Episode 1: Ghost Town, U.S.A.

Greetings friends, family, fellow fans and readers.  This week we begin Season 3’s blogging adventure with “Ghost Town, U.S.A.”!  The episode originally aired on September 17th, 1971.    It was this episode that featured a Brady adventure that strained new levels of credibility.  As regular viewers know, it certainly would not be the last.   This episode took the Bradys out of their nameless suburb where they dealt with typical suburban family woes and placed them in the middle of a wild and whacky adventure, complete with some highly questionable decisions on the part of the adults.  Despite any misgivings about credibility, this is still a fun episode.  Let’s commence to reviewing “Ghost Town, U.S.A.”!

 

The episode begins with Jan feeling quite anxious about a surprise Mike and Carol have promised.  Jan questions Alice as she vacuums the living room.   The sound effects man must not have had a recording of a vacuum running as the Brady’s suction machine is making sounds like no other vacuum I’ve ever heard.  It is more akin to a sci-fi laser. Alice tells Jan she knows nothing regarding the pending surprise. In a funny line Alice tells Jan to share with the other kids to “not to try pumping me.  The well is dry”.  Jan reports to the boys and her sisters that there is no update regarding the revelation of the pending surprise.

reveal

Mike and Carol arrive home a short time later and gather the family in the living room for the big reveal.  With the opening of the curtains, the big to do is revealed to be a pop up camper!  A pop up camper that will accompany the Bradys and Alice to The Grand Canyon!  The family is justifiably excited to be going to see the natural wonder.  However, the pop up camper has always baffled me a bit.  There is no way that thing could accommodate the entire Brady family comfortably.  Later in the ghost town, we will see tents set up, so maybe Mike was making this big reveal so the kids could see where he, Carol and Alice would be sleeping and playing cards while the kids roughed it in tents.  In this scene, you will also notice the Brady family has a new station wagon.

 

Another change at the Brady house is sleeping bags!  As Mike and the boys prepare the sleeping bags for the trip, one will notice they are all black.  In a previous episode, “Our Son, The Man”, the Brady sleeping bags were a rainbow of variety.  Yes, this is some extreme nitpickery, but since the image from “Our Son, The Man” was readily available, I thought I’d share it.  While loading the new sleeping bags, Mike shares with Peter that not only will they learn about the canyon, but also the Indian tribes that live(d) there.  This line sounded very scholarly and not very fatherly.  He then names a few of the tribes and the meaning of the name of one.   Mike did enjoy quoting different authors and philosophers, so this is just sort of par for the course in the Brady universe.  It also opens up a joke Peter makes about the meaning of Bobby being Little Man With Great Big Running Mouth.

caboose

Up in the girls’ room, we see that Cindy’s smarts have not increased between seasons.  She shares her desire to see the Indians and the cabooses.   Marcia corrects her that the term is papoose.  Surprisingly she doesn’t tack on “dum-dum” or some other insult after correcting her sister. While we can give a child of Cindy’s age a pass for mixing up caboose and papoose, what follows shows her lack of smarts remains.  After being corrected that a caboose is the back of a train, she counters with she thought it was the back of an Indian.  Sigh.

Carol then enters the girls room to check on the progress of the packing.  She tells the girls their trip to the canyon’s bottom will be done via mule-train.  Marcia laughs at the idea of Alice riding a mule.  Carol says they will not share with Alice the means of conveyance until she is sitting on top of the mule.

forgot

The next scene has the Bradys setting off on their Grand Canyon adventure.  The entire family loads up into the station wagon.  Mike makes certain that no family member has overlooked any detail in the trip preparation.  With the family’s confirmation they have not, the Bradys are off!  As the car pulls away, we see the camper was not attached to the wagon and get a “waah-waah” sound effect.  It’s hard to imagine how Mike missed this.  He stood at the back of the wagon a considerable amount of time just seconds before.

estshot

What follows are three overly long shots of the Bradys traveling along the roads of the American Southwest.  Just like their previous outdoors adventure, the entire family sings “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while driving along the road.  If nothing else, these shots gives us a really good look at the Bradys’ new wheels.  That is one tough looking station wagon.  The great minds of Detroit at the time were successful in making a grocery-getter still look manly.

