Life and career
An only child, Reed was born in the northeast Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Illinois. His parents were Helen (née Teaverbaugh) and John Robert Rietz, Sr. His parents were high school sweethearts, having been married since they were eighteen.
Growing up in the midst of the depression, this era wasn't the right time for his parents to have a big family. His father worked in the government, his mother was a housewife. Reed spent much of his childhood in Muskogee, Oklahoma as well as Navasota, Texas and later studied Shakespeare in college. After entering Muskogee, his father, John Sr., decided to work as a turkey farmer, raising 200 turkeys annually. Despite his father's new job, John Jr. didn't have any interest in turkeys nor farming.
In his youth, he joined the 4-H agricultural club and showed calves, but he was more interested in acting and music. While attending Central High School in Muskogee, he participated in both activities. He was also a handsome, popular student in high school. He and his other classmates hung out at the ice cream parlor, but it was John Jr., who also went to the stage, where he performed and sang. During breaks, he also put on plays himself, practicing all night long.
John Jr. knew he was going to make it and was very serious about becoming an actor. He appeared in every school play and landed the majority of lead roles. He was also a consummate professional, who demanded the same of his teen peers. In his junior year, he took a radio and speech class. His charming delivery led him to a job as the city's radio disc jockey, reading news and commercials. John Jr. graduated from Central in 1950, his drama teacher told him the next step in his theatre training should be at Northwestern.
John also wanted to attend the same university, with a major in theater; however, his parents had other plans for him. They wanted him to either study law or any other profession in college. But he took acting classes anyways, choosing to be an actor.
At Northwestern University Robert was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and later transferred to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, England. During his years Northwestern, he appeared in several plays under the direction of Alvine Krause, a celebrated Northwestern drama coach.
He also appeared in Summer Stock in Mere, Pennsylvania. John performed in more than eight plays in college all with leading roles and mastered Shakespeare as well. He practiced his skills for a camera while revealing a rarely seen, comical side.
While he was working hard in college, he was keeping a private secret. He would not reveal that he was gay (especially to his best friend, Tam Spiva). Despite his sexual orientation, he was dating a woman.
When he became an actor, he adopted the stage name Robert Reed.
Well-known character actor
Reed made his first guest-starring appearance in an episode of Father Knows Best, a role which led him to co-star in The Defenders. The part also led to other roles such as: Men into Space, Family Affair, Ironside, The Mod Squad, Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre, Lawman, four episodes of Love, American Style, Chase, Harry O, McCloud, Jigsaw John, The Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Crazy Like a Fox, The Paper Chase, among many others.
He first gained fame in the early 1960s for starring along with E. G. Marshall in the television drama series The Defenders from 1961 to 1965. He also appeared in the 1968 film Star! Reed's co-star in the series was Marshall, one of the founding members of The Actors Studio in New York City; it was around this time that Reed himself became a member of the Studio.
The Brady Bunch
A play, Barefoot in the Park led him to two new contracts, at Paramount Studios and ABC, both in 1968. The minute that studio had lost interest in the series, they planned for Reed to star in something else. Originally titled, The Bradley Bunch, the show would feature a widowed man, who had three kids from a previous marriage, marrying a divorcee, also with three kids from a previous marriage. According to former Gilligan's Island creator Sherwood Schwartz, he said about the show's plan for six kids to create a well-blended family: "I read a small item in the Los Angeles Times. It said that that year, twenty-nine percent of all marriages had a previous spouse with a child or children from that other marriage. It was a social phenomenon that was occurring, and I said, 'I could take advantage of that.'"
