Monday, August 10, 2015

And That’s The Way I Tracked Down The Brady House

This is the text to my video story about how I found the Brady Bunch House in 1986 before there was an Internet. 

Hey, my name is Fred, and I just wanted to tell you how I searched for and found the Brady Bunch house back in 1986. It’s easy to find the address and location of the house nowadays via the Internet, but back then, it was a much more challenging proposition. A quick search on the Internet will indicate that the house sits on Dilling Street in the very southeastern part of North Hollywood, considered a part of Studio City by some nowadays, between the major streets of Tujunga and Vineland Avenues. 

I started looking for the house during my junior year at U.S.C. During the afternoons between my studies, I would turn on the local Los Angeles television stations and watch Brady Bunch episodes in syndication.  There was one station that played two episodes back to back, and another station, I think on cable that played one episode per afternoon.  So really, each day, one could watch three episodes if one was so moved. And at some point, I even taped and logged all one hundred and seventeen episodes.  I also got a hold of a series episode list, some Brady Bunch scripts, and a few publicity glossies of the show from one of the old Hollywood collectors bookstores.  In fact, I think it was called, “Cinema Collectors,” located on Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood. 

The show harkened me back to my childhood, when from my house in the Hollywood Hills, I used to watch it, along with the Partridge Family, on Friday nights was it?  I looked forward to sitting with my parents each week to see what was up with the Brady household since we didn’t have a lot of drama in our own household.  In 1975, with the series now completed, my family moved from the hills above Mulholland down to Studio City, where the new neighborhood really smacked of the life that the Brady’s lead, and for good reason, which I will explain in just a little bit. 


In 1986, I was also coming off of the great personal satisfaction of having found my full blooded natural sister after a six month search for her; a sister I had until then never met.  So, with that search having ended, and having gained some confidence in being able to find people and things, while I was still in the mood to find things, I set out to locate the Brady Bunch house.   A strange life segue, I realize, but I always tended to keep myself busy with personal projects. 

The other attraction of the show, which I think that most people felt in the early 1970’s, is that I really loved the Brady Bunch as a sort of model family.  The combination of Sherwood Schwartz’s feel for humor in the show mixed undoubtedly with Robert Reed’s continual push to have ethical lessons taught, made the whole thing both fun and realistic to me.  I know I’m not alone in this feeling because of other people’s reactions to the show, even years after it was off the air.  Well, has it EVER REALLY been off the air?

But as I alluded to, I felt that I had an extra connection with the show because of where I lived from 1975 and onwards.  There is an area in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles, just south of Ventura Boulevard and between Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Corbin Avenue, which comprises a slice of Studio City, all of Sherman Oaks and Encino, and most of Tarzana, that has various sorts of California styled houses that are on flat, often rural looking streets leading up to the Santa Monica Mountains.  This strip of neighborhoods feel just like a place in which the Brady Bunch house should lie. 

There were several episodes where the Brady kids rode bikes, knocked on doors, and jogged in and around, streets that looked like the areas around my house.  There was also the fact that the show had used my school, Dixie Canyon Elementary, in one of the episodes as a scene setting shot. So I was convinced that I could, with some effort, locate the Brady Bunch house. And let me say in full appreciation that I know that every other person watching the show around the country felt that the family could have been in their neighborhood.  I totally understand that.  But I really felt in my heart that the house had to be in my local hood somewhere.

While at U.S.C., I had a good friend who I grew up with a friend who was by then attending U.C.L.A., and he also felt a certain kinship with the show through similar childhood experiences.  We used to appreciate the opening and ending titles of the show, along with Frank DeVol’s scoring of the episodes; you know, that music that was supposed to sound like rock or popular music, but was really arranged and orchestrated by a composer who was from another era.  If you get a chance, listen to when Alice’s cousin takes over and has the family all doing chores.  The scoring in that episode is the quintessential Frank Devol touch that made the music so great, and laughable at the same time.  Therefore, with my friend’s equal appreciation of the show and it’s various campy qualities, I had an accomplice in this mission of finding the house. 

