A generation of people grew up on the sitcom The Brady Bunch, and future generations grew up on its reruns. At the center of the show was patriarch Mike Brady, played by Robert Reed. The Brady dad was a little cooler than most dads, carrying around his tube full of architectural drawings. But there was something that audiences didn’t know about the TV dad—an explosive secret that he would carry to his grave.
1. Things Started Sweet—But Didn’t Last
Robert Reed had a pretty sweet childhood. His parents were high school sweethearts who got married at the tender age of 18. Reed came along on October 19, 1932. The three of them lived together in Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Dad worked for the government and mom was a homemaker. It was a typical suburban childhood—and it was about to get turned upside down.
2. He Had A Secret Passion
When Reed was still young, his daily routine in Highland Park was completely upended by his family. Suddenly, the Reed family moving all over the country—and had trouble finding a place to settle down in. They first tried Texas and then Oklahoma. In Muskogee, Reed’s father got a job on a turkey farm and Reed started getting involved with the 4-H club.
Sure, Reed thought that working with cattle was pretty cool. His true heart, however, belonged to something else.
3. He Made An Important Connection
After performing on stage in high school productions, Reed just wanted more. He started studying drama at Northwestern University in Illinois where he met Alvina Krause, who was one of the directors at the university. Krause had a reputation as a “maker of stars”. Some of the students she helped become famous are Ben-Hur’s Charlton Heston, Woody Allen regular Tony Roberts and Academy Award-winner Jennifer Jones.
Krause must have lit a fire under Reed, because after Northwestern he took a big leap.
4. He Nabbed The Lead
While Robert Reed spent only one term at the Royal Academy of Performing Arts in London, it was enough. He came back to the States and dove into professional theater. He joined a group called “The Shakespearewrights” and nabbed lead performances in their off-Broadway productions of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
And speaking of dreams, Reed had a massive one—he was dying to go to Hollywood.
5. He Wasn’t Much Of A Family Man
Despite the fact that he tirelessly pursued his passion for the performing arts, Robert Reed still made time for a wild love life. In 1954, he married Marilyn Rosenberger, who he had met at Northwestern University. The couple had a daughter in 1956—but their wedded bliss was short-lived. Three years later, they got a divorce.
At the time no one said much about the reason for the divorce, but it became crystal clear much later.
6. He Nabbed Wholesome Roles
Reed’s first job in Hollywood was on the sitcom Father Knows Best. This was a “wholesomer” than wholesome show that in a some ways was a precursor to Reed’s most famous TV role. After his spot on Father Knows Best he had guest appearances on sci-fi series Men into Space and Western series Lawman.
All this TV work was great, but what most actors wanted was a big break in film—and Reed was getting tired of waiting.
7. He Was A Little Flat
In 1959, Reed started work on the horror film Bloodlust! Unfortunately, he was in for an unpleasant surprise. This was a B-movie whose plot was given away in the poster’s slogan: “He hunted humans”. It wasn’t an illustrious beginning to Reed’s big screen career, and critics called him and his fellow actors “one dimensional”. After this embarrassing failure, Reed focused himself firmly on television.
8. His Co-Star Outshined Him
Following the failed Bloodlust!, Robert Reed nabbed his first starring role on a TV series. This was The Defenders, which—considering when it was made—hit on some pretty serious topics. The story followed father-son defense attorneys, and episodes dealt with stuff like civil rights, atheism and even abortion. The man playing Reed’s father, EG Marshall, won two Emmys for his performance.
Marshall was a founding member of the Actors Studio. Reed, seeing his co-star with his awards, soon signed up.
9. He Did The Opposite
While Reed was still doing The Defenders, he got a chance to do something completely different. This was a romantic comedy and it was on Broadway. Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park had not yet been made into a movie. It was live on stage and the lead actor—Robert Redford—was stepping down. Reed got a call to replace him, and it was the first step in a life changing experience.
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10. He Lost Out
When Paramount Pictures was ready to make Barefoot in the Park into a movie, I’m sure Reed thought he had a chance at it. After all, he had done the role on Broadway. He was in for a serious disappointment. Sadly for Reed, the studio went with big star Robert Redford to do the film version. There was, however, still some hope.
