treated the entire clan (at his own expense) to a trip aboard the QEII to England, so that they could see Shakespeare’s birthplace. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1992 and was also HIV positive. He’d remained in close contact with Florence Henderson over the years and asked her (from his hospital bed) to break the news of his illness to the “kids.” After hearing the news, each of the Brady siblings phoned Bob to chat with him one last time, and they all traveled to Skokie, Illinois, to attend his funeral.
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