So we drove around a little bit, trying to use the topography of the hills behind the house in the show as a reference of some kind. The Brady house looked like it was on a street nestled just in front of one of the hillside shoulders.  I always had imagined, from looking at how the sun hit the house on the crane shots of the show, that it was on a north-south running street with the front of the house facing west.  That would mean that the hills behind it were one of the many extensions of the Santa Monica Mountains that extended north towards Ventura Blvd, creating open, flat land on which several flat streets would have been laid.

Of the various other visual references I used from the show were the street signs, that is, the color and shape of them since streets names were difficult if not impossible to make out on pre-high definition sets.  They were definitely City of Los Angeles street signs, which are navy blue and shaped like a long flag with a tapered bottom.  Another reference was the model type the street lights on the streets around the house.  They were made of concrete pillars with a large, upside down pare shaped bulb, and a horizontal octagon design in the neck of the street post. Very classic Los Angeles looking street lamps.  I realized by looking around Los Angeles that these street lights and posts were used for the older sections of Los Angels, including most of Sherman Oaks, Studio City, North Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Hancock Park.  It didn’t narrow my search down much, but it did tell me if I strayed too far out of the older San Fernando Valley areas and into slightly newer developments. 

I ended up driving around more than my friend on my off time, and I kid you not, I logged about 80 miles driving the neighborhoods and hills south of Ventura Blvd, starting at Coldwater Canyon all the way west to Corbin Avenue in Tarzana.  I did it over about several weeks, but I just could not find the house.  It really stumped me. 

I decided that it was time to ask someone who might have specific knowledge of where the house was, and through the Hollywood Creative Directory, which was an entertainment business reference phone book of sorts, I wrote Florence Henderson through her manager who was listed in the source book.  Just a couple of weeks later, I received a greeting card-sized envelope in the mail.  When I opened it, I saw that it was a stationary note card with Florence Henderson’s header on it.  And in handwriting, all it said on the card was, “Sherman Oaks.”  It kind of made me laugh. I think she had done that to reduce any liability of sending out information about the show’s details or whatever.  And while I appreciated her having sent it to me, it wasn’t of much help.

But at the time, it was a verification for me of where I thought that house had been all along, so I kept looking, driving any nooks and crannies that I thought I had missed on my off time. I must have being doing this for a couple of months when I had the idea of going into a realty company.  There was a brokerage on Ventura and Dixie Canyon, just by my house, and just up from my elementary school that I mentioned earlier. 

I went inside and asked a guy, “Hey, do you know by any chance where they shot the exteriors of the Brady Bunch house?”  He said he didn’t, but that he thought there was an agent in his office that might know.  After waiting just a minute or two in their reception area, a young woman entered and greeted me.  After asking her the same question, she said, “Oh yeah, I know it well.  It’s on the street that I live on.”  After a target-fixated pause, I said, “Are you serious!?!”  And I thought to myself, “This is either going to be a cruel joke on me, or I’m about to be very happy.”  She wrote down the address on a piece of paper and handed it to me, and I looked at it, somewhat surprised, not recognizing the street name at all. 

I went to my car, pulled out my Thomas Guide, and I looked on a map of where this street, “Dilling,” was located. The street ran along the very southeastern corner of North Hollywood. Furthermore, the house, if this woman was correct, sat north of Ventura Boulevard, and north of the Los Angeles River.  And it was two and a quarter miles away from the most eastern portion of the perimeter in which I had been searching. My gut had been off on the whole thing simply because would never have thought that given the apparent close proximity of the house to the hills on the show, that there could be the huge boulevard AND the very wide Los Angeles River between the two.  “But okay, let’s see,” I thought to myself, trying to contain my excitement. 

I jumped in my car, drove home and grabbed my video camera, and then headed to the address indicated on the piece of paper that the woman had given to me.  Now, I just have to take a minute or two to describe my video camera that I had back then.  This is a photo of the model here.  I bought it for a few bucks from the Recycler Newspaper from a guy who lived in the Mt. Olympus area of Hollywood just off of Laurel Canyon.  And the whole assembly was HUGE!!!  It was a tuner, a battery pack, VHS recorder, and the camera itself.  The tuner, which is the unit on the bottom, would stay at home plugged into the cable television system.  But to videotape anything, I had to lug around the giant camera and battery back.  I wore an actual hiking styled backpack to carry the battery pack and recorder around in, even though the battery pack had a laughably uncomfortable handle for carrying attached to it, which you can see folded down on the top unit in the photo. I would walk around video taping feeling the burden of an astronaut wearing his heavy oxygen pack. 

