Sept. 9, 2010 -- "The Brady Bunch" is one of America's most beloved TV families to appear on television. It's been over 40-years since they graced our televisions, but it still has many fans.
The series' creator Sherwood Schwartz was inspired by a 1966 Los Angeles Times article about the increasing number of marriages where blending families were the norm. Schwartz produced the show with his son Lloyd. The two partnered again to write "Brady, Brady, Brady: The Complete Story of the Brady Bunch from the Father/Son Team Who Really Know".
Read an excerpt from the book below and head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
With John Rich aboard, we got into casting immediately, starting with the children. Casting kids is much more difficult than casting adults. Adults usually have a body of work to help you make a decision: previous appearances on film, or TV, in various roles. So lacking useful resumes, the interviews with kids are truly critical.
I have four children of my own and that helped me. In addition, I had gone through Pre-Med and I had a Bachelor's Degree as well as a Master's Degree which included five or six courses in psychology. This all served to prepare me for the important job of casting the kids. I knew the series would eventually rest on the little shoulders of those youngsters, because most of the stories would be concerning the children's problems.
I planned to "star" a different kid in each episode from week to week. That's how I designed the series, so that meant each of the children needed to be capable of carrying the story in his/her starring week. I spent an entire summer casting those six kids, but I didn't want typical casting: Like one overweight kid who keeps eating all the time. Or a kid who just talks about sports. Or a brainy kid who knows everything. I wanted the character of the actual child actor to be the determinant. I did have a couple of preconceived ideas. I wanted the oldest of the three boys to be a very responsible kind of boy, and I wanted the youngest girl to be cute.
Other than those factors, I wanted all the kids to be real. And I wanted their series personas to be reflective of their own real personalities. The world was wide open in terms of kids' interests, and the kids I wanted would bring their own interests to their roles.
Since it was summer vacation and kids were out of school, I could interview all day long. And I did. To complicate things further in casting, I had to find six additional Brady kids with opposite hair colors since I hadn't yet determined who the parents would be. I wanted immediate viewer recognition with the kids and parents in terms of hair color. Blonde mother, blonde kids. Dark-haired mother, dark-haired kids. Blonde father, blonde kids, etc. No back story is needed.
As a consequence, to this day, there are three dark-haired girls and three blonde boys about 45-50 years old somewhere in the world who might have been "The Brady Bunch" kids. And they are just finding that out if they're reading this book.
In one case, I made an exception. I cast Mike Lookinland as Bobby, the youngest boy. He had kind of blondish hair, but he was clearly the best actor of the youngest boys. He was 6 1/2, maybe 7. He read very well, and he was the most appealing of the boys who auditioned for Bobby.
If the boys were to be dark haired, I decided we would darken Mike's hair. That's the way it turned out. I know it was an annoyance for him and gave his hair a reddish tinge. But it instantly made him one of the Brady boys. I guess that a very early age poor Mike learned you have to suffer for your art. Since very few young children have much experience, the casting would mostly be determined by the interviews, which were really just chats. That would make the kids feel more comfortable.
I was once asked by TV Guide about the number of kids I personally interviewed to find the six Brady kids. My secretary went through my files and discovered 264 interviews.
It was set up this way: I sat on a chair across from the boy or girl I was interviewing. Between us there was a coffee table. I asked the youngsters a few casual questions. "Have you had any experience in commercials, or TV, or movies, or print ads, or have you been in plays at school?" And so on.
While I was asking the kids these general questions, my coffee table served as a sort of concentration test. I placed objects on the table directly between us that might be interesting to children. There was a model fire engine, a plastic horse, a doll, and some sort of a broken object that might be puzzling to a child. I wanted to see if they would be distracted from our discussion. On a sound stage when you're filming, there are lots of fascinating things to look at. If kids lost interest in our discussion, they might also lose interest in rehearsing. I wanted children who could stay focused. If they passed that basic test (and they were a good interview), we would move on to reading a few lines with me.
