Barry Williams: The TV Squad Interview
Now, at 53, Williams has a blog, called The Greg Brady Project, which debuted in December. There, Williams tells stories about his experiences as an actor over the last 40-plus years while a series of co-writers wax nostalgic about the past, and not necessarily about The Brady Bunch. I spoke to Williams by phone earlier this month. We talked about the blog, why he's embraced his Greg Brady past more than his co-stars, and what he thinks of some of those co-stars' new projects. The interview is after the jump.
Gallery: Barry Williams
Joel Keller: I've been told that you're in Kansas City right now. Doing a play?
Barry Williams: It's a musical comedy review called "Married Alive." It's a four person musical, a small musical. Its great fun, I'm doing it at a place called the New Theatre, a very successful dinner theater here in Kansas. Maybe the most successful in the country. So, we're sold out every night, eight shows a week and having a great time with it and enjoying the heartland.
JK: Do you have a favorite barbecue joint out there?
BW: I am a vegetarian.
JK: Oh! Have you been a vegetarian for a long time or just recently?
BW: Not a long time, relatively recently. It's part of a very comprehensive diet. It's designed to bring me a little bit more energy to the table, a little less heavy feeling, that kind of a thing. It's not animal rights; it's just a health choice.
JK: I've read the blog and it's an interesting format. It seems like it's more of a collaborative effort rather than just your thoughts. How did the blog get started?
BW: Let's see, I was doing a personal appearance at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, and Derrick (Daye, the marketing guru who hosts the blog) has a military background. He was in military radio. Anyway, we met through essentially my host, a mutual friend, and we started talking about the possibilities and where I was and how did I communicate with people who were interested in either me, The Brady Bunch, show business, that kind of a thing. And we began to discuss how a blog might be utilized for that.
This is a much more along the lines of social networking. That's the way that we had envisioned it and approached it and that's what I believe that we have now. One of the things that I enjoy, from the success of The Brady Bunch and its multitudes and its reunions and follow-ups is new generations of people that watch the show, enjoy it, growing up with it, watching it... A lot of them are teens and in their 20s and that's a whole different place for people to talk to and reach out to and share things with that would not be available to me if I was just going on interviews and going on the Today show or The View and doing interviews.
JK: Were you aware of the blog format before you started doing this?
JK: What was your reaction when you were approached to doing a blog?
BW: My reaction was to find out more about it and I knew what I wanted to do but I didn't know that that was the tool with which to do it. So, he just kept saying "yes." I said, "You know, would I be able to have other co-authors, could we have this managed everyday, could I put videos on it, could I put other photos on there?" I said I have an eight year list of "Ask Barry" questions. It was just "yes, yes, yes, yes."
I didn't want this to be a Brady Bunch site and it's not, even though it's Brady-friendly, obviously, because it's The Greg Brady Project.
JK: Are these co-authors personal friends, are they co-workers? How'd you recruit these people?
BW: They're fans. I had a website prior to the blog for many years and so we ran a contest. We basically said what we were doing and would they want to be a part of it and be regular contributors and kind of what the parameters were to be included in this project. There were submissions, a lot of them. We tried to create some diversity. You know, we've got a couple of professors in there and a writer in there, a comedian in there, and also people we thought were in tune with a kind of retro reflection combined into a contemporary style that wasn't necessarily exclusive to Greg Brady.
So (what we have is) what ties more into the '70s, what was going on, other television shows, how things have changed, and comparisons between the two. That I think is a good fit for who I am and the kinds of blogging that I want to do.
JK: Well, I do notice that not all of the posts even by the co-writers are even about The Brady Bunch. In fact, only maybe half are even related. What was the reason for kind of doing this theme on the blog even though it's called The Greg Brady Project?
BW: I did not want to do a retro blog because that just keeps you stuck in the '70s or wherever you set it. I just was not interested in doing that. I don't mind revisiting it, it's a big part of my life and in some ways it's an active part of my life because The Brady Bunch remains on the air. So, that's going on all the time and throughout my current life I'm referencing The Brady Bunch frequently, particularly on interviews. It's an active part but it's not the whole ball of wax and I wanted the blog to reflect that.
JK: Have people who come to the blog been all Brady... I don't know if "fanatics" is the word, but Brady fans? Or have there been fans who have been, who kind of come to the blog who aren't necessarily Brady experts and are just curious?
BW: A lot of people have come here who are not Brady fans because, well, thanks in part to people like yourself. When we began to promote this, I was hitting major kind of blogosphere places, talking about The Greg Brady Project. Also, some of those, what you might call "techies," were visiting to see what's going on, what's up, what that's about. The Brady theme is pretty universal. So, even if people aren't Brady Bunch fans, per se, they are often times Brady-friendly.
JK: Out of the six actors who played the Brady kids you're the one that has most consistently stood up and identified with your role and what it meant over the years and related to it, for instance when you wrote that book about your experiences.