You see, there was going to also be a TV version of the same play. Now Reed had to be absolutely certain to get the role. He’d played it on Broadway, and he was already a recognizable small screen star. Well, things didn’t really work out that way.
11. He Wasn’t Right
Yes, ABC had decided to do a TV series based on Barefoot in the Park, and yes Reed seemed like the likely guy to bring the role to the small screen. There was one issue, however: the color of Reed’s skin. ABC wanted to try something new. They wanted a sitcom featuring a mostly African-American cast and this was going to be it. It was a bold move that sadly lasted only a few months.
Reed had missed out on a TV sitcom, but there was another one waiting for him that would change his life forever.
12. He Was Second
ABC felt a little bad about leaving Reed out of the TV version of Barefoot in the Park, so they had another offer for him. To be honest, he was actually their second choice. This was for a new sitcom about a blended family. A widow with three kids marries a widower who also had three kids. ABC, however, had already decided on Gene Hackman.
Hackman, who we know as one of the biggest names in Hollywood, lost out to Reed—all for a surprising reason.
13. He Beat Him Out
Sherwood Schwartz was the creator of The Brady Bunch and wanted Gene Hackman to play the father in the series. Hackman, who would go on to have a huge career in films—even winning two Academy Awards for his acting—was then unknown to audiences. Robert Reed had a face that TV audiences recognized, so he got the part.
Reed may have had the face, but there was something else wrong with him: his head.
14. He Was Too Small
Film star Jeffrey Hunter wanted the role of Mike Brady, but the studio thought that Hunter was too handsome for the role of a suburban dad. Reed, apparently wasn’t too handsome but something else was holding Schwartz back from hiring him. Apparently his head was too small. Once Schwartz got past Reed’s small head, he then had another job: convincing Reed to take the part.
He did it with a little white lie.
15. It Was Beneath Him
Robert Reed had trained as a Shakespearean actor and had performed on the very serious legal drama The Defenders. For this reason, ABC told Reed that this new show would be a “boundary pushing” program about the modern family in America. Uh…okay…but that doesn't sound at all like The Brady Bunch I grew up watching.
Clearly, the studio wanted Reed, but they knew he would have issues with such a lightweight show. So, what happens when you trick your main actor into accepting a role? It quickly becomes a nightmare.
16. There Was Trouble From The Beginning
Robert Reed eventually agreed to star as Mike Brady. So, what was the Shakespearean actor going to make of this very silly sitcom where his co-stars were six children? Well, trouble started very quickly. The basic problem was this: Reed thought that the show was beneath him. Instead of quitting, however, he decided to make life difficult for all those involved.
17. He Overstepped
Reed had countless opinions about the scripts for The Brady Bunch, and he made them known on a constant basis. According to Reed, if he hadn’t demanded the changes to the script, The Brady Bunch would have been a very different show. It would have been more like Schwartz's previous show—Gilligan’s Island—which was mostly gags and physical comedy.
Sure, maybe some of Reed’s suggestions made the show better, but other ones made him look just plain bonkers.
18. He Was Beyond Particular
One thing that Reed did while making The Brady Bunch was nitpick about the script—and sometimes, he took it too far. In one episode—when the family was making strawberry jam—Reed had a line that referenced the lovely smell of the strawberries. Reed had done his research and found out that strawberries actually had no smell when they were cooking. He went to show creator Schwartz and told him he would not say the line.
19. He Wouldn’t Believe It
Schwartz, who was likely a very busy man, took Reed down to the set where they were actually cooking strawberries and let Reed have a sniff. Sure enough, it was clear that strawberries did indeed have a smell when cooked. Reed’s reaction was bizarre. The smell test didn’t matter to Reed. He’d read otherwise and still refused to say the line.
They later had to compromise with this line: “I do believe I’ve died and gone to strawberry heaven”. Shakespeare couldn't have written it better himself. Reed’s complaints didn’t stop at strawberries—not at all.
