On television, they were the epitome of the wholesome family. Even when the blended clan of six children that made up the majority of The Brady Bunch did something wrong, it resulted in teachable lessons often delivered by squeaky-clean, caring parents Carol and Mike.
Like many of Hollywood’s classic small-screen series of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the behind-the-scenes goings-on and cast relationships made for far juicier stories than ever appeared on air. For all the sweet-natured shenanigans of the Bradys, off-screen there was drug use, intimate relationships between the cast, hidden sexuality and disputes over storylines.
The Brady Bunch aired from September 1969 through March 1974 on ABC and was created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz. The series went into syndication in 1975 and has become a rerun staple of cable television. The show followed the day-to-day lives of the Bradys, a blended family of six children thanks to the marriage of Mike Brady (Robert Reed) to Carol Martin (Florence Henderson). Mike’s children were three boys: Greg (Barry Williams), Peter (Christopher Knight) and Bobby (Mike Lookinland), and Carol’s three daughters were Marcia (Maureen McCormick), Jan (Eve Plumb) and Cindy (Susan Olsen).
Mike was a widowed architect and the story of Carol’s first marriage was never fully explained, but the blended group took up residence in a sprawling two-story house – designed by Mike – in a suburb of Los Angeles. Also ensconced in the shag-carpeted abode was Alice Nelson (Ann B. Davis), Mike’s live-in housekeeper, and the boy’s dog, Tiger.
Henderson had a risqué sense of humor
The role of Carol would be something Henderson, who passed away in 2016, would be associated with for the remainder of her life. The archetypal mother figure, Carol was ingrained in the imaginations of millions of viewers. In real life, Henderson was described as fun-loving and having a bawdy sense of humor. “She knew the respect that people had for that character,” Lloyd Schwartz, son of Sherwood, said to Variety following Henderson’s death. “Whenever anybody came up to her to say anything about the show, she was as warm as could be – I saw it a million times.”
Williams took Henderson on a date
One particular rumor from her time on set would haunt Henderson throughout later life: That she and Williams dated and had an affair. Williams, as eldest son Greg, was 16 at the time and Henderson was 36. In his 1992 memoir, Growing Up Brady, Williams recalled having a crush on his onscreen mom. “When those little things called hormones start kicking in, you get excited by even inanimate objects. It wasn’t that I sought to bed her,” he writes. “I just wanted to spend time with her.”
Henderson, a happily-married mother of four at the time, humored her young co-star but ensured things never progressed beyond being work colleagues. They did once go out for dinner but were driven by Williams’ older brother as Williams was still without a driver’s license. “That whole thing with Barry got blown way out of proportion,” Henderson wrote on her website of the rumor/date. “I guess in a sense it was a date, because Barry thought it was. But of course, I had no idea that his intentions were to ‘date’ me. It has made for a good story though!”
Williams and McCormick dated while playing brother and sister
Williams had more luck with onscreen sister Marcia. In her 2008 memoir, Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice, McCormick wrote of dating Williams during filming, noting that at the time she said to herself, “Oh my God! I’m kissing my brother. What am I doing?”
McCormick turned to drugs when the series ended
Only 14 when the series began airing, McCormick said she battled anxiety and personal insecurities due to playing sweet and wholesome Marcia. “As a teenager, I had no idea that few people are everything they present to the outside world,” McCormick writes. “Yet there I was, hiding the reality of my life behind the unreal perfection of Marcia Brady. … No one suspected the fear that gnawed at me.”
Following the end of the series, McCormick’s fear was still there, resulting in cocaine and Quaalude abuse and depression. McCormick recalls drug binges at the Playboy Mansion, and even being so out of it she blew an audition with Steven Spielberg for a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. After getting clean in the mid-eighties, she says she has come to terms with and even feels acceptance of her Brady character.
Williams filmed an episode high
Williams, like many teens in the 1970s, admits to experimenting with drugs. Except unlike most teens, the results didn’t end up on television. Enjoying a day off from the set with friends, Williams says they smoked some marijuana. “Then [the show producers] called in the middle of this high to go into work,” Williams recounted during a Brady Bunch convention talk in 2014. Though he regrets it, Williams said the results can be seen in the 1973 episode "Law and Disorder": “I’m a much better actor when I am completely sober than when I’m high!”
Olsen and Lookinland would 'make out in the doghouse'
Cindy, the youngest member of the Bradys, was often chided for being a tattletale on the show. In real life, Olsen spilled the beans to News.com.au in 2015 about life on the Brady set. When asked whether any of the kids “hooked up” during filming, Olsen replied that she believed “all of us did … We led a sheltered life for part of the year so if there was anybody to crush on or try to date, it would be our counterparts.”
According to Olsen, each young actor paired up with their opposite cast member on the show. “So, I had Mike and we used to make out in the doghouse when we were nine. Eve always had a crush on Chris, they did kind of hook up later on. And, of course, there was Maureen and Barry.”
Reed was a homosexual in real life and kept his sexuality a secret
As Mike, Reed was the level-headed patriarch of the Brady family, doling out words of wisdom with a kindly tone and fatherly hugs at the ready. In real life, Reed, a classically-trained actor, was a homosexual who kept his private life under wraps, a not uncommon occurrence at the time due to fears the revelation would impact ongoing career success.
“Here he was, the perfect father of this wonderful little family, a perfect husband,” Henderson told ABC News in 2000. “He was an unhappy person. … I think had Bob not been forced to live this double life, I think it would have dissipated a lot of that anger and frustration.” While many on set knew of Reed’s life away from the set, it was never discussed openly. “I had a lot of compassion for him because I knew how he was suffering,” Henderson said of Reed, adding that she believed coming out was not a possibility due to the era they were in. “I don’t think The Brady Bunch could have existed at that time with the public knowing that Robert Reed was gay. I just don’t think they would have bought it.”
Reed disagreed with many of the storylines and didn't appear in the final episode
Reed, who passed away in 1992, also clashed with producer Schwartz over storylines, and especially the visual gags written into each episode. Shakespearean-trained Reed preferred a more serious approach to the storylines, Schwartz told ABC News. Though Schwartz believed Reed to be “a good actor,” he also felt he “wound up on a show that he didn’t want to do in the first place, and it became more and more difficult for him.”
Reed’s displeasure with the scripts would continue throughout the entire series, culminating in his character being written out of what ultimately became the last episode of the original five-season run. The storyline dealt with Greg’s impending graduation from high school and a prank that left his hair orange ahead of the big day. Reed believed the story to be under par and reportedly demanded the episode be rewritten or he would not appear. The powers-that-be called his bluff and Mike’s lines were divided between Carol and Alice, resulting in Reed’s complete absence from the finale.