Robert Reed (1932-1992) became unhappy with his role as the dad, “Mike Brady” on The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), 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 television audiences.
Despite Reed’s discontent with working on the show, he was genuinely well-liked by the cast and crew. He was much beloved as a father figure by the young members of the cast of The Brady Bunch. Reed constantly fought with the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz (also the creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilligan’s Island) for better scripts. One argument resulted in his being completely written out of the series finale. Reed was happy about the show ending, and yet he still returned for the surreal Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976-77) and all the made-for-television movies that reunited the Brady cast through the years: The Brady Bunch Hour (1976–77), The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), The Brady Brides (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988) and The Bradys (1990).
During the long run of The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role on the drama series Mannix from 1967 to 1975. I totally dig it when an actor has more than one series at the same time (Heather Locklear was juggling three series at one point in the 1980s).
After The Brady Bunch ended in 1974, Reed returned to working on stage and also made many guest appearances on other television series and television movies. Way ahead of the curve, he won critical acclaim and an Emmy Award nomination for his portrayal of a doctor who wants to have a sex-change in a special two-part episode of Medical Center in 1975. In the mid-1970s, this had to have seemed very brave.
Like most gay actors of his era, Reed was very secretive. He was briefly married in the late 1950s and 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 and Laguna Beach, having no real lasting romantic relationships.
Sometime in the 1980s, Reed contracted HIV. He left this world in 1992, taken by HIV-related cancer just a few months before of his 60th Birthday.
The Brady Bunch was never a critical or ratings success during its original run, but it has since become deeply ingrained in our pop culture conscience thanks to syndication. Boomers know the theme song by heart and the phrase “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” is part of our lexicon.
Those Bradys were quite the All-American family; Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia, revealed a lesbian love affair in her tell-all memoir; seemingly 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 two years during the series. Brady Bunch housekeeper Alice was the one everybody in the family could confide in and 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 and 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 and might still be alive. The people surrounding him shoved their own judgment down his throat and sadly he bought into it. He thought he was wrong”
Christopher Knight who played Peter Brady:
“He was as good or better a father figure than my own dad, not just an icon but my 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.”