Here's the story of a lovely lady, a man named Brady who could've been played by Gene Hackman, six kids, a wacky housekeeper, and how a series that started as a typical formulaic sitcom grew into a syndicated monster. Here are 16 things you might not know about The Brady Bunch.
1. THE CONCEPT ORIGINATED WITH A NEWSPAPER STATISTIC.
“It's very rare that a writer knows exactly where his ideas come from,” producer Sherwood Schwartz once said. “However, in the case of The Brady Bunch, I know exactly what inspired that show. It was just a four-line filler piece in the Los Angeles Times. Just a statistic. It said that year, 1965, 31 percent of all marriages involved people who had a child or children from a previous marriage. It was just a statistic, but to me it indicated a remarkable sociological change in our country. Thirty-one percent is approximately one-third of all marriages. That's a huge statistic.”
It gave him an idea for a TV series called Yours and Mine. He shopped his script to the three major networks but 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 10. The film did well at the box office, and suddenly ABC was interested in Schwartz’s script, which was then called The Bradley Brood.
2. HAIR COLOR PLAYED A FACTOR IN CASTING THE BRADY KIDS.
When casting the six Brady kids, Schwartz wasn’t yet sure what the parents would look like (as those actors hadn’t yet been hired), so his goal was to have a total of 12 child actors in reserve: three blonde girls, three blonde boys, three brunette girls, and three dark-haired boys. (It was presumed from the get-go that the parents would have contrasting hair colors, and that their offspring’s locks would correspond likewise.) “As a consequence, to this day, there are three dark-haired girls and three blonde boys about 45 to 50 years old somewhere in the world who might have been The Brady Bunch kids,” Schwartz said in Brady, Brady, Brady: The Complete Story of the Brady Bunch As Told by the Father/Son Team Who Really Know. “And they are just finding that out if they're reading this book.”
Naturally strawberry blonde Mike Lookinland was Schwartz’s first choice for the role of youngest son Bobby, but when brown-haired Robert Reed was cast as the dad, Lookinland had to endure his hair being dyed a variety of colors so that it looked appropriately dark under the harsh studio lights. Susan Olsen, who played Cindy, was naturally blonde, but not light enough to suit the producers. Olsen’s hair was regularly bleached to give her that adorable towhead look on-camera. Unfortunately, the process eventually caused clumps of Susan’s hair to fall out during season two. She tearfully presented her case to head honcho Schwartz, who immediately ordered the staff to leave Cindy’s hair alone.
3. YES, CINDY’S LISP WAS REAL.
Susan Olsen’s endearing real-life lisp was incorporated into the episode “A Fistful of Reasons,” in which mean ol’ Buddy Hinton teased her with that age-old playground taunt “Baby talk, baby talk, it’s a wonder you can walk.” Olsen worked regularly with a speech therapist until the age of 19 and ultimately underwent surgery to help correct her “lazy S.”
4. GENE HACKMAN WAS IN CONTENTION TO PLAY MIKE BRADY.
For the role of Mike Brady (the family’s surname had changed by this time), “there were a number of men I wanted to interview, including Gene Hackman,” recalled Schwartz in Brady, Brady, Brady. “Paramount wouldn’t even okay Gene Hackman for an interview because he had a very low TVQ. (TVQ is a survey that executives use to determine the audience’s familiarity with performances. TV executives have don’t admit to the existence of TVQs, but it is commonly employed in casting.)”
They finally chose Reed because he was already under contract to Paramount, and he had a certain amount of marquee value because of his co-starring role on the popular legal drama series The Defenders. “The year after The Brady Bunch debuted, unknown Gene Hackman with no TVQ starred in The French Connection and won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and has been a major star ever since,” added Schwartz.
