AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE CREATOR OF "GILLIGAN'S ISLAND" AND "THE BRADY BUNCH"

When I was given the opportunity to interview Sherwood Schwartz, I jumped at the chance!  I'm a certified Brady Bunch junkie and have easily seen each episode more than 3 times.  At 87 years old, Sherwood is still sharp as a tack, incredibly busy, and has a ton of projects he's still actively involved with.

Sherwood's wrote for Bob Hope's radio programming in the early 30s, and was there for the dawn of television, writing and producing shows like "The Red Skelton Show" and "My Favorite Martian."  In 1963 he launched "Gilligan's Island" (hard to believe that's 40 years ago), and 6 years later introduced The Brady Family to the world.

The appeal of his shows last far beyond their original run.  Gilligan's Island had cartoons and reunion movies, including "Rescue From Gilligan's Island" was one of the highest rated TV movie of the time.  The Brady Bunch, which had similar spin offs, TV and feature films, has enjoyed similar success.   So without further adieu, we present our exclusive interview


How do you explain the long term appeal of The Brady Bunch and the many incarnations they've had through the decades?

I think that people growing up might see a family that they would try to emulate because they have deficiencies in their own family.  They don't talk to their parents as well as the Brady kids talk to theirs.  If they're similar, they have something in common.  Either way, families tune in to see The Brady Bunch.  We just wanted an entertaining show that had certain moral qualities. 

The Bradys always seemed to be going on a great vacations, whether it was Hawaii, The Grand Canyon, or Kings' Island.  Were there ever any plans for trip destinations that never came through?

No real plans, we just knew in a new year, we should have some kind of a spark to it to make it a little different.  So we aimed it as a big vacation.  We had 4 episodes we filmed in Hawaii.  To stimulate the audience.  To get them out of their normal setting. 

Speaking of the Hawaii trip, how hard was it for Peter to do that scene with the spider crawling on his chest?

We had a spider wrangler ready to go (laughs), I sure wouldn't do that.  We had people trained, he (Christopher) was assured.  It is a funny feeling to have a spider on you.  We had an episode with Greg's girlfriend (played by Sherwood's daughter, Hope) she had a frog on her head, that's a very uneasy feeling for a performer, they have a tendency to pee.  She had to wash her head 10 times that night, cause of all the frog pee (laughs).


Were any of the kids that were more fun to work with than the others?

I was fortunate.  They were talented and all wonderful kids.  A lot of that is attributed to great parents.  The kids had good values.  They knew you were on their side.  They had an open door to my office.  There was very little problem.  My main problem was with the father (Robert Reed).  He never should have been on the show to begin with.  He thought of himself as a major actor.  He was spoiled because he was in a Shakespeare company in England, and he felt he was above TV in general, officially sitcoms.  But he had a contract, and he did a great test scene with Florence (Carol Brady).  I didn't know all of this background.  I wanted Gene Hackman for that role, a year before The French Connection, after that he would have never done TV again.  But I thought he would be ideal for the father role, a little more rough.  But Paramount had a deal with Robert Reed.

In Brady episodes when you had guest stars like Davy Jones or Desi Arnes, Jr., did you write the episode with them in mind, or were they just inserted later?

Well, with Davy we would try for him, and if we didn't get him, we'd just have gone for someone else.  But we didn't start with the star.  Some other star would fit the idea, like the ones with sports stars, we had Don Dreysdale, Deacon Jones, and Joe Namath. 

What was it like working with Vincent Price?

Vincent price was a terrific performer, his talent and background, he's amazing.  When he gets to a set, he knows his own lines and everyone else's lines... first person on the set every morning.  My son Lloyd used to be there very early as the Associate Producer and make everyone comfortable, every time when he'd get there, Vincent was already there, you'd have to get the place open for Vincent.  Lloyd would say, "I can't believe why you're always on the set so early", cause he didn't have to be there until later.  Vincent said, "There's no better place to be".  He loved performing and the stage and being on the set so much that was his answer. 

