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People Top 5
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PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- June 01, 1992
- Vol. 37
- No. 21
Here's the Story...
The Story of How The Brady Bunch, the Syrupy '70s Sitcom, Became a '90s Sensation—And How Its Kid Cast Copes with Adulthood and a TV Dad Who Died
Well, Schwartz's whale is back, sopping us all with the mild suburban travails of Greg, Bobby, Peter, Marcia, Jan, Cindy, newlywed parents Mike and Carol, and, of course, Alice, the maid. The series, which aired on ABC from 1969 to 1974 (where it was regularly housed in the Nielsen Top 20), can now be seen in daily reruns on JOO stations. Growing Up Brady, a paperback memoir by Barry Williams, who played oldest son Greg, has sold almost 100,000 copies in the month since it first appeared in bookstores. There is even a hit stage version of the show, a borderline camp production (originating in Chicago, the show is currently in New York City and Los Angeles), in which the casts act out series scripts.
Interest in the series was also heightened—tragically—when Robert Reed, who played architect and paterfamilias Mike Brady, died May 12 at age 59 (PEOPLE, May 25). His death, first attributed simply to colon cancer, was later revealed to have been hastened by AIDS. "There were a few of us who knew that he was HIV positive, and we protected his privacy," says Florence Henderson (Reed's TV wife, Carol Brady)."I really, honestly don't think everyone on the show knew. I never discussed it with anyone except Barry Williams. The others, even if they had known, would have protected his privacy."
Williams and Susan Olsen (Cindy) agree that, for Reed, privacy was paramount. "It doesn't surprise me that he kept that information to himself." says Williams, who pauses to add, "This is still emotionally charged for me. My relationship with Bob was as a friend, father and actor."
As to how or when Reed could have contracted AIDS, his TV family refuses to speculate. "Nobody's business," says Olsen, when asked whether Reed—who has a daughter from a marriage that ended in divorce in 1959—was gay. Olsen thinks there's a more important point for the public: "If AIDS can happen to Dad Brady, it can happen to you."
Indeed, in an era in which even sitcom characters must practice safe sex, The Brady Bunch seems still more appealingly unreal than when if first turned up on ABC, "a traditional little show," as Henderson describes it, "that came along at the end of the '60s, which was a terribly turbulent time."
The key to the series' enduring appeal, according to Henderson, is that The Brady Bunch generated an authentic, home-sweet-home warmth. "It was one of those rare moments when the chemistry was right for everyone," she says, "and we grew to love each other. As corny as it sounds, if kinda is like a family." Virtually the entire cast showed up for Barry Williams's wedding two years ago in Pacific Palisades, Calif., as well as for the 50th wedding anniversary last year of Sherwood Schwartz and his wife, Mildred.
By and large, the cast members. who are profiled on the following pages, are good-natured about the way their Brady pasts have continued into the present and, whether they like it or not, will continue into the foreseeable future. (What's not in the future are residuals, which sitcom actors from that era, for the most part, don't receive.)
"You can't kill The Brady Bunch," says Ann B. Davis, who played Alice. "We've gotten so much blood out of this turnip, it may not be a turnip."
GREG, the Luke Perry of the Watergate era, tells all—or a lot
Barry Williams lives in Calabasas, Calif., in a five-bedroom Mediterranean-style house—a nice fit for someone who had that many sitcom siblings. Says Williams, 37, who played tall, dark and adolescent Greg, the oldest Brady child: "I looked at it one day and thought, 'Yeah, looks like something Greg would buy.' "
In his den, Williams keeps videotapes of all 116 Brady episodes (plus the pilot), all of which he watched when he was working on his new book, Growing Up Brady (cowritten with Chris Kreski, an MTV editorial director). He cringed when he saw the old show. "Occasionally I'd have to sit down with a glass of wine to watch an episode," says Williams, currently starring in the touring musical City of Angels. "But I began to look at it less critically and more affectionately."
The oversize paperback is filled with details that Brady maniacs will cherish and share—including the sad fact that Tiger, the shaggy mutt who disappeared from the Brady household early on, actually died after the fourth episode. "He met his maker under a laundry truck," Williams says. There are also some Brady bombshells:
1. Williams had a thing for costar Maureen McCormick (Marcia) and once even necked with her in his trailer. "It was hard not to notice how pretty she was and how attracted I was to her," says Williams, recalling the days when he (if not Greg) was in high puberty. "That feeling was shared by hundreds of thousands of young men. And I was there." Not with any consistency though. "There were stretches of time when our relationship was professional, and other times we'd find ourselves amorous," he says. "Hot and cold."
2. In 1970, during the show's second season, the 15-year-old asked his TV mom, Florence Henderson, then 36, out on a date. "When those little things called hormones start kicking in, you get excited by even inanimate objects," he says. "It wasn't that I sought to bed her. I just wanted to spend time with her." The date, at any rate, never went beyond a pleasant restaurant dinner. "It was flattering that she gave me any attention at all," says Williams.
