Poor Barry Williams. At the age of 14 the young actor starred in a pilot for a viciously lame family comedy-drama created by the producers of Gilligan’s Island that ended up running for 116 episodes. Thirty-five years later he’s still talking about it.
The Brady Bunch has been on non-stop -“ it’s never been off the air -“ since 1969, Williams said. It’s in 146 countries, it plays four times a day in the States. Each of the episodes has aired 100,000 times.
That’s contrasted with my many productions on Broadway and Broadway national tours and television shows that I’ve either produced or starred in; [they] pale in comparison to that kind of reinforcement. But I’m very pleased with my career. And glad that it’s as diverse as it is, he said.
There’s something of the smiling zombie about Williams, a sense of vacancy and simmering aggression also apparent when talking with Maggie Kirkpatrick about Prisoner, or more horribly, when chatting with Margaret Pellegrini. (She was one of the Munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz, and has done nothing but talk about that for 70 years.)
Williams is also, however, a legitimate big musical performer, having starred in the Broadway national tours of shows like Pippin, Romance, Romance and The Sound Of Music. So he doesn’t have to talk about The Brady Bunch all the time, but he obviously enjoys it. Or makes money out of it. Or both.
His upcoming one-man show for instance is (apparently) packed with Brady Bunch memories and will no doubt draw anecdotes from Williams’s trivia-oozing memoir Growing Up Brady: I Was A Teenage Greg. Williams was executive producer on a television special based on the book, and even released a single called The Real Greg Brady, sung to the tune of The Real Slim Shady. (Hear it at www.barrywilliams.net and weep!)
He’s also had cameo appearances in the remake Brady movies of the 1990s, brilliantly camp takes on the show that revitalised the mantra Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!. (The films’ cultural impact was perhaps bettered only by Williams’s bizarre appearance on Fox TV’s Celebrity Boxing in 2002, when he was punched out by the Partridge Family’s Danny Bonaduce.)
It could have been worse. Williams could have been remembered as Peter or Bobby or -¦
Someone less cool, Williams agreed. I think there are people that don’t make the leap between Greg Brady the person and Barry Williams the actor who played him -¦
And yes, people do tend to think of me as younger. People that haven’t either followed my career or seen more recent photographs. That’s okay. I’ll run the youth thing out as far as I can, he laughed.
Giving Williams a rare moment of respite, the question what was it like on the show isn’t posed, primarily because all the answers are in his book. There’s the date with Florence Henderson, the crush on Maureen McCormick and the infamous surfing sequence in the Hawaii holiday episodes, in which Williams did his own stunts and almost drowned. (The producers used the footage -“ see Episode #72 Hawaii Bound.)
What’s missing from the book is any mention of the sexuality of onscreen dad Robert Reed or any real insights about the man who played Mike Brady. (Your father’s gay, kids.) The first edition of Growing Up Brady was also published in 2001, a year before Reed’s death from colon cancer (Reed was HIV-positive.)
It’s a subject Williams is less often asked to talk about, despite the fact the men were close friends, and there were reports Williams helped organise Reed’s memorial service. This turns out to be true.
Did Williams know his onscreen Dad was gay?
Oh yes. We all did, Williams said. When anybody works together as closely as we did for years and years and years we learnt pretty much everything there is to know about everybody. It was never an issue, it wasn’t a negative, Williams said. (For the record, Williams, like Greg, is fervently heterosexual. Williams is now married and recently became a father.)
I think sometimes Florence Henderson might have struggled with it a little bit, because there were scenes that made Bob a little bit uncomfortable, that she’s talked about, Williams said. But the consummate actor that he is, it was never a problem and I know that he genuinely adored Florence, and she him.
Reed hated the show and taught Shakespeare at UCLA in the years before his death. Williams organised the memorial service while on tour, then attended the service along with all of the Bradys.
For Williams, the press following his death was especially painful, with tabloids exposing his sexuality and pronouncing that he had died of AIDS. It’s a reminder of the very bottom-dwelling portion of our business -¦ Williams said.
I guess I understand the irony of America’s favourite Dad who’s closeted for all those years, and I think that was a big struggle for him, he said. But also, times have changed. This was 1992 when he passed. And I think in 2004 -¦ the angle of the articles would be quite a bit different, Williams said.
But I think in part because he maintained his secrecy for so long that, when given the opportunity, the tabloids really jumped on him. I mean, literally the day before yesterday you have Rosie O’Donnell jetting off to San Francisco to marry her partner. And she’s doing it as a cause c?bre -¦ he said.
But I think it’s unfortunate for Bob that he didn’t live long enough to enjoy just being who he was and continuing to work as an actor.
Reed might not have approved of Williams’s one-man show (creator Sherwood Schwartz is quoted as saying Reed had no sense of humour) but those of us with a camp sensibility should find plenty to relish.
There’s even a chance to get a little bit Brady.
I invite audience members up on the stage to recreate my Brady family, said Williams, matter-of-factly. I teach them all four steps that the Brady Bunch learned for choreography and then we sing and dance A Sunshine Day.
Brady drag? Barry, Barry, Barry -¦
Barry Williams: Live In Concert is showing at the Fairfield RSL on Thursday 11 March. Tickets are $25 and may be booked on 9727 5000. For more information visit
www.fairfieldrsl.com.au or www.barrywilliams.net.