Subject: ARCHIVE: May 12, 1992 ~It was 25 years ago, actor Robert Reed, America lost one of its favorite TV dads, after 30 years of Hollywood roles, TV's "Brady Bunch" patriarch 'Mike Brady' dies at 59. ...
Unbeknownst to most of his fans, Reed was a closeted homosexual who died of AIDS complications.
From 1961 to 1965, he portrayed Kenneth Preston on the popular legal drama The Defenders, alongside E. G. Marshall. He is best known as the father Mike Brady, opposite Florence Henderson's Carol Brady, on the ABC sitcom The Brady Bunch, which aired from 1969 to 1974. He reprised the role of Mike Brady in several later reunion programs. In 1976, he earned two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for his guest-starring role in a two-part episode of Medical Center and for his work on the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man.
The following year, Reed earned a third Emmy
nomination for his role in the miniseries Roots. ...
Early life ...
Reed was born John Robert Rietz, Jr., in the northern Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. He was the only child of Helen (née Teaverbaugh) and John Robert Rietz, Sr., who were high-school sweethearts and married at 18. Reed attended the West Division School in Community Consolidated School District 62 until 1939. His father worked for the government, and his mother was a homemaker. Reed spent his later childhood years in Muskogee, Oklahoma, as well as Navasota, Texas. In Oklahoma, his father, John Sr., worked as a turkey and cattle farmer.
In his youth, Reed joined the 4-H agricultural club and showed calves, but was more interested in acting and music. While attending Central High School in Muskogee, he participated in both activities. Reed also took to the stage, where he performed and sang. He also worked as a radio announcer at local radio stations and wrote and produced radio dramas. Reed graduated from Muskogee Central in 1950, and enrolled at Northwestern University to study drama. During his years at Northwestern, Reed appeared in several plays under the direction of Alvina Krause, a celebrated Northwestern drama coach. Reed performed in more than eight plays in college, all with leading roles.
He later studied for one term at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Upon returning to the United States, Reed appeared in summer stock in Eagles Mere, Pennsylvania. He later joined the off-Broadway theatre group "The Shakespearewrights", and played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and had a lead role in A Midsummer Night's Dream. After leaving the Shakespearewrights, Reed joined the Studebaker Theatre company in Chicago. He eventually adopted the stage name Robert Reed and moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s to further pursue his acting career.
Reed made his first guest-starring appearance in an episode of Father Knows Best in 1959. This led to guest roles on Men into Space and Lawman, as well as his first credited film appearance in Bloodlust!.
...In 1961, Reed landed his first television starring role in The Defenders alongside fellow Studebaker Theater performer E.G. Marshall, with the two playing a father-and-son team of defense attorneys. Marshall was also one of the founding members of the Actors Studio in New York; around this time, Reed himself became a member of the Studio, of which he would remain a member for the next 30 years. The Defenders was a hit with audiences and earned a total of 22 Primetime Emmy Award nominations (E.G. Marshall won two Emmys for his performance while the show won twice for Outstanding Drama Series). Ratings for the series were high during its first three seasons, but fell when CBS moved the series from Saturday nights to Thursday nights. CBS canceled The Defenders in 1965.
While appearing on The Defenders in 1964, Reed made his Broadway stage debut as Paul Bratter in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, replacing Robert Redford. For the remainder of the decade, Reed appeared primarily in television guest spots, including roles in Family Affair, Ironside, The Mod Squad, and Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre. He also appeared in the 1968 film Star! and in the Broadway production of Avanti!.
The Brady Bunch ...
Appearing in the Neil Simon play Barefoot in the Park led to two new contracts at Paramount Pictures and ABC, both in 1968. When Paramount had decided to turn the television version of Barefoot in the Park into a predominantly African-American show, they planned for Reed to star in something else. The new series was entitled The Brady Bunch and featured a widowed man with three children from a previous marriage, marrying a widow, also with three children from a previous marriage. The show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, said he was inspired to create the show after reading a news item in the Los Angeles Times stating that "more than 29 percent of all marriages included a child or children from a previous marriage". Schwartz thought the idea was "... the key to a new and unusual TV series. It was a revelation! The first blended family! His kids and her kids! Together!" (Although this situation had in fact been seen for years on The Danny Thomas Show, on which Reed has appeared as a guest star in 1959.)
Reed was the producers' second choice for the role of Mike Brady, after Gene Hackman was rejected because he was too unfamiliar at the time. Other principle re-casts were actress Joyce Bulifant as 'Carol Brady', and actress Monty Margetts as 'Alice'. ...
...Also starring on The Brady Bunch was actress Florence Henderson, who played the role of Mike's wife Carol Brady after her best friend Shirley Jones turned down the role in favor of The Partridge Family. Also cast on the show was Ann B. Davis as the Bradys' maid Alice Nelson. Despite earning poor reviews from critics and never cracking the Top 30 during its five-season run, The Brady Bunch remained an audience favorite of the 1970s. Since its cancellation in 1974, the show has led a healthy afterlife in syndication and spawned several spin-off series and two television reunion movies.