20. He Wanted Approval
In another episode, Reed’s on screen son was selling hair tonic in order to earn a little extra pocket money. Reed found out that the hair tonic little Bobby Brady was selling did not actually have FDA approval. Reed didn’t want to send the message that the Brady family didn’t care about the public’s safety. Reed once again sent his objections to Schwartz, who had to deal with one very irate star.
21. He Wrote A Memo
On top of his insistence that he “help” the scriptwriters, Reed also had a problem with the props department. One episode had Alice the housekeeper spilling ink on her uniform. To protect the uniform, the props department used fake ink, and Reed found out. The aftermath was chilling.
Reed’s outrage was too huge for a simple verbal attack so he sat down and wrote an irate memo—of multiple pages—to the show’s executives. In it he said that the ink stain was unfunny and that even a laugh machine “would balk” at it.
22. He Had To Slip
In yet another episode, Reed’s character had to slip on a broken egg that had fallen on the floor. Reed thought that slipping on an egg was far-fetched and he complained. I guess in all his Shakespearean training, characters slipped on things like their enemies blood…and not on eggs. Well, The Brady Bunch set was a little short on bloodshed.
Reed seemed intent on making a big deal out of every little thing. There were, however, more than just script complaints.
23. He Refused To Let Them Go
In season five, the Bradys go to a theme park and one scene had the kids on a roller coaster. Reed said that he would not allow the kids to film the scene until the crew had tested the safety of the roller coaster. You see, they had attached a camera to the ride, so they could record the children’s reactions to the roller coaster. This must have seemed like just one more of Reed’s annoying complaints—but it wasn’t.
24. He Saved The Day
The crew eventually listened to Reed’s advice and did a test run of the roller coaster with its attached camera and without the kids. Sure enough, the worst happened. While the roller coaster did its run, the camera came apart from the roller coaster and landed exactly where the kids would have been sitting. Finally, Reed’s bellyaching had paid off.
This, however, was a small victory. Reed was still miserable working on The Brady Bunch.
25. He Was Unhappy
Robert Reed was clearly unhappy playing Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch—and he coped in a disturbing way. He would often placate himself with a liquid lunch. The problem with a liquid lunch was that he had to perform inebriated right after it. Usually the child actors had finished their days early, so they didn’t have to see their on screen dad tipsy and often angry.
And what about Reed’s relationship with the kids? What was that like?
26. He Was A Father Figure
Thankfully, Reed’s issues with the show’s creator, writers and props department did not spill over to the other actors. In fact, Reed was a sort of father figure to the young stars. One Christmas he bought all six actors Super 8 cameras to encourage them to be creative. He also took all of them to England where he taught them about Shakespeare—whether they wanted to learn or not.
Reed was certainly born to be a dad. There was, however, something stopping him from fully embracing that role.
27. He Had Dual Roles
Even if Robert Reed was so unhappy about playing the perfect dad, at least he had other options. While appearing on The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role as Lt Adam Tobias on tough guy show Mannix. Paramount Pictures was producing both shows, so they didn’t mind scheduling around Reed’s time. And in case Reed felt homesick for Carol and the kids, they used the Brady house on Mannix as well.
Reed was a busy man—and he wanted to get busier.
28. He Wanted To Direct
Aside from being a pain in the neck on the set of The Brady Bunch, Reed had other aspirations: He also wanted to direct. In the end, he managed to convince the ABC executives—who likely didn’t like Reed at all—to let him direct four episodes. The executives probably thought that Reed would complain less if he was behind the camera. Sadly, being in the director’s chair did little to improve Reed’s attitude.
The studio had had enough: it was time to do something.
29. He Was Through With Him
The Brady Bunch ran for only five seasons, and Reed’s attitude toward the show remained the same. The writers even had to remove Reed from some episodes because he was so difficult to work with. Just before they filmed the season five finale, Schwartz reached a breaking point with Reed.
He fired Reed on the spot. Schwartz was likely overjoyed. He was finally through with this very problematic actor—or was he?
30. He Wouldn’t Leave
Reed no longer worked on The Brady Bunch, but he also refused to do something else: leave. There was no reason for Reed to be on the set while they filmed the final episode of season five, but he insisted on staying. Apparently the security people offered to remove him, but Schwartz said no, because he didn’t want to upset the child actors.
