In the summer of 1968, TV producer and writer Sherwood Schwartz gathered six children and three adults (one played a housekeeper) in the Lucille Ball rehearsal hall at Paramount Studios and announced, “This is your new family.” And that’s the way we really became The Brady Bunch. If you ask me, few in TV have spoken more prophetic words.
Amazingly, the show is coming up on it’s 40th anniversary. It debuted on September 26, 1969. Recently Oprah Winfrey’s producers put out calls to get all six of us Brady kids – can we still be called kids? – to reunite on her show in the fall. From what I know, all of us said yes except for one person, Eve Plumb, who used to be my best friend but now apparently wants to distance herself from the show and most troubling from me.
I know people go through problems with friends, family and co-workers. But I hate when there’s trouble in Brady land, and I especially hate that Eve seems to have a problem with me. I have no idea why unless she’s mad at the joke I made a few years ago that we’d had a lesbian love affair. I made the crack to be funny – and for shock value. I’m sorry if she took offense. But hey, it was a joke.
The truth is, the two of us were best friends from the start. We had sleepovers, brushed our hair together, talked of boys and snuck cigarettes behind the sound stage. I’d like for all of us to get together on Oprah. I would like it even more if Eve and I could get together.
I have tried to figure out if there could be another problem. I can’t think of any. I don’t know if Eve is mad at me, if she wants to put the Brady Bunch in the past or both. A while ago ago, she participated in a Trivial Pursuit TV show with the other cast members, which surprised me. Maybe she did it because I couldn’t make it.
Maybe I need to let it go. But I hate the thought of letting go to any one of my Brady siblings because of how close we were, especially Eve and me. You don’t let go of family members without a fight. So I have put in calls to Eve to try to figure this out. In addition, I decided to check in with my other Brady brothers and sisters.
Here’s how it unfolded:
I just put in a call to Eve, who I understand is doing very well these days as a painter. I looked at her website. She is very good. I wasn’t nervous as the phone rang. I was determined and hopeful. Unfortunately, no one answered. I left a message and asked her to call me. I will call back.
Next, I called Mike Lookinland, who played my youngest brother, Bobby Brady. Mike will be 49 years old this year. Yikes! How did that happen?
Well, I’ll be 53 in August. How did that happen?
Mike lives in Utah, with his wife, Kelly, and two sons, Scott, 19, and Joe, 16. For years, he worked behind the scenes on TV shows that filmed in Salt Lake City, like ‘Touched By An Angel.” However, after the business dried up there, he opened his own architectural concrete business, making things like countertops and benches. As he told me about this, his son Joe walked in the kitchen with fresh eggs from their chickens.
“You have chickens?” I asked.
“A whole bunch,” he said.
I laughed. The thought of him having chickens in the backyard struck me as so Bobby Brady, as it did when he said he was a member of the Sierra Club and a committed environmentalist and outdoorsman.
“What projects would you still like to work on?” I asked.
“Honestly, I’d like more free time to explore the wilderness,” he said.
“That’s so Bobby,” I said.
“It’s true. “I wish I had enough money so that I could really spend extended periods of time camping and hiking and being close to nature.”
“How do you look back on the Brady Bunch?” I asked.
“The Brady Bunch was totally fluff,” he said. “But that aside, there’s no shortage of people who loved the show and continue to love the show. It’s a classic. And it’s amazing to have been a part of something that big, something that has touched so many people.”
“I feel the same way,” I said. “I can’t believe your boys are so big.”
“They have a band – Solar Euphoria. They’re rockers.”
“What kind of dad are you?”
“I try to be upbeat, jovial and not too strict. I’d call myself liberal. But the boys have a difficult time getting away with things because, you know, I’ve been there.”
“Haven’t we all!”
“But they’re better than I was as a teenager. I don’t shut his eyes as a parent. If something’s going on, I know it.”
