Here’s the Story: An Exclusive Interview with Barry Williams, a.k.a. Greg Brady
Stop and think of the best all-time dads on TV – not the actors, just the characters: Andy Taylor, Ward Cleaver, Charles Ingalls, Howard Cunningham and Danny Tanner. These great dads all have a lot in common: they’re warm, loving, funny, strong, empathetic, nurturing, caring, and courageous. They give a good name to parenting, specifically fatherhood.
For my money, the best one is none other than Mike Brady, from The Brady Bunch, played by Robert Reed. Brady was the quintessential family man, a strong-willed father of integrity and ethics. He was loyal, playful, and romantic with his wife. He was fun, fair, and firm with his kids. He was an all-around good guy to everyone. Perhaps the most endearing part of his character was that he never went for the cheap laughs by playing the goofy, inept, or incompetent father – a misleading stereotype that’s unfair to today’s modern family.
It’s been over 40 years since the show ended, yet the Mr. Brady character would look as solid and relevant if he were to appear on a TV show today. Reed passed away in 1992 at age 59, so who better to share insight on the beloved character which Reed so famously portrayed than one of his TV children?
I spoke with Barry Williams, who played the eldest Brady child, Greg, about what it was like to have arguably the finest TV dad in history.
Growing Up with Mr. Brady
“Robert as a TV dad is the epitome of a father,” Williams said. “He was fair. He treated his children respectfully. He listened and didn’t disregard them. He had a strong, moral compass and communicated it effectively to give the three boys and three girls a good roadmap for maturity for becoming whole people.”
Off-screen, Reed offered Williams and his fellow sibling actors a great deal of care and affection, but there wasn’t a lot of socializing together. Instead, Reed served more as a mentor than that of a father figure. After all, Williams noted, he had his own dad, and the other five kids had their own dads, too.
“I didn’t go to him for fatherly advice,” Williams said. “I went to him more as a friend.
“What we had the most in common was our passion for acting, so during rehearsal there were acting roles that we would play,” Williams said. “We might reread a scene. I would play his part and he would play mine, so we would figure the most important way to deliver the message.”
As the TV family patriarch, Reed even handled the youngest – Mike Lookinland (Bobby) and Susan Olsen (Cindy) – with respect and didn’t treat them like children, according to Williams. They were all professionals, after all, and Reed recognized that and didn’t talk down to them.
Other TV Dads
Naturally, Williams believes Mike Brady was the best example of fatherhood to grace the small screen, but that doesn’t mean other TV dads don’t have something to offer.
“All the TV fathers of our day have very important and significant images to convey about raising families,” he said. “Each is done in a unique way, and respective shows deserve credit on their own merits.”
Williams noted that the period on TV following The Brady Bunch was characterized by a more edgy, sarcastic, and cynical tone which drove the humor. That wasn’t necessarily bad, just different.
“Probably an extreme example of that is Roseanne, but you always knew that the two of them loved their kids,” Williams said. “I don’t gravitate toward that humor, but somewhere in there, that’s what happened to our softer palate.”
Reed the Person
While some of Williams’s best filming experiences were indeed the vacation episodes – yes, he loved doing Hawaii – even better to him was when Reed took his entire TV family to London on vacation. Reed sprung for the whole cast, including Reed’s parents, and even the kids’ school teacher as chaperone. They stayed in the finest hotels, ate at fancy restaurants, and went to notable sights – including where Shakespeare wrote many of his plays, and where Reed himself studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
“That was something that Robert wanted to share with his television family,” Williams said. “It was spectacular. It was the first time we’d been on a cruise ship, the first time we were in London, and we all got along great and he was the leader. He selected the activities. He made the reservations. It was, I think, a tribute to him as a caring, loving person.”
Williams’ own father was a bit different than Mr. Brady and Reed. His was a World War II veteran from the Greatest Generation. He was captain of the Coast Guard. And like a lot of men from that era, he was more quiet than talkative, he didn’t share a lot of feelings, and he led by example.
“It was a way of bringing up kids at that time that was more about, ‘let them find their own way,’ than ‘here’s what’s coming and you need to get ready,’” Williams said. “(Reed) was a little more willing to share. My own father was more willing to allow me to find my own way.”
