Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
TV URBAN LEGEND: Barry Williams dated his TV mother Florence Henderson.
When The Brady Bunch originally aired from 1969 to 1974, the half-hour comedy about a man with three sons who marries a woman with three daughters was far from a major success. It never finished in the Top 30 in the Nielsen ratings and was never nominated for any notable critical awards. It was, however, popular enough to make it through five seasons, which gave the show enough episodes (117) to meet the then-minimum threshold for successful syndication. (For years, 100 episodes was the figure a series generally had to hit to be successful in syndication. Nowadays it’s 88.) It was while in syndication that the show became a cultural sensation, leading to numerous spinoffs, reunions, revivals and reboots. The seemingly perfect Bradys have become cultural icons and as such, any possible salaciousness involving the cast is latched onto with glee. Hence, the legend that Barry Williams, who played eldest son Greg Brady, dated Florence Henderson, who portrayed his TV mother Carol Brady.
Is it true?
The truth ostensibly turns on what you define as a “date,” but I think it simpler still to just give it an outright no.
The story gained popularity in 1992 when Barry Williams released his hit autobiography Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg. In the book, Williams told stories about life off-screen, most notably being his romance with co-star Maureen McCormick (who played the eldest daughter Marcia Brady), conflicts between star Robert Reed (who played father Mike Brady) and creator Sherwood Schwartz (Reed constantly strove to make the show better than what it was) and, of course, Williams’ infatuation with Henderson.
Williams wrote about going on a date with the much-older Henderson, a tidbit that alone made Growing Up Brady a major success when it was released 21 ago. We all love to think the worst of our TV stars, especially when they’re involved in “innocent” sitcoms. That’s is why there are urban legends involving stars from Family Matters and Leave It to Beaver doing adult films (click here for the truth about Judy from Family Matters and here for the truth about Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver), and I’m sure many other urban legends I haven’t featured yet.
In this case, though, it sure seems like it’s the case of exaggeration to the point of simple falsehood. Williams writes in his book about their “date,” which happened during the show’s second season, when he was 15 (going on 16, as it were) and Henderson was 36.
When those little things called hormones start kicking in, you get excited by even inanimate objects. It wasn’t that I sought to bed her. I just wanted to spend time with her.
The two had dinner together. Williams’ older brother had to drive them, as Barry couldn’t yet drive.
Obviously, the most contact they had was when Henderson (who was married at the time with four kids; she would fly from Los Angeles to New York on weekends to spend time with her family) gave him a peck on the cheek at the end of the night.
It was flattering that she gave me any attention at all.
So what was clearly an example of a nice lady humoring her young co-star instead gets turned into “Greg Brady is dating Carol Brady!”
Henderson herself addresses the issue on the FAQ page of her website, noting:
That whole thing with Barry got blown way out of proportion. I guess in a sense it was a date, because Barry thought it was. But of course, I had no idea that his intentions were to “date” me. It has made for a good story though!
Clearly, however, Williams didn’t really think it was a date, even if he offered it up as much in his book (he titled the chapter “Dating Your Mom”). It just sounds better that way when you’re selling books. In 2011, when Henderson released her own autobiography, she revealed she had had a one-night stand with New York City Mayor John Lindsay in the 1960s (she contracted pubic lice from the politician), so she is certainly no stranger to leading with the salacious.
Luckily, Henderson took Williams’ book in good fun (as she has noted on more than one occasion, you only need to actually read the book to see the truth), and the two remain good friends to this day (Williams even appeared with Henderson when she competed on Dancing With the Stars).
The legend is …
STATUS: False (Unless Your Definition of “Date” Is Extremely Loose)
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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!