My husband, Michael, walked into the room as I hung up and asked how the call had gone. I told him that Mike was great and no doubt the most normal of all of us. His memories of the show had been fun and untainted by the jealousies and pettiness that sometimes bothered those of us who became teenagers first. “I just knew we got to go through the big studio gates, so I knew we were special,” he said.
My next call was to Susie Olsen. And I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.
First of all, I read and enjoyed all of your comments to part one. A couple things I want to say: First, I told the joke long before I wrote my memoir. It wasn’t a stab at generating PR. It was a joke. Apparently not a funny one.
Then, as far as my willingness to take responsibility for whatever happened between me and Eve, I am more than willing. I am ready. I just need to know what I did or what happened. My top priority is to repair a friendship that has been an important part of my life. As for keeping the matter private, I think you’re right. If Eve calls, I’ll let you know. But any discussion will be kept between us.
I do hope we all end up on Oprah.
I want to thank all of your for your thoughts and comments. I appreciate them and also the warm feelings you have for me and my Brady family.
Now, after speaking to Mike, I was filled with warm feelings and good memories. I couldn’t wait to continue my check-ins. I dialed Susie Olsen.
I adore Susie, who is a remarkably warm, loving person. When we shot the series, my mom and I used to get rides to the studio with Susie and her mother. I remember Susie hated the way the producers always wanted her hair in curls, as in “the youngest one with curls.” She had other ideas.
“Where are you up to?” I asked when she picked up the phone.
“I’m up to my knees in cats,” she said.
Over the years, Susie has rescued hundreds of cats. She estimates she saves about 20 per year. She recently pulled 26 from a shelter. Now she has six leftovers running around her house. She gets them adopted and places them into homes. Her organization is called Preciouspaws.org.
“I feel like my home is a home for unwed mothers,” she said. “I have a tabby with her three daughters.”
“Sounds like a cat-astrophe,” I joked.
“It does cost a lot of money to raise them and save them,” she said.
In September, Susie has a book coming out called ‘Love to Love You Bradys’. It’s a coffee table book about the variety show we did – what I like to refer to as the world’s worst variety show, or one of them. Her book was written by Ted Nicholson and Susie wrote the sidebars and did the graphics. Lisa Sutton, a huge Brady Bunch pop culture afficiando – she’s actually called a Bradyologist – did the design.
When I asked her about her experience on the Brady Bunch, she said it was “pretty much all fun.”
“I’m grateful we got to share it together,” she said. “And I’m even more grateful that we continue to share it, like a family.”
“Me, too,” I said.
“I learned lots of lessons on the show,” she said. “Not all of them were easy. As much as I loved acting, though, I wouldn’t want it for my son.”
“It’s hard,” she says. “It skews your perception of reality.”
Susie is a single mom to her almost 13-year-old son, Michael. I laughed when she described herself as a “way too lenient” of a mother. She’s raising her son alone, though they also share their house with Trevor, a Golden Retriever who she said has hot spots. Susie’s son Michael was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder, a milder form of autism. She told me that he is highly intelligent, more so than the average child his age.
“I have a hard time knowing when to be a mom and when to be a friend,” she said. “I often get them confused.”
“Are you happy?” I asked.
“I’d be happier with more money,” she said. “Fame without fortune is a bitch.”
She laughed. If you knew Susie the way I do, you would call her every day just to get a dose of her sense of humor and spirit.
“I get a lot of happiness from working with homeless animals,” she said.
“What’s next for you?”
“I’m pitching a show about animal rescue,” she said. “It’s called ‘Brady to the Rescue’. My son suggested calling it ‘Crazy Cat Brady’.”
“He’s a clever one,” I said.
“Right now, he’s cuddling with the kittens,” she said. “He’s so cute.”
I could imagine. After hanging up, I sat there appreciating Susie. She’s so real, so genuine, and that’s really rare. Love her.
I decided to call Barry next. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow…
My pal Barry Williams picked up right away. He sounded tired – and he was.
“You know what, Mo, why don’t I get some orange juice and call you back,” he said. “I started my Fourth of July early last night.”
