Hello once again readers, friends and fans. Thank you for joining me this week to review “Where There’s Smoke”. It first aired on January 8th, 1971. It is a subtle public service announcement and about as topical as “The Brady Bunch” ever got. It’s kind of fun and kind of sad how the episode is a time capsule of another era when a teenager smoking cigarettes was such a serious issue. Yes, even in today’s times teenagers should not smoke, but a modern day sitcom would be laughed off the air if it tried to approach nicotine with such gravity. Other sitcoms would visit this issue later on. Kids lit up and suffered repercussions on “Gimme A Break”, “Diff’rent Strokes” and “The Cosby Show”. However, I do not recall any TV show before this episode of “The Brady Bunch” dealing with smoking as an issue. Readers, correct me if I am wrong! Let’s get started reviewing “Where There’s Smoke”!
The episode begins in a familiar location. Greg finds his school chums hanging out at the same place that Buddy Hinton confronted Cindy and Peter in “A Fistful of Reasons”. This little corner of the Brady universe just attracts trouble doesn’t it? Greg finds his three classmates puffing away and gets an invitation to join their band “The Banana Convention”. The band has a gig waiting for it on Saturday night at Stephen Decatur High School. This is an actual high school in Berlin, Maryland. Either the band was going to travel really far to perform or some writer or producer was an alumni of the school and wanted to reference it. With the invitation to perform with “The Banana Convention” is the offer of a cigarette. At first Greg is reluctant, but succumbs to Tommy’s peer pressure and assurance that they are “just plain cigarettes”. Maybe Tommy was concerned that Greg thought his future band mates were smoking weed in plain sight. Greg lights up and begins hacking and choking at the taste of rolled and filtered tobacco.
As Greg clumsily puffs away, Jan and Cindy come strolling down the sidewalk. They are shocked to see their eldest brother taking part in such scandalous behavior!
Before we move forward, we will get a well known piece of Brady trivia out of the way should one of our readers be unaware of it. Barry Williams writes in “Growing Up Brady” that he had been a regular smoker of cigarettes since he was twelve years old. He would sneak off the set and light up. Apparently, he was trying to give up cigarettes at the time of this episode and was having some success, only to have his smoking during rehearsals of the scene see that he resumed the habit until 1984. In this scene, Barry Williams did a good job acting out the hacking and choking a new smoker would experience. In today’s filming world, the cigarettes would be prop cigarettes that are made of cabbage leaves or something other than tobacco. This had become the case in the entertainment world as early as the 1980s. The cigarettes the boys smoke in the film “Stand By Me” were not real Marlboros. Director Rob Reiner is no fan of smoking and made sure the child actors were not smoking real tobacco.
Two of Greg’s future band mates were played by Robert Jayson Kramer and Gary Marsh. Robert Jayson Kramer played the mulleted and Ed Sullivan impersonating “Johnny”. His most notable acting credit was the part of “Lally 1” in the 1970s feature film “Bless The Beasts & Children”. Curiously, IMDB lists no credits for him from 1974-1981, but in 1982 he appeared on camera for the last time in an episode of “Mr. Merlin”. I do hope he did not spend seven years unemployed and looking for another acting gig, only to have one surface in 1982 with nothing thereafter! A Google search turned up nothing more about him. Gary Marsh played the role of “Phil”. “Tom of Warick” in the 1967 film “Camelot” was his most noted role. Other TV and film roles would follow with the final one being in the 1975 film “Shampoo”. Since leaving the screen, he has since founded the company Breakdown Services which assists agents in Hollywood in finding work for their clients. So while he isn’t in front of the camera any longer, he remains a part of the Hollywood scene. We will take a deeper look at the actor who played “Tommy” later, we need to get back to our review.
A troubled Jan and Cindy first go to their eldest sister to report Greg’s dastardly deed. Jan questions if Mike and Carol should be told of this and Cindy is most anxious to do so. She is stopped from doing this. Cindy is still in recovery from tattling it seems and still in need of restraint. We can give her credit for not tattling on Greg right away. If Susan Olsen was still catching hell from her classmates for being a snitch after “The Tattle-Tale”, lets hope her not telling on Greg in this episode gave her some relief.
Over in the boys’ room, Greg is performing for Bobby and Peter. They sure do seem to be enjoying Greg’s singing and guitar playing. They look like teenage girls watching The Beatles! While I am sure they are proud of their brother and happy for him, their dreamy gazing upon Greg playing the guitar is just strange. Perhaps they were dreaming of the future Brady Bunch episodes where they are ALL singing stars. This was the first time we get a hint of the musical family the Brady kids would later become. Something I did notice in the scene is that the make and model of Greg’s guitar is obscured. Would the producers have had to pay Fender, Gibson or some other guitar manufacturer a fee for showing their brand on the show? Being somewhat of a guitar player/fan, I was very curious as to what model of guitar Greg was playing. If any readers know, please share!
