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We’re still mad at the Brady Bunch

They were lesbians? Why all the gossip about a show that went off the air 33 years ago?

JAIME J. WEINMAN October 15 2007
THE BACK PAGES

We’re still mad at the Brady Bunch

They were lesbians? Why all the gossip about a show that went off the air 33 years ago?

JAIME J. WEINMAN October 15 2007

We’re still mad at the Brady Bunch

tv

They were lesbians? Why all the gossip about a show that went off the air 33 years ago?

JAIME J. WEINMAN

An unsubstantiated celebrity rumour became a hot Internet topic last week. Was it about Lindsay Lohan or Owen Wilson or any other current troubled celebrity? No, it was about a show that went off the air 33 years ago: The Brady Bunch. Lukas Alpert of the New York Post wrote that an upcoming autobiography by Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady) would reveal “how she had a steamy on-set sexual relationship with the co-star who played her younger sister Jan” (Eve Plumb), while the National Enquirer quoted a source saying that while the Brady girls weren’t lesbians, they had “some sexual play.” The publisher, HarperCollins, declared that no such story would be in the book and that this was “just a wild Internet rumour,” but by then, it hardly mattered: Defamer.com wrote that the story “set the Internets ablaze” with thousands of blog posts, message board discussions and articles. With most old sitcoms, all anybody cares about is whether all the DVDs are out yet; with The Brady Bunch, people still want to know if there were any more scandals. No one can resist the lure of Brady gossip.

After all, the reason so many people believed the lesbian story was that there had been other revelations about the Bradys, and that made this one seem plausible. Anyone who grew up watching the show can recite the rumours that weren’t public at the time the show was actually in production. Robert Reed, who played Mike Brady, concealed his homosexualty until long after the show had gone off the air; his death in 1992 was one of the key symbols (along with Rock Hudson) of the terrible toll the AIDS epidemic had taken on the entertainment industry. On a much lighter note, Barry Williams (Greg Brady)

wrote about behind-the-scenes dating, including his night out on the town with the woman who played his mother, Florence Henderson. And McCormick’s autobiography will feature revelations about her drug addictions and eating disorders, and possibly even her firing from the show Teen Angel.

Even the Jan-Marcia rumour, while it probably won’t turn out to be true, is based on something real: in 1997, a talk-show host asked McCormick whether her relationship with Eve Plumb was more than merely “sisterly,” and McCormick confessed to having “a little crush” on the actress who played Jan. It’s not surprising that gossip columnists would try to turn that one interview into a full-fledged lesbian affair; the public is so interested in Brady-related salaciousness, real or imaginary, there will always be a market for stories like this.

The odd thing is that The Brady Bunch wasn’t a particularly scandal-ridden cast, even by the standards of other wholesome family sitcoms. Family Affair had the drug addiction and death of cute little Anissa Jones (Buffy); Diff’rent Strokes offered such tragedies as suicide, armed robbery, kidney trouble and that Facts of Fife spinoff. Yet no tabloid would make one of those shows a top story these days. So why has The Brady Bunch become the most gossip-worthy sitcom of all time?

The answer may have something to do with the public’s love-hate relationship with TV’s most sickeningly ideal family. Sherwood Schwartz, who created The Brady Bunch (and Gilligan’s Island), told Retrocrush.com that the show is popular with viewers who have terrible families themselves and want to escape into a better one: these viewers, he said, “see a family that they would try to emulate because they have deficiencies in their own family.” But if we love The Brady Bunch because it offers a better family than our own, we may later come to resent the Bradys for being so perfect—just like Jan famously resented her popular sister “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” That’s where Brady gossip comes in; by seizing on imperfections in the people who played them, we can get revenge on the Bradys for being so much better than us. Even Schwartz has capitalized on the public’s desire to take the Bradys down a notch; he executive-produced two movies that satirized the family as a bunch of out-oftouch morons (and which included a lesbian subplot, though Jan wasn’t involved).

By reading that these actors had sex out side of marriage, took drugs, and struggled with their weight, we feel a little less inclined to hate our own lives after we watch the show. And so even ifJan and Marcia didn't have an affair, what matters is that we really wanted to believe it. We would rather think of them as lovers than as the stars of the greatest scan dal of all: the spinoff The Brady Brides. M