What is it about the role that has made you consistently want to identify with it over the years as opposed to some of your co-stars, whose enthusiasm for the show ebbed and flowed?
BW: I must say that after all this time that is the first time that anybody has asked me that question.
JK: Is that a good or bad thing?
BW: It's a good thing. It just means that I don't have any pat answer for it.
I don't believe it really has to do with the role. What I've sort of embraced is the Brady experience and what that's about, what it means, what it stands for. It's family dynamic, its morality, its influence and promotion of communication among the family. So that's really more of what I've embraced than the role.
It's also been a good idea, important even for me to have done that in this respect: I had no intention of retiring after that, The Brady Bunch. I had wanted to be an actor since before I was an actor.
JK: How old were you when the show ended?
BW: I was 20 and, you know, I'm off to New York and Bob Fosse hired me to do the lead role in "Pippin" in the national tour, later invited for a short time to do it on Broadway, interrupted by the Brady Bunch Variety Hour. I'd been very active in musical theater and singing and recording and doing the guest spots on television, etc. etc.
Well, every time I go to a town, as we were talking about earlier, to promote a show that I'm in, the producer wants to sell tickets... If you do interviews and you were in the Brady Bunch, they're going to ask you about the Brady Bunch, period. If you go in, as some of our cast members have tried. and say "OK, you can ask me about anything but The Brady Bunch," they're not invited back. If they even get on at all.
So, I've always been comfortable talking about it. I never felt that I had to run from it.
JK: Is it because you have that background of musical theater you found that as a good alternate plan?
BW: No, it wasn't a back-up plan. I wanted to expand the plan. So, I don't think of musical theater replacing film work or television work or even another series. I just think of it as something else to be doing.
JK: By the way, it is remarkable to me that The Brady Bunch started almost 40 years ago. Does it seem like it was that long ago?
BW: In a sense, yes, and in a sense, no. In the sense no, it's because, as I said, (the show) remains active. It's not like I grew up thinking "You know, in 40 years I want to be talking about my daily experiences and the relationships I had on The Brady Bunch every time I get on the phone for an interview." That wasn't it. What happened is, there is sort of a current-ness to (the show) in that we've had nine reunions, we've had six series made out of the show and it's been a cartoon show, a variety show, there have been books, movies, plays made about it every so often. So, it's not like we did 5 years of a show in the late '60s / early '70s and then it went away and now we're pining to talk about it. It grew.
JK: Well, let me ask you this. You think that the '70s time period it was done in is part of its charm? Like if this type of series was done... let's say the late '80s when the clothes and the music weren't as quite as kitschy as they were back then, would it have attracted the same devoted audience?
BW: The first thing is, The Brady Bunch as it was, done in the late '80s, would definitely not work. It is a part of that era. That style of humor and that style of representation and that style of storytelling. That remains there. The themes of the show are universal and timeless. It's growing up, its children trying to work into a family. There have been other shows since then that are time-appropriate with a different kind of humor. The whole approach to writing sitcoms is very, very different than it was then.
You know, as I sometimes will watch an episode, I'm reminded, especially now that they are out on DVD, that there is a real story being told here. I watch sitcoms today and there is a punch line every 3.2 seconds. Its fast, it's furious, its MTV editing, it's a different world. It's funny, but it's different.
JK: Is that one of the reasons why when you did the reunion in 1990 (The Bradys) they decided to go in a more dramatic direction?
BW: Yes. And it didn't work (chuckles).
JK: What do you think when you see Christopher Knight now doing these VH1 reality shows with his wife Adiranne (My Fair Brady) and Maureen McCormick doing the (Gone Country) and being on Dr. Phil last year with her family problems, airing that out in public? Do you think they are playing up their Brady fame for that reason, trying to get back into the limelight or do you think that there are other motivations behind it?
BW: Well, Maureen McCormick would not be doing the thing that she's doing if she were not playing up the Brady aspect of her career and she is one of the ones who's been trying to downplay it -- unsuccessfully.
I say good for her. These are all very good friends of mine and I care a lot about them and I go to the mat for them. Maureen McCormick has a book coming out and I think that this is all part of that promotion because it's going to be out this spring. She's still finishing it and editing. If she wants to sell books, she's going to be going on a book tour and it's about her, she's going to be talking about Brady plenty. I think that's fine and I say good for her. Would I want to air my family histrionics on national television? No, I don't think so. Well, first of all, I have a very different story, but that wouldn't be my forum. But, I certainly respect her desire to do that.
JK: Well, especially cause of her family, I mean, what she did on Dr. Phil is like airing some deep dirty laundry. I was really shocked to see her doing that.
BW: That's not my thing but I certainly respect her desire.
JK: Now, what about what Chris is doing?
BW: I think that as a result of (his show), now it's in its third season, that the recognition that he's getting from doing this and being a part of it, is facilitating some of his other business ventures. So, I think he's comfortable -- sometimes I tell him too comfortable (laughs) -- in front of the camera.
