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Q&A: ‘Brady Bunch’ star on show’s impact 50 years later and why he left Hollywood

Sept. 26, 2019 marks 50 years since “The Brady Bunch” premiered.

Original “Brady Bunch” cast members Barry Williams (left), Mike Lookinland, Eve Plumb, Susan Olsen, Maureen McCormick and Christopher Knight star in the new HGTV show, “A Very Brady Renovation.” Thursday, Sept. 26, marks 50 years since “The Brady Bunch” premiered.
HGTV

SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Lookinland’s favorite Bobby Brady moment on “The Brady Bunch” isn’t the classic scene where Bobby tosses his good suit in a washing machine — along with a full box of detergent — and ends up getting lost in a neck-high sea of soap suds.

But he gets a good laugh thinking about it.

“Either they didn’t print instructions on the boxes back then or Bobby didn’t know how to read,” Lookinland joked.

Instead, Lookinland, who played Bobby on the family sitcom that ran from 1969-1974, most enjoyed the rare moments when he got to leave “The Brady Bunch” set.

“The times when we got to do something different for once, instead of just putting on our jeans and T-shirts, and stand on your mark and say your lines,” Lookinland told the Deseret News. “It’s very expensive to gear up and get off the lot and go on location somewhere, and very expensive and the Brady budget, those were two things that did not go together. So we almost never left the set.”

Lookinland didn’t even see the famous house known to fans as the Brady residence until 1990 (The house, which is 7 miles from the “Brady Bunch” set, is the second-most visited home in America — No. 1 is the White House). The cast never filmed at this house, which was only used in exterior shots. But thanks to a new HGTV show, “A Very Brady Renovation,” the interior of that house in Los Angeles has been transformed to replicate room-for-room what millions across the country have seen on their TV sets — floating staircase and all.

HGTV’S Jasmine Roth with “Brady Bunch” actors Mike Lookinland and Barry Williams in the new HGTV show, “A Very Brady Renovation.”
HGTV’S Jasmine Roth with “Brady Bunch” actors Mike Lookinland and Barry Williams in the new HGTV show, “A Very Brady Renovation.”
HGTV

The four-part series, which premiered earlier this month and gave HGTV its highest rating in years — the viewing audience surpassed the 3.27 million people who watched the “Fixer Upper” series finale last year — came just in time for the 50th anniversary of “The Brady Bunch” premiere on Sept. 26.

Lookinland, who today runs a concrete countertop business called Just Add Water in Midvale, Utah, spoke with the Deseret News about the show’s impact, the life of a child star and leaving Hollywood behind.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Deseret News: When people come to your store, Just Add Water, do they know your connection with “The Brady Bunch”?

Mike Lookinland: I’d say it’s about 50/50. I get a lot of cold calls, but I also get a lot of repeat customers and word-of-mouth customers, and I would say it’s likely that any word-of-mouth customer is going to have been told the truth about who they’re dealing with. But it’s the same way with anybody I interact with at the grocery store or at a restaurant. … On Sunday, we went out to Antelope Island State Park and I walked up to one of the rangers to ask a question, and without hesitating, she says, “I know you!” And it was just ‘cause she looked at my face for a second. And normally when someone does that, I think to myself, “Man, some people watch a lot of television.”

I’m almost 59 years old. People have seen me now because of this HGTV show, and we were on ‘Rachael Ray’ the other morning and we were on ‘Colbert.’ Now that people have seen me now, it’ll tip the ratio of people that recognize me. But that’s OK; it’s always been a good thing. Nobody ever approaches me without a smile and something friendly to say when it comes to the Brady connection. Everybody thinks of it in a good light.

I think that’s why the HGTV thing and that whole Brady thing from decades ago has been such a good fit together. … HGTV shows are mostly all good feelings. … On “The Brady Bunch” we had fights, but they are all happily resolved in 22 minutes. There’s never any negative feelings that come with being recognized and interacting with people who are either fans or just somebody on the street, and it’s because of the product we made. People look at it as such a nice thing from their childhood, and then they show their children, who show their children.

DN: Did you ever imagine the show would reach the popularity that it has today?

ML: I didn’t know when I was 9 years old, but by the time I was 20, it was pretty evident that it had staying power. … It’s like the music you loved when you were 17 or the places you used to go with your family … when you were young. Those things that were dear to you are the things that remain dear, moreso I think than new experiences. “The Brady Bunch” just hit at a time where all the baby boomers were 10 years old, and then when the show went into syndication, they were coming home from school and watching it at 3 and 3:30 and 4, and that’s when it really became a boom hit is when it was on after school every day.

DN: I’ve seen articles about adjusting to life after “The Brady Bunch” and the challenges of that, and I was just wondering if you could talk about why that was a challenge and how you got through that?

ML: I can say in retrospect that my move to Utah at the age of 17, having just graduated from high school, was an attempt to run away and get away, because in 1978, Utah wasn’t as established as it is now. It wasn’t on the map like it is now. … It turned out to work in my favor, but I wouldn’t have told you that at that time. I wanted to get out of L.A., get away from agents and managers and Hollywood and just be a kid in the mountains. I went to the University of Utah and met my wife while we were both attending the U., and put down roots and haven’t even thought about going anywhere else. That’s how much we like it here. And now there’s a lot of people that understand the quality of life and the cost of living (here). Even during the worst part of the recession in 2009, Utah really didn’t suffer all that much. My business certainly didn’t. And I think one of the reasons is because it’s a good place run well by good people.

DN: Why did you want to run away from Hollywood?

ML: I was just barely 17 years old, and I had been in the business since I was 7 — more than half my life. And I had never really been the kind of person who said to himself, ‘I want to be an actor. This is what I want to do.’ But it turns out that I ended up on one of the most popular shows ever. I guess I just felt like I could go see what a normal kid would do with his life. I tell ya, it hasn’t been in the news so much lately, but there was a time when child actors who made it big and then got into their 20s got in serious trouble. … Where you’re a big star but you became a big star when you were a child and screwed up your life in your 20s. It’s a bit of a miracle that all six of us made it through that.

Susan Olsen, 8 (left); Michael Lookinland, 8 1/2; Eve Plumb, 11; Christopher Knight, 11; Maureen McCormick, 12; Barry Williams, 14. Sept. 26, 2019 marks 50 years since “The Brady Bunch” premiered.
Associated Press

Speaking for myself, I can say that I lived my childhood more or less in my 20s, when I had a car, money. And that’s dangerous. … But we all made it through and things have worked out really well. … That’s a Brady thing; that only happens on “The Brady Bunch.” What are the chances that six child actors on a hugely popular show made it into their 50s and 60s and are now on a new show? … We all made it, which is really great.”

DN: Have you been able to help other people in the industry get through that as well?

ML: Not person to person in any way, no, but it’s nice to be out there now, so that people do have an idea that it can go right, doesn’t always have to be some tragic story. So we’re out there now.

DN: What about “The Brady Bunch” do you think appeals so much to Americans, back then and now?

ML: If you’re a parent, you can definitely feel good about sitting your children down and putting on a DVD of “The Brady Bunch.” There’s nothing bad about that. But I think it’s more the kids that see those values. … It’s a show made for children. The struggles we all face seem big, but we can get through it together, and I think kids just really take to that and know that that’s something to value, so that’s why it’s staying on, is because children keep watching it.