“Here’s the story of a lovely lady …”
If you’ve heard the theme song, you know the premise—or you think you do. A lovely lady with three very lovely girls meets and marries a man named Brady who had three boys of his own. That’s the way they became the blandly blended suburban family in the tic-tac-toe square at the end of the opening credits. They had a genial housekeeper named Alice whose face filled the center square, though she didn’t rate a mention in the song.
Every day after school I’d step off the school bus and let myself into our empty house. I’d smear peanut butter on some crackers and glance at the conspiracy-filled stories in the afternoon paper—Watergate, the Mafia working with the CIA against Castro, new evidence about who shot JFK.
Mom’s rule was clear: No TV until my homework was all done. Of course, I broke that rule every day. The TV’s blare filled up that quiet house, making me feel less alone. I’d race through my assignments during the commercials. One of the shows I often watched, broadcast in syndication, was the blandest sitcom ever conceived, The Brady Bunch. I came to know that earworm theme song by heart.
But after a while a question occurred to me: How did Mike and Carol hook up?
The show conveniently skips over that question. You never learn what happened to Mike’s first wife or Carol’s first husband. The kids never mention their original mother or father. The kids’ grandparents never visit after the wedding. Only once, in the series’ pilot, did anyone display a photo of one of the missing parents.
Clearly, something had happened to these two families that was so traumatic no one dared to bring it up. But what? Nuclear meltdown? Alien abduction? Evil clown attack?
One day, while watching another channel’s afternoon movie—the Alfred Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train—suddenly I saw, with a startling clarity, the answer to my mystery: Mike murdered Carol’s husband and Carol killed Mike’s wife. It was a crisscross killing.
No one would suspect a thing. Each lover would have an alibi for their spouse’s death. Then, when the heat died down, they could marry and move in together.
That’s really the way they became the Brady Bunch.
How did they do it? I had my suspicions: As an architect, Mike knew how to weaken a balcony railing or sabotage a staircase, making Carol’s husband’s death look like an accident. How did Carol off Mike’s wife? A phony mugging outside Sam’s meat market, perhaps. Given Carol’s size, maybe she got an assist from Alice. That woman knew how to handle a knife.
You might ask, “Why not just divorce their spouses?” But these were the dark ages of the 1970s. Divorce still carried a stigma. It would have ruined Mike professionally. That minx Carol wouldn’t have been welcomed by the PTA crowd. Another motive for murder occurred to me: How do you support six kids, two adults, and a housekeeper on one salary? You collect the insurance on two dead spouses, that’s how.
Knowing what I now knew, I spotted things I hadn’t noticed before. Mike was clearly a man desperate to hide a secret, one that apparently curled his hair. Carol displayed a nervousness that lent a certain hesitation to her manner. Because of my secret knowledge, the show took on an edge it hadn’t had before. The once-tame laugh lines now carried a darker tone, even in the silliest dialogue about Davy Jones and Marcia’s nose.
In those pre-internet days, I had no outlet on which to announce my theories. If I told my parents, they’d say I was watching too much TV. My pals at school would look at me as if I had grown a third arm. So I brooded on it, alone, as the show became a pop culture phenomenon, the subject of several revivals, even two feature films. By then, I had moved on—or thought I had.
Whenever I heard that song, it would all come flooding back. It happened again the other day. This time, I checked Google. A year before she died, Florence Henderson, who played Carol, was asked in an interview what happened to that lovely lady’s first spouse.
“I killed my husband,” she said. “I was the original Black Widow.”
The interviewer thought she was joking. I knew better. I’d known all along. It had been much more than a hunch.