JK: Have you met Adrianne (Curry, Knight's wife), by the way?
BW: Well, we're good friends. My girlfriend and Adrianne. We see each other frequently and we go to dinner and back and forth and out all the time.
JK: Knowing that you've embraced the Brady thing for the last three decades or so, are you refreshed when people don't ask you about the show during signings or those kinds of events?
BW: It doesn't make any difference. I don't like to dwell on it, I don't want to have whole conversations about episodes and stories and things like that because I wrote the book (Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg), and I'm done. But I don't mind the references or people sharing with me their experiences or that kind of a thing. If they have a specific question, that they're been kind of hung up on, and they want to know like "What did happen to Tiger?" or something like that. Then I don't mind.
JK: But you never want to get into the minutiae of the show? Do people try to ask you those questions? What's your response usually when people do that?
BW: Read my book (laughs).
JK: Did you write the book and do the movie as kind of a way to tell people, "Hey, this is where you can get all the answers?"
BW: Yes, that's exactly right. I had been, even by then, asked for fifteen years, sixteen years, essentially the same handful of questions. So, I knew before I wrote that book what, how I was going to do it and what it was going to be about and the things that I wanted to address. The chapters were all there. All I had to do was just fill it in and I'm virtually doing that again with the blog.
In a bigger part of it, was I was trying to share an insight into what that little bubble of being famous as a teenager, and there was six of us going through it, what that's like and what those forces are, the business aspects, the touring aspects. We were again, very diverse, we were a cartoon show during that time, we were recording albums and Christmas albums and we were touring in concert and we filming the show and making personal appearances and there was a lot of stuff around it and I wanted to both give some insight into that and comment on it.
JK: Are you surprised that the staying power that even the really failed attempts at Brady comebacks have to this day? The variety show came and went over 30 years ago, and it is still parodied on shows like The Simpsons.
BW: You know, I think one of the reasons that the show is parodied is because you're taking a television family of actors and trying to turn them into singer/performers. Really, Florence (Henderson) and I were the only two who had much of any experience in performing.
But the show and the structure of the show was not all that bad. It was almost a mirror of the Donnie and Marie show except that we had a pool and an ice skating rink. But, if you look at the guests, we had Tina Turner on, we had Farrah Fawcett, we had Milton Berle; Rip Taylor was in there. Vincent Price was a guest. We had the majors. We had really good people, Rich Little came in there. Rick Dees... we had really good people you know, on this little show. So, I think that give it its kind of spice. The whole thing was just awkward when, you know, it came down to watching the Bradys shake their booties, and that kind of thing.
JK: Did everybody participate in the various reunions because they wanted to see everybody again and work with them again? Is that why these reunions kept happening and mostly everybody participated most of the time?
BW: No, those were all driven by networks and producers and they were called and offered jobs.
JK: But, I mean, why did people come back to them? I mean almost all the time; almost everybody came back except for maybe one person most of the time. Was it just money or was it the desire to work with this group of people again?
BW: Well, I can tell you, I'm an actor. This is what I do. So, if I'm presented with what I think is a good job and a good fee for doing it, I do it. And I like these people, and I'm not running from it. I don't think it served anybody in our cast that's tried to run from it.
Eve Plumb to this day will not talk Brady. Maureen's come around. Susan (Olsen)'s always been comfortable with it in a kind of more sarcastic way. And Michael Lookinland, who's probably the best adjusted of all of us, can take it or not take it, he doesn't care. He's a camera operator, he works behind the scenes and if Brady comes along, fine, and if he doesn't, he loves getting together with (everyone). That's probably as much of a driving force for him as anything.
JK: Well even Robert Reed when he was still alive... the fact that he would do the variety show, when now we know find out, he's this "serious actor," I mean, did that surprise you at the time that he wanted to come back out and do it?
BW: We were the most consistent people in his life and I had asked him about it and he said, "Barry, there's no way I'm going to let this family get together and not be at the head of it." That was that.
JK: In some of the stories that you told in the book about your going out with that date with Florence Henderson and your crush on Maureen, are you surprised that those still kind of have staying power sixteen years after the book came out?
BW: The whole thing surprises me. I'm just grateful for it; it's been a great ride. The blog is a way for me to again, connect, communicate, to socialize, to answer these stories, basically, you know, to do what the kinds of things and you're quite knowledgeable about the history of our show, really.
JK: I used to watch it when I was kid, so did everybody else so...
BW: So, this is a way to be inclusive of that and be part of that community in a different way, in a cutting edge way. Which is why I took so much time, this is why I invest so much time in it, which is why we're talking and because it is my desire to make people aware that it is available. Same people that are stopping me on the street, that are asking me questions, that enjoy performances or whatever. I want them to know that this is available. I think that it's a very powerful communication tool.