gasstation

The Bradys make a pit stop at a western themed gas-station.  The countrified attendant gasimmediately directs Bobby and Cindy to the privy upstairs.  The laugh track is queued when it is revealed Alice needs to go to the bathroom too.   Oh Alice, your bathroom needs sure do make us smile.  Mike and Carol chat with the gas station attendant who makes a bad joke about the Grand Canyon being so crowded at this time of year, even the squirrels need reservations.  They can’t even give the poor dude a courtesy chuckle as he must ask if they got his bad joke.  Carol inquires about anything to do locally and the man says there is nothing, save an old ghost town named Cactus Creek.  This immediately and understandably elicits excitement from the kids.  Upon learning that this abandoned place is 20 miles down the next dirt road turnoff on the left, Mike and Carol decide the family will just camp there for the night.

Perhaps my thinking is just the result of the times in which I have lived (born in 1977), but taking the entire family 20 miles off the planned course, with the only other person in the world knowing about it being a random stranger working at the gas station, seems very dangerous and irresponsible.  The fact that they are in the desert only increases the potential peril that could befall them!  This could be the worst parenting decision Mike and Carol have made thus far!

hokehowell

The gas station attendant was played by Hoke Howell.  He was sought as an actor for roles that needed a southerner or countrified character.  I immediately recognized him as Dud Wash from “The Andy Griffith Show”.  However, he had recurring roles on “Here Come The Brides” and “The Oregon Trail”.  Thanks to countless guest appearances on TV series, he never lacked work during his three decade career.  Hoke Howell died in 1997.

dirtroad

The Bradys careless and irresponsible journey to Cactus Creek gives us three more overly long traveling shots.  This time the Bradys sing “Hail, Hail, The Gangs All Here” instead of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.

ghosttown

Upon arriving in Cactus Creek, the Bradys find one very well maintained and un-looted ghost town!  There are no doubt some readers of this blog who are fans of the western TV shows and movies of old.  Do any of you recognize Cactus Creek as being part of some other show or film’s set?

prospector

In this well maintained ghost town, there lives one agitated old prospector!  He is not happy at all to see the family making camp in the middle of town.  The Bradys fail to notice him standing atop the old, still able to support weight, balcony.  With the gas station attendant sharing the location of Cactus Creek with customers, one would think the old prospector would be used to tourists strolling in.  Well, it has been established this was a very irresponsible move on the part of the Bradys, so maybe he doesn’t see too many.

robbery

Upon exploring the ghost town, the boys find a practically pristine stage coach that was left behind.  Greg has a fun idea in filming a movie about a stage coach robbery.  Compliments of the DVD, I got to see the extended version of this being filmed.  In syndication, just as the kids are about to start filming, they are summoned to dinner.  The DVD shows Peter robbing the stagecoach, shooting Bobby and Jan and Cindy acting the part of saloon girls who try to woo Peter and prevent their own valuables from being taken.  It was a fun slice of the Brady universe that was experienced for the first time this week! However, danger looms as the old prospector spies on the kids from a nearby building.

worried

After snatching a chicken leg from the Bradys, we learn the reason for the prospector’s angst.  He has discovered gold in Cactus Creek and now fears the Bradys are there to mine some of his find.  He has a plan to outsmart the city slickers though!  He shares all of the aforementioned information with his mule.

meeting

After spying on them and stealing from them, the prospector makes his presence known to the Bradys.  He introduces himself as Zaccariah T. Brown.  In a funny line, he says he hasn’t eaten in three days.  Alice points out the crumbs in his whiskers and he replies he hasn’t washed in three days either.  After bumming some more food, he takes the Bradys on a tour of Cactus Creek.  Again, this may just be my generation’s way of thinking, but meeting some hermit who lives alone with a mule, 20 miles from any major road, would rankle in me some level of suspicion and caution.  Perhaps the Bradys feel there is strength in numbers and that allays some fear.