When season five was a wrap, Schwartz was finally rid of the problematic Reed. Now, with season six just around the corner, Schwartz had a new problem. How was he going to explain to fans where dad was?
31. They Had A Plan
According to fans of The Brady Bunch, Reed's Mike Brady was the perfect father. They had no idea how hard it was to work with Reed. So, when Schwartz fired Reed, he had to come up with a plan—and what the writers chose was seriously drastic. They wanted to kill off the character. The sixth season was going to find poor Carol Brady as a widow again. She would keep the six kids, and they would help her find a new man.
The reason that none of this sounds familiar is because ABC decided to cancel the show before the sixth season even began. Reed was finally through with his role as the perfect father in The Brady Bunch. So, what would he do now?
32. He Got Serious
Robert Reed did really want to do more serious work, and he proved this with his post Brady Bunch career. Well…most of it. Besides appearing on TV fluff like Charlie's Angels and Fantasy Island, Reed did get a chance to show his dramatic flair. He earned great reviews and award nominations for his work on two miniseries: Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man.
It was, however, on TV’s Medical Center where he tackled a topic ahead of its time.
33. It Was A Controversy
In a double episode of the hospital drama Medical Center, Reed plays a doctor with a secret: he’s transgendered. The doctor eventually tells his colleagues and friends and family that he wants to have reassignment surgery and the show deals with how it impacts the doctor’s loved ones. It was an episode ahead of its time, and Reed received an Emmy for his work.
Clearly, Reed was succeeding without The Brady Bunch. So, how would he feel if ABC asked him to do it again? Just wait and see.
34. He Earned Respect
Reed was clearly enjoying being away from Schwartz and The Brady Bunch. He was now able to take the roles he wanted and earn respect as a serious actor. At this time, ABC had an idea for a variety show centered around the Brady family. It would be singing and dancing and some comedic skits. I’m not sure how ABC even had the guts to give Reed a call and ask him to be part of it.
Well, they did. And Reed’s answer was not what you’d expect.
35. They Gave Him A Call
So, just two years after Reed had finally rid himself of the show he hated so much, ABC wanted him to play Mike Brady once again, but this time in a variety show. In case you’ve forgotten, Reed had been a Shakespearean actor. Why on earth did the executives at ABC think that Reed would even think for a moment to agree to it?
Well…agree he did. As it turned out, Reed really just wanted to sing and dance.
36. He Was Lousy
Reed may have wanted to sing and dance, but it turned out he could do neither. Florence Henderson said that Reed had two left feet. His TV daughter, Maureen McCormick said that Reed was lousy at both singing and dancing. Mind you, she also added that the show was lousy too. It didn’t matter, Reed was now a happy member of the Brady family.
At the end of the day, Reed reprised his role as Mike Brady in five different shows. Hmmm…that’s strange for someone who hated playing the role.
37. He Spawned A Huge Hit
Another gig that Reed got after The Brady Bunch ended up being the precursor to a very popular TV series. The TV movie was called Law and Order, and it starred The Night Stalker’s Darren McGavin and Tootsie actor Teri Garr. While it had only marginal resemblance to the famed Law and Order TV franchise—it was about law officers in NYC—you can’t deny that it did have the same name.
38. They Cruised Together
In 1983, Robert Reed appeared in the popular series The Love Boat. While cruising the high seas, he had an encounter with an old friend. You see, in the same episode, Florence Henderson was also appearing. The Love Boat typically had three stories per episode, and Reed and Florence were not on the same one. They do, however, cross paths in the episode in a hilarious way.
When Reed’s character walks past Henderson’s character they merely look at each other with a tiny air of recognition.
39. He Was In Trouble
In November of 1991, Robert Reed had a dire health scare. Doctors told him he had colon lymphoma which is a rare type of colon cancer. When his situation became more dire, he called for only two people: His real life daughter Karen, and his best friend actor Anne Haney.
Reed wasn’t one to go big on publicity. He wanted this illness kept quiet—but that didn’t quite happen.
