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16 Things You Might Not Know About The Brady Bunch

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ABC

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.

Bonus Fact: Christopher Knight digs mental_floss!

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

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Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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