Reed was actually the producers' second choice for the role of Mike Brady; after Gene Hackman was rejected, because he was too unfamiliar at the time. Also starring on The Brady Bunch was a popular singer/unknown actress Florence Henderson, who played the role of Mike's wife Carol Brady; after her best friend Shirley Jones turned down that role, in favor of another sitcom, The Partridge Family, which debuted the year later, also on ABC. Also cast on the show was the only familiar actress Ann B. Davis, as the maid, Alice Nelson, along with a half-dozen unknown stars such as: Maureen McCormick as the oldest girl in the family, Marcia Brady, Eve Plumb as the center girl in the family, Jan Brady, Susan Olsen as the youngest girl in the family, Cindy Brady, Barry Williams as the oldest boy in the family, Greg Brady, Christopher Knight as the center boy in the family, Peter Brady and Mike Lookinland as the youngest boy in the family, Bobby Brady. Despite Bob's temper tantrums both on and off the set, the entire cast got along well with him, especially Olsen, who became best friends with her TV father's real-life daughter, who in turn made a guest appearance on the show. Despite of her friendship with Reed's daughter, there was no father and daughter connection until Caroline became an adult.
However, unlike The Defenders, his show would be a lighthearted comedy. He also read the script and thought it would be too silly for any network to be interested. He wanted extra material. However, he was happy to star in the pilot, despite his better judgment; however, he did the exact opposite. Despite not being a Top 30 show during its five season run, which competed against two highly-rated TV series, The High Chaparral for two seasons (1969–1971) and Sanford and Son for three and a half seasons (1972-1974), The Brady Bunch was obviously an audience favorite show of the 1970s, and appeared on dozens of magazines. It was one of six series to be canceled in 1974 (along with other ABC shows such as Room 222, The F.B.I., The Partridge Family, Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, and Here's Lucy), after five seasons, and 117 episodes, due to low ratings. However, the show had continued to enjoy its success in strong syndication, including TV Land.
From the beginning of The Brady Bunch, Reed was unhappy with his role of Mike Brady. He felt that acting in the often silly sitcom was beneath his serious Shakespearean training. Despite his discontent with the show, by most accounts, he genuinely liked his co-stars and was a beloved father figure to the younger cast members. In his efforts to bring more realism to the show, Reed often locked horns with the show's creator and executive producer, Sherwood Schwartz. Reed presented Schwartz with frequent, usually hand-written memorandums detailing why a certain character's motivation did not make sense, and/or why it was wrong for a certain episode to combine elements of different styles, such as farce and satire.
Each and every one of his Brady Bunch stars knew he was gay, despite seeing him in the company of young ladies. Nobody talked about the homosexuality issue, especially not Reed himself. By all accounts, he didn't have a long-term relationship with a man. His desire of keeping his homosexuality a secret had heightened the attention on the set of The Brady Bunch. In the 1970s, it was absolutely common for actors to keep their homosexuality a secret.
Reed was particularly appalled by "The Hair-Brained Scheme", the fifth season finale. He sent Schwartz a memo picking apart the episode, but Schwartz did not receive the memo promptly enough to change the show as Reed wanted. As a result, the disgusted Reed told Schwartz they'd have to do the episode without him, which they did, changing the shooting schedule and giving Mike Brady's lines to other characters. As a result Schwartz fired him from the series — which turned out not to make a difference because The Brady Bunch was canceled after that.
Reed reprised the role of Mike Brady in the variety show The Brady Bunch Hour, as well as The Brady Brides, several made-for-TV Brady movies, and another series that followed, The Bradys.
During the run of The Brady Bunch, Reed also had a recurring role as Lieutenant Adam Tobias on the television drama Mannix from 1967 to 1975.
After The Brady Bunch
After the end of The Brady Bunch in 1974, Reed acted on the stage and made many guest star appearances on other television shows and television movies, including Pray for the Wildcats and SST: Death Flight. He won critical acclaim for his portrayal of a doctor who wants to undergo a sex change operation in a two-part episode of Medical Center in 1975. Reed also appeared in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. He also guest starred on Wonder Woman, playing the Falcon. Other notable guest appearances include: Hawaii Five-O, Charlie's Angels, Galactica 1980, Vega$, and Murder, She Wrote for at least three appearances. Reed played the regular role of Dr. Adam Rose on the critically acclaimed (though short-lived) hospital drama Nurse during the 1981–1982 television season.