In addition to being good actors, none of the Brady kids you have been watching for all these years played with anything on the table.
For some reason, the girls were easier to cast. Maureen looked like she would grow up really beautiful, and that certainly could become part of her character. Eve, the middle girl, was very pretty but sounded like she could easily be provoked, and Susan was just as cute as can be. And she had a lisp that made her even cuter.
Barry had a sense of maturity beyond his years; Chris had a devilish side that I found very appealing, and Mike had an enthusiastic energy that made him instantly likeable. You can understand that it has been a long time since those original interviews, and trying to remember what made each of them stand out isn't easy. I know I was taken with the ones I picked, and I dare say their lives have changed considerably because they were in my office for casting.
The one interview that does stand out in my mind was Susan Olsen's. She came in and started describing a recent role she had on "Gunthmoke." That's how she said it. And yes, the lisp was real. She told me about how she got to ride a "horth," and that there was a "thnake." She was adorable, and she got to be "Thindy" based on that brief meeting. Later, I heard that people thought that I forced her to lisp. With Susan, as with all the kids, we just took who they were and that became their characters.
That completed our six kids in The Brady Bunch: Maureen McCormick (Marcia), Eve Plumb (Jan), Susan Olsen (Cindy), Barry Williams (Greg), Christopher Knight (Peter), and Mike Lookinland (Bobby). The casting god must have smiled on me since they turned out to be wonderful choices, each and every one. They were talented, bright, and never gave us any real problems during the series. Many producers on other shows where there are children, have major problems with one or more of their kids. I was spared that difficulty.
Undoubtedly, that was because of my son, Lloyd, who started out as the kids' dialogue coach and would become the show's producer. He had been a camp counselor and he was great with kids. Throughout the series, he was on Paramount's Stage Five with them all day, every day.
With Lloyd in charge on the set, I was free to spend my time with writers and my script consultant, and in the editing rooms. That freedom allowed me to okay ideas and outlines for episodes, and to do final drafts to go to the actors and all the personnel.
Fortunately, we didn't have any difficulties with the kids' parents either. They were always on or near Stage Five in the event of some kind of emergency. The parents stayed pretty much by themselves, and all of them got along very well with each other.
With all due respect for the talents of the show's main adult actors—Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady), Bob Reed (Mr. Brady), and Ann B. Davis (Alice)—I was sure young viewers would be drawn to the series because they would identify with kids their own age. Besides, everyone remembers his or her own childhood, so adults would watch the show as well. But in the race for ratings, I felt those kids would make it or break it.
Now that I've given gold stars to all the kids, and their parents, I must also give one to Mrs. Whitfield. Frances Whitfield was the daily on-site teacher of all six Brady kids. I don't think we could have survived without her special abilities. She had to teach some kids at the grammar school level, and the other kids at the middle school level.
Mrs. Whitfield was determined that the Brady kids in her care would learn even more than they would have in regular classes in public schools. She gave them tests, hung their drawings and poems on the studio's schoolroom walls, and encouraged each of them to learn their school work as well as their scripts. In addition, the State of California is very strict with rules governing youngsters in entertainment, with stringent regulations about how long kids can remain on the set, or in front of cameras and lights. Mrs. Whitfield never violated any of the state rules and regulations. She stayed strictly within those rules and, at the same time, she helped us finish the day's work on schedule.
Most people think of the Brady kids running up and down the Brady stairs all the time. That's what the viewers think they saw. Actually, that didn't happen very often. The six were usually only together as a group in one or two scenes in each episode. Mrs. Whitfield had her stopwatch on each of the kids checking screen time, adding up the minutes for each child separately.
The kids loved Mrs. Whitfield. Their parents loved her. Florence Henderson loved her. Bob Reed loved her. Ann B. Davis loved her. And so did Lloyd and I. Mrs. Whitfield was a lovely lady, and I'm sorry to say she passed on in 2006. She's no longer with us but her work with those kids will remain as long as The Brady Bunch remains in syndication, which may be forever.
