By now it’s almost a cliché: There once was a man named Brady who was a widowed father of three rambunctious tykes by the name of Greg, Peter and Bobby. Love shone on architect Mike Brady once more and brought into his life Carol Martin and her three beautiful daughters – all of them with hair of gold – Marcia, Jan and Cindy. The two unlucky lonely hearts wed and united their brood to create for five glorious seasons on ABC the legendary Brady Bunch. Oh, and to help Mike and Carol navigate the choppy waters of domestic and familial bliss was their ever-faithful femme de menage (AKA maid), Alice Nelson.
Those five seasons of The Brady Bunch beget a cultural avalanche of pop cultural goodies from an honest-to-Pete(r) Saturday morning cartoon, The Brady Kids, a record deal for the Brady kids where they were allowed to interpret such favorites as American Pie and Charlotte’s Web, Brady lunch boxes, View-Masters, coloring books and board games. If you came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was just no getting around the Bunch.
But something strange happened when The Brady Bunch aired its last original episode on March 8, 1974: The Brady’s didn’t seem to want to go away. And we didn’t want them to. Rather, this television family kept visiting children and parents alike for years to come thanks to the power of syndication, revival shows, reunion movies and variety hours. Suddenly, generations of the world’s citizens who had not even been alive during the original run of the show discovered the beauty and the selfless nature of the Bunch.
I came into being at the tail end of The Brady Bunch, 1973 to be exact, so it wasn’t until the gang had been out to pasture for a few years that I discovered courtesy of Bunch reruns the magic of Cindy and her beloved doll Kitty Carryall or the grooviness of Greg Brady as the one and only Johnny Bravo. More than the superficial nature of the show, though, I came to love what this oversized family represented which was love, loyalty, honesty and plain old-fashioned fun. They were the family that I, as a four year old boy who suddenly found himself the product of a good old-fashioned American divorce, desperately longed for. My mother and father might not be on speaking terms anymore or even living in the same country for cripes sake, but Mike and Carol were always steadfast and loyally there for this latchkey kid week in and week out, welcoming me in as an honorary Brady and introducing me along the way to a whole passel of life lessons from the obvious (don’t steal) to the magical possibilities that awaited me – such as believing in myself and in my dreams when no one else did – as long as I could keep my head above water in the crazy thing called life.
I wasn’t alone: The Brady Bunch opened their arms wide to a whole planet of Cousin Oliver’s; those of us who weren’t Brady’s and only tangentially tied to them but whom they still, nevertheless, made a place for at their already crowded table every afternoon after school and before homework. Mike, Carol, Alice, Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marcia, Jan and Cindy raised many of us that lacked any real sense of family and structure and did so with marvelous aplomb that makes me wish that the U.S. government gave out awards to fictional television families.
With the 50th anniversary of America’s favorite family upon us, it’s heartwarming to see the Bunch back together in an upcoming HGTV series entitled A Very Brady Renovation (premiering September 9 at 8 PM) along with a host of other television appearances on the Food Network’s Chopped and The Kitchen. By now, of course, all of the Brady kids are something akin to Elder Statesmen; Robert Reed, Florence Henderson and even good old Ann B. Davis are now gone, perhaps hobnobbing in the sky with other television moms and dads and housekeepers who have also gone on to their Happy Hunting Grounds such as Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsley and Shirley Booth. Their six progeny remain however and, like those of us who grew up with them way back when, are a little more weathered and dinged from the unrelenting march of time, yet they’re still out there spreading the word of Brady wherever they go, serving as a reminder to us, their de facto global family, that it’s not the mileage of the years that matters, but the quality of our actions and interactions with others that, like a classic Brady Bunch episode, will stand the test of time. Here’s to fifty more years of the Brady’s!