5. FLORENCE HENDERSON WASN’T THE FIRST MRS. BRADY.
Comedic actress Joyce Bulifant was so close to inking a contract to play Mrs. Brady that she was used in most of the screen tests with the various child actors for their auditions. In fact, one of the reasons Eve Plumb landed the role of Jan was because of her physical resemblance to Bulifant. Originally, Schwartz envisioned Mrs. Brady as a wacky mom-type, much like Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours. But the cast dynamics changed when Emmy Award-winning actress Ann B. Davis signed on to play housekeeper Alice. Davis’ Alice would more than fulfill the wackiness quotient, and a more grounded, down-to-earth mother was required to maintain a balance. Texas-born musical theater star Florence Henderson got the job, and Joyce Bulifant went on to a successful career of her own, including playing Murray’s wife on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
6. HENDERSON WASN’T AROUND WHEN FILMING BEGAN ON THE FIRST SIX EPISODES.
Florence Henderson, who wore a wig during the first season of the show because her hair had been cropped short for her recent starring role in an off-Broadway revival of South Pacific, was wrapping up filming on Song of Norway in Denmark when she received word that The Brady Bunch pilot had sold. “And so they started the show without me,” Henderson told NPR in 2014. “They did six episodes without me and then I filled in when I got back to the States.”
7. BARRY WILLIAMS “WENT THROUGH A STAGE OF EXPERIMENTATION.”
Like many teens in the 1970s, Williams—who played eldest brother Greg—was known to occasionally partake in some illegal substances while hanging out with his friends. After sparking up one afternoon on his day off, Williams 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 a glazed look in his eyes and a stilted delivery of his few lines regarding Dad’s purchase of a boat that tipped the producers off and caused furious rewrites to reduce Greg’s part in this episode. “I went through a stage of experimentation as a kid,” Williams wrote on his blog. “I certainly never went to the set high again but I don’t like weed. It makes me feel dumb, paranoid, and hungry.”
8. THERE WAS SOME ROMANCE ON THE SET.
In his book, Growing Up Brady, Barry Williams wrote that he and Maureen McCormick shared their first kiss while in Hawaii filming a three-episode story arc during the show’s fourth season. Their relationship was at its hottest and heaviest around the time they filmed the final episode of that season, “A Room at the Top.” The scene where Marcia and Greg were sitting on her bed together arguing over who should get the attic room took hours to film, as the director kept having to yell “cut” due to the actors getting too cozy on camera. Lloyd Schwartz finally had each actor make a fist and place it between them as they sat on the bed and instructed them to maintain that amount of distance from each other at all times during the scene.
In Brady, Brady, Brady, Lloyd Schwartz mentions that he tried to cool things down between Barry and Maureen mainly because on-the-job romances rarely worked, especially between teenagers. If they had a traumatic breakup, how would they be able to continue to work together? Part of his strategy was to appeal to Barry’s vanity and flatter him, telling him that he was too young and too good-looking to limit himself to one girl.
9. CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT WASN’T BLESSED WITH MUSICAL ABILITY.
Barry Williams, Mike Lookinland, and Maureen McCormick were all excellent vocalists, while Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen could both carry a reasonable tune. Christopher Knight, on the other hand, is the first to admit that his pipes were a bit on the rusty side. When asked to cite the most embarrassing thing he ever did on the show by The Improper Bostonian, Knight didn’t hesitate in responding: “Singing, by far. It was traumatic.” Knight was encouraged to lip-synch while the other kids sang in the musical episodes. It was decided, however, that his lack of vocal prowess could be played for laughs in the “Dough-Re-Mi” episode; Peter’s voice had begun to change, and Greg incorporated his cracking and squeaking into the song “Time to Change.” But poor Chris couldn’t even manage to hit the wrong notes properly, and his lines in the song were actually dubbed by producer Howard Leeds. “That whole episode where my voice changing was them just pointing out that I couldn’t sing,” said Knight. “My first experience with depression was that week.”
10. SIX KIDS SHARED ONE BATHROOM WITH NO TOILET.
Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed something odd about the Jack and Jill bathroom the Brady kids shared: It was missing a toilet. Television networks still had strict rules about showing a porcelain toilet bowl onscreen during the Brady years. In order to avoid costly tricky camera angles, the producers opted to forego a commode altogether in the bathroom shared by the kids. (The tank portion of the toilet was acceptable, as seen on the “Captain Jack” episode of Leave It To Beaver in 1957.)