What’s more, the video plug that went from the camera into the battery pack- VHS tape recorder was missing a blue sensor pin when I got it from the guy who sold it to me.  I was willing to live with it because it was at least something that I could record with at an inexpensive price. But the result of missing that pin was that everything in the videos tended to turn out green or red, depending on the time of day.  Oh well.  None of my other friends had a video camera. 

So anyways, I arrived at the house via a street that T-bones almost directly into the house, called, Klump Street.  Of all of the ways I could have arrived at the address, two other ways to be exact, this was the perfect way for me to see the house for the first time, because the hills were directly behind it, just like they were in the show, verifying it’s authenticity.  I just couldn’t believe that after all of that time of looking for the house, I was approaching it. I could see the A-Frame, and I could see the rest of the familiar house extending to the right. It was glorious I tell you! 

I pulled my car over to the curb well before the intersection where the house sits and got my video camera out and hit record as I stumbled down the sidewalk toward the Brady Bunch house. 

The original sound on the videotape was very funny because I was absolutely ecstatic, and upon replaying later, one could hear it distinctly on the video.  I sounded manic and almost hyperventilating. This is the video that you are seeing right now.  However, at some point after I made it, I dubbed the Grand Canyon mule scoring onto it, which the apparatus allowed me to do back then. I think that I was later a bit embarrassed by how excited I had sounded on the tape and had just wanted to remove the sound.  Too bad. I would get a hoot out of it nowadays. 

My friend wasn’t home that day when I found it, but he would soon be at his house in the afternoon.  I left a message with his parents and then lay in wait.  When he got home, I calmly told him I had something I wanted to run by him.  I got to his house and hooked up my VHS recorder to his family television and then played him the videotape.  He freaked out!  He was like, “What!!! You found it???  Where is it???  I have to know!!!”  I took my time describing the house and how I had found it and waited for maybe ten minutes stalling from telling him the location because it was fun to have that margin of time in which I knew the location, but to him, the house was still in some Shangri La dreamland.  It was really a hilarious few moments that transpired in there. 

I went back a few days later and took a few still photographs of me in front of the house, two of which you see here, where I am sitting on the sidewalk in front of the house.  What’s nicely visible in these photos is how the walkway is designed with a kind of jig-jagged edge. The next time you see the crane shot from the show, you’ll notice how the walkway has these features. I was using Fuji Film at that time, so the photographs have a sort of green tint to them, which was typical of that type of film. 

To get back to the issue with regards to the location of the house, it took some getting used to for me.  Because, as it turned out, it really wasn’t in that band of neighborhoods that I had expected it to be in.  It’s in a fine, family neighborhood, but while it’s Sherman Oaks’y in a visual sense, it’s not in Sherman Oaks, south of Valley Vista, where I thought it would be.  And, guess what; Florence Henderson had even been wrong! But that’s what I mean. Even she, who probably never needed to do an exterior shot there, also had the feeling that it was in Sherman Oaks. 

But there are other reasons for my assumptions.  The wedding episode, which is the pilot episode, in 1969, was shot at a house on the northwest corner of Valley Vista and Longridge Avenue.  This is the same house, I believe, that they used as a scene setting shot for the house that Millicent lived in when Bobby kissed her and got the mumps.  The backyard of the mumps episodes was studio shot, but if I recall correctly, the front of the house was used to show Millicent’s neighborhood. 

And…in the wedding pilot episode, when Mike and the boys, along with tiger hanging out of the convertible, are headed towards the wedding, they pass the house that I grew up in on Ethel Avenue, north of Longridge Avenue and south of Valley Vista Boulevard.  The funny story about this is that for years I hadn’t seen this scene of them all packed in the car because in the syndicated packages of episodes that the local Los Angeles television stations played, as often happens, they removed some scenes to fit in more commercials.  They do that with Seinfeld episodes all the time even now.  I went to the Beverly Hills Museum of Television and Radio where I just happened to watch the uncut pilot episode while I was there.  And I saw this scene and freaked out recognizing that it was my street.  The two tall trees sat on my houses property, and on the property of the house across the street from us.  So it was funny in a way that I had been looking for the Brady Bunch house all that time, and it turned out that they shot a scene from the pilot in front of my own house. 

