- Walter Novak
- Acting out: Hell hath no fury like a Brady Bunch generation scorned.
Remember that Brady Bunch episode where Greg sells his soul to the devil in exchange for a trunk full of gold? His sister Cindy eavesdrops on the transaction and tells on him. Fearing his folks might send him to his room, a remorseful Greg promises never to bargain with Beelzebub again. But it turns out -- Mom and Dad aren't mad! Being doomed to a lifelong lack of character is punishment enough, they decide. Plus, Greg's underworld connections help Mr. Brady's architecture firm get the big contract to redesign the seventh level of hell.
Barry Williams, the graying actor best known as wholesome teen Greg Brady, doesn't remember that episode either. But something like it took place last week, on the sidewalk in front of Playhouse Square, where Williams was starring in The Sound of Music as Captain Von Trapp, a man of moral fiber who relinquishes all his worldly goods rather than join the Nazis.
Several months ago, Williams showed that his moral fiber was made of Froot Loops when he resigned from the Actors Equity union to star in a non-union tour of the play. For that reason, he was welcomed to Cleveland by a merry band of carolers from local unions, carrying signs that read "Greg Brady Is a Scab."
"Guaranteed wages, full compensation," they sang, to the tune of "My Favorite Things." "Holidays, sick days, and oh yes -- a pension."
Squeaky-clean Greg Brady, all grown up as greed's vassal? It's enough to curl Alice's hair without rollers.
"We're very upset with Barry. I wonder where his conscience lies," remarked union spokesman David Lotz, who flew in from New York to lead the Cleveland contingent. "He's making between 10 and 15 thousand a week, while his fellow actors are making bupkis" -- about a third of union actors' wages, plus no benefits or living stipend when they're on the road.
Troika Productions, the tour company, carries the anti-union banner with pride, fancying itself as a hero in the war against the commie status quo: "Located in Washington, D.C., and well outside the New York mainstream, [Troika] prides itself on thinking 'outside the apple,'" brags the show's playbill. Apparently, charging Broadway-tour ticket prices but not paying Broadway-tour wages is independent thinking in action.
After all, Williams isn't getting his pancake makeup mussed over the idea that the play's little Gretls, Kurts, and Liesls aren't being treated as well as he was in his union-protected days as a child star.
"I don't know much about unions," snaps Marcia's brother, who belonged to the union for 30 years. (He inherited the baronship after Troika's original lead, Corbin Bernsen of L.A. Law fame, backed out for want of a union contract.) "It's just not my thing. I'm an actor, and I like to act.
"Everybody in this company is thrilled to be doing this show. People tell me that this is the best part of their day. They love coming to work, they love the family they have. There's no bitterness, no dissension. We love doing what we do, and we pull together to do it."
They might be even more thrilled getting $1,200 per week instead of $400. According to Lotz, Williams is "the most prominent star that's decided to go [the scab] route. If Barry had held the line, we may have been able to get a contract with Troika. It's happened before."
But the Gregster's memory seems to be particularly short. "When he was a kid, he was working on a union show, getting union wages," says Cleveland actress Cathy Albers, clutching a placard and yelling over the drone of a nearby construction crew. "The union financed his education. Everybody was taking care of him, and that's why he is where he is today, And he's denying that to these young people. I think it's criminal."
Encountering the lusty throng, the night's theatergoers seem mildly piqued. Not by Barry milking the cash cow at the expense of his peers, but because people are picking on Greg Brady. A few cast appalled looks, others shake their heads and refuse fliers. When a full school bus pulls away from the curb rather than unload in front of a team of rabid handbill hander-outers, the leafletters take it in stride.
They have celebrity on their side, too -- Al Kirk, looking smoooooth in tan fedora, trench coat, and shaded glasses. A Clevelander with a voice like buttah, Kirk played Sims in the original Shaft. "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" sounds impossibly suggestive in that baritone, as do his declarations about Greg Brady being a two-timing hypocrite. Even drowned out by the road crew, he gets the point across.
Nearby, actress Sheila E. Maloney isn't about to be adopted into the Brady fold. "I'm sure Hitler was worse," she intones darkly of Williams. Then: "In the grand scheme of things, there are worse people. He has to live with himself. I don't. Oh, we're singing."
If Williams doesn't want to hear the unions' gripe, perhaps he could talk to the sign-bearers as fellow thespians and maybe pick up some singing and acting pointers. Because as The Sound of Music's gruff but tender baron, he's as animated as an ice sculpture. Make that fatherly grin any more frozen, and by the time the tour hits Carson City, Maria will be handing out Popsicles, not dresses made from drapes.
His fellow cast members manage to work around him, though. They genuinely seem to love the greasepaint, even though they're being exploited. Too bad their youthful enthusiasm hasn't rubbed off on the guy who sold them down the river so they could have the privilege of working with him.
Done by Williams, the Baron would have been better off marrying the cardboard vixen Frau Schrader and marching off with the Nazis. It would have spared Maria a lifetime spent with a guileless ingrate. Or worse, a Brady whose head is so big, it no longer fits in its assigned box on the TV family's tic-tac-toe board.