Downstairs, Mike arrives home and he and Carol gush over Greg’s talent. He goes upstairs where he and Greg discuss the upcoming gig. Greg says the band is “really heavy” and Mike replies he understands that not to mean they are overweight. This queues the laugh track as it is supposed to show some of those whacky terms the kids of the day were using. This was among the kinds of jokes I have always found to be mildly irritating on “The Brady Bunch” . Whatever trendy banter was uttered by the kids was typically mocked by the adults directly thereafter.
Marcia takes the concern of Greg’s tobacco use to Alice. In a classic sitcom cliché, Marcia approaches the issue of concern as being one effecting a friend, not herself, when it is clearly her own issue. Alice does give some very sage advice. In helping Marcia define snitching, she asks if sharing the news with an adult would help the person into or out of trouble. If it is out of trouble, then it’s not snitching. It is a very solid way to determine if something should be shared or not. Way to go Alice! Marcia is still conflicted when she addresses the matter with her parents. Her clothes have changed since the last scene, so she did take some time to think it over, but still hems and haws in their presence. Finally she shares Greg’s lighting up with Mike and Carol.
Mike and Carol confront Greg in his room. Greg confesses to the crime and says he wanted “to be one of the guys”. He will not be punished because he knows what he did was wrong. Poor Peter! If he’d just told Mike and Carol he knew that playing ball in the house and breaking the vase was wrong in “Confessions, Confessions”, he might have still got to go on that camping trip Heck, he did tell them at the door as he was leaving, but still had to miss out. Why didn’t they allow him to go since he knew what he did was wrong? As part of this talk, Mike says in his younger days he was a smoker. Carol says Mike’s past actions can be excused since, “…we didn’t have all the evidence we do now”. Greg won’t be punished and can still play at the gig. In the 80s or 90s, I recall Florence Henderson in a commercial for a product that was being marketed to help people quit smoking. In this ad, she states she was a smoker for years before giving it up. It’s hard to imagine Carol Brady tugging on a cigarette; Florence Henderson must have been careful to never be photographed doing so.
With the serious issue of teenage smoking striking so close to home, Carol decides to take action and be a part of the solution. She phones Mrs. Johnson with the news that she’d like to join her anti-smoking committee. While the two discuss the problem of smoking among high schoolers, she is interrupted by drums playing. Her son is a part of “The Banana Convention” and a smoker! Oh the scandal! The head of the anti-smoking committee has a child that smokes! We get another adult exchange of the whacky teenage jargon before Carol and Mrs. Johnson conclude their phone call.
The role of “Mrs. Johnson” was played by Marie Denn. She is one of those actresses who we saw countless times on the screen through the decades, but likely never knew her name. Her list of credits is too many to mention here, but curiously enough she did not find a recurring role until 1988 when she played “Getrude Boynton” on “13 East”. This would be her final role before she passed away in 1991.
Upstairs, Greg is listening to his song on a reel to reel recorder. Marcia enters and tells Greg she told “the folks” about his smoking. He is not happy to hear this and states Marcia should have come to him first. It is a well done scene until the conclusion of it. Marcia questions if Greg was punished and is taken aback that he wasn’t. She states if she were Mike and Carol, she’d have “given it” to him “good”. Greg says it is a lucky thing he wasn’t born any later than he was. She questions what he means by this. He said if he were born any later, she might have been his mother instead of his sister. This queues the laugh track. It queued a groan from me.
Before we move forward, let’s review Greg’s song. Per the closing credits it was written by Sherwood and Lloyd Schwartz and Barry Williams. It is a nice tune that is reminiscent of The Beatles early days or something Chad and Jeremy might have sang. This was the tune parodied in the 1990’s “The Brady Bunch Movie”.
Clowns never laughed before,
Beanstalks never grew.
Ponies never ran before,
‘Til I Met you.
Surf never broke before,
Artists never drew.
Snow never fell before,
‘Til I met you.
My dream came true,
My dream came true.
The world spins, my life begins,
‘Cause I met you.
Phones never rang before,
Wise men never knew.
No one ever loved before,
‘Til I met you.
While it is a nice little ballad, the line about phones ringing is just strange. Among all these naturally occurring things that the singer notices now that he is in love, he includes phones ringing? Here is my own comparison.
The sun now beams,
The roses now flower.
Life is so grand,
With each passing hour,
‘ Cuz I’m at your side.
The birds tweet sweetly,
The stream keeps flowing,
Life is so grand,
With just me knowing,
I’m at your side.
The night is brighter,
The car is now cranks.
Life is so grand,
I’m giving thanks,
I’m at your side.
