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Why the 'Radical' Brady Bunch Almost Never Got Made

September 26, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

It’s been burned into generations of brains: the story of a lovely lady and a man named Brady whose marriage creates a blended family of eight (not counting Alice, Tiger or Cousin Oliver). Today, The Brady Bunch is viewed as classic, family-friendly entertainment—not scandalous or challenging fare by any means.

But though the show is a beloved, safe-seeming staple for modern audiences, it was groundbreaking when it was first conceived—so groundbreaking that it almost never got made.

The history of The Brady Bunch begins in 1966, when TV producer Sherwood Schwartz read a news item in the Los Angeles Times that claimed 30 percent of marriages involved children from a previous relationship. Now, in 1966 this was a new phenomenon,” he later hit theaters. Based on a true story, the film follows Frank Beardsley, a U.S. Navy officer with ten children, and Helen North, a nurse with eight children. Both of their spouses have died, and despite their fear of blending their large broods, their mutual attraction leads to marriage and a massive new family. The couple learn to manage their 18 children (with one on the way) through a combination of hilarious mistakes and military tactics.

Starring Lucille Ball as North and Henry Fonda as Beardsley, the film was not received well by critics. But the public loved it, and it grossed over $25 million in box office receipts (over $180 million in modern dollars).

Two years after he pitched the networks, Schwartz’s idea seemed long dead. The movie—with a premise extremely close to the one he had developed—could have been the nail in its coffin. Instead, it resurrected the idea at ABC.

Later, Schwartz recalled the movie as “serendipity”: a chance to have another piece of intellectual property prove the success of his concept for him. “A big hit in another medium [gives] executives an ‘excuse for failure,’” he wrote in his 2010 book on the Brady Bunch.

Now that ABC/Paramount knew the public was interested in stories about big, blended families, Schwartz had an in. The network ordered 13 shows and was set for a 1969 premiere. The film had helped greenlight the TV show, but the similarities between both sparked potential legal trouble for Schwartz. Since it was based on a true story, Schwartz knew he could not allege that Yours Mine and Ours had copied his idea.

Instead, the film’s producer …read more


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