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A Very Brady Post: 6 Secrets from The Brady Bunch Vault

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Here's the story of how a show started as a typical formulaic sitcom, but grew into a syndicated monster. From the time Greg Brady got high to the reason Cindy Brady started balding, here's a quick rundown of all things Brady you probably didn't know.

1. In real-life, Jan gave Marcia the complex

bb4.pngMaureen McCormick played Marcia, the eldest Brady daughter, and the object of lust of many a teenaged boy during the tenure of The Brady Bunch. What the public didn't know, however, was that "Mo" always felt inferior to Eve Plumb, who played middle sister Jan. Eve had longer, blonder, more luxurious hair. Eve developed curves before Maureen did (and took pleasure in flaunting her blossoming physique by going braless under her tight-fitting tops in later seasons). The very slender Mo also felt that she had a bit of a tummy "pooch" and during the time the entire cast was en route to Hawaii for an exciting "on location" three-part episode, all she could think about was her horror at having to appear on camera in a bikini. Watch those Hawaii episodes when they rerun  and you'll see that Maureen always manages to hold a beach towel or robe in front of her lower torso in any bathing suit scenes.

2. Barbershop of Horrors: Why Cindy started balding

bb3.pngWith the parents in place, the team of brown-haired boys and blonde girls made the final cut, with one exception. For the role of Bobby Brady, the youngest boy, producers favored Mike Lookinland, who had strawberry-blond hair. He was hired only after his parents agreed to let Miss Clairol do her thing on their son's locks. Savvy viewers will note how Bobby's hair color varied between dark brown and jet black before the make-up folks found just the right shade of hair dye for him. Susan Olsen had a different problem; she was a natural blonde, but producers felt the youngest Brady wasn't blonde enough. They ordered eight-year-old Olsen's hair to be bleached regularly to give her that adorable towhead look. When her hair began falling out in clumps during the second season, a tearful Susan complained to Sherwood Schwartz, who immediately ordered the staff to leave "Cindy's" hair alone.

3. Gene Hackman almost Played the Lead

bb2.pngThe producers started testing kids to fill the roles of the six Bradley children. Since the parents hadn't yet been cast, they had to have two full sets of kids at the ready "“ one set with dark-haired boys and blonde girls, and another set with the opposite coloring. The first choice to play Ma Bradley was character actress Joyce Bulifant (who would later go on to play Murray's wife on The Mary Tyler Moore Show). However, once comedic actress Ann B. Davis was cast as Alice, the producers decided that a more "serious" actress was needed to play the mother. Florence Henderson ultimately got the job, but was forced to wear a wig during the first season because her own hair had been cropped short when she co-starred in an off-Broadway revival of South Pacific. For the role of Mike Brady (the family's surname had changed by this time), producers were debating between a then-unknown Gene Hackman and Robert Reed. They finally chose Reed because he had marquee value from his co-starring role on the popular series The Defenders.

4. Greg Brady liked to get high

bb5.pngIn one first season episode, Greg Brady succumbed to peer pressure and smoked a cigarette. The on-camera coughs and chokes of a novice smoker were a true acting stretch for Barry "Greg" Williams, who'd been inhaling a pack of Marlboros per day since the age of twelve. Williams' "smoking" experience was not limited to tobacco. Like many teens in the 1970s, Barry was known to occasionally share a doobie among friends. He'd been sparking up one afternoon (on one of his days off ) when he 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 the glazed look in his eyes and the stilted delivery of his few lines regarding Dad's purchase of a boat that tipped the producers off and caused furious re-writes to reduce Greg's part in this episode.

5. The Brady Bunch might never have made it without Lucille Ball

Back in 1965, producer Sherwood Schwartz was browsing through the Los Angeles Times when a sidebar caught his eye; it was a "filler piece" statistic box that stated 31% percent of all marriages at that time included a child from a previous relationship. He grabbed a notepad and started scribbling ideas "“ the types of sibling rivalries that could emerge in "blended" families, the problem of a parent showing his "natural" children favoritism, etc. From his notes he developed a concept for a TV series he called Yours and Mine. He shopped his script to the three major networks and 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 ten. The film did well at the box office, and suddenly ABC was interested in Schwartz's script (then called The Bradley Brood).

6. Robert Reed's Hard Life

bb6.pngRobert Reed's homosexuality had been an unspoken secret on the Brady Bunch set. In the early days of rehearsals, Florence Henderson commented to the producers about Bob's reticence in kissing scenes. With many years of theater on her resume, she had an intuition when it came to fellow actors and boldly asked Sherwood Schwartz at one point "Is there something wrong with me, or is Bob Reed gay?" According to close friends, Robert Reed led a tortured life and was a self-hating homosexual "“ he thought of his sexual preference as an "illness" or "disorder" and tried to suppress it. Despite his antagonism towards Sherwood Schwartz, Reed doted on his TV "family" and even treated the entire clan (at his own expense) to a trip aboard the QEII to England, so that they could see Shakespeare's birthplace. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1992 and was also HIV positive. He'd remained in close contact with Florence Henderson over the years and asked her (from his hospital bed) to break the news of his illness to the "kids." After hearing the news, each of the Brady siblings phoned Bob to chat with him one last time, and they all traveled to Skokie, Illinois, to attend his funeral.

If you have any unanswered Brady questions, I'm always amenable to a Part Deux!

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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