The next scene opens with a shot of a classic anti-smoking ad. I wonder who that woman (or man) was in that ad and if they realized when the picture was taken, they’d forever be associated with the negative impacts of smoking. When my brother and I watched this episode in the late 80s, he commented that this poster still adorned a wall at his high school. This poster and some other literature come compliments of Mrs. Johnson. She has come by the house and neatly laid out all these flyers on the coffee table. As Carol walks her to the door, Greg arrives home. Greg goes to hang up his jacket and a pack of cigarettes falls out! Oh the embarrassment Carol must have felt here. Greg states they are not his and Mrs. Johnson interjects with questions of her own. I suppose there might have been a time when simply being an adult afforded a person the right to do this, but many parents today would be quite chapped at another person having such a confrontation with their child like this one. Carol was the one responsible for questioning Greg about the pack of smokes but Mrs. Johnson does instead. She further goes on to question Carol’s parenting decision in believing Greg is telling the truth and dismisses Carol from the Anti-Smoking Committee. In the scenes that follow, both Mike and Carol state they believe Greg is telling the truth and that the cigarettes were not his. Greg has incriminating evidence fall from his jacket, says it isn’t his, and gets a pass. A drawing Marcia left in a desk is found hours or a day later, with a cruel remark she denies writing, and Mike and Carol don’t believe she didn’t do it!
By 1971, cigarette ads had been barred from television. Therefore, it is surprising to see that the brand of cigarettes being smoked at the episode’s opening and falling from the jacket were from a real tobacco company . There must have been some high dollar back door dealings with the prop master for competing tobacco companies to get their brand on a family show geared towards kids. Good grief, the brand of guitar Greg was playing earlier is obscured, but a real brand of tobacco can be shown? Also, when the pack falls to the ground, no Surgeon General’s Warning is seen! These were first required on packs of cigarettes in 1966, yet we see no label here. It could be on the other side, but the scene may have been reshot a few times to make certain the warning was obscured as part of that backdoor deal.
The next few scenes are a montage of different kids suggesting how the pack of smokes wound up in “Greg’s” jacket. Check out the bad hair day Barry Williams was having when he discussed the issue with Mike. Bobby asks Greg if he has any enemies. Greg confirms he does. What? Who would be an enemy to Greg Brady? Bob says an enemy might have snuck the smokes in Greg’s jacket. Poor Cindy suffers her first dumb kid line in a while as she suggests it was magic that saw the cigarettes in “Greg’s” jacket. Peter gets the dumb treatment as well when he suggests there is a secret spy gadget hidden in the pack of cigarettes.
After bothering over this mystery for a few days (as evidenced by the change of clothes), it is Alice who unravels it. She had recently repaired the inner lining of Greg’s jacket and this jacket has no repair! Greg had taken Tommy’s jacket by mistake. Just as this is discovered, in a most convenient twist of fate, Tommy arrives at the Brady’s front door to exchange jackets with Greg. Greg has Tommy come inside and explain to Mike and Carol that the cigarettes were his. Tommy’s mother had been waiting in the car and comes inside and learns the truth herself. She does apologize to Greg and lets Tommy know he is in serious trouble. Greg wishes Tommy good luck and in a chuckle worthy line, Tommy replies he will need it.
Tommy was played by Craig Hundley (sometimes credited as Craig Huxley). He had enjoyed a busy acting career prior to this appearance on “The Brady Bunch” that included a recurring role on “Ben Casey”. His final on camera acting gig was a 1977 episode of “Kojak”. However, that was not the end of his Hollywood career by any means. His biggest contribution to the entertainment industry was in the music arena. His musical credits are too many to list here. He is the inventor of the instrument called the “Blaster Beam” that has been a fixture in on camera science fiction since the early 1980s. His musical contributions continue in Hollywood today.
The episode closes with Mike and Carol bedded down for the night. Greg enters and informs them he is home from his gig. I expected him to say the gig went well, except for the band had no drummer since Tommy was grounded for the next three months. However, he says the group “bent the gig outta shape”. Apparently, despite committing the cardinal sin of smoking, Tommy’s parents allowed him to play with “The Banana Convention” that night. The episode ends on an annoying note as Mike and Carol mention that whacky kid jargon and Mike tells Carol he too has a language of his own as he starts making out with her.
Overall, “Where There’s Smoke” is a solid episode. Mike and Carol’s inconsistent discipline was a bit puzzling. However, we get some good advice from Alice on snitching, the anti-smoking message was played well without being too heavy handed. Some wheelchair bound emphysema patient wasn’t wheeled in at the episode’s close to make sure teens knew how bad smoking is. This episode is also notable as it planted the musical seed that would blossom into “The Brady Six” aka “The Silver Platters”. As always readers, your thoughts are most welcome. Moving forward, I am placing the burden on you dear readers to pick up those subtle references to off camera production staff and crew during the show’s dialogue. Please share your findings each week in the comment section! Next week we review “Will The Real Jan Brady Please Stand Up?”. See you then!