Another funny happenstance is that during the years before I started at Dixie Canyon Elementary, which was fifth grade for me, I had gone to a private school in North Hollywood called, Oakwood School.  I attended there from kindergarten to fourth grade, so from 1970 to 1974 (see how it’s easy for me to remember the grades that I attended by the year?). And guess where Oakwood School sat?  On Moorpark Street at the north end of the neighborhood in which the Brady Bunch house sits.  So, for five of the six years that the Brady Bunch was on the air, I was attending Oakwood School where just a few streets away from the swings I would play on and would sing the “H.R. Puff N’ Stuff and “Lidsville” themes during my lunchtimes, the Brady Bunch house sat in it’s suburban splendor.  Kind of funny, I think. 

But in reality, the show did exterior shoots and pick-ups all over the city including areas such as Hancock Park and Hollywood; not just in Sherman Oaks.  There is a great website that shows where shots were done.

And there are also great Brady Bunch Blogs as well.

Oakwood was a school full of future stars and children of stars.  I went to school with Bridgette Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the Redgrave children for a semester. There was Noah Blake, son of Robert Blake, Devin Lesser, who was the son of Jacqueline Scott (Bonanza, Gun Smoke, and Steven Spielberg’s, “Duel”).  There was the daughter of Claudette Nevins, one of Richard Basehart’s kin, and among several more, there was my classmate, Jenny Berry.  Her father is Ken Berry and her mother is Jackie Joseph.  Both Ken and Jackie were in an episode of the Brady Bunch with the three neighborhood boys who were adopted.  Ken played the adopting father, and Jackie played the adoption social worker. 

An interesting aspect about the shooting of the house for the exterior shots was that to make the house look like it could be a two story house, which it is definitely not by the way, they hung a window frame under the A-Frame of the house, and they covered the first set of windows to the right of the front door with a matte.  I think they did this latter thing because on the Paramount Studios set of the house, there was no window visible at the front of the living room, where the front door was, and where the bottom of the stairs would point.  At the same time, the driveway and the garage, which is deep inside the property, and the location of the back yard, matches pretty well to the studio set back yard. The only real difference externally was that the real house on Dilling Street’s rear property line is actually set at a diagonal as a result of being pressed up against the contour of the L.A. River, which is moving at an east-northeast angle.  So it’s not a perfectly rectangular lot as a result. So they scouted a house that would work well for the show in that way.

If you are interested, get a hold of a book called, “T.V. Sets” by Mark Bennett.  It’s a really cool book in which he drew the blue prints of a bunch of 1950’s and 1960’s television show interiors, of which the Brady Bunch house, meaning, the studio set, is one.  It’s fun to see how they match your minds eye, or where, for instance, Mike’s architect studio is in the house, or where Alice’s room is in the house, or the kids bedrooms and bathroom.  You should really check that book out. 

Another cool thing that happened to me was that during my last year at U.S.C., my friend Theresa, who was in the film program, started interning at Paramount Studios.  My Brady Bunch friend and I were also big “Family Ties” and Gary David Goldberg fans, and so Theresa offered to get me in to see the show, V.I.P wristbands and all.  So we did. “Sit, Ubu, Sit.  Good Dog! Woof!”  We showed up at Paramount maybe an hour and a half early, and then proceeded to explore the lot.  We happened upon the “Very Brady Christmas” sound stage, which happened to be OPEN!  Everyone was at lunch, or maybe it was a shooting day off or something, and so we walked into the living room of the Brady set.  They had constructed the living room, the kitchen, the patio, and the backyard on in that sound stage.  I remember being perplexed at how I had miscalculated in my mind the angel of the sliding glass doors of the kitchen to the patio and driveway area, correctly re-reckoning it all once I was actually there.   It .....Was….Amazing!!! 

