October 19, 1932– Robert Reed was the inspiration behind Florence Henderson‘s Brady Bunch dance on season 11 of Dancing With The Stars (2010). Henderson, with partner Corky Ballas, danced to the TV theme song that made Henderson & Reed camp culture icons. Henderson’s scores were her best of the series & she dedicated her dance to Reed, who played Mike Brady, her on screen husband on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974).
Reed was born John Robert Rietz Jr. in Highland Park, Illinois. He spent most of his childhood in Oklahoma & returned to Chicago to study theatre at Northwestern University & at The Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts in London.
He smartly changed his name to Robert Reed & gained fame in the early 1960s on the popular TV series The Defenders (1961-65) & made his Broadway debut as Robert Redford’s replacement in Neil Simon‘s Barefoot In The Park, before starring on that famous family sitcom.
Reed became unhappy with his role as the Brady dad, feeling that performing in a silly sitcom was beneath his serious Shakespearean training. Ironically, Reed was the producers’ second choice for the role after Gene Hackman was turned down for the role because he was too unfamiliar to TV audiences.
Despite Reed’s discontent with the show, he was genuinely well-liked by the entire staff & crew. He was much beloved as a father figure by the young members of the cast of The Brady Bunch. As a result of his unhappiness with the scripts, Reed constantly fought with the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz. One argument resulted in his being completely written out of the series finale. Reed was happy about the show ending & yet he did return for the surreal Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-77) & all the made-for-TV movies that reunited the Brady cast for years.
During the long run of The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role on the TV drama series Mannix from 1967 to 1975. I totally dig it when an actor is able to do more than one series at the same time (Heather Locklear was juggling 3 series at one point in the 1980s).
After The Brady Bunch ended in 1974, Reed returned to the stage & also made many guest appearances on other TV series & TV movies. Way ahead of the curve, he won critical acclaim for his portrayal of a doctor who wants to undergo a sex-change operation in a special 2 part episode of Medical Center in 1975. In the mid-1970s, this had to have seemed very brave. Reed appeared in The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (1976) with young John Travolta & the landmark miniseries Roots (1977). He guest starred on the camp classic series Wonder Woman (1976), playing The Falcon. Other notable guest appearances include: Hawaii Five-0 (1979), Charlie’s Angels (1980), Vega$ (1981), & 3 appearances on Murder She Wrote, the very show that got me my SAG card.
Like most homo actors of his era, Reed was very secretive about being gay. He was briefly married in the late 1950s & had a daughter, Caroline Reed, who had a small role in an episode of The Brady Bunch.
My research finds that Reed spent most of his life alone, cruising gay bars around Pasadena & Laguna Beach, having no real lasting romantic relationships.
Sometime in the 1980s, Reed contracted HIV & he left this world in 1992, taken by colorectal cancer just a few months before of his 60th Birthday.
The Bradys were quite the All-American family. Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia, revealed a lesbian love affair in her tell-all memoir. McCormick seems to have enjoyed much more than a sisterly relationship with fellow cast member Eve Plumb, who played the less glamorous sister, Jan. Florence Henderson dated Barry Williams, who played her on-screen son Greg, during the show. Williams also dated McCormick for 2 years during the series. Brady Bunch housekeeper Alice was the one everybody in the family could confide in & in real life, the actor who played her, Ann B. Davis kept the career ending secret for Reed. Davis became quite the conservative Christian in her declining decades, but in the 1970s she was quite open-minded & kept Reed’s gayness a confidence from the producers.
Susan Olsen who played little Cindy Brady said of Reed:
“I can say that being gay killed him. Because it was so taboo, he could never make peace with himself. He never allowed himself to have a genuine love. He was forever taunted by his own disdain. He was a family man. Had he been allowed to form a relationship with another man, he would have been the best husband ever & might still be alive. The people surrounding him shoved their own judgment down his throat &, sadly, he bought into it. He thought he was wrong.”
Christopher Knight who played Peter Brady:
Reed was as good or better a father figure than my own dad, not just an icon but own personal hero. I learned very early that if that was what gay was, it has no measure in the ability of somebody to be a fine representation of a good human being.”
A little known bit of TV trivia: I stood in for housekeeper Alice when Davis was too coked up to hit her marks… & that’s show biz, kids.