tour

During the tour of the town, Zaccariah shares a funny joke about the blacksmith being a very strong man.  He died “holding up a train”.  Alice takes this to mean he was shot during a robbery, but Zaccariah clarifies this to mean the train fell on the blacksmith after he lifted it up too long.  The joke is corny, but funny.  Things take a dark turn however when Zaccariah shares the exploits of Jesse James in Cactus Creek.  Mike questions the story as he never knew Jesse James to be in that part of the country.  Mike Brady really was a walking encyclopedia.  Zaccariah offers to prove to the family that Jesse James was there by showing them his initials on the wall of the jail cell.

jail

The entire family foolhardily walks into the cell to see the famed outlaw’s scratches on a wall.  Zaccariah waits until they are all in the cell and tells them to move the cot before slamming the door shut and locking it.  Carol thinks this is part of the fun experience and asks him what he is doing.  Here he lets the Bradys know they won’t be stealing his claim!  When Mike assures Zaccariah they have no interest in his gold claim, Bobby counters with “Sure we do dad.”  That line always makes me laugh out loud.  Zaccariah says he’ll take Bobby’s word for it and then takes off in the Brady’s car!

backus

Zaccariah T. Brown was played by sitcom icon Jim Backus.  His acting career could be an entire blog in itself!  Most fans of classic TV will immediately recognize him as Thurston Howell III from “Gilligan’s Island”.  However, prior to this he had had his own series, “The Jim Backus Show” that lasted from 1960-1961.  His first recurring role was on the 1950s sitcom “I Married Joan”.  A notable film appearance for him was in the James Dean classic, “Rebel Without A Cause”.  Also included in the acting resume too long to mention, was his work voicing the cartoon character Mr. Magoo in two incarnations of the series.  Jim Backus passed away in 1989.

 

Finding themselves in a predicament like never before, the Bradys start scheming to break out of the jail cell.  We get a dumb Bobby line as he suggests their gang will be along soon to bust them out.  Peter then shares a plot from a western where a guy summoned his horse and took a rope off of it and used a lasso to retrieve the spare key.  This gives Mike the idea to join the family’s belts as a rope and retrieve the spare cell key hanging on a nearby peg.  The logistics of this don’t quite make sense.  The string of belts could likely do nothing more than knock the key off the peg and potentially out of reach.  The belts are a failure as they do not hold together, leaving Mike to execute plan B.

 

Plan B has Mike tossing the family’s shoes at the hanging key.  If he is successful knocking it off the peg, a rope made up of socks with a purse to weight it down will be used to drag the key to the cell and freedom.  Plan B sees the Bradys escape confinement, from the cell at least.  They all empty out to the street where it is decided Mike and Peter will walk 20 miles back to the highway to summon help.
conclusion

After they have set out, Carol and Alice worry over Mike and Peter.  Alice ponders if they have made it to the highway, only for Carol to share they left only 20 minutes before.  Alice cracks the joke, “My, how time flies when you’re having fun.”  Look at Alice, generating humor in the midst of extreme adversity.  After that she says, “I thought this would be the trip of a lifetime, not the end of one!”  No, not really, but I would not be overly surprised if such a line made it in the script.  Carol’s thoughts are heard as she worries over Mike and Peter and the fact that those who stayed behind are without food or water!  With that, the episode ends on a most somber note.  There is no epilogue.

“Ghost Town, U.S.A.” certainly took “The Brady Bunch” in a new direction.  Things that I took no issue with watching the episode as a child are glaring as I watch as an adult.  This episode is certainly aimed at a younger viewing audience than those in the latter part of the second season.  That trend would continue for the remainder of the series.  “Ghost Town, U.S.A.” is a fun episode that gave us that dose of low level craziness we came to expect with “The Brady Bunch” in a most unlikely setting. As always readers, I welcome your thoughts and contributions for the episode!

Don’t worry dear readers!  I will not keep you in suspense regarding the fate of the stranded Bradys for another week.  Part 2 of the story, “Grand Canyon Or Bust” will be released as a Sunday Special.  See you day after tomorrow!

Author: bradybunchreviewed

I am a lifelong fan of the Brady Bunch. I love it for it's wholesomeness, it's absurdity and how it serves as a time capsule for a time that really never existed, but so many of us wish it did. The show was off the air by the time I was born, but I enjoyed it daily at 4:35 PM for years on Atlanta's Superstation 17, TBS. Through the years I've enjoyed the Brady Bunch spinoffs (however short lived), revivals in pop culture, books, reunions, movies and spoofs. Now, I am excited to be revisiting the show after nearly a decade's hiatus from viewing. I am a parent now, so there may be some new perspectives never before experienced. I hope my fellow fans, lovers and haters alike of the Brady Bunch will join me on this blogging adventure and share your own thoughts and observations.

