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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.

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!

Photo by Sandy Wood
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Netflix's Most-Binged Shows of 2017, Ranked
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Netflix might know your TV habits better than you do. Recently, the entertainment company's normally tight-lipped number-crunchers looked at user data collected between November 1, 2016 and November 1, 2017 to see which series people were powering through and which ones they were digesting more slowly. By analyzing members’ average daily viewing habits, they were able to determine which programs were more likely to be “binged” (or watched for more than two hours per day) and which were more often “savored” (or watched for less than two hours per day) by viewers.

They found that the highest number of Netflix bingers glutted themselves on the true crime parody American Vandal, followed by the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, and the drama-mystery 13 Reasons Why. Other shows that had viewers glued to the couch in 2017 included Anne with an E, the Canadian series based on L. M. Montgomery's 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and the live-action Archie comics-inspired Riverdale.

In contrast, TV shows that viewers enjoyed more slowly included the Emmy-winning drama The Crown, followed by Big Mouth, Neo Yokio, A Series of Unfortunate Events, GLOW, Friends from College, and Ozark.

There's a dark side to this data, though: While the company isn't around to judge your sweatpants and the chip crumbs stuck to your couch, Netflix is privy to even your most embarrassing viewing habits. The company recently used this info to publicly call out a small group of users who turned their binges into full-fledged benders:

Oh, and if you're the one person in Antarctica binging Shameless, the streaming giant just outed you, too.

Netflix broke down their full findings in the infographic below and, Big Brother vibes aside, the data is pretty fascinating. It even includes survey data on which shows prompted viewers to “Netflix cheat” on their significant others and which shows were enjoyed by the entire family.

Netflix infographic "The Year in Bingeing"
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14 Fascinating Facts About Saturday Night Fever
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Paramount Pictures

We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read! 

1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.

Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade. 

2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.

3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder. 

4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.

With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.

5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.

Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.


Paramount Pictures

First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.

7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.

Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)

Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. 

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 


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In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."

9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.

Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history. 

10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Paramount Pictures

Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work. 

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.

For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie. 

12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.

In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.  

13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.

Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque. 

14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.

Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.

In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fair in 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)

Additional sources:
John Badham DVD commentary
DVD featurettes

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