His hobbies included animals, fishing, photography, traveling, Shakespearean poetry, swimming, collecting clothes, dining, cooking and gardening.
Reed was married to Marilyn Rosenberg (1954–1959). The couple had one daughter, Karen Rietz, who was born in 1956. Karen had a small role in an episode of The Brady Bunch entitled "The Slumber Caper".
Reed felt that his career required him to be secretive about his homosexuality. Nonetheless, most of the Brady Bunch cast members knew of his sexual orientation, and expressed outrage at the media's exploitation of it after his death, most notably Barry Williams.
At the end of the third year of The Brady Bunch in 1972, Reed took his own real-life family, his parents, along with their own on-screen Brady Bunch family to vacations in New York City and London, England. In New York, he introduced the young actors to Broadway, then, they headed on a cruise to England where his family and Brady Bunch co-stars visited most of Reed's spots.
His co-stars were each given cameras that were purchased by him, to take pictures of all the exciting things. He enjoyed a lot of time spending with his on-screen kids, when he rarely had the time to spend with his real-life daughter, Karen.
But years after the divorce, Marilyn moved back to Chicago, where she got remarried. He even allowed Karen to be adopted by her stepfather.
He purchased a home in Pasadena, California, with the money he made from The Brady Bunch, and invited his parents to live with him.
His father, John Rietz, Sr., died in 1975; his mother continued to live with her son, despite her husband's death, where she served as a hostess. The two got along well with each other. Just before his death, when Reed's relationship with his mother diminished, she moved back to Oklahoma.
Reed was very close friends with actress Anne Haney, best known for her portrayal of social worker Mrs. Sellner in Mrs. Doubtfire and on the sitcom Mama's Family as Alberta Mitchem. She was the one who informed his daughter of his homosexuality and his battle with AIDS. She often got his HIV medication for him under a pseudonym to protect his private life.
Reed died on 12 May 1992, in Pasadena, California, after a six month battle with colon cancer and lymphoma; he tested HIV positive the previous year, but did not have AIDS at the time of his death as has been reported in the media. He was cremated and his ashes are interred in Memorial Park Cemetery, Skokie, Illinois next to his grandparents, Harvey and Elizabeth Rietz, and an uncle who died in childhood.
Joined by many mourners at a private memorial were the cast of The Brady Bunch, and his best friends Anne Haney and E.G. Marshall. Both his mother, Helen and daughter, Karen, refused to attend his memorial.
- In one of his final interviews, Reed revealed that he actually detested The Brady Bunch and that his role as Mike Brady embarrassed him.
- In 1985, Reed sold the house on South Arroyo St. in Pasadena, California and bought a Spanish-style house on Stoneridge Ave.
- When Reed became ill, the fact that he'd had a stage name allowed him some privacy in his treatment. His prescriptions were filled under his real name Rietz, and the media never knew.
- Reed confided in Florence Henderson about his feud with his own mother, just several months before his death.
- His acting mentor was E.G. Marshall.
- The epitaph on Reed's tombstone reads: "Good Night, Sweet Prince." This quote is taken from the final line of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.
- A year before his death, Reed was a college teacher.
- ↑ "Robert Reed, Actor Who Gained Fame As Patriarch Of `The Brady Bunch'". seattletimes.nwsource.com. 1992-05-14. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920514&slug=1491720. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
- ↑ Folkart, Burt A.: "Robert Reed, TV's 'Brady Bunch' Dad, Dies at 59". The Daytona Beach News-Journal. May 14, 1992. "."
- ↑ Wilson, Earl: "Robert Reed: He's Just an Okie, But He Reeks of Chic--Cattle and All". The St. Petersburg Times. September 18, 1963.