24 thoughts on “Episode 1: Ghost Town, U.S.A.”

  1. Jim Backus was also the voice of Smoky the Genie in the 1948 Bugs Bunny cartoon, “A-Lad-in His Lamp”, Magistrate Backus in the 1950 TV movie, “Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy”, Milton in the 1951 Disney animated short, “Plutopia”, Tyler Fitzgerald in the 1963 comedy film, “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, General Charles Fitzhugh in the “I Dream of Jeannie” episode “Help, Help, a Shark”, Timothy Forsythe in the 1972 Disney movie, “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t”, Shellhammer in the 1973 TV movie version of “Miracle on 34th Street”, the narrator and Santa Claus in “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” and the Mayor in the 1977 Disney film version of “Pete’s Dragon”. His next two Brady Bunch appearances will be the next episode, “Grand Canyon or Bust” and the second-to-last episode from season 5, “The Hustler” as Harry Mathews. As for the car trip songs that the family sung, so far they sung “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” from “A-Camping We Will Go”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here”. Next thing you’ll know, they’ll probably be singing the “Huckleberry Hound” song in the car, a.k.a. “Oh My Darling, Clementine”.

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    1. When they’re singing “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here”, listen to Florence Henderson’s voice. We get a rare peek at how good she was as a singer. (She initially turned down the role of Mrs Brady as she was too busy with her night club acts).

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  2. The Western ghost town scenes were filmed on the Bonanza sets which are conveniently located near the Brady Bunch stage at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. If I remember correctly, the kids used to play on the Bonanza sets in between takes for The Brady Bunch.

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  3. -BradyBunchReviewed: Very nice observations! I had never connected the black sleeping bags with the multi colored ones only a season or so back.
    -In the beginning scene Alice tells Jan that do not pump her, the well is dry. Coincidence that in Part 2 Carol and Cindy will literally pump a dry well while looking for water?
    -The scene where Mike opens the dining room curtains to reveal the camper (BradyBunchReviewed shows a picture of this) is the first of many episodes to come where we see Greg’s signature blue/white striped shirt with wider stripes at the top and much narrower stripes at the bottom. When Greg Brady bobblehead was produced he is wearing this shirt because likely because it is seen in so many Season 3+ episodes. Bobblehead shown here:
    http://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=lRbgd66D&id=64451AB859B6203900B43A94EE7157B7A19C400B&thid=OIP.lRbgd66DiCFXG449vbe0eAB4Es&q=greg+brady+bobblehead&simid=608042563285421677&selectedIndex=1&ajaxhist=0
    -First episode after Maureen McCormick lightened the diamond pattern of moles on her face (forehead, both cheeks, chin). She was always conscientious of them and in the summer of 1971 between Seasons 2 and 3 had them cosmetically or surgically lightened. Very noticeable when comparing Season 3 Marcia to Seasons 1 & 2.
    -When Mike drives off (not realizing he had not attached the camper) notice that the garage is open. Did he intend to leave the garage door open the entire time they were gone?
    -Locked in Jail scene, Observation 1: Small correction to BradyBunchReviewed. Peter is not suggesting per his movie watching experience that using the rope from the horse is to lasso the key. Instead, he is suggesting that the rope be tied to the bars and for the horse to pull and break them.
    -Locked in Jail scene, Observation 2: Zachariah is standing right next to the jail bars for several minutes after he locked the Bradys in the cell. Mike, a bigger and younger man, never tries to reach through the bars to physically force Zachariah to unlock the jail cell? Zachariah kidnaps 9 people, steals food and gas, commits grand theft auto – and his “punishment” in Part 2 will be a light lecture and ready forgiveness from Mike.
    -Locked in Jail scene, Observation 3: Mike never attempts to pick the lock by using a belt buckle or bobby pin, or the other junk in Carol’s purse? Notice when they show they key that it is basically a square shape and it wouldn’t be out of the question to be able to pick this type of lock – or at least to try. Mike is supposed to be a smart architect.
    -Ghost Town after Jail Escape: The Bradys are without food and water, but never attempt to find Zachariah’s supplies of both. Even the mule with supplies is seen right behind Carol in one scene after Zachariah drives off with the station wagon.
    -Jesse James will appear again in Season 4 – and Mike will be as much of an encyclopedic expert on him as he is in this episode..lol
    -Notice how Greg hovers closely near Marcia at all times in this episode. He stands right next her in virtually all shared scenes, and from my point of view he even seems to touch her rear when he boosts her up in the stage coach. First sign of things to come with the developing Barry-Maureen relationship…
    -Scarves: Alice, Marcia AND Zachariah all have them tied in exactly the same way…I found this hilarious for some reason!
    -Bobby’s hat throughout the episode: one of the goofiest articles of clothing ever seen on the Brady Bunch. He seems to wear it in every scene….lol