An unspoken responsibility that became part of my job was hormone patrol. The Brady kids were attractive to America—and attractive to each other. Each of them had an opposite-sex counterpart with whom they were spending an inordinate amount of time. It is only natural that relationships would begin to develop.
Much has been written and exaggerated about the nonexistent affair between Barry and Florence. Florence was happily married with four kids. Barry was happily horny with unrealistic aspirations. Barry was very interested in music, and Florence was an expert. He asked her to go along with him to see a singer at a concert or club. They went. I'm not sure who drove, but she politely kissed him good-night—on the cheek, from what I understand. This is the extent of the "affair" between Barry and Florence. Sorry, I wish I could make that more salacious, but it wasn't.
The real issues that were developing were the crushes that Barry had on Maureen and Maureen had on Barry. Fortunately, much of the time they alternated on who liked who. They never seemed to be of a similar mind at the same time. Barry complicated Maureen's interest in him by having a parade of girl friends. At the beginning of the show, Maureen wasn't ready for boys. That lasted about a year.
All I knew was that passion was imminent, and that it would be destructive. On-set relationships between adult stars are tricky—not so much when the relationship is going well, but when dating stars break up and they have to continue acting with each other, all hell breaks loose. If it's complicated for adults who have had relationships before, for teen-agers (who have no prior experiences) it's even more difficult. It would be simpler if they just didn't start anything. Noticing increased eye contact and giggling between Barry and Maureen, I decided to go into a preventative strategy. I took Barry aside and appealed to his vanity.
"Barry, I want to talk to you about Maureen."
"She's cute. Really cute. And you know the best thing about really cute girls? They have really cute friends. You're a good-looking guy. You can use Maureen to meet some of her cute girl friends. That way you'll always have a large field of girls."
As an afterthought I added, "And besides, if you get something going with Maureen, it could only limit you."
I think Barry bought the logic.
Chris and Eve were eyeing each other as well. They had couple potential, but at that age, girls develop faster than boys, and Chris was oblivious about Eve's advanced interest. After the series, Chris and Eve went out. I've had no reports.
As for Mike and Susan, it was mutual puppy love. They were then, and are now, good friends. Along with my script, I carried a metaphorical bucket of water to try to cool down libidos. After the second season, I got a request from Paramount and ABC. Barry was becoming a teen idol, and they thought a promotional trip would help create more interest in him, and in the show. I was asked to take him on a publicity tour as a guardian.
We traveled around the country and made stops at various TV and radio stations for interviews. It was interesting for me since I hadn't done anything like that before. Our first stop was the "I Am an American Day Parade" in Baltimore. The parade drew 750,000 spectators with 33,000 in the parade. We rode in a convertible with Barry sitting on the rear seat and waving at fans. My job was more intense. I rode in the front and prevented teenage-girl fans from swarming Barry under. I literally had to knock them off of the car.
After Baltimore we flew to other cities. Barry was recognized wherever we went. On one of the legs of the trip, we started talking to some attractive flight attendants who weren't bothered by how young he was. I was impressed with how he was holding his own. They suggested we all go back to the hotel.
Barry kept wondering how we were going to get the girls to separate. I wasn't worried, but this was a new experience for him. Finally, I said, "See you in the morning, Barry," and shoved him to his room with one of the fight attendants.
The next morning, Barry staggered into my room after the girls had left. His eyes were as big as Frisbees. I guess that's where the expression, "He really had his eyes opened" comes from.
The trip was also beneficial regarding the burgeoning relationship between Barry and Maureen. It elevated him way past Maureen as far as experience.
Recently, Barry and I were working on a play together and I asked him about his book.
"How come you didn't write about the stewardesses on our trip around the country while The Brady Bunch was on the air? That would have made some pretty good reading in your book."
Barry said, "I thought about it, but it didn't make me look that good."