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Ode to Innocence (AKA “A Very Brady Childhood”)

Looking back on my childhood, it was a lot like “The Brady Bunch”.  That is, if you take away 4 of the 6 kids, coming from two different households, the dog Tiger, Alice the maid, the laugh track, and replace loving Carol with neurotic and tightly-wound Dottie — that would be my life exactly.

With this week’s passing of Sherwood Schwartz (creator of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch”), I’ve found myself thinking of my childhood, and how idyllic certain moments were.  Though I spent a lot of time alone, as I didn’t have many friends, I could always rely on the Bradys to make me happy.  I followed their exploits every Friday night on ABC, and as much as I loved “The Partridge Family,” following, they couldn’t hold a candle to the Bradys.  There was just something so innocent about them.  Sure, they kidded, joked, and occasionally had issues, but there was never anything too snide or cynical.  Nothing remotely jaded or crass.  And watching them gave me hope that, somewhere out there, there was a better life waiting for me, filled with warmth and tenderness.

Now, this is not to say that I didn’t like my life.  There was much I did enjoy.  But I was also very aware of what was not right, which made me long for Friday nights all the more.

I loved the Bradys so much, I even followed their silly Saturday morning cartoon series, “The Brady Kids,” with Ping & Pong the Pandas and Marlon the talking mynah bird, and bought all of their albums.  I even got to see the kids live in concert, at Knotts Berry Farm’s Goodtime Theatre, where the pre-show was a magical, dancing curtain of water, beautifully-lit.

And as I grew, I continued to follow them, through the disastrous “Brady Bunch Hour,” which was their attempt at a Donny & Marie-style show.  Given that it was produced by Sid and Marty Kroft, you can be sure that quality was not its middle name.  The premise was that the Bradys had moved to Malibu for their own variety series, and in addition to a fake Jan and writing by Bruce Vilanch, the guests on the first episode were Lee Majors, Farah Fawcett-Majors, Rip Taylor, and Captain Kool and the Kongs, which paints a vivid portrait of the show’s schizophrenic nature. But I was charmed, nonetheless.

While I did continue following them through the “Brady Brides”, shortly thereafter, liking the Bradys was no longer “cool”.  And in my esteem, that show moved down in rank, and I began to view it with disdain.

I embraced any chance to mock the Bradys, and repeatedly went to see the “Real Live Brady Bunch” at the Westwood Playhouse, which featured Jane Lynch as Carol and Andy Richter as Mike.  And yet even while I was laughing, I was all too aware that I’d become a jaded, cynical version of my younger self.  I was laughing at the Bradys, not with them.

But I was not the only one who had aged; the Brady’s  had grown old as well.  In both “A Very Brady Christmas” and their last network series, “The Bradys”, the kids were now middle-aged, battling such issues as alcoholism and infertility, and Bobby had even became a paraplegic.  These were not the Bradys I knew from my treasured days of yore, when a problem was nothing more than a toppled house of cards or a broken nose before the big date with Doug.  And that is exactly why the series failed.

You see, as much as we may have liked the Bradys, we never cared about the characters as people, in a longing way, wanting to know how their lives turned out.  It was more that we liked the way they made us felt about ourselves, as if we too shared in the warm community called Brady.  And adding real and troubling issues into the mix suddenly jerked the Bradys out of the brightly hewed 70’s and into the stark and brittle light of real life, and it wasn’t pretty — or funny.

Today, I find myself longing for the days before that loss of innocence.  Before I knew just how tough the world can be.  And I also realize that my approach to parenting is actually not very far off from that of fellow gay man Robert Reed, Mr. Mike Brady himself, as I attempt to treat our kids with love and respect, truthfully but firmly, and with as much kindness as I can muster.

And the truly funny thing is, even today, at times, I’ll break out the moves and do my world-renowned rendition of the opening number from the debut of “The Brady Bunch Hour,” a disco dance version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

And when I do, summoning my inner Brady, I somehow reach back  to a time of fun, bliss, and innocence, which I mainly found every Friday night at 8PM on ABC.

RIP, Mr. Schwartz.


2 Responses

  1. While I admit to watching and liking the Brady’s, Gilligan’s Island never failed to deliver corny/quality entertainment for me. As a younger lad, Gilligan’s hilarious misadventures and the Captain’s bemusement along with the professor’s scientific abilities held my attention. As I matured, so did my appreciation of the women of the island and the MaryAnn/Ginger debate was played out many times with fellow affectionados. Thanks for bringing these memories to light and your tribute to childhood and Sherwood Schwartz.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:56 am

  2. Rebeccca Reynolds-Johnson

    I’m too old to embrace the Bradys, but I know where you are coming from. I loved the Sat. morn cartoons of Heckl & Jeckl and Tom & Jerry. Also, Friday nights was about going skating at the local roller rink when I was a kid. (small city, not much to do) But it is sweet, sad, and often painful to think of that innocence you are talking about. Thanks for bringing memories to mind. Mine include a mother, who always had my back (from a very cranky, authoritative Granny). And a dad who adored his only daughter.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:38 am

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