Monday, May 06, 2013

This Week in Television History: May 2013 Part I

Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

May 10, 1983
Laverne & Shirley ended its 8 season run.
The show was a spin-off from Happy Days, as the two lead characters were originally introduced on that series as acquaintances of Fonzie. Set in roughly the same time period as Happy Days, the Laverne & Shirley timeline started in approximately 1958, when the series began, through 1967, when the series ended (A January 1975 episode of its progenitor "Happy Days", had a story about the November 1956 presidential election).

May 12, 1992

Robert Reed dies. An only child, Reed was born John Robert Rietz, Jr., in the northeast Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois

John Jr. knew he was going to make it and was very serious about becoming an actor. He appeared in every school play and landed the majority of lead roles. He was a consummate professional, who demanded the same of his teen peers. In his junior year, he took a radio and speech class. His charming delivery led him to a job as the city's radio disc jockey, reading news and commercials. John Jr. graduated from Muskogee Central in 1950.

At Northwestern he was a member of Beta Theta Pi, and later transferred to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in London.

When he became an actor, he adopted the stage name Robert Reed.

Reed made his first guest-starring appearance in an episode of Father Knows Best, a role which led him to co-star in The Defenders. The part also led to other roles such as: Men into Space, Family Affair, Ironside, The Mod Squad, Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre, Lawman, 4 episodes of Love, American Style, Chase, Harry O, McCloud, Jigsaw John, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Crazy Like a Fox, The Paper Chase, among many others.

He first gained fame in the early 1960s for starring along with E. G. Marshall in the television drama series The Defenders from 1961 to 1965. He also appeared in the 1968 film Star!

Appearing in the Neil Simon play, Barefoot in the Park led him to two new contracts, at Paramount Studios and ABC, both in 1968. 

The minute that studio decided to turn the television version of Barefoot in the Park into an African-American show, they planned for Reed to star in something else. Originally titled, The Bradey Bunch, the show featured a widowed man, who had 3 kids from a previous marriage, marrying a divorcee, also with 3 kids, from a previous marriage. According to former Gilligan's Island creator Sherwood Schwartz, he said about the show's plan for 6 kids (meaning 3 boys/3 girls) to create a well-blended family: "I read a small item in the Los Angeles Times. It said that that year, 29% of all marriages had a previous spouse with a child or children from that other marriage. It was a social phenomenon that was occurring, and I said, 'I could take advantage of that.'

Reed was actually the producers' second choice for the role of Mike Brady, after Gene Hackman was rejected because he was too unfamiliar at the time. Also starring on The Brady Bunch was a popular singer/unknown actress Florence Henderson, who played the role of Mike's wife Carol Brady; after her best friend Shirley Jones turned down that role, in favor of another sitcom, The Partridge Family, which debuted the year later, also on ABC. Also cast on the show was the only familiar actress Ann B. Davis, as the maid, Alice Nelson, along with a half-dozen unknown stars: Maureen McCormick as the oldest girl in the family, Marcia Brady, Eve Plumb as the middle girl in the family, Jan Brady, Susan Olsen as the youngest girl in the family, Cindy Brady, Barry Williams as the oldest boy in the family, Greg Brady, Christopher Knight as the middle boy in the family, Peter Brady and Mike Lookinland as the youngest boy in the family, Bobby Brady. Reed was notoriously difficult to work with both on and off the set; despite that, the cast got along well with him. Olsen became friends with Reed's real-life daughter, who in turn made a guest appearance on the show.

