“Brady Bunch” star Barry Williams turned a fair amount of heads with a chapter in his book, “Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg,” titled, “Dating Your Mom.” Williams, who played oldest Brady son Greg, did not really date Florence Henderson, who played Brady matriarch Carol, but, Williams told Variety on Friday, “anything that is semi-salacious and ‘Brady’ in the same sentence, and you’re off to the races.”
What Williams and Henderson, who died Thursday at age 82, really had was a five-decade-long friendship. “At different times she acted maternally, but also as a good friend, and then as a mentor,” Williams said.
That mentorship took a form Williams had never seen before. Shortly after “The Brady Bunch” had ended, Williams went to New York to audition for Bob Fosse for the lead role in “Pippin.” The audition was at the Imperial Theater, with Fosse and the bigwig producers and writers in the audience. “There were a gaggle of guys my age who look about the same, auditioning. You could cut the tension with a knife,” Williams said. He was increasingly nervous as the auditions wore on.
And who should show up just before his name was called? “Florence just appeared backstage,” Williams remembered. She sauntered out pretending to be an ingénue, ribbing the assembled notables. “And of course she knew everybody,” he added. “But what she did was to really break the ice, and the whole place relaxed, so when I was called, I was much more focused and comfortable. And that was how I became the next Pippin.”
Williams credits the continued cultural relevance of “The Brady Bunch” to the magic of chemistry, of which Henderson was a key element. “I don’t think Robert Reed was overly comfortable at first working with her,” Williams said. “And she really was able to make him feel comfortable and cared a great deal for and about him.” The same comfort extended to the rest of the cast. “Because she cared so much, she had this global overview of the cast. I give her a lot of credit for that.”
She was motherly, he added, but “motherly in the hottest way.”