Wednesday, October 23, 1996: The Bistro in the George Johnson Center on the campus of George Mason University is filled with sounds of the 1970’s As I walked in to take my seat at around 7:45 pm, I was greeted with the cheery lyrics of “We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter.” Fans were singing, clapping, and talking about their favorite episodes of The Brady Bunch. A few people, myself included, brought along copies of “Growing Up Brady” just in case our teen idol had the time to do some autograph signing. The music changed to the Brady Six’s extremely upbeat version of “American Pie” The mood in the Bistro was lighthearted, just as the series itself was. College students, most of whom were born after the series ended, were excited about seeing the grooviest big brother in TV history.
A few songs and many “Sha-na-na’s” later, the room went silent as the campus program board director came up on the stage to announce the guest. And then, without further ado, Greg Brady himself appeared before the audience dressed casually and ready to entertain. Like all actors wanting to be recognized for themselves and not totally through the characters they play, Barry pointed out to the audience that his name was in fact Barry and not Greg. Of course he did this in a congenial way, gently reminding the audience of his true identity. Nevertheless, the crowd went wild! As soon as the standing ovation died down and everyone was seated, Barry opened his presentation with a few comically presented anecdotes about his experiences as a Brady. He talked about the bizarre clothing of the era and the unusual preference the Bradys had for green and orange. He also talked a bit about being cast as Greg Brady, which made his career take off and gave him a lifelong alter ego. He mentioned that originally, the mother and the girls were supposed to be the brunettes and the father and boys were to have the hair of gold. (Somehow “All of them had hair of gold, like their father” doesn’t sound quite right) Once Florence Henderson and Robert Reed were cast, however, the blond boys and brunette girls were ditched and the six kids that eventually became the Brady Bunch got selected instead. As he was talking about the whole color issue (hair, clothes, wallpaper) he showed a clip from the 1993 special called “Bradymania, a Very Brady Special”. The clip illustrated Robert Reed’s amazing hair transformation that took place over the course of the 5 year run. Remember the 1969 and 1970 episodes when Mike Brady had that really short, dark brown hair? In ‘71 his hair grew a little longer and in ‘72, those curls mysteriously appeared in his hair. It has long been rumored that Robert Reed and some of the other Brady men went out and got perms before the fourth season. The truth of the matter, according to Barry, is that Robert, himself, and Chris Knight had naturally curly hair that they had tried to tame for the first three seasons and eventually gave up all of the bizarre hair maintenance rituals they had to go through to keep it straight. Barry briefly mentioned Mike Lookinland’s encounter with Miss Clairol, which explained his dark hair at the beginning of the series, but the hair hassles Florence Henderson and Susan Olsen went through, though mentioned in the book, were not discussed in the presentation.
What else was discussed in Barry’s presentation besides hair and clothes? Barry talked about his relationship with the other cast members, in particular Florence and Maureen McCormick. Early on in the show, Barry developed a crush on Florence Henderson. Henderson was an experienced singer, which Barry also aspired to be and a mature woman. At the time, she was in her mid-thirties and had four kids of her own. One day, Barry asked her on a date and Florence, likely flattered and touched by Barry’s admiration of her, accepted. Barry acknowledged that the date was very innocent; he took her out to dinner and then he took her home and gave her a quick good-night kiss. That was all there was to that relationship. Barry went home a content young man, happy that Florence gave him the time of day. He then transferred his romantic desires to Maureen “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” McCormick. That relationship heated up when the Bradys were filming a three-part season premiere in Hawaii. After all, Barry explained, Marcia was not his REAL sister!
Speaking of Hawaii, Barry showed a clip of the big wipeout he had while filming a surfing scene for the first part of the Hawaii trilogy. He showed a slow motion replay of the few moments leading up to his accident, which could have been a lot more serious had his head hit the coral instead of his feet! The network, according to Barry, didn’t want to air the accident because they thought it was too “dangerous” for a family sitcom. Barry, however, pulled some strings, being the big brother of the bunch, and we ended up with Greg Brady wiping out in the last scene of the first Hawaii episode, which made for one heck of a cliffhanger!
If anyone remembers the 1977 short-lived Brady Bunch Hour, the offbeat variety show featuring the Brady Bunch as a family putting on their own variety show. The costumes got even more bizarre and the plot lines were loosely related sketches in between singing and dancing segments. Barry talked about the variety show experience as one of the most embarrassing career moves he made. Why? Many of the cast members could not sing or dance. He pointed out Chris Knight as their “lowest common denominator”, as he took weeks to learn the simplest dance moves and he was no singer either. He mentioned that, ironically, Robert Reed, who constantly balked at the distortion of reality in the scripts of the original series, enjoyed doing the variety hour. He showed a clip of the variety hour with the Bradys in all their polyester glory, cavorted around the stage, relying on the more musically inclined of the group to carry them through the musical number.
After Barry related his not-so-glory days as a Brady, he pointed out that the Bradys have kept on going through four decades, six presidents, and eleven reunions. Now that’s persistence, especially in the face of constant negative reviews and derisive parodies directed at them from the very beginning of their run. An important driving force has kept the underrated Bradys alive and that force is the fans that the show has accumulated in the 27 years that it has been on the air. The boomers were the first generation of fans, seeing the show in its original run, in the time before VCRs. Gen- Xers, like myself, have enjoyed the show in reruns. Kids today are being reintroduced to the Bunch through the recent movies, although the movies distort the characters greatly and is more of a spoof of the show than a dedication to it.
The last set of clips that Barry showed the audience showed a modern, and somewhat risque incarnation of the Bradys as four of the original cast members came together in 1993 to make Bradyized versions of the movies “Basic Instinct,” “A Few Good Men,” and “The Bodyguard” for the MTV movie awards. In these R-rated skits, the Bradys smoked, swore, and acted very unBrady-like. It was shocking to those accustomed to seeing the conservative, straitlaced Bradys on TV, but it was funny and showed that the cast members have a sense of humor about the whole Brady experience.
After the clip session, (in which he went and sat by me of all people!) Barry showed us his musical talent in a rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. After performing the song magnificently, proving that he is a man of great talent, Barry took five, leaving the audience to talk amongst themselves for a few minutes. When he emerged, he donned the ultimate ‘70’s groove suit, reminiscent of the outfit he wore in the episode where he turned his father’s den into a groovy bachelor pad: bellbottoms, a fringed vest, a headband and sunglasses...oops, not sunglasses, shades! He gave the audience lessons in how to dance like a Brady! Far out!
At around 9 pm that night, Growing Up Brady came to a close. Barry changed back into 90’s attire and prepared for a long, tedious night of autograph signing. The line went fairly quickly, though, and on the stage near where Barry was sitting at a desk, Brady merchandise, from CD’s to T-shirts were on sale. I purchased an 8 x 10 photo of the entire cast circa 1969 on a ladder under a tree in the park. When it was finally my turn to meet Barry, (the moment I’ve been waiting for!) I hand him my copy of Growing Up Brady, flash him a picture of myself and Florence Henderson taken four years before, and left the Bistro a happy woman. Barry was very nice. He thanked me for sharing the picture with him and signed my book, “Here’s the story...Barry Williams”. After the autograph signing, he was available for picture posing, but since I didn’t bring my camera (Silly me!) I missed out on having my picture taken with him. Still, I was happy to have had the opportunity to meet Barry Williams, who still looks remarkably like Greg Brady, even at the age of 42. What a great guy! Long live the Brady Bunch!