Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Here's The Story

Before my local Border's went out of business, I bought some stuff real cheap, including Brady Brady Brady, the inside story of The Brady Bunch, written by Sherwood Schwartz, its creator, and Lloyd Schwartz, its producer (and Sherwood's son). They didn't collaborate, exactly. Sherwood wrote the first third, about selling the show and making the pilot, while Lloyd wrote the back two-thirds, where he talks about running the show and the years after, not to mention his rise through the ranks, starting as the kids' dialogue coach.

It's written in a very simple style, like a book-length junior high essay.  I suppose that only makes sense, since the show itself was set at that level.  Amazingly, the pilot script was considered too daring--being about a "blended" family--so Sherwood, also creator of Gilligan's Island, couldn't sell it until the similarly-themed film Yours Mine And Ours came out in 1968 and was a hit.

I never really liked the show, but somehow, one way or another (mostly through its widespread syndication), I watched every episode.  It was never actually a ratings hit in any of its five seasons, but became iconic anyway.  As Lloyd notes, though the show didn't go in for catch phrases, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!," "Pork chops and applesauce," "Something suddenly came up" and "Oh my nose!" still conjure up powerful memories for a whole generation.

The only thing associated with the show I can honestly say I like is The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), which pokes fun at the show--they're a family living in the 90s still stuck in the 70s.  Lloyd writes about the film.  He and his father started out writing the script, and had a satirical (though still positive) take on the show.  It was greenlighted but new people came in at Paramount and father and son were replaced, though they still gave notes.  At first the new script was too harsh, but it ultimately pulled back and Paramount had a hit.  Lloyd claims the parts of the movie that worked were concepts he and his father originated. Maybe, though based on the mirthless series, this is hard to buy.

The most interesting thing about the book is how consistently both Schwartz men despise Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady, the patriarch.  The rest of the cast they loved (though when the kids signed with a new manager in the final season, things got a little rocky).  But Robert Reed, by all (well, both) accounts was a jerk.  It seems he thought he was a great actor, destined to be a major name on stage and/or screen.  Somehow, being stuck as the dad of a bunch of silly kids in a sitcom created by the guy most associated with Gilligan's Island was not where he saw his career going.  He wasn't Sherwood's only original choice for the role, but Gene Hackman was brushed aside as not being a big enough star.  Very much in Reed's favor was he already under contract with Paramount--they had to pay him anyway.  He acted well enough as the responsible dad, though Sherwood and Lloyd soon discovered comedy was not his forte, and perhaps not his interest.  Instead, he would complain all the time, even looking at the camera late in the day (after the kids had left) and shouting profanities at Sherwood.

Worse, he would refuse to perform anything that wasn't "real." Not just emotionally real, either. He took it upon himself to write lengthy memoranda explaining how certain things--fake inkstains, pay phones in suburban homes, hair coloring, etc.--weren't possible according to his research.  (Though I don't think he ever asked why an architect with a wife and six kids would design his own home with only one bathroom.)  All this did, I think, was guarantee the producers wrote less for him and sure didn't try to make him funny.  In the final episode they even gave his lines to wife Carol and housekeeper Alice when he refused to show up.

Who knows, maybe he was right.  Maybe if he hadn't been stuck on the show he could have been the next Pacino or Nicholson--or Hackman.  But his seriousness did help create Gary Cole's take on the part in the movie.  Every time Cole opens his mouth, in his pitch-perfect imitation of Reed's lecturing tone, I laugh.  So if for nothing else, for that we have Reed and the two Schwartz guys to thank.

PS  I didn't see any typos until literally the last page, where we meet "Barak Obama." Was the editor getting tired?

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