Funny that he had such a good attitude about working on the show, while Robert Reed had problems, and wasn't even a hundredth of the actor Price was.

That's the difference in the man.  One was a great actor, one guy was not. 

In the early episodes of there was clearly no idea or direction that any of these kids could dance or sing.  At one point was it decided to start using them in that capacity?

The show just went along, all of them had a certain amount of talent in that direction, except for poor Peter, who had no talent.  Most of the time he just kept quiet.  The odd thing was that the mother (Florence Henderson), who was a talented singer and a Broadway star never got to sing at all.  Well, she sang in that Christmas episode and it was beautiful.  The kids emerged as big stars. 

They even toured, didn't they?

Yes, I went to some of the events where the opened big malls, they were almost crushed when thousands of kids would turn out.  I was amazed at the number of people that turned out. They did several albums.

Both The Brady and Gilligan's Island theme are easily considered 2 of the best TV songs of all time.  Why do you think so?

TV Guide had a contest about 6 months ago, and Gilligan's Island was the Number 1 theme song, and The Brady Bunch was #7.  I had 2 shows where you had to know the past history to flow in to the show.  On Gilligan's Island it was vital, to avoid exposition, you had to do a song that incorporated the background of the show.  The song always told you the show, that way you get the back story out of the way and can move right to the action.  Exposition is the enemy of entertainment the more you tell people the more you explain.

What did you think of The Brady Kids cartoon?

I was not satisfied with the animated Brady thing, my conversation was to give a new platform that was more imaginative than real life situations, but I didn't find it particularly good, so we stopped it after a year.

You've seen Survivor haven't you? 

Oh, yes.

Can you see how Gilligan's Island inspired elements of that show?

Survivor is the reverse of Gilligan's Island, who do their best to work together to get off the island.  On survivor they're trying to screw the other castaways to get off on it.  Pushing each other off stuff and fighting. 

I heard this maybe 20 years ago on a talk show, so I can't attribute it, but I recall a former cast member mentioning that every single invention on the island the professor made would actually work, was that true?

That is not true.

You mean you can't really make radios from a coconut?

No (laughs) no coconut radios.  That's impossible.  I have a background in science, I used chemistry and biology on the Professor's blackboard.  I'd put some formula there that you could take ferrous dioxide, and mix it with some other metal to get an effect, but in real life it wouldn't do anything.

Many people thought it was funny that the Professor could make all these great inventions on the island, yet couldn't figure out how to patch a hole in the boat.

Yes, (laughs), that's true!  Another thing was we always had coconuts falling on someone's head.  In real life, they would kill you.  Of course we had specially made rubber coconuts.

Do you have any neat souvenirs you've kept from any of your shows?

Not really, I have some things that I really enjoy.  I have mementos.  I have The Skipper's hat that he used to hit Gilligan.  He had it bronzed and placed on a stand for me.  He was a wonderful man.  He was a lot of heart.  I used to go to children's hospitals to contribute The Brady Bunch waiting room at a hospital, we'd visit different rooms, and I spent many hours there with "Bud" (Alan Hale's nickname) and he was just great with those kids. 

We were in one room, and there was nobody in that room, so we didn't know what to do.  A nurse said, "That boy is just coming up and just had a kidney removed, he'll be up from surgery and I don't think you can go in there".  The doctor said, "No no no go in, it'll be a good experience!"  He was wheeled in and when he was just opening  his eyes and The Skipper and I were at the foot of the bed, he opened his eyes and saw Alan Hale, squinted his eyes, and he said, "SKIPPER?"  he thought he might have died and went to Gilligan's island.  He was wonderful.  Alan said, "That's right son, The Skipper's here, and everything is going to be fine."  The kid said, "That's great!" and went back to sleep.   The doctor said, "Mr. Hale, we don't have that kind of medicine."   There's just something stars can do for people.  It means so much to them and does so much for their recovery.  Florence Henderson used to visit with me, too.

I was very impressed with the Brady movies.  They were very funny, and it was the perfect blend of tribute and satire.

Right, there was no point to go that route, to just make an episode into a two hour movie.  It was fun to satirize it. It was the first time the creators ever did that. 