However, unlike The Defenders, The Brady Bunch was a lighthearted comedy. Despite not being a Top 30 show during its five season run, which competed against two highly-rated TV series, The High Chaparral for 2 seasons (1969–1971) and Sanford and Son for 3 1/2 seasons (1972–1974), The Brady Bunch was an audience favorite of the 1970s, and appeared on dozens of magazines. It was one of five series to be canceled in 1974 (along with other ABC shows such as Room 222, The F.B.I., The Partridge Family and Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law), after 5 seasons, and 117 episodes, due to low ratings, however, the show had continued to enjoy its success in strong syndication, including TV Land.
From the beginning of The Brady Bunch, Reed was unhappy with his role of Mike Brady. He felt that acting in the often silly sitcom was beneath his serious Shakespearean training. Despite his discontent with the show, by most accounts, he genuinely liked his co-stars and was a beloved father figure to the younger cast members. In his efforts to bring more realism to the show, Reed often locked horns with the show's creator and executive producer, Sherwood Schwartz. Reed presented Schwartz with frequent, usually hand-written memorandums detailing why a certain character's motivation did not make sense, and/or why it was wrong for a certain episode to combine elements of different styles, such as farce and satire.
Reed was particularly appalled by The Brady Bunch's fifth season finale, "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, the disgusted Reed told Schwartz they'd have to do the episode without him, which they did, changing the shooting schedule and giving Mike Brady's lines to other characters. As a result Schwartz fired him from the series — which turned out not to make a difference because The Brady Bunch was canceled after that.
Reed reprised the role of Mike Brady in the variety show The Brady Bunch Hour, as well as The Brady Brides, several made-for-TV Brady movies, and another series that followed, The Bradys.
During the run of The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role as Lieutenant Adam Tobias on the television drama Mannix from 1967 to 1975.
After the end of The Brady Bunch in 1974, Reed acted on the stage and made many 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 a doctor who wants to undergo a sex change operation in a two-part episode of Medical Center in 1975. Reed also appeared in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. He also guest starred on Wonder Woman, playing the Falcon. Other notable guest appearances include: Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels, Galactica 1980, Vega$, and Murder, She Wrote for at least three appearances. Reed played the regular role of Dr. Adam Rose on the critically acclaimed (though short-lived) hospital drama Nurse during the 1981–1982 television season. In 1986, he played the role of Lloyd Kendall on the daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow. He also made multiple appeances in Hunter (U.S. TV series) and Jake and the Fatman as well as The Love Boat.
In 1971, Reed was the defendant in Anglia TV v. Reed, an important case in English contract common law. Reed lost the lawsuit for £2,750.[2]
Reed was married to Marilyn Rosenberg (1954–1959). The couple had one daughter, Karen Rietz, who was born in 1956. Karen had a small role in an episode of The Brady Bunch entitled "The Slumber Caper." Her character's name was Karen and she is credited as "Carolyn Reed." This episode also reunited Reed with his co-star from The Defenders, E. G. Marshall.
Reed felt his career required him to be secretive about his homosexuality. Nonetheless, most of the Brady Bunch cast members—most notably Barry Williams and Florence Henderson—knew of his sexual orientation, and expressed outrage at the media's exploitation of it after his death.
In 1972, at the end of the third year of The Brady Bunch, Reed took his own family, his parents, along with his on-screen Brady Bunch family on vacation to New York City and London, England. In New York, he introduced the young actors to Broadway, then they headed on a crossing aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 to England. Reed enjoyed spending time with his on-screen kids, as he rarely had time to spend with his own daughter, Karen.
Reed was very close friends with actress Anne Haney. It was she who informed his daughter of his homosexuality and his having contracted HIV. She often got his HIV medication for him under a pseudonym to protect his private life.
Reed died on May 12, 1992, at his home in South Pasadena, California, after a six month battle with colon cancer and lymphoma; he tested HIV positive the previous year but did not have AIDS at the time of his death, as has been reported in the media. He was cremated and his ashes are interred in Memorial Park Cemetery, Skokie, Illinois next to his grandparents, Harvey and Elizabeth Rietz, and an uncle who died in childhood. Joined by many mourners at a private memorial were the cast of The Brady Bunch, and his best friends Anne Haney and E. G. Marshall. Both his mother, Helen, and daughter, Karen, declined to attend his memorial.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

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Tony Figueroa
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