Although it’s true Reed sometimes became displeased with the direction of the show and character treatment, it helped him to steer the direction of his own ship, according to Williams. After the original show ended and the short-lived variety show followed, Reed insisted that only he would reprise Mike Brady.
“(Reed) said there was no way anyone else was going to play the father of his family,” Williams said.
Becoming a Father and a Busy Career
Williams has taken all these experiences and applied them to becoming a father to two children of his own: Brandon, 15, and Samantha, 6. And despite a rigorous singing, acting, producing, and writing schedule that’s taken him far beyond Greg Brady, he’s handled more diapers, cooked more meals, and attended more little league games than most.
“Parenting, I find, is just something that you have to jump in and do the best you can. There are so many things people did not tell me – one of those is sleep deprivation,” he said. “Fathers are playing a very, very active role in the development and caring of kids.”
Following The Brady Bunch, Williams took part in several Brady spinoffs, including variety shows, cartoons, reunion movies, and a cameo in The Brady Bunch Movie. He has 85 musical productions to his credit, has worked in Las Vegas, wrote a best-selling book, and headlined a 70s music celebration show in Branson, Missouri, where he currently calls home. There he’s formed a successful musical trio – Barry Williams and the Traveliers – which is currently accepting bookings.
Although Williams has no plans for early retirement, he has switched modes from a nonstop schedule to picking and choosing projects as they arise.
His latest, classictvstarscruise.com, gives fans the chance to meet and interact with classic TV idols. He’s setting up a schedule of regular cruises on a 3,000-passenger ship that features stars from the ‘70s and ‘80s, including himself as host, plus Lou Ferrigno, Jimmie Walker, Jerry Mathers, John Schneider and Charlene Tilton. For seven days, fans can meet, get to know, ask questions and hang out with stars like these, and more.
“I think people are going to really enjoy the opportunity to meet the people that they grew up with,” Williams said. “I think it’s got some real potential.”
Brady Bunch Redux
The 50th anniversary of The Brady Bunch will arrive September 26, 2019, and Williams has been working with MeTV, for whom he’s a spokesperson, to ramp up excitement. Some ideas are in the formulation stage, and some are dependent on being able to regroup his TV family of six. Although there are no official plans to reunite like Full House just yet, Williams does believe there could be life in the Brady formula.
“Coming back with the same messages are those values of the show, the morals, the communication – those are timeless,” Williams said.
He has also talked briefly with HGTV, new owners of the actual Brady home in North Hollywood, about potential future projects. Williams has, in fact, been to the home and knew the people who originally owned it. Those famous exterior shots were filmed “long before we ever knew the show would go on (the air),” Williams said.
While some actors want little to do with past characters and potential typecasting, Williams openly embraces all things Brady.
“First, I’m proud of The Brady Bunch,” he said. “I genuinely care for all the people behind-the-scenes and the cast. The show stands for what it is; I’m clearly best known for that and I appreciate that recognition and I’m also able to have a successful career outside The Brady Bunch, although the familiarity and association with the show will always remain.
I have pride that I created in this character and so I’ve never fought it. I don’t feel like it’s part of the past because for so many people it’s part of the current. So there’s good reason not to have to run from it.”
Barry Williams Today
His favorite episode of all-time is when he played Johnny Bravo, and though he surprisingly didn’t watch the show when it aired from 1969-1974, he watches it now via MeTV.
“It’s kind of like watching home movies,” he said.
He doesn’t make his past a central point with his kids, but they have seen the show.
Once, a babysitter turned his then-four-year old son on to The Brady Bunch reruns, watching the famous Hawaii episode where Vincent Price’s character ties up the boys in a cave. When Williams arrived at the sitter’s to pick him up, his son cried, “Are you okay? That man, he had you all tied up!”
Williams used that moment to explain reality vs. fantasy, and perhaps impart a bit of Robert Reed-Mike Brady mentorship in a real-life parenting situation. And like any genuine, reliable Brady episode, Williams no doubt resolved his son’s anxiety in 30 minutes time.