40. He Reached Out
When Reed’s health was really in jeopardy he did eventually call his TV wife, Florence Henderson. He told Henderson about his medical condition and had one request of her, but it was an agonizing one. He wanted her to call the other cast members from The Brady Bunch and tell them the news that he wasn’t going to make it.
Henderson made the difficult phone calls and then waited to see what happened. Sadly, she didn’t have long to wait.
41. It Became Public
On May 12, 1992, just a few weeks after talking to Henderson, Reed succumbed to his illness and passed at Huntington Memorial Hospital. He was 59 years old. Newspapers announced Reed’s demise, and they also named the culprit: it had been cancer. A little later, the details of Reed’s medical certificate became public. A generation of Brady Bunch fans were in for the shock of their lives.
42. The Truth Came Out
When the public had a chance to see doctor’s comments on Robert Reed’s medical records, it was a shock. It turned out that at the time of his passing, Reed had been HIV positive. The public couldn’t believe the news. Wasn’t this a gay disease? How could the squarest dad on television be HIV positive?
It was about time that Reed’s real life came out, and it took a Brady messenger to deliver the news.
43. He Was Shy
Years later, Florence Henderson finally spoke out about when she and Reed started working together on The Brady Bunch. She said that when she and Reed were supposed to be acting romantically—as any husband and wife would—Reed seemed to shy away. Henderson wasn’t used to men not wanting to get close to her, so she asked Reed what the problem was. What he told her wasn’t at all what she expected.
44. He Had A Secret
When Henderson wanted to know what Reed wasn’t comfortable with the romantic stuff of their onscreen relationship, Reed revealed a secret he’d kept hidden for years. He was gay. This was the 1970s, and virtually no actor was out of the closet.
Reed wasn’t about to be the first one. Eventually most of the cast found out and swore they wouldn’t tell—as long as Reed was alive.
45. He Led A Double Life
Long after Reed’s passing, Henderson shared her thoughts on her TV husband. She said that she knew Reed was a very unhappy man and thought that maybe it was due to having to live a double life.
She also thought that if Reed had come out, the American public would not have “bought” Reed’s character as the perfect dad. It would have been the end of The Brady Bunch.
46. He Was Tight Lipped
While filming The Brady Bunch, Reed became friends with Barry Williams, who played his eldest son Greg Brady. Of course there was a huge age difference, but the two became quite close. Williams later said that the topic of Reed’s orientation never came up in their private chats.
It was clear that Reed had no intention of talking about it at all. He kept his secret for his entire adult life. There were, however, a few stories out there.
47. He Was A Pain
Of course, once the truth was out there, stories from Reed’s past floated back to the surface. Back in 1976—just after ABC canceled The Brady Bunch—Reed appeared opposite John Travolta on the TV movie The Boy In The Plastic Bubble. Travolta was then an “it” boy in Hollywood, and because of this, the schedule had to revolve around him.
This didn’t sit well with Reed, and he became—like he had been on The Brady Bunch—a pain to work with. Casting director Joel Thurm, however, had a very unorthodox method to calm Reed down.
48. It Started With A Back Rub
When Reed was angry on the set of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Thurm went to Reed’s dressing room to smooth things over. Reed was angry about having to go through the lengthy process of having his hair straightened for the scene, so Thurm offered him a back rub. According to Thurm, the back rub went on to become something much more. Sadly, even after this, Reed’s behavior didn’t improve one bit.
49. He Was A Ghost
If you take a look at some of the recent merchandise from The Brady Bunch, you may notice a glaring absence: It doesn’t include Reed’s picture. Some speculators thought that this was because the show wanted to distance itself from the scandal about Reed’s secret life. But there was more to the story than meets the eye.
You see, Reed had actually refused to sign the deal letting them use his image on merchandise when he was still alive.
50. He Opened Their Minds
While Robert Reed may not have been able to come out as gay back in the day, he did support the rights of LGBT people. It turned out that he helped the kids on The Brady Bunch have more open-minded views about the LGBT issues. This was the 1970s, and many people refused to even talk about these topics. In his own quiet way, Reed pushed the movement forward.