In the summer of 1968, Maureen McCormick, a 12-year-old San Fernando Valley girl, began interviewing for Sherwood Swartz’s new sitcom “The Brady Bunch.” She had already appeared in TV commercials, “Bewitched,” “The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Honey West,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “My Three Sons,” and made her film debut in Eli Kazan’s “The Arrangement” with Faye Dunaway and Kirk Douglas.
There two sets of girls with blond and brunette hair. Swartz decided to go with the blond set of girls. Originally, Maureen was supposed to play the middle Brady girl, Jan. However, he chose her for the TV role of Marcia Brady.
Recasting her two Brady sisters with Eve Plumb (Jan) and Susan Olsen (Cindy), he was satisfied with his results. Maureen immediately recognized Susan from the Elvis Presley film audition “The Trouble with Girls.” Neither child actress received the part, though.
Joyce Bulifant was originally chosen to play Carol Brady. However, Swartz recast the television sitcom mother role when he viewed Florence Henderson’s screen test. She was away filming her role in the musical movie “Song of Norway.”
Your Turn: Film and TV buff Carl White remembers the movie "The Diary of Anne Frank."
Swartz wanted Gene Hackman for the TV dad role of Mike Brady. Nevertheless, Hackman had very little television experience. Paramount studio executives chose Robert Reed. They had still him under contact with the television studio.
Reed finished his TV attorney role in the legal drama series “The Defenders.” He was a trained Shakespearian actor and didn’t look forward to his upcoming TV dad role in Swartz’s family sitcom “The Brady Bunch.”
Her agent telephoned Maureen with the good news that Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, and Mike Lookinland were playing her three Brady brothers. Williams and Knight had naturally dark hair. Lookinland’s blond hair was dyed red for the pilot and dark in other episodes to match up with the two older boys.
Maureen met her new family co-stars at the Lucille Ball Rehearsal Hall on the Paramount lot. She wouldn’t meet her future TV mom until a later date. Henderson’s part was filmed around during her six-episode absence. When sitcom mom returned to the United States, she filled in her part in the delayed shots.
Your Turn: Famous movie was based on a gruesome real case.
Mostly, Maureen was nervous about meeting TV comedy veteran actress Ann B. Davis, who was playing the Brady housekeeper Alice Nelson. She heard from her agent that the older woman didn’t like to work around children and animals. However, they had pleasant encounter with each other upon their first meeting.
Reed seemed distant and standoffish to Maureen. She didn’t know he wanted out of the TV family series. Her other co-stars were as followed: Eve was quiet; Chris, shy; Mike and Susan, very young.
Maureen was instantly attracted to Barry Williams. He was a real dreamboat in her young mind. Inside the girl’s dressing room, she put her ear up to the wall and listened for Barry’s voice in the boy’s dressing to bring up her name to Chris and Mike. Often times, Eve and Susan teased their adolescent co-star when they found her listening for Barry’s remarks.
Maureen admits one of her favorite episodes in the first season was ”Vote for Brady.” Greg and Marcia run for student-body president. She enjoyed working closely with her teenage co-star Barry.
Your Turn: Napa TV buff Carl White remembers the groundbreaking show that put teenagers at the center of a major TV production.
The last episode of the first season was called, “The Possible Dream.” Marcia writes in her diary about her dream of becoming Mrs. Desi Arnaz Jr. Unknowingly, Cindy gives away the diary to a delivery man; and the Brady family go on a wild goose chase to locate Marcia’s diary. In the episode, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s teen idol son is guest star. Maureen found him (“Here’s Lucy”) extremely cute and had a real crush on him.
At the end of January, “The Brady Bunch” went on a brief hiatus while the producers waited to hear if the sitcom would be picked up by the ABC network for a second season. During the break, Maureen traveled to Washington, D.C., with Art Linkletter with three other child actors for the television special “A Kid’s Eye View of Washington.”
With the cameras following, Maureen and her fellow cast members toured sites in the nation’s capital. She met President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. He was asked by one of the kid co-hosts, “Who’s the first president of the United States?”
His response, “Abraham Lincoln.” Nervous glances from Maureen and the other kid co-hosts went around the room. Then, President Nixon realized his mistake and replied, “George Washington.”
Carl G. White lives in Napa and enjoys classic TV shows and movies.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!