I’ve mentioned this before, but I was a little bit of a Brady nut when I was a teenager. It may have been my first geek-obsession. I don’t know why – I fully realized that the show was ridiculous and schlocky, but there was something about it that I loved. I wasn’t alone either. The Brady’s were having a weird resurgence in popularity in the early 90’s. Brady books lined the shelves (I had a fair few – including Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook) and the Real Live Brady Bunch was a theatrical hit* (and starred a pre-Conan Andy Richter and Jane Lynch in the cast!), and of course, The Brady Bunch Movie, which was a hilarious and satirical take on America’s grooviest family. Barry Williams was a genius for writing this book when he did, and as I recall it sold pretty well.
The book starts off (after a Foreword written by Robert Reed) with a hilarious prologue in which the Brady family (now grown) are on a media tour to promote their TV show The Bradys. Which was terrible (and they knew it was terrible) and lasted a half a season. They were wasted on the plane, Cindy was threatened with arrest, but they had a great time getting to know Brady fans.
Then it delves into fairly innocuous biography territory. Barry Williams (born Barry William Blenkhorn) was a kid obsessed with acting. His parents weren’t giving in to his pleas for acting lessons, so he became a performer for his older brothers and their friends. Whenever they wanted trouble (sneaking girlie mags, raiding the liquor cabinet, setting off firecrackers in a beehive) little Barry was always willing to do whatever they wanted, so long as he got the attention.
At eleven, his parents gave in and got him acting lessons. He landed a couple of spots on TV shows, and eventually auditioned for The Brady Bunch, the brain child of producer Sherwood Schwartz who became aware that blended families were not well-represented on television, in that there weren’t any.
In his arrogance, Barry was sure he was a lock for Greg (despite competition hundreds of kids deep) but Sherwood set him straight. Susan Olsen was the only kid who was cast immediately upon her audition by being fucking adorable.
The most shocking thing about reading this book, was finding out that Robert Reed could be kind of an asshole. Aww…Mike Brady, an asshole? He was a classically trained actor and took the job for a paycheck, convinced the network wouldn’t pick it up seeing the pilot. He was wrong and he ended up on the Brady set as Mike, the role for which he would become best known, for the next five years. Except for the last episode – he and Sherwood had butted heads so badly, Mike wasn’t in the final episode. And, Sherwood even says that if they had been picked up for season six, the Brady’s would have been Mike-less. Mike and Sherwood’s (and later Lloyd Schwartz’s) feuds over terrible scripts became legendary at the Paramount Studio.
Beyond the Reed & Schwartz feud, a lot of the book focused on the relationships of the actors who played the Brady kids. Barry and Mo (Marcia Brady’s Maureen McCormick) were pretty hot and heavy, and made out frequently in his trailer. Susan Olsen (Cindy) and Mike Lookinland (Bobby) got play-married, and Christopher Knight (Peter) and Eve Plumb (Jan) even had their own thing for a while.
In later seasons, the Bradys became cross-promotional hits. You might recall a few episodes featuring the cast singing and dancing – and they put a few albums out. (I may or may not have had this on cassette tape.) They performed all over the country at smaller arenas and county fairs. They also got their real first taste of being famous. Up to that point, they’d worked on the Paramount lot, then went home each night. But now they were face to face with TONS of screaming fans. And, of course, greedy agents saw their chance, represented all six kids and went to Sherwood Schwartz with demands about getting their act in the show more. The agent managed to break up the bunch (Barry & Chris vs. the others) when it came to voicing the characters in a Brady Kids cartoon. To his credit, Barry Williams is pretty contrite about it, but really – he was eighteen and being led on by shysters.
After the fifth season, The Brady Bunch was canceled. But it wasn’t over yet. The cast got together for the Brady Bunch Variety Hour just three years after the show was over. Then there was The Brady Brides. And then, in 1989, the surprise success of A Very Brady Christmas, which in turn led to the short-lived television series The Bradys. Oddly enough, Robert Reed, who was never happy playing a Brady, came back for every Brady reunion show.
And the book ends with Barry getting married, and all his Brady family there with him (except Mike Lookinland who was home with a nine-months pregnant wife).
This book is actually pretty entertaining, and Barry Williams is pretty open and honest about his life as, and after being, a Brady. Even though my Brady geekiness has toned down about a million times since I was a geek-teen, I still really enjoyed re-reading this.
So here we go: Brady fun facts!
- Sherwood Schwartz’s first choice to play Mike Brady was Gene Hackman.
- The Brady Bunch was a single-camera sitcom, which is something that surprises me now. Multi-cam was the rage, and remained so until about ten years ago, but Sherwood Schwartz believed you got better acting, especially from children, using the single-cam method.
- All this feuding and fighting between Robert Reed and Schwartz, may make you wonder why he didn’t just quit. Barry asked him about it when writing the book. Reed says that mostly it was because he couldn’t get out of his contract. And in the beginning, he always thought it could be more than silly slapstick comedy and he held out that hope for a while. And he was also very fond of his co-stars, especially the kids.
- In fact, he liked the kids so much, he treated all the cast to a cruise on the QEII.
- When they were in Hawaii, none of them are wearing lifejackets in the rowboat scene – for reasons entirely having to do with vanity. Unfortunately Susan Olsen couldn’t swim yet and their boat capsized on one take and Florence Henderson had to pull her to safety.
- Speaking of Florence Henderson – she has a very raunchy sense of humor and Barry had a major crush on her. He even took her out on a date one time. She was humoring him, but still.
- They had a lot of guest stars over the years. Henry Kissinger didn’t guest star, but he did use his power to get him and his daughter to visit the set. And NASA astronaut James McDivitt guested starred and said, “Being on the Brady Bunch is really going to make me a hero at my house.” Well, it made me laugh.
- Barry shot the scene where Mike brings home a sailboat while he was very very stoned.
- For the love of God, Barry wants us all to know that he did NOT perm his hair ever. Once he turned sixteen, his hair stopped being kind enough to agree to simple combing and blow-drying. Robert Reed, however, also claimed to never perm his hair, but Barry thinks he miiiight have been lying about that.
*I’ve always had this weird dream to create a stage show called The Real Live Babysitters Club. Someone help me make this happen.