3. One day he came to the set stoned on marijuana. "It was like reefer madness," he says. "All the director knew was I was acting like a jerk. I was changing my line readings, I was wandering around."
Williams says he was just plain mad—difficult, resentful—in the lean years after the show was canceled in 1974. "I couldn't get auditions," he says. "I'd get generic answers: 'You're a little too tall, a little too young, your feet aren't wide enough.' Oh, and 'You're too famous.' That was my favorite." He gradually got back on his feet, personally and professionally, with theater roles: Pippin and Romance, Romance on Broadway, and now City of Angels. Two years ago he married Diane Martin, a singer whom he met on a blind date in 1987. Diane is a huge Brady fan. "I'll be there shaking my head at an episode," Williams says, "and she's doubled over with laughter."
MARCIA has a lovely daughter of her own
"One of the things I've wanted most in life was to be a mother," says Maureen McCormick, 35, dandling her 3-year-old daughter, Natalie, on her lap, "and I just decided to really put the energy into it. Now I'm thinking about getting into acting again."
McCormick—who, as Marcia, was the closest the Brady girls ever got to statuesque—currently lives in the affluent L.A. suburb of Westlake with her husband of seven years, Michael Cummings, a salesman. Motherhood, suburban home-making, a freshly inked deal with the William Morris talent agency—not all that different from the life that Marcia might have grown up to have, although Cummings had never even heard of Marcia when he met McCormick. "He had no idea who I was," says McCormiek, "which, I have to say, was very, very refreshing." (Hard to believe, isn't it, that lie wouldn't at least have remembered her from her advice column in Tiger Beat?)
Virtually everyone else, she finds, regards her as an acquaintance. Says McCormick: "I'm getting 3-year-olds coming up and recognizing me."
PETER pays the piper, then gets into computer software
As general manager for Visual Software Inc. in Manhattan Beach, Calif., Chris Knight, 34, finds that being recognized as Peter Brady—the middle son, the one with the wide, energetic smile—has its advantages. "I'm instantly trusted," he says.
The image, though, didn't help him over the post-Brady acting hurdles. After the series ended, he attended UCLA for less than a year but dropped out for the abysmal Brady Bunch Variety Hour in 1977. By the early '80s, he says, "I worried about just gelling the next job." That's when he drilled into what he calls "low-level drug use"—cocaine and pot.
When a high school friend pointed Knight toward a sales-rep job four years ago, he was glad to take it. "The only way to have salvation with this Brady Bunch thing is to leave show business," says Knight, who has been married for three years to Julie, 26, an office manager for a law firm.
Even now, though, there an; some showbiz memories that bring back the old Peter Brady smile. For instance, Knight reveals, he was not unhappy that it was Peter who got to throw the football pass that bopped stepsister Marcia in the nose. "I got great pleasure out of that," he laughs. "Maureen was such a priss!"
JAN, plumb tired of things Brady, searches for her next role
Eve Plumb is the Greta Garbo of The Brady Bunch—beautiful, elusive and weary. It's not so much that she wants to be let alone—she did attend the opening of the L.A. production of the Real Live Brady Bunch play in April. It's just that she doesn't want to be forever Jan, the middle sister.
"I think Eve just wishes [the Brady phenomenon] would all go away," says former costar Chris Knight, who gets together with her once a year. "I'd probably be like that myself if I was still trying to butt heads with the industry." Yes, Plumb is still out there butting: She recently shot a pilot for NBC, Yesterday Today, in which she plays—oh, wow—a mom in the '70s (the drama was not picked up for the fall schedule).
"I try to maintain a good altitude," says Plumb, now a 34-year-old divorcée living in Studio City, Calif., "because I really can't do anything about the show." One thing she did do: The onetime strawberry blonde dyed her hair coppery red, so she isn't as instantly recognized. "And that," she says, "is good."
BOBBY winds up in Utah, at the other end of the camera
"Without The Brady Bunch, my guess is I would have become an engineer working on new plastics or something," says Mike Lookinland, 31, who was the youngest, perhaps mildest of the Brady boys. Today Lookinland, who studied film at the University of Utah, lives in Salt Lake City with wife Kelly, 29, and their son, Scott, 2. "Right now," he reports, "I'm a production assistant with Rocky Mountain Pictures [which produces feature films], with an eye on becoming a director of photography."
In his late teens—like his brothers-in-television, Williams and Knight—he found life without a sitcom was, in fact, no sitcom. "I did drugs for a while," he admits. "I went through a lot of things. But then I got married and found a niche in a career I enjoy.
"I don't watch the show much," he adds. "I never stay home to see it, the way I do with The Simpsons."
