Looking back, 1969 was a pretty important year for me. It was the beginning of my formal schooling, with my entrance into kindergarten that fall. And it was the summer I met the best friend of my childhood, when Ricky and his family moved in just down the street. All in all, it's the first full year I can remember fairly clearly even now, not just fleeting bits and pieces from my earlier toddlerhood.
1969 was also pretty memorable for the rest of the world - one of the most pivotal years, full of significant historical and cultural events both here and abroad. As such, this current year (2019) has been chockablock with fiftieth anniversary tributes to that time and era. Over the past twelve months, there have been celebrations and memorials, movies, films, books and museum spectaculars commemorating events as various as the Stonewall riots, Chappaquiddick, the 'Miracle' Mets of baseball, the Manson Murders... and the first artificial heart implantation, 747 flight, ATM machine, and successful moon landing. Culturally,
Woodstock, Altamont, the rise and fall of 'supergroup' Blind Faith, and the deaths of Judy Garland and Brian Jones. It was the year of the debut of beloved children's series like Scooby Doo, The Wacky Races/Penelope Pitstop, Sesame Street and The Pink Panther, and the final seasons for programs fondly recalled to this day. like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., Star Trek, and the ignominious demise of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. And as can be judged by the spate of "50th Anniversary" box sets being released this year, 1969 was also a big year for music, with the release of celebrated classics such as The Beatles' Abbey Road, The
However, there's one culturally significant golden anniversary this year which seems to me hasn't received that much attention: The Brady Bunch premiered on ABC TV fifty years ago today, on September 29th, 1969.
This show was a rite of passage during the early '70s; EVERY kid I knew - shoot, probably every kid in America - watched this show religiously. On Fridays during the summer, the streets would clear of children early on those evenings, as everyone would be inside viewing the program. The critics at the time hated it - but I and ten of millions of other kids like me didn't know about or care about TV pundits panning the show or putting it down. We all just loved seeing kids on screen, doing kid stuff in a bright Day-Glo California world, where the weather was always perfect and the problems always happily resolved in thirty minutes.
The producer began by casting the children; his vision was that of three blonde girls and three dark-haired boys. Over 1,200 kids auditioned, with Schwartz personally interviewing more than a third of them, looking for the right mix/fit. In the end, he cast Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen as Marcia, Jan and Cindy Brady, and Barry Williams, Christopher Knight and Michael Lookinland as Greg, Peter and Bobby Brady (this despite the fact that Lookinland had blond hair; it was dyed dark for the duration of the program).
The adult roles were more of a problem. Originally, Schwartz had his eyes on longtime radio and TV veteran Monty Margetts in the role of Alice, the housekeeper, Joyce Bulifant as mother Carol Brady, and for the role of patriarch Mike Brady... none
Most of the storylines and overall focus of the series centered around the Brady kids and their trials and tribulations, the ordeals of growing up, both serious (sibling quarrels, parental restrictions, and adolescent love) and somewhat trivial (breaking Mom's favorite vase, missing dolls and treehouse admittance) - all semi-relatable to most kids around that period, which made the show that much more popular with the preteen set. Despite the "blended family" premise of the show, during the first season this aspect was rarely mentioned, and in the following seasons, not at all. The two halves of the family integrated relatively seamlessly - for instance, the kids seemed to have no problem calling their stepparents "Mom" or "Dad".
In the first couple of seasons, there wasn't much thought regarding making the Brady children into a singing group (although an album of Christmas standards sung by the kids was released in the fall of 1970). It wasn't until halfway through the show's run, on the "Dough Re Mi" episode (#65) aired during the third season in January 1972, that the first overt moves were made to establish the Brady Kids as a legitimate pop group. Two songs are featured on this episode: "We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter" and "Time to Change" (yup - this was the one where Peter's voice was changing):
Over the next year, more episodes featuring the kids singing were aired, including "Amateur Night" in January 1973 (featuring the tunes "Keep On" and "It's A Sunshine Day") and "Adios,
The Brady Bunch was never a critical or ratings hit. The best the show ever placed in the Nielsens during its entire run was during during its third season (1971-72), when it ended the year just outside of the top 30 programs. That was the same year the
However, by the end of the 1973-74 season, things between the star and the producer had come to a head. The final show of that season, "The Hair-Brained Scheme", had Bobby trying to get rich by selling homemade hair tonic, with the usual "wacky hijinks" ensuing. Reed sent another memo to Schwartz, pointing out in intricate detail the myriad problems he saw in the hackneyed premise of the script, and suggesting changes. The producer, either by oversight or by choice, didn't read the memo nor make the requested script changes in time for filming, leading to Reed walking off the set. Therefore, the family patriarch does not appear at all in the final episode. That was the final straw for Schwartz, who began making plans to replace/remove the Mike Brady character for the show's upcoming sixth season [As Carol Brady's prior marital status (whether she was divorced or widowed) was never explicitly specified, the producer contemplated writing Reed out of the program and bringing Carol's ex-husband back into the family].
While Schwartz was struggling to deal with the twin problems of Reed and the kids' musical desires, ABC cancelled The Brady Bunch at the end of the season, making any such moves unnecessary. With 117 episodes in the can, the program just barely made the threshold for syndication. In hindsight, the show's cancellation was in all likelihood a blessing in disguise for Schwartz, as it prevented him from overt conflict with his show's stars, and improved his bank balance (with compounded royalties from repeated airings of the program). The Brady Bunch entered syndication a year later, in September 1975... and has never left it. Every single day for the past forty-plus years, somewhere in the world, an episode of this old, formerly critically-reviled program has aired, and it continues to charm audiences, create new fans and reconnect old fans to its uncomplicated, wholesome, nostalgic "good clean fun" premise.
[For some reason, what is in my opinion the best song ever done on the show was left off of this disc - perhaps because it featured another cast member other than one of the Brady Kids. It was on "The Show Must Go On?", a fourth season episode aired in November 1972. In this episode, Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and her mother Carol (Florence Henderson) perform the song "Together Wherever We Go" (from the hit 1959 Broadway stage musical "Gypsy") for Marcia's high school talent show, the "Family Night Frolics". Its a bit fondly remembered by aficionados of the program, and cited by McCormick herself as her all-time favorite moment performing on the show. A clip of this performance is located here.]The Allmusic review of this album sort of says it all:
"If you have fond memories of watching The Brady Bunch while growing up or if you have all the episodes on tape, there's no escaping it -- It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of the Brady Bunch is indispensable. If your appreciation of The Brady Bunch is not so intense, the abundance of bad singing and playing that clutter this disc will not be charming or endearing; it will just be irritating."I suppose I'm one in the former group; I've owned my copy of this compilation, on either cassette or CD, for decades, and still derive a guilty pleasure from listening to and reveling in these happy, goofy songs. But the attitude by which you decide to approach this album is up to you - I'm just acting as the source for you all! Here for your listening (dis)pleasure is It's A Sunshine Day: The Best of The Brady Bunch, released by MCA Records on March 2nd, 1993. In any case, as always, let me know what you think.
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