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16 Things You Might Not Know About The Brady Bunch

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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.


“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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.”


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


 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!

Photo by Sandy Wood
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]