Still not a person was in the sound stage near us, so I went over to the living room stairs and run up and down them, and my friend followed suit.  We just had to.  It was one of those moments in life that one knows will never happen again, no matter even if we had been caught and yelled at.  I mean, how lucky were we that in 1988, they had reconstructed the house at Paramount Studios for us to play in? We also found Sherwood Schwartz’s production trailer that day, walked in, and introduced ourselves as avid fans of his various shows, but especially of the Brady Bunch.  He was small and elderly by then, and was most gracious to us.

Here you can see another photo of me standing in front of the Dilling Street house.  This was in 1997, and by then you can see that the owners added a fence in front of the house because through the years so many people had come by to see the house, and then walked up onto their property to see if the interior matched the studio set.  I’m sure some of those people didn’t even realize that the house was used only for front exteriors. The house has that fence even today. 

I ended up meeting all of the cast at one time or another. I will start chronologically. 

The first cast member I met was Susan Olsen.  My friend and I had read that she was helping her boyfriend’s business of designing and selling decorative sneakers.  We found out where the location was, brought all of our Brady Bunch albums, and then knocked on the warehouse door.  Her boyfriend answered and then called for her.  Susan came to the door, was both surprised and delighted that we had all of these albums some eighteen years after their publication, and then proceeded to sign them.  She was very sweet. 

We then found out that Robert Reed and Florence Henderson were doing a play in Orange County, the name of which escapes me.  But after the performance, both Mr. Reed and Ms. Henderson made themselves available to the audience members who remained, and both my friend and I got to meet them and shake their hands.  I’m so glad I went down there because it was the only time that I got to meet Mr. Reed before his death. 

I later, probably in about the year 2000, went to a book signing of, “Growing Up Brady,” and met Barry Williams.  That was a lot of fun and Mr. Williams was very friendly and easy to talk to.

The last thing, which was the biggest for me, occurred in 2003. I was working at Walt Disney Feature Animation late, as I was wont to do most evenings, when I got an email from our brethren, that Disney had just purchased, the ABC Network.  They had also just built a huge building next to our Feature Animation building; we were all as employees getting warmed up to one-another.  The email that was sent out was from their promotions department and was sent company (Disney) wide.  It said something like, “We have about one hundred tickets leftover for an upcoming, ‘ABC 50th Anniversary Gala,’ which will be held at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater on such and such a date and time. Anyone who is interested, please respond as soon as possible as we will only give out any remaining tickets possible.” 

For once, it paid off that I worked late regularly, while seemingly everyone else went home.  I thought that the event sounded interesting, and so I responded that I wanted two so that I could take my girlfriend.  We went dressed up very nicely, and we had a lot of fun.  There were appearances by the Happy Days cast, Laverne and Shirley, Welcome Back Kotter (I was so excited to see Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta standing with the rest of the cast members on the same stage), and a ton of others, which you can find on IMDB.com.

One of the ABC shows being celebrated was, “The Brady Bunch.”  They were all there with the exception of Robert Reed, of course.  What I didn’t realize would occur was that after the show was completed taping, they had drinks and horderves in the lobby.  My girlfriend, Brenda, and I went out to the lobby and got some refreshments.  The first very surprising thing that happened to us was that Katherine Helmond walked up to Brenda and I, said hello, and then complimented Brenda’s dress that she had picked out for the occasion.  We were both almost speechless that someone of her stature would come talk to both of us, but then I got it together and we three exchanged niceties for a short time.

Then… members of the Brady Bunch started funneling into the lobby.  I was feeling a level of lightheadedness second only to the first time that I met John Entwsitle of The Who, which was huge for me.  First, Florence Henderson and her husband came out.  As they passed by, I said hello to them, and Ms. Henderson stopped and said hello to Brenda and I.  Then next, Ann B. Davis, came out and we met her.  Then we met Susan Olsen, and then Eve Plumb, who for a while didn’t to a lot of Brady Bunch reunion related activities, so I was really grateful to meet Ms. Plumb. Then Barry Williams and Mike Lookinland came out, and we met them.