It was amazing that you could recast characters that still resembled the previous actors without being distracting.

There's an amazing amount of talent in this city.  You put them in the right attire.  You can just take a skinny guy and put him in that red shirt and a heavy guy in the blue shirt, they'll say hey there's Gilligan and Skipper!"

What was it like working with Barbara Eden on the Harper Valley PTA show?

Barbara Eden is a wonderful lady, I just came in as a favor to Universal, cause I was doing The Brady Brides at the same time, but I really didn't want to do this other one.  they were floundering around.  They wanted me to do it.  that was how I met her, the performers were very good, it was kind of a dead end show, but I didn't know where it was going to go. 


 

How was the experience of making Big John Little John for Saturday mornings?

Same approach, just aim for simpler dialogue

(And with yet another theme song that told the whole story, CLICK HERE to watch a rare video clip of the show's intro)

Was Cousin Oliver your idea, or was that just thrown at you by the studios?

I was against Oliver, no reason to bring in another kid, the guy in charge of Paramount insisted on a younger kid getting brought in, because the kids had outgrown the appeal.

There's an episode called "Kelly's Kids" that barely has The Brady Kids in it, and has a neighbor with an adopted Hispanic, Asian, and black kid that was a bit different than the others.

That was my way of sneaking in a pilot for another show.  It was going to be another show.

That was pretty ahead of its time to have an adopted multicultural family like that.

It was going to be my series. I like to be ahead of my time.  I was the first show to have 2 families joined together.

Is it true that The Bradys were the first show to have the husband and wife sleeping in the same bed?

I've been told that, but I don't know for sure.

So with all the films that have been made from TV shows, it seems weird that Gilligan's Island hasn't been touched yet.  The jungle island setting and the characters would clearly work well.

It's not that it wouldn't be a success.  Gilligan's Island is so hard because ownership and rights.  Ted Turner had rights which now reverted to WB, and Phil Silvers' company, who funded the original pilot still has a stake.  They can't solve the problems of the rights.  I went to a meeting just today where we're discussing the same problem.  How do you get around this contract that was signed 40 years ago?  You're bound by things you've signed, as a result I kicked away a big portion of the show cause I didn't know better.  It's less true of Paramount for The Brady Bunch, because there was no partners on the scene.  You know who Phil Silvers is?

Sure, SGT. Bilko...

Phil Silvers was a partner on the original pilot.  CBS had owed him and he used it to buy a share of our show, so he became a partner in the show.  He made more money from Gilligan's Island than he did on the rest of the stuff he's ever done. 

Does that hold up getting Gilligan's Island on DVD, too?

Yes.  I just recorded a commentary for the pilot to be released on DVD, though.  Its the original pilot.  I know people want this stuff.  A different song, with a calypso background.  And there were 3 different cast members for that, you know? 

That's great.  You know, we had a poll on our site to ask who people preferred, Ginger or Maryann, and Maryann was the runaway favorite.  Who was your choice? (NOTE: CLICK HERE for our Ginger vs. Maryann feature)

My favorite from a producer perspective, was Maryann.  Tina had a certain amount of temperament.  She's also a very good singer. 

Is it true that Raquel Welch almost got the part of Maryann?

Well, I chose Dawn Wells was the one who got the job over Raquel.  She's a wonderful lady.  Raquel was a fine actress, but she was just too sophisticated for the role.

So what's in store?  What are some things you're working on now?

Well, we're planning some reality shows that I bet you'll like... (Sherwood has asked that I not publish them here, as they're in development, but they sound pretty cool!)

Well thanks for answering all of my questions and your time!

Thanks to you, too, have a good weekend.


Sherwood also made me feel a bit more geeky by mentioning, "you sure do know an awful lot about this show!"  I confessed that I'd been a lifelong Brady Bunch fan and had mentioned that I've easily seen each episode at least 3-4 times.  He admitted that fans often know more about the show than he does, but I sure didn't notice that.

-Robert Berry
webmaster@retrocrush.com

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