By any actor's measure, Barry Williams had Made It: He was starring on Broadway at the theater next door to Sardi's and across from the one playing "Phantom of the Opera." His picture was blown up to 8 feet tall for the poster trumpeting the show.
"I was very proud. I felt I'd arrived," Mr. Williams recalled. "Magazines were coming to do stories on the show. But guess what they all wanted to know about?"
Oh, perhaps something about the lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls? Or the man who was busy with three boys of his own? Or how this group must somehow form a family, and that's the way they all became the Brady Bunch?
To many, thanks to syndication and the endless loop of reruns, Barry Williams remains locked in time as Greg Brady, oldest son of that giddily perfect stepfamily -- a familial unit that, in TV time, fell somewhere after the traditional nuclear family of the '50s but before the dysfunctional groupings of the '90s.
But its enduring popularity -- "Jan Brady" is a recurring character on "Saturday Night Live" and a stage show, "The Real Live Brady Bunch," has been a hit in several cities -- is as mystifying to Mr. Williams as anyone.
"I can only speculate," said Mr. Williams, who spent yesterday in Baltimore on several promotional events. "I think for most people, it's a kind of reminder of a -- to borrow a phrase -- kinder, gentler time in their lives. It's a constant."
Mr. Williams is much more handsome at 37 than photos of his teen-age self would indicate -- but then, whose photos from the '70s, complete with bell bottoms and bushy Afro-like hairstyles, can stand the test of time? He still has those teen-dream green eyes fringed with dark, curly lashes, and he is remarkably serious in demeanor and about the craft of acting.
He realized several years ago that there's simply "no getting around" the overwhelming devotion to the series, which originally ran from 1969 to 1974 and has spawned several reunion specials. So he wrote a book, "Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg," (HarperCollins) which has become a best seller.
Local Brady Bunch fans kept him busy yesterday. At 7 a.m., he joined the Morning Posse at 92-Q radio station, where he helped read the news and weather, took calls from the faithful and autographed deejay Wendy Corey's Brady Bunch record album. (She reciprocated by giving him a bottle of Wesson oil in honor of his TV mom, Florence Henderson.) That was followed by a book-signing at White Marsh Mall in the afternoon and a "Return to the Polyester '70s" disco party, also sponsored by 92-Q, at Martinique later in the evening.
"I had no idea I would become so associated with it," Mr. Williams said of the era-defining show. "To me, it was just work."
Indeed, as he details in his book, by the time he was 14 and signed on to "The Brady Bunch," Mr. Williams was already a working actor: He'd appeared on several series, including "Run for Your Life," "Dragnet," "It Takes a Thief," "Gomer Pyle" and "That Girl."
The book, by turns funny, affectionate and serious, isn't one of those dirt-digging tell-alls. Its dishing, rather, is fairly low-key and innocent: Mr. Williams turned up stoned on marijuana one day. Robert Reed, who played father Mike Brady, had a continuing feud with the writers over
the quality of the show. (The actor, who wrote a graceful, loving foreword for the book, died in May from colon lymphoma, with the contributing factor of HIV infection.) And all the Brady kids lusted after their counterparts and engaged at one time or another in various make-out sessions and/or on-again, off-again dating.
But the popularity of "The Brady Bunch" nearly precluded any future roles as Mr. Williams found himself typecast as groovy, teen-age Greg. Unlike other child stars who fade out as adulthood sets in, though, Mr. Williams plugged away and has become a regular on the musical theater circuit. He has appeared on Broadway twice, in "Pippin' " and "Romance, Romance," and currently is touring in "City of Angels," which played Washington last month.
You won't hear any ex-child star whining from him. "It's all too convenient to blame something -- the business, the agent, the mother -- for why lives don't work out," he said. "That was not my experience, and that was not the cast's experience."
The Brady Bunch is no albatross around this actor's neck, mainly because he hasn't allowed it to become one.
"I think I've come to terms with it," said Mr. Williams, taking a brief respite from his own appearances to watch how another former teen idol, Donny Osmond, handles adulthood and a guest spot on "Regis & Kathie Lee." "And that's why I'm a much happier person now."