11. CAROL BRADY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A DIVORCEE.
While Mike Brady was painted as a widower, Carol’s pre-Brady marital status was a bit of a mystery. Sherwood Schwartz has said in several interviews that his intention was for Carol to have been a divorcee (her maiden name was “Tyler” and her married name was “Martin,” as revealed in the pilot episode). But divorce was still considered to be taboo for primetime television (especially for a family-friendly show), so the fate of Mr. Martin was always left a mystery … until recently. After nearly five decades of being asked what happened to Carol Brady’s first husband, Florence Henderson now prefers to tell interviewers (jokingly, we hope) that she killed him.
12. MARCIA REALLY DID TAKE A FOOTBALL TO THE NOSE.
According to Lloyd Schwartz, Christopher Knight was unable to hit his target when filming the crucial football-tossing scene in “The Subject Was Noses” (a.k.a. the “Oh, my nose!” episode). So Schwartz stepped in off-screen, threw a perfect spiral, and pegged Maureen’s nose with the pigskin in one take.
13. TIGER MET A TRAGIC ENDING.
One evening after filming had finished for the day of the episode entitled “Katchoo” (in which Jan appears to be allergic to the family dog), Tiger’s trainer let the pooch out on the Paramount lot for his daily exercise. Unfortunately, a careless driver didn’t see the dog and Tiger was hit and killed. The frantic trainer spent the rest of the night scouring animal shelters looking for a reasonable facsimile of the shaggy canine, since he still had several scenes left to film. The replacement dog looked enough like Tiger to fool the cast and production staff, but the jig was up when he wouldn’t follow directions and was frightened by the noise and lights. The only way the director got Fake Tiger to hold stay in place during the emotional scene where the boys were bidding him a tearful farewell was to nail his collar to the floor.
14. THE SHOW WAS NEVER A HUGE HIT.
The Brady Bunch was never a huge Nielsen hit during its original run; in fact, it never managed to crack the Top 30 shows. But it did well enough to run for five seasons, which gave Paramount enough episodes to sell as a package for syndication. The syndicated reruns were often shown in the late afternoon, which gave it more exposure to a younger audience. As a result, the show’s fan base grew exponentially after it had ceased production, and continues to grow today as each younger generation discovers it.
15. MANY FLUBS WERE NEVER CORRECTED.
Like most shows of that era, no one who worked on The Brady Bunch thought that the show would still be airing regularly over 40 years later after it had been cancelled. So sometimes little mistakes were left unfixed in the name of finishing an episode on schedule. After all, the show aired in the days before every home had a VCR, so who would notice something like the family leaving the house in a convertible and returning from the same errand in a station wagon? Or Jan’s hair mysteriously switching from a ponytail to loose around her shoulders repeatedly while the kids were building a house of cards? Those flubs and others—like a tired Susan Olsen sticking her tongue out as she exited a scene, thinking it was still a rehearsal—have become part of the show’s legend thanks to syndication, DVRs, and viewers with too much time on their hands.
16. THE SHOW ATTEMPTED A BACKDOOR PILOT.
During the final season of The Brady Bunch, the Brady family generously relinquished most of a 30-minute episode in order to introduce their neighbors, Ken and Kathy Kelly (portrayed by Ken Berry and Brooke Bundy). The Kellys had adopted three boys—Matt, Dwayne, and Steve—who’d been best friends at the local orphanage. The twist was that one of the boys was white (and was also Mike Lookinland’s real-life brother), one was African-American, and one was Asian-American. Sherwood Schwartz had hoped that this backdoor pilot would be picked up as a series, since the networks had recently announced that they were pushing “prime time” forward half an hour to begin at 7:30 p.m. and they would be in need of some family-friendly programs. But Kelly's Kids didn't happen.