Then the most amazing set of things happened.  Chris Knight walked out into the lobby, got a drink, and then stood in the lobby near the front doors of the lobby.  That wasn’t the amazing part.  The amazing part was that I felt comfortable, possibly because I felt dressed to the nines, to stroll over to him and start a conversation with Brenda following me over.  I said hello and told him that I enjoyed the show.  He was very friendly and he said that he was glad to see everyone after all of the years that had gone by.  I told him that I had heard that he lived in either Hermosa Beach or Manhattan Beach, and that he had a business that he now ran.  He seemed happy that I knew these details about him and we had a nice discussion. He was very easy to talk to.  My common thing with him was that I ran a lot in these areas of the South Bay for exercise, so I knew his neighborhood well. 

Okay, second amazing thing started to happen.  While Mr. Knight, Brenda and I were talking, his attention seemed to be distracted for a moment.  I realized that he was looking just beyond us to someone he knew who was walking up to him. I turned and saw that it was Maureen McCormick.  I just want to preface the fact that it’s not like I was ever gaga over Maureen McCormick, as much as I enjoyed the show.   I didn’t watch the Brady Bunch when I was a child, imagining any of them as my girlfriend or anything.  But I will just tell you that Ms. McCormick was so spectacularly beautiful walking up to us that again, I was speechless. I think it was a combination of being surprised that she was coming up to our little group, and that she was just glowing is all that I can say. 

Apparently there was an outdoor party across the street from the Pantages after these drinks and hob-knobbing, which Brenda and I unfortunately didn’t have a pass to.  And Maureen simply wanted to know if Chris knew what that was all starting.  But man alive, she was so pretty!  This was one moment of clarity that I recall having while she and Chris Knight were speaking to each other that I suddenly understood just how beautiful a celebrity can be when he or she is really put together for a show.  It would be akin to seeing John Travolta or Brad Pitt in a sharp tuxedo.  And again, I had seen John Travolta in a tuxedo that evening, so I do know of what I speak. 

Chris, Maureen, Brenda and I talked for a few more minutes and Maureen stayed in our little circle with Brenda, just chit-chatting, and then I think that it was announced that the affair across the street would be starting soon.  Everyone slowly began to move out of the Pantages doors to cross Hollywood Boulevard for the after party.

I thought about the idea that because I was invited to the celebration, some of the attendees, such as Katherine Helmond, or Chris Knight, Maureen McCormick or any of the others that we talked to that night, might have thought that I was ‘someone.’  I don’t mean to belittle myself (too much), given that I was a production supervisor at Walt Disney Company, that I was in either a suit or a tuxedo (I can’t recall which), that I had a beautiful lady by my side, and lastly that I am generally an outgoing, friendly person. But any or all of those people we interacted with might have thought that I was some powerful executive, a producer, or maybe a director.  I mean, how would they have known any differently?  We were essentially all in the same clothes.

But in any event, the night ended with me having met every single member of the Brady Bunch, save Mr. Reed, who, again, I had luckily met after a few years earlier.  I mean, how thankful was I?  The answer; very!

Well, I hope that you have enjoyed my long harangue about my finding the Brady House and also of my brushes with the cast. I think it’s obvious that in the subtext of this whole thing that these days, it’s so easy to find information like this on the Internet.  I obviously had to put out great effort back in the day to find the house, but in doing so, I learned a little about the old neighborhoods of Los Angeles as I was referencing what I knew of the show and of the San Fernando Valley.

It’s nice for me to occasionally catch an episode of the Brady Bunch on cable here and there because it now not only reminds me of my younger childhood, but also of a circle that was completed between my time at U.S.C. and working at the Walt Disney Company, during which I was able to find the house, meet the cast members, and validate that pretty much everyone and everything about that show was made of good stuff.  How could they not be? It was, after all, The Brady Bunch.

And, that’s the way I tracked down the Brady House! 

Note to People Who Go See The House:  I just want to remind all ‘yall that this house, as with all other houses that were used in television shows, commercial and films, has real people who live in them and who own the houses, and that anytime you step off of the sidewalk onto their property, that it is straight out trespassing.  So please, when you visit neighborhoods with famous homes such as the Brady Bunch house, please do be respectful of the owners and of their neighbors, which includes not shining your bright car lights onto the house at night. I mean, can you imagine if that were you inside trying to read a book or go to sleep?  Remember, you’ll see the house just once.  The neighbors see lookyloos literally every hour of every day.