Here’s the story, of a lovely lady…
Got you singing, didn’t I? Those are the opening words to one of the most famous theme songs in history and is, of course, that of “The Brady Bunch,” the iconic 1970’s TV show that this year is celebrating its 50th Anniversary with a big HGTV special and reunions galore. This “Brady Bunch” fan could not be happier! Are you with me?
Here’s the Story
Created by Sherwood Schwartz (I even knew his name and when I close my eyes I can see it in the show open), “The Brady Bunch” premiered 50 years ago this month on September 26, 1969 (the same year we landed on the moon and Woodstock was held) and ran until March 8, 1974. It was inspired by a news story about a blended family and Schwartz interviewed more than 260 boys and girls to find his perfect bunch. As for Carol (the lovable Florence Henderson) and Mike, Gene Hackman was actually considered for the role of Mike Brady, but at the time he was an unknown actor so Robert Reed was chosen instead. “The Brady Bunch” was hands-down one of my favorite shows to watch, along with “The Partridge Family,” and I still love it to this day. I wanted so bad to be Marcia Brady and thought she was so cool and so pretty. If I ever meet Maureen McCormick who portrayed her, I think I might even get a little nervous and shout out “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”
Truth be told, the acting wasn’t great and the scripts weren’t very believable, so why was “The Brady Bunch” a success and why is it still one in syndication?
Originally titled “Mine and Yours” by Schwartz, similarities were made between it and two hit movies from the time, “Yours, Mine, and Ours” starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball and “With Six You Get Eggroll” starring Brain Keith (Uncle Bill from another favorite of mine, “Family Affair”) and Doris Day (a forever favorite of mine.) It’s important to note that “Brady Bunch” scripts predated those of both movies.
As corny as it was, you can’t deny the Bradys were groundbreaking. The family was a blended one, consisting of the kids (Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan, and Cindy for those of you living under a rock for the past 50 years) of a widowed dad Mike and the mom he marries, Carol Martin. Funny thing is, it was never revealed whether Carol was a widow or a divorcee. ABC objected to Schwartz’s desire that Carol be a divorcee, so instead her marital status was never revealed. How times have changed.
Add to this the fact that back then Los Angeles and California were both cool and enviable places to live. What young American did not long to pack their bags and move the LA in search of their dreams? Again, how times have changed.
Carol and Mike must have done something right, as the six Brady kids in real life have remained fairly clean compared to many other child stars. You really haven’t heard about Marcia being in rehab, Bobby going to jail, or any of them making headlines. Instead, the six actors have kept working both on screen and off and for the most part, remain fairly normal people. This alone is worth celebrating.
Not everything Brady was perfect though. Case in point: Carol’s heinous hairdo! I remember thinking it was soooo bad even back then. And how, pray tell, did three girls and three boys share one bathroom? No way, no how. And, did you know a toilet was never shown?
One question I always had was why in the world did Carol Brady need a live-in housekeeper when she didn’t work full-time outside the home? Come to find out that dear, beloved Alice (Ann B. Davis, a name forever engrained in my brain) had actually been Mike’s housekeeper so how sweet of him to include her in his new family. The boy’s dog Tiger also made the cut.
Ironically, the series was never a big critics or ratings winner, but in syndication it’s a huge hit with an episode said to be broadcast somewhere in the U.S. and abroad every day of the year. Schwartz believes part of its original appeal is because it was written from the kids’ point-of-view, not that of the parents. Situations like boy trouble, sibling rivalry, and meeting famous rock stars appealed to the young audience as did the fact that despite short-lived conflicts, the Bradys were a harmonious family that demonstrated respect, honesty, and acceptance. Every character was lovable in some way or another. For Cindy (Susan Olsen), it was that lisp. It was real and Olsen worked with a speech therapist until age 19 and ultimately had it corrected with surgery.
Season one focused on issues any blended family might face: accommodations in newly shared home, resentments toward siblings, and boy/girl rivalries and differences. After that initial season, scripts concentrated more on typical preteen and teenaged issues like puppy love, self-image, and responsibility. Remember when Greg was “grown up” and moved upstairs to his own private room and how furious Marcia was about it?! Never was anything political brought up however, which is especially laudable given the fact that the Vietnam War was being waged during the series’ run. How wonderful if today’s sitcoms and TV shows would do the same, no?
Nonetheless, sensitive subjects were addressed. In one episode Carol reminds Bobby that the only steps in their house were the ones leading to the second floor. In other words, there were no stepchildren in the Brady household, only children.
