Sunday, November 29, 2020

#100: Robert Reed


John Robert Rietz, Jr. was born in Highland Park, Illinois on October 19, 1932.  He was an only child, born to a pair of high school sweethearts.  His father, John, Sr., worked for the government while his mother ran the household.

During his formative years, his family moved around a lot, settling in Texas and then later Oklahoma.  While there, he worked on the family farm and joined the local 4-H club, but was more interested in being a performer.  As a teenager, he wrote and produced dramas for the local radio stations and appeared in stage productions at Central High School. 

When he graduated in 1950, he enrolled at Northwestern University to study drama.  While there, he had the lead role in eight stage productions.  He then studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

When he returned to the U.S., he joined an off-Broadway group called "The Shakespearewrights."  Throughout the 1950s, he starred in a number of productions, including Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.  By the end of the decade, he moved to Los Angeles, and adopted the stage name of Robert Reed. 

There in 1959, he made his first appearance on television, as a guest on the sit-com Father Knows Best.  Two years later, he'd star in his first feature film, a horror/thriller titled Bloodlust!.  You can watch it in its entirety on Youtube.

Following the film, Reed landed his first starring role on television on the legal drama The Defenders (right).  The series saw Reed and his co-star E.G. Marshall as a father/son legal team who handled cases with a social aspect, such as civil rights, atheism and euthanasia.  It was a huge hit for CBS, earning 22 Emmy Award nominations over it's four-year run.  You can watch the intro here.  During the show's hiatus, he made his Broadway debut in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park.

After The Defenders was canceled in 1965, Reed made several guest appearances on television.  Then in 1968, he was asked to test for a new sit-com created by veteran producer Sherwood Schwartz.  The Brady Bunch debuted the following season and would have a successful run on ABC for the next five years.

As early as the pilot episode, Reed was not happy about the part.  In the years that followed, he would admit that he had only taken the role of Mike Brady for financial reasons, finding its saccharine plots unrealistic and beneath his training as a classical actor.  As a result, he constantly found himself at odds with Schwartz.

"We fought over the scripts.  Always the scripts," Reed recalled.  "Sherwood had done Gilligan's Island....just gag lines.  That would have been what The Brady Bunch would have been if I hadn't protested."

In addition to the scripts, Reed found it difficult to play the love scenes opposite co-star Florence Henderson, who quickly determined that Reed was gay.  Reed's sexuality had become an open secret on the set, one that just simply wasn't discussed.  As Schwartz later recalled "I felt sorry for the guy.  Here he was the father of America and he can't come out of the closet."

As the Brady cast began to film what would ultimately be their final episode in the spring of 1974, Reed once again found himself battling Schwartz over the episode's plot, one that saw Bobby Brady selling hair tonic door to door.  Unable to meet Reed's demands for a rewrite in the time available to him, Schwartz simply wrote him out of the episode.  As a result, Mike Brady, TV's most loving father, missed his oldest son's high school graduation.  Ridiculous.  Schwartz later acknowledged that if the series had been picked up for a sixth season, Reed would not have been invited to return.

With the Bradys temporarily behind him, Reed was free to pursue the more dramatic roles he felt he should be playing.  In 1975, he made a guest appearance on the series Medical Center as a doctor who undergoes a sex change operation, a role for which he won great critical acclaim.  Here's a scene before the surgery and here's another one after.

Reed also appeared in a number of notable mini-series in the late 70s, including Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots, in which he played Dr. William Reynolds, a slave owner.  Watch him tear down the help in this clip.

In 1976, Reed returned to the role of Mike Brady on the short-lived Brady Bunch Hour (right), a variety series created by Sid and Marty Krofft.  When asked why he returned to the role he had so despised, Reed acknowledged it gave him the opportunity to sing and dance, hallmarks of his pre-Brady life.  Here's one such segment.  He'd return to the Brady universe on several other occasions, the most successful being 1988's A Very Brady Christmas, the second-highest rated made-for-TV movie of the year.

By the early 90s, Reed's health was in decline.  In late 1991, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.  According to his friend actress Anne Haney, Reed was also HIV positive at the time.  "He decided that he was going to fight them one at a time and that he was going to beat the cancer first," Haney recalled.

But it became apparent to Reed that he was not going to win either battle.  In April 1992, he called Florence Henderson and confessed that he was terminally ill.  He asked her to notify the rest of the cast.  She had only just begun to do so when Reed died on May 12, 1992.  He was 59 years old.

After Reed's passing, the truth of his health status and sexuality finally became public knowledge.  Haney stated in one interview that he would not wish to be remebered that way, but rather for his body of work.  "He came from the old school, where people had a sense of decorum.  He went the way he wanted to, without publicity."

Robert Reed was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois.

Location: Annex 6, Lot 21
Inscription: Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Rest in peace, Mr. Brady.


  • The inscription on Reed's marker is a quote from Hamlet.  It is uttered by Hamlet's best friend Horatio as the title character dies in his arms.  

  • Reed never published his own memoirs, but he did write the foreword for Barry Williams' tell-all classic, Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg.  He died just one month before the book was published.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.

  • E.G. Marshall, who was Reed's co-star on The Defenders, later appeared on The Brady Bunch as Marcia's principal.  The two stars shared no scenes together.

  • While starring on The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role on the detective series Mannix as Lieutenant Adam Tobias.  Coincidentally, the Brady sets were re-used in the Mannix episode "One for the Lady."

  • Reed made a guest appearance on the sci-fi series Galactica: 1980.  Robbie Rist, who had appeared on The Brady Bunch as Cousin Oliver, appeared in the same episode, but the two shared no scenes together.

  • In 1989, Reed reprised the role of Mike Brady on the NBC sit-com Day By Day.  You can watch the episode in its entirety on Youtube.  I highly recommend it.

  • Reed's co-stars Ann B. Davis and Florence Henderson have both been profiled here at Six Feet Under Hollywood. 

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