PRINT December 1992


Barry Williams' Growing Up Brady

“THROUGH FOUR SUCCESSIVE decades, on all three major networks, in six separate reunions, and in countless thousands of reruns, the Bradys have woven themselves into the fabric of Americana,” writes Barry Williams, Brady Bunch alumnus and author of the memoir Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg. Though he’s taking advantage of a technicality on the decade count (The Brady Bunch premiered in 1969, Growing Up Brady was published in 1992), this is one of the book’s rare understatements. What with the stage show, the reruns, the upcoming feature film, and the best-sellerdom of Growing Up Brady itself, the postboomer generation is revealing itself to be positively Bradymaniacal.

On the face of it, this fervent libidinal attachment to what surely ranks among the most impeccably shallow cultural artifacts of a decade that specialized in producing exactly that is a puzzling phenomenon. According to Brady creator Sherwood Schwartz, as quoted in Growing Up Brady, the program’s appeal is grounded in its recognition of the new configuration of the American family in a time of skyrocketing divorce rates. But then Schwartz’s delusions of grandeur tend to render his cultural criticism less than reliable. He also believes that the characters on his other creation, Gilligan’s Island, were “really a metaphor for the nations of the world, and their purpose was to show how the nations of the world have to get along together or cease to exist.”

In any event, The Brady Bunch was only nominally what the painfully value-free language of social work would term “a blended family.” For one thing, aside from one passing reference in the pilot to the first Mrs. Brady, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan, and Cindy gave every appearance of having been spawned parthenogenetically by their respective living parents. The biological mom and dad whose convenient decease allowed this group to form a national fetish were not only unmourned by their offspring, they barely seemed to have left an impression. Thus, far from functioning as a model for the reconstituted family, the relentlessly perky Bradys tended rather to underscore a national need to cut Tolstoy off in the middle of a sentence, a need most recently in evidence at the Republican National Convention: all happy families are alike. End of discussion. Now finish your chicken or you can’t have any dessert.

In fact, if memories of growing up Udovitch serve me, the family angle of The Brady Bunch had little to do with its original popularity. The Brady kids were the Jason Priestleys and Shannen Dohertys of their time in terms of Tiger Beat primacy, and the consequent presumptions of desire and affinity on the part of the kiddie audience were freely acknowledged: if you were a girl you wanted, depending correlatively on your age, to be just like Marcia, Jan, or Cindy, but you wanted to date Greg, Peter, or Bobby. If you were a boy, vice versa. In other words, you assumed that the Brady kids wanted to date each other, and you experienced the show as more of a prepubescent, incestuous romantic comedy than a family-oriented sitcom.

Growing Up Brady supports this thesis in spades. “At some point throughout the five years of filming, every Brady paired up romantically with their opposite-sex counterpart,” confides Williams, breathlessly. The book covers these hairless, incompletely consummated encounters with an exhaustive if peekaboo-ish voyeurism that borders on the onanistic. In many ways, Growing Up Brady seems motivated by the author’s desire to prove that underneath that poly-blend exterior lurked a raging hard-on. Chapters are titled things like “Cindy and Bobby, Sittin’ in a Tree,” “On the Make for ’Mo,’” and “Dating Your Mom.” The text is rife with phrases such as “full-frontal beaver mag,” “tit-squeezing bastards,” and “white-hot, vaguely slutty looking sex goddess.” “Even my welfare worker turned out to be quite a babe,” comments Williams of his first brush with on-set education.

All of which is fun for the whole family, blended or otherwise, but still doesn’t go very far toward explaining the show’s contemporary cult status. I had just about resigned myself to writing it off as one of those inexplicable eruptions of mindless juvenility that periodically rage across an era, like a kind of high-tech version of flagpole-sitting, when I came across the following statement by Brady Bunch movie producer David Kirkpatrick: “Though the picture will be predominantly a comedy, there will be moments of genuine emotion and pathos.” It seemed to me that the clear implication of this sentence—that there is a type of emotion, other than genuine, and that this unspecified, synthetic emotion exists on the sunnier side of the emotional spectrum, far, far away from unpleasant, surface-shattering emotions like pathos—was as eloquent a summation of the role shows like The Brady Bunch play in a consumer culture as any. Synthetic emotions, like those purveyed by The Brady Bunch proper, as well as its analogues and descendants (including the book under review), don’t shrink, pill, or crease when you pack them. They are always, by definition, mint-in-box, and unlike genuine emotions, they are both available and disposable (provided you live in a cable-ready building) on demand. And that’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.

Mim Udovitch is a New York-based free-lance writer who often writes about American mass-cult issues.


Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg, by Barry Williams with Chris Kreski. New York: HarperPerennial. 286 pp. $10.