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How Robert Reed came to play The Brady Bunch dad Mike (and who almost got the job instead)

The following is an excerpt from The Way We All Became The Brady Bunch: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today by Kimberly Potts, the definitive history of the show that changed the family sitcom and made an indelible impact on pop culture, pegged to its 50th anniversary. In this selection, the author digs into the casting of Mike Brady, ultimately played by Robert Reed. Read on below. The book publishes Tuesday.

The legend about Gene Hackman almost becoming Mr. Brady is not true, or at least (actually, at most) is very exaggerated. Hackman was on Sherwood Schwartz’s wish list for maybe Mikes, and he’d hoped to set up an interview with the actor to discuss the part. But once again, the suits had something to say about his idea, and the something they were saying was, No one knows who this guy is. It was 1968, and Hackman had made guest appearances on I Spy, The F.B.I., and Robert Reed’s legal drama The Defenders. He’d also earned his first Oscar nomination, a supporting-actor nod for Bonnie and Clyde. But his popularity among TV audiences, network execs said, was zilch, and they ultimately wouldn’t sign off on Schwartz even scheduling an interview with Hackman. Things turned out okay for him, despite his lockout from the Brady universe. The year after The Bunch debuted, Hackman won his first Academy Award, for Best Actor in The French Connection.

As with the search to find the actress who would portray Carol, efforts to cast Mike were met with polite “no thanks” by some well-known actors who wanted neither the commitment a TV series required nor the risk that once they became known as a TV actor, movie work would elude them. But original Star Trek series star Jeffrey Hunter (he played Captain Christopher Pike in the first Trek pilot) was the pursuer for the job of playing Papa Brady. Hunter, who’d had some success on TV, and on the big screen with his performance as Jesus in 1961’s King of Kings, interviewed multiple times with Schwartz, who told him he was simply too handsome (imagine Comeback Special–era Elvis Presley crossed with Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer) to be architect Mike. If Mike had been a shirt model, Hunter would be the man, Schwartz reasoned. But even after Hunter argued that he was aging, that the lines around his ice-blue eyes had given him character and a more mature look, the Brady Bunch creator couldn’t picture the actor in the role. Hunter turned his attention back to movie roles, but in May 1969 he died after fracturing his skull in a fall at his home.

And then there was the actor who was just right for the role, no matter how much he hated that it was true. Robert Reed was a classically trained actor, a leading man in student productions as a drama major at Northwestern University, and a proud attendee of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. When he moved to New York City after his stint at RADA, he joined the Off-Broadway theater group the Shakespearewrights (playing the titular doomed hero in Romeo and Juliet), and then moved to Chicago to work with the company of the Studebaker Theater, where he co-starred with Geraldine Page and his future TV father, E. G. Marshall.

In The Defenders, Marshall and Reed co-starred as the Preston pair, father and son defense attorneys Lawrence and Kenneth, who handled the kinds of contentious topics that were not covered often, if ever, on TV at the time. The 1961–65 CBS drama saw the Prestons defend clients like a terminally ill comedian (Milton Berle) who wanted to be allowed to commit suicide, a teacher who lost his job after being accused of promoting atheism, an illegal immigrant facing deportation, and an allegedly corrupt politician who claimed he was the victim of anti-Hispanic prejudice. Fourteen Emmy wins, including three as best drama series, across four seasons were the show’s reward for groundbreaking storylines. One controversial episode, season one’s “The Benefactor,” found the Prestons defending a doctor who was arrested for performing abortions. The series’s three regular advertisers refused to sponsor the installment (written by Oscar winner Peter Stone), and viewers saw the episode only after Speidel, makers of the Twist-O-Flex watchband, stepped in to buy the open ad time. The incident was the inspiration for a season-two episode of Mad Men, also called “The Benefactor.”

Excerpted from THE WAY WE ALL BECAME THE BRADY BUNCH: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today. Copyright © 2019 by Kimberly Potts. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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