A bit later, he called back and we had a nice chat. He said that he had been very busy. He had spent three and a half months in Kansas City, starring in a musical called “The Church Basement Ladies.” He had also been at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, appearing in “Tony and Tina’s Wedding. And more recently he had performed on the TV Land Awards with Clint Black and Cyndi Lauper in a tribute to Sid and Marty Kroft.
I don’t know if people are aware of it, but Barry is a terrific performer. He has always reminded me of a younger Tom Jones. Both have curly hair, sex appeal and the ability to shake it. Ha! Back when we did the Brady variety show, he was very into it. He took it more seriously than anyone. In fact, he was so angry at me because I wasn’t into it. He thought the two of us could be another Donnie and Marie. Maybe we could have. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the focus.
“Hey, Mo, did you hear Michael Jackson died?” he asked.
“That’s a joke, right?” I asked.
“Oh my God, it’s crazy,” I said. “But what about you? What else have you been doing?”
“I just made a cameo in an episode of ‘The Office,’” he said. “I played a guy in a gym.”
“That’s cool,” I said. “It’s an excellent show. Is there anything you’d like to do next?”
“I’d love to do an action-adventure movie sometime,” he said, laughing. “I’ve pretty much done everything else. I’ve been very, very lucky.”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
“My favorite thing to do is sit on the beach,” he added. “I’d love to be the guy in the Corona ad.”
Personally, I think he’d get bored pretty quickly as that guy. Always busy and hard at work doing something, Barry also has a wonderful six-year-old son, Brandon, who lives with his mom in New York. Barry visits him as often as he can. He told me that Brandon was teaching him to play soccer.
“What kind of daddy are you?” I asked.
“Very committed,” he said.
Since this conversation was about catching up with my Brady big brother, I asked him to think back to our first days on the show. I remembered he celebrated a birthday, his 16th if I’m not mistaken. I asked him if he could remember his first impression of me.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I couldn’t wait for you to get two years older.”
“How do you look back on the show?”
“It was like growing up with a second family – and in front of everybody,” he said.
Most recently, Barry said he has been renovating his parents’ house in Malibu in preparation of renting it. I immediately remembered some of the great parties he threw there when we were younger. Some of the other great parties I can’t remember if you catch my drift.
As we chatted, Barry suddenly remembered that it was exactly 20 years ago to the day that he had married his first wife, Diane. I said something about various relationships he’s had over the years and his lack of luck in finding a love that lasts. The poor guy.
I’ve been fortunate in that department. My marriage to Michael Cummings is in its 25th year. Barry has always referred to Michael as my prince, and he’s right. Michael has been my angel. People seem surprised when they hear how long we’ve been married. They usually ask how we’ve managed to make it work. It’s simple. We’re committed through thick and thin.
As for Barry’s love life, he’s dating a much younger girl and Elizabeth. I’ve met her, and she’s great.
“It’s not the same age difference as Adrianne and Chris,” he said.
I laughed. He actually met Elizabeth through Adrianne and Chris.
“I’m flying today,” Barry said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’m close to getting my pilot’s certificate,” he said. “I’m flying up to Simi Valley today, so I’ll fly over your house.”
“I’ll wave to you,” I said.
I told him that I had spoken to Mike and Susie and I wanted to ask him the same question I’d asked them: “Are you happy with the way you’re life has turned out thus far?”
“Very,” he said. “I’m very grateful.”
I was pleased to hear him use that word, grateful, because I couldn’t agree more. Barry and I were examples of people who had made various mistakes and battled problems and still come out the other end with a positive attitude and appreciation for the things in life that mattered, and I was happy that included our friendship over 40 years.
After hanging up, I had goose bumps from the affection I still had for him. Barry’s father had always wanted us to get married. I can’t imagine that arrangement would’ve turned out (I’m laughing as I write that), but you know what? Once you have a crush, you’ll always have that crush.
And tomorrow…my call with Chris Knight.