America’s favorite dad was livid.
The man who played Mike Brady, Robert Reed, paged through the latest script for “The Brady Bunch” and lashed out at the show’s creator, demanding that his part be rewritten.
And what had so incensed the actor?
The smell of strawberries. Or the lack thereof.
In Season 4’s episode, “Jan, the Only Child,” Brady mom, Carol, and the family’s housekeeper, Alice, hold a competition to see who can craft the tastiest strawberry preserves.
As the competition raged in the Brady’s formica kitchen, the script called for Mike Brady to arrive home and remark that the house smelled like “strawberry heaven.”
Only Reed, who had a habit of meticulously fact-checking each script, discovered while poring over the “Encyclopedia Britannica” that strawberries supposedly give off no smell while they’re being cooked.
So Reed went to “Brady” creator Sherwood Schwartz and told him he would not say the line.
Attempting to placate the actor, Schwartz invited Reed down to the set where strawberries were actually being cooked and pointed out that the berries did indeed give off a scent.
Reed wouldn’t hear it. He’d read that they didn’t, and he refused to say the line.
So Schwartz offered a compromise: Mike Brady could say it “looks like strawberry heaven in here,” and Reed reluctantly agreed.
(Although the line he ultimately delivered in the filmed episode was, “I do believe I’ve died and gone to strawberry heaven.”)
Reed was famous for being difficult on set. In another episode in which youngest Brady boy, Bobby, sells hair tonic in a get-rich-quick scheme, Reed objected because the product wasn’t FDA-approved. In yet another, Reed whined about the implausibility of his character slipping on a broken egg. He even once disapproved of the quality of the fake ink that stained Alice’s uniform, prompting the actor to pen an angry, multi-page memo to the show’s executives. Reed blasted the prop department for its choice and called the ink scene so “unfunny that even a laugh machine would balk” at it.
With all the behind-the-scenes drama, it’s a wonder the show didn’t crash and burn in its first season. But “The Brady Bunch,” which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sept. 26, survived to become one of the most famous shows in television history, as detailed in “The Way We All Became the Brady Bunch: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today” (Grand Central Publishing), out now.
“I don’t feel like anyone thinks it’s a great show. This is not the sitcom version of ‘Breaking Bad,’ ” author Kimberly Potts told The Post. “It’s more that it’s a sweet show. Now so many generations have watched it, it’s a good memory and makes them feel good.”
Schwartz, the creator of “The Brady Bunch,” always wanted his show to be more than a quick laugh.
In 1966, he happened across a newspaper article stating that 29 percent of families now included a child from a previous marriage. The stat got Schwartz, who had created 1964’s “Gilligan’s Island,” thinking. He began crafting a show about a blended family that would serve as a parable for his personal belief that different people could always learn to live together.
The networks weren’t initially wild about the idea, and the series was shelved.
Then in 1968, “Yours, Mine and Ours,” a film about a blended family starring Lucille Ball, became a huge hit. ABC came calling about Schwartz’s sitcom idea, and the creator set about assembling his cast.
“Schwartz did a lot of smart things when he cast the show,” Potts says. “He cast kids and created the characters based on their personalities. That’s something that came through and helped people identify with them and made the group of siblings resonate with people.”
He also stocked the family with six kids; a boy and a girl occupying three different age groups. A full range of kid viewers — from young children to teens — could find someone to identify with.
Susan Olsen was chosen out of 454 hopefuls Schwartz personally interviewed to play youngest daughter Cindy. She won the part because of her charming lisp that had her pronouncing horse as “horth” in her audition.
Maureen McCormick was at first eyed to play middle daughter Jan, but when Schwartz tinkered with the ages of the kids, McCormick became eldest daughter Marcia. (Eve Plumb played Jan.)
I had a lot of compassion for him because I knew how he was suffering with keeping this secret.
– Florence Henderson on co-star Robert Reed’s bad behavior on set
Mike Lookinland got the gig of Bobby, even though Schwartz demanded that he dye his light hair brown to match that of his TV brothers: Christopher Knight, as Peter, and Barry Williams as Greg.
Competition was fierce to play parents Mike, an architect, and Carol, a stay-at-home mom with creative pursuits. One actress vying for the matriarch role sent Schwartz nude photos. Another, when Schwartz went to shake her hand, instead grabbed his crotch.
Neither got the part. It went to Florence Henderson after Shirley Jones passed on the role.
Reed, who fancied himself a Shakespearean actor, took the part simply for the money and quickly became a distraction. The unhappy actor would frequently spend his lunch breaks getting sloshed and when he returned to the set drunk, Schwartz would have to end filming for the day. Luckily, the child actors were usually done at that point and avoided witnessing most of his bad behavior and angry outbursts.
In fact, Reed had a close, almost paternal, relationship with the Brady kids.
“He took his responsibility as the TV dad seriously,” Potts says. “He famously took the kids on a trip to England because he wanted to expose them to culture and Shakespeare. He also famously gave them Super 8 cameras for Christmas. He wanted to help them the same as a father would.”
His relationship with the show continued to be less collegial, and he was completely absent from several episodes, including the 1974 series finale, because of his objections to material.
Had the series returned for a sixth season, Schwartz was planning to kill off Mike Brady and have the plots revolve around the kids helping Carol find love again.
But the show only lasted five seasons. While never a critical or ratings darling (its best finish was 31st, in Season 3), Schwartz quickly began receiving letters from real kids threatening to run away in order to live with the Bradys.
The show had clearly struck a chord and unlike many sitcoms of its day, it didn’t disappear after it was canceled.
Instead, it found a new life in syndication starting in 1975, often airing in blocks in the afternoon, which breathed new life into the program, making it a classic.
By 1976, reruns of “The Brady Bunch” actually beat the vice-presidential debate in ratings. At the time of its 30th anniversary, each of the 117 episodes was estimated to have aired more than 100,000 times around the world.
“These airings were chances for viewers of every changing age group to memorize the show, identify with the characters and their problems and allow ‘The Brady Bunch’ to become a permanent part of their culture and childhood memories,” Potts writes.
Today, all six actors who played the Brady kids continue to be defined by roles they performed half a century ago. Just recently, they appeared on HGTV’s “A Very Brady Renovation.”
Meanwhile, Reed died at 59 in 1992, after being diagnosed with colon cancer. It was later revealed that he had long lived a closeted gay life and was HIV-positive.
In a 2000 ABC News interview, Henderson talked about Reed’s homosexuality, which she learned about while filming the “Brady” pilot, and explained some of the reasons behind his bad behavior on set.
“Here he was, the perfect father of this wonderful little family, a perfect husband. Off camera, 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. I never asked him. I never challenged him. I had a lot of compassion for him because I knew how he was suffering with keeping this secret.”