The House That TV Built
Now, all these years later, “The Brady Bunch” is taking over TV again. HGTV’s four-episode miniseries, “A Very Brady Renovation,” premieres tonight and is the most anticipated of the many commemorations planned. The series will follow all six Brady kids as they help makeover the LA home that was used for exterior shots of their TV home and turn the inside into what we all remember the Brady house to be. In it, each cast member is assigned a room to remodel, all the while being helped by HGTV stars Drew and Jonathan Scott of “Property Brothers” as well as stars from “Restored by the Fords,” “Hidden Potential,” “Flea Market Flip,” and “Good Bones.” I can’t wait and already have the DVR set!
HGTV bought the home last year for nearly $2 million, outbidding many others. The actual house was never used in the making of the original series, with all filming done at Paramount Studios. But, what living and breathing Brady fan does not remember the classic suburban house and its distinct two story exterior? In one episode Mrs. Brady gave the address of 4222 Clinton Way, but it’s recently been revealed the house is actually on Dilling Street in North Hollywood and tourists drive by it and take selfies 24-7. The fact that this mid-century modern abode is a nostalgic keeper says a lot, as most split-level houses of its kind are today’s tear downs, not fixer-uppers. Actor Christopher Knight, who played Peter, told “Parade” magazine that he was always shocked at how connected the audience is to the house because they really had no recollection of it because they never worked there.
One thing I didn’t know is that the house was supposedly designed by Mike, an architect. It is said that the house, built in 1959, was selected by Schwartz because he felt it looked like something an architect would live in. Personally, I was always confused that the upstairs in exterior shots looked to be on the left side of the house but the interior stairs seemed to lead to the right. Now I know why.
I loved the Brady’s house. The kitchen was big and had double ovens! It was two-story. Mom and dad always casually sat and visited in the living room and the entry had double doors! The sleeper–style sofas in the den? We still have similar ones at my mom’s. We call them the Brady Bunch couches. In that same made-for-television den was a painting on the wall of a young what looks like a Native American girl. Our friends growing up had the same exact print! I’m telling you, the Bradys were very special. TV magic. Brady magic.
Much has been revealed about the cast, including the fact that Barry Williams (Greg) and McCormick had their first kiss while filming in Hawaii and that Olsen and Mike Lookinland (Bobby) used to make out in Tiger’s doghouse. The fact that Reed was gay was kept secret by the entire cast until his passing and Olsen and Lookinland have since shared that Reed was more of a father figure to them than their biological dads. Today Williams and Christopher Knight (Peter) remain friends and were at each other’s weddings but sadly, McCormick and Eve Plumb (Jan) didn’t get along during filming and still don’t.
McCormick however developed strong bonds with both Davis and Henderson and they remained close up until the two elders passed.
Perhaps all of this is why it’s so wonderful and why I love that all six actors reunited for the making of anniversary-related events including Brady-focused episodes of “Chopped, “Pioneer Woman” and other Discovery and Food Network shows. I have to believe that Henderson, Reed, and Davis would also be involved if they were still with us today. Reed passed away in 1992 and Henderson, who was born on Valentine’s Day, succumbed to a life-long battle with heart disease in 2016 at the age of 82. Following her years of playing the Brady’s devoted housekeeper, Davis lived a quiet religious life until her death in 2014.
We all had our favorite Brady, but perhaps it was beloved Alice who ranked highest. Alice was indeed a bit odd, but she was spot on when it came to solving family conflicts, being the voice of reason, and cleaning up messes. She was the mainstay of the family and the kids always knew they could count on her as a trusted confident and sounding board. We all need an Alice in our lives, right?
A Tune for the Ages
I started this blog with the first line from the show’s open; an open that will forever live in infamy and is truly a cultural phenomenon. The at the time “high tech” style has been credited with “The Brady Bunch effect” and it was selected by “TV Guide” readers as the eighth best show opener ever. My guess is that as you’re reading this, you’re singing the song and visualizing the faces in the tic-tac-do grid design.
Written by Schwartz and Frank De Vol, it was originally arranged and performed by a group called “Peppermint Trolley Company” but in season two, the Brady kids took over the singing of it. I remember when that happened and thought it was so cool!
I also loved some of their other songs, especially when they sang “Sunshine Day” and “Keep on Dancing” (in those matching blue and white pants and sweaters outfits!) from the episode where they were on “Amateur Hour.” The Brady kids also recorded several albums but none became hits. Oh well, for that we had “The Partridge Family,” right?
The new anniversary events are just part of the popular Brady bank vault. Sequels and spin-offs have also hit the airwaves, as have an animated series, a variety show, TV movies, and a stage play. Apparently we never get bored with all things Brady.
So that’s the story of a man named Brady and his blended bunch that influenced a generation of fans and continues to do so. I have a hunch we haven’t seen the last of the beloved Bradys. Carol and Mike would be proud.