CINDY learns that art is long, show business is short
"We all go through the I-don't-want-to-be-a-Brady phase," says Susan Olson, 30, who was 7 when she was cast as the youngest Brady, pigtailed Cindy. "I went through mine. I got over it." And if the public refuses to forget who she is, at least Olsen finds the humor in perpetual Cindydom. "I would be driving through Burger King," she says, remembering one earlier bout of Bradymania, "and someone would give me my change and say, 'Here's your change, Cindy Brady.' "
Olsen, recently divorced from her husband of two years, graphic artist Steven Ventimiglia, is herself a free-lance graphic artist in Sherman Oaks, Calif.—thanks, in part, to The Brady Bunch. The kids' on-set teacher, Frances Whitfield, gave Olsen her first oil paints. Olsen also credits Paramount executives with keeping the Brady kids from becoming temperamental monsters. "When they gave us parking spaces," she remembers, "they wouldn't put our names on them."
Olsen wouldn't mind getting back into acting; she even has tried to land some commercial jobs for her cat, William. "It's just a case of not being able to get arrested in Hollywood," she says.
ALICE doesn't live here anymore, but she still has to clean up
"All of us wish we had an Alice," says Ann B. Davis, better known as Alice Nelson, the ever chipper, ever busy Brady housekeeper. "I wish I had an Alice." Especially because these days Davis, 66 and living in Ambridge, Pa., finds herself helping out with the chores in the three-bedroom house she shares with William Frey, an Episcopal bishop, and his wife, Barbara. Davis, who met the couple in 1974, first joined them in 1976 in Denver, where Frey had formed a sort of religious group house of 26 parishioners. When Frey became dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in 1990, Davis decided to go with the family to Ambridge. The three are dedicated to prayer and Bible study.
By the end of Brady's run—and after a 40-year showbiz career that included two Emmys for playing peppery gal Friday Schultzy on The Bob Cummings Show in the '50s—Davis realized that her life lacked the fundamental contentment of, say, Alice Nelson's. "I wasn't satisfied," she says. "I thought, 'What is it I haven't got?' " She explains the answer with a memory from her childhood in Erie, Pa.: "My mother would write letters when I was away at camp and say, 'There's an Ann-shaped space around the house. Nobody fills an Ann-shaped space except an Ann.' I'm convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we'll never know what it is to be whole."
Unlike Robert Reed, though, Davis did not consider the show hell on earth. The cast "got along beautifully," she says, and adds that as an avid knitter, "I had the boys hooking rugs and the girls doing needlepoint." Surprisingly, she says, "I basically don't do that well with children, although my sister [an identical twin, Harriet Norton, a mother of three living in Leonia, N.J.] says I'm a great aunt." Also unlike Alice, Davis hates to cook: "When it's my turn in the house, we just eat out."
Davis, never married, still acts occasionally (including a Canadian production of the comedy The Cemetery Club last year) but lives comfortably on her Screen Actors Guild pension. (She recently bought a bright red Mazda Miata.) And she takes classes—aerobics in town, theology at the seminary.
"It is obvious," she says, "I am where the Lord wants me to be."
CAROL sails off on a love boat with her new husband
"Who would ever think the Bradys would still be going?" marvels Florence Henderson, 58, eternally upbeat den-mother-for-the-ages Carol Brady. "Who would have thought I'd be living on a boat?"
For the past five years, Henderson—still very much "the lovely lady" of the show's theme song—has dropped anchor in Marina Del Rey, Calif. There she shares a 75-foot power yacht with her second husband, hypnotherapist John Kappas, 66, who runs the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in nearby Tarzana. Henderson—who has four grown children from her first marriage, to Ira Bernstein, a theatrical manager from whom she was divorced eight years ago—met Kappas in 1982, when she sought help to overcome her fear of flying and a bout of stage fright that she had developed post-Brady. She has since become a certified hypnotherapist herself, although she doesn't practice. "If I didn't have a career," she says, "I would do that full-time."
That career is stronger than most of the Bradys': Henderson is in her 17th year touting "Wessonality" for Wesson Oil. For eight years she has been host of Florence Henderson's Country Kitchen, a cooking show on the Nashville Network. And this year she had an odd cameo, as a greasepaint-smeared groupie who seduces Bobcat Goldthwait in his film comedy Shakes the Clown.
The tryst with Shakes, in any event, was wilder than her now celebrated 1970 dale with Williams, who played her stepson Greg. Henderson recalls that Barry's brother, Craig, drove and that Barry kissed her goodnight—"a sweet little kiss on the cheek or something. I can't even remember," says Henderson. "I was never interested in young boys, and besides, I was married. I think Barry also dated my daughter, Barbara. I think he dated everyone."
MARIA EFTIMIADES in Detroit and Pittsburgh, ANDREW ABRAHAMS and KATHRYN BAKER in Los Angeles, JERRY JOHNSTON in Salt Lake City
- Maria Eftimiades,
- Andrew Abrahams,
- Kathryn Baker,
- Jerry Johnston.
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