From the show's debut in September 1969, Reed was unhappy with his role as Mike Brady. He felt that acting in the often silly sitcom was beneath his serious Shakespearean training. Producers and directors found Reed difficult to work with both on and off the set; the cast, however, got along well with him. In his efforts to bring more realism to the show, Reed often locked horns with the show's creator and executive producer Schwartz. Reed regularly presented Schwartz with hand-written memoranda detailing why a certain character's motivation did not make sense or why it was wrong to combine elements of farce and satire. Schwartz generally ignored Reed's suggestions, although in an attempt to alleviate tension, Reed was allowed to direct some episodes. In a 1983 interview, Reed admitted that he often butted heads with Schwartz, stating, "We fought over the scripts. Always over the scripts. The producer, Sherwood Schwartz, had done Gilligan's Island...Just gag lines. That would have been what The Brady Bunch would have been if I hadn't protested."
...Reed was particularly appalled by what would turn out to be the show's final episode, "The Hair-Brained Scheme". He sent Schwartz a memo picking apart the episode, but Schwartz did not receive the memo promptly enough to change the show as Reed wanted. As a result, Reed refused to appear in the episode altogether. Though Schwartz had decided to replace Reed if the series were picked up for a sixth season, the show ended up being cancelled shortly thereafter. Reed later indicated he took the role for financial reasons, but tried to remain positive despite his creative differences with Schwartz by reminding himself the series was primarily about the children. Reed masked his dissatisfaction in front of the camera, always performing professionally without any indication of his unhappiness. Despite his discontent with the show, Reed genuinely liked his co-stars and was a father figure to the younger cast members. Co-star Susan Olsen became friends with Reed's daughter Karen, who made a guest appearance in the episode "The Slumber Caper". Reed's final appearance in the series was in the penultimate episode, "The Hustler". His final line in that episode was "Now I can get my car in the garage."
During the run of The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role as Lieutenant Adam Tobias on Mannix, from 1969 to 1975, and typically appeared in three to five Mannix episodes each season. He also directed several episodes of The Brady Bunch during its run. After Reed's agents overbooked him for a film with Anglia Television, his cancellation led to the 1972 court case of Anglia Television Ltd v Reed.
Later career ...
After the end of The Brady Bunch in 1974, Reed acted on the stage and made guest star appearances on other television shows and television movies, including Pray for the Wildcats and SST: Death Flight. He won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Pat Caddison, a doctor who comes out as transgender, in a two-part episode of Medical Center in 1975. The episode also earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination.
...Reed appeared in the television film, "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" (1976), the 1976 miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, and the 1977 miniseries Roots. Reed was again nominated for an Emmy for his work in Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. He also guest-starred on Wonder Woman, Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels, Galactica 1980, and Vega$.
In 1981, Reed won the lead role of Dr. Adam Rose on the medical drama Nurse. Despite being critically acclaimed, the series was canceled the following year. In 1986, he played the role of Lloyd Kendall on the daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow. He also made multiple appearances on Fantasy Island, Hunter, The Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote.
Despite his dislike of The Brady Bunch, Reed continued to appear in Brady Bunch spin-offs and sequels for the remainder of his career. In 1976, Reed reprised the role of Mike Brady in the variety show The Brady Bunch Hour, the 1981 television film, The Brady Girls Get Married, and the 1988 television film A Very Brady Christmas.
...In 1989, he guest-starred as Mike Brady in "A Very Brady Episode" of the NBC sitcom Day by Day. Also in 1989, Reed reteamed with his Brady Bunch co-star Henderson in a guest-starring role on the sitcom Free Spirit. In 1990, he reprised the role of Mike Brady for the final time in the drama series, The Bradys. The series was canceled after six episodes. Reed made his last onscreen appearance in the April 1992 episode of Jake and the Fatman, "Ain't Misbehavin'".
Shortly before his death, Reed appeared in the touring production of Love Letters, opposite Betsy Palmer and taught classes on Shakespeare at UCLA.
Personal life ...
Reed was gay but kept this fact private, fearing it would damage his career. In July 1954, Reed married fellow Northwestern student Marilyn Rosenberger. The couple had one daughter, Karen, before divorcing in 1959.
After his death, Reed's Brady Bunch co-stars – most notably Barry Williams and Henderson – publicly acknowledged Reed's sexual orientation, and admitted that most of the cast and crew of The Brady Bunch were aware, but they did not discuss it with Reed. Williams said: "Robert didn't want to go there. I don't think he talked about it with anyone. I just don't think it was a discussion – period."
In November 1991, Reed was diagnosed with colon cancer. When he became ill, he allowed only his daughter and his close friends actress Anne Haney and Josh Miller to visit him. Haney later said of Reed, "He came from the old school, where people had a sense of decorum. He went the way he wanted to, without publicity." Weeks before his death, Reed called Henderson and asked her to inform the rest of The Brady Bunch cast that he was terminally ill. He died on May 12, 1992 at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California, at age 59.
Reed's death was initially attributed solely to cancer, but details from his death certificate were made public revealing that Reed was HIV positive. It remains unknown how and when Reed contracted HIV because he kept his medical condition and private life a secret until the day he died, telling only a few close friends. While Reed did not have AIDS at the time of his death, his doctor listed his HIV-positive status as a "significant condition[s] that contributed to death" on the death certificate.
Robert Reed is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois. ...