The house where TV's famous family lived out the early
'70s still draws fans to Studio City. Today marks the 25th anniversary of series' start.
By DAVID E. BRADY, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Monday, September 26, 1994
STUDIO CITYOn this day 25 years ago, the lovely lady married the man named Brady and one of America's grooviest sitcom families"The Brady Bunch"was born.
Dismissed by critics during its initial run on ABC from 1969-74, the
unassuming television show starring Florence Henderson and Robert Reed went on to become a cult phenomenon in reruns, spawning numerous reincarnations of the squeaky-clean Brady clan in television movies, spin-off series and a campy stage production.
So, on this Very Brady Anniversary, it is perhaps fitting to examine the history of one of the San Fernando Valley's most quietly famous landmarks: the split-level suburban home
immortalized by one of television's first shows about a combined family.
The house in 1995, more or less how it appears today. Photo by David E. Brady.
In the spring of 1969, as crews were preparing to shoot the show's first episodes for a fall debut, the call went out for a suitable Brady dwelling.
Louise Weddington Carson was newly widowed, living alone in the two-bedroom house Luther B. Carson had designed and built for the couple 10 years earlier on a sprawling Valley
lot. Construction of the Ventura Freeway had forced them from their previous home.
It was the house's middle-class appearance that attracted the show's producers when they came around asking to make it the residence of Mike and Carol Brady, their six kids and Alice the housekeeper, recalled Carson's son, Guy Weddington McCreary.
"It just had a good look to it," he said. "It symbolized California living."
Series creator Sherwood Schwartz agrees.
"We didn't want it to be too affluent, we didn't want it to be too blue-collar," he said. "We wanted it to look like it would fit a place an architect would live."
There was just one problem: The real house was only a modest split-level while the interior set already under construction on Paramount Studios' Stage 5 in Hollywood was that of a roomy two-story structure.
But Hollywood set designers came to the rescue, attaching a phony window atop Carson's house to give the appearance of a full second floor.
McCreary doesn't remember how much his motherwho died earlier this monthwas paid for the use of her home, but it wasn't very much.
"Mom didn't do very well on that, I always told her," he said.
The beige, ranch-style home first appeared in the series' second episode, aired on Oct. 3, 1969, and in nearly all of the 115 episodes that followed. Viewers saw the house from a variety of angles during each show, usually as a vehicle for bringing viewers inside the home, but all the clips were filmed before the series' debut and recycled throughout its five-year run.
McCreary, who was by then attending college away from home, said that although he didn't often find time to catch glimpses of his family's home along with the Bradys' prime-time antics, his mother watched regularly. And, he recalled, she didn't mind the house's measure of fame, even if it meant that strangers would stop by to gawk.
"She just took it in stride," he said.
In February, 1973, during the show's fourth season, the widowed Carson found the house too large and sold it to Violet and George McCallister.
After 21 years in the famous home, Violet McCallisternow a widowhas become reticent about revealing her address, fearing an increase in the number of fans and tour buses that still visit her quiet street from time to time.
Most fans are respectful of her privacy, McCallister said, although the looky-loos trespassing to peek into the Bradys' living roomwhich existed only on a Paramount sound stagecaused her to build a fence around the front yard a few years ago.
As Schwartz, the show's creator, explained, the house "became the focal point for a lot of people's visits to California."
Although their home became one of the most recognizable dwellings in the world, McCallister said that she and her husband never regretted their purchaseor their association with the series.
"It was a good family show," she said.
The house in 1990. Photo by David E. Brady.
Riding on the wave of nostalgia ushered in by the success of the 1988 television movie "A Very Brady Christmas," Paramount returned to McCallister's house in 1990 to shoot new exteriors for "The Bradys," a short-lived dramatic series on CBS that reunited most of the original cast. One episode involved the Bradys moving their home across town when freeway
construction threatened the neighborhood, an eerie echo of the reason the real house was built in 1959.
Although "The Bradys" provided a contemporary look at the house, Paramount chose not to use it for a movie based on "The Brady Bunch" that was filmed this summer. With the
front-yard fence and 25 years of tree and shrub growth, it no longer resembled the home viewers might remember from the original series.
The producers also needed two homes with adjacent drivewayswhich was not the case at McCallister's housebecause much of the movie's plot involves the relationship between the Bradys and their scheming next-door neighbors, the Dittmeyers.
Aided by photographs and measurements of McCallister's house, location manager Mike Neale and his crew built a facade of the Brady dwelling around the home of an Encino couple for an undisclosed five-figure sum. It wasn't an identical copy, but "close enough that when you saw it you'd think it was," he said.
The couple, Penny and John Herbst, admit they were a bit puzzled when Paramount asked to use their property for the motion picture. It wasn't just that their single-story house in no
way resembled the Brady abode, but decades had passed since Penny Herbst recalled her children loyally watching the show.
"We went, 'The Brady Bunch'? Aren't they all grown up?" she said.
But the film, scheduled for release next spring, is a satire that transplants the 1970s-era Bradys, played by a new group of actors, into the strange and hostile world of present-day
Americaa world that doesn't quite know what to make of the anachronistic
Shot at several Valley locations, including Taft High School in Woodland Hills, the production made headlines earlier this month during filming of the movie's opening scene. Freeway signs warning of apocalyptic road hazards such as killer bees and a gang riot tied up traffic on the Ventura Freeway for several hours.
Back at the Herbsts' house, filming went so smoothly that Penny Herbst said she'd be happy to welcome the filmmakers back for a sequel.
Brady purists may grumble at what Schwartz calls the movie's "affectionate satire." But the screenplay is slightly less campy than "The Real Live Brady Bunch," a recent stage production in which adult actors performed original "Brady Bunch" episodes live.
And Schwartz maintains that while humorous, the movie remains faithful to the original seriesa program whose popularity shows few signs of diminishing a quarter-century after its debut.
According to Elizabeth Moran, author of the book "Bradymania," the show has "never been off television." KTLA-TV Channel 5 continues to broadcast two reruns back-to-back daily and researchers there estimate that the noon-hour episodes draw an average of 50,000 to 100,000 viewers.
Ask Schwartz why "The Brady Bunch" endures and he'll modestly say it's the stories themselves.
"I think it's because the stories are drawn from a child's point of view, which is rare in television history," he said. The plots, he added, are universal.
"It deals with stories that were true 100 years ago and that will be true 100 years from now."
Moran, who as a child desperately wished to be like sensitive middle-child Jan Brady, said that the series strikes a chord with many members of Generation X who grew up in families bearing little resemblance to the happy, successful Bradys.
"It showed that two different families that are thrown together can get along," she said.
Schwartz has no plans for future Brady projects, he said, but predicts that regardless of the film's fortunes, the Bunch will live on in reruns.
"I think new kids will always watch because the stories will appealbecause they always appeal," he said. "It will be forever."
Guy McCreary, who lives a short distance from his family's former home and passes by often on neighborhood walks, has never been much of a "Brady Bunch" fan. But the occasional glimpse of the house on television still triggers fond memories of his own family. "I think of my folks and I think it was fantastic that they were involved in that," he said.
Told that the house will be duplicated on the silver screen next year, he just chuckled. "It's pretty wild, isn't it?"
Some might even say groovy.
David Brady (his real name) grew up watching "The Brady
Copyright © 1994 Times Mirror Company