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    1. Great observations Marty! I hadn’t thought about Mike’s limited efforts at opening the cell door before noticing the key on the peg.

      Thanks for the other interesting trivia! I hope you will share your thoughts on other episodes.

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  4. I hope no one minds if I take this a bit off-topic ( maybe) but I have started an entire discussion on a different TV-Show website in which I mention episodes, or plots or scenes from TV shows which are “similar or a rehash” to plots or episodes or scenes on other shows.
    The Brady “Stranded in a Ghost Town” script has been used on “The Monkees” (“Monkees in a Ghost Town” episode) and also “The Partridge Family” (“The Christmas Episode”) in which the family gets lost in the proverbial ghost town in which there is one lone man who is mysteriously or at least oddly living there unafraid, and it is as if he has been there since the times of the Wild West and rejects modern civilization if he knows about it.
    In fact, The Partridge Family had even another episode called “Swiss Family Partridge” that was very similar to its own other episode in that the family found themselves stranded out in the woods in a cabin with little food and no contact to the outside world and this one was very similar to an episode on “Father Knows Best” in which the Anderson family were stranded out in the woods with little food and few modern comforts.
    Also on “F Troop” there was an episode in which two of the main characters, Agarn and O’Rourke found themselves stranded in a Ghost Town in which there was an old prospector-hermit who tried to keep people out of “his” town by riding around on a horse dressed like a ghost carrying a corpse so that people would be too afraid to encroach on the town . That character was similar to how the prospector was presented in the Brady Bunch’s “Ghost Town USA.” ( I am not too sure, but I have a vague recollection of even other TV shows in which there were parent and child characters who got stuck in a ghost town or lost out in the woods. Possibly “Please Don’t Eat The Daisies” and “Nanny And The Professor.” ).
    Nevertheless, The Brady Bunch did not originally come up with such a plot. It might have been the only TV show to have the adventure continued in the following episode.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing those observations L! Any comments are most welcome as long as they are about the episode or how it can be associated with other sitcoms. As I read your post, it has not occurred to me that the Bradys being stranded also mirrored Sherwood Schwartz other classic incarnation, “Gilligan’s Island”. While I love old sitcoms, I am not familiar with any of those you named, except The Monkees, so this is a great little bit of trivia.

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    2. There is also a” Partridge Family novel ( # 4 – The Ghost Of Graveyard Hill !! ” ) That also deals with The Partridge Family stuck in a Ghost Town with few supplies!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t forget the Partridge Family Christmas episode, where the bus breaks down in a ghost town and the family is entertained by an old gentleman (played by Dean Jagger) telling them a Christmas tale from the Old West (acted out by the family in a fantasy sequence).

        Liked by 2 people

  5. There was indeed an epilogue (or tag, is they are called in the industry) in this episode. Carol and Alice stare at the empty town and wonder how long it should take Mike and Peter to reach the highway. Then they wonder how long after that help would arrive. Then they worry if Mike and Peter won’t return, what they should do next. There is much sighing and hand-wringing.

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  6. Maybe the prospector taking the car would teach Mike never to leave the keys in the car. When Alice wonders if they made it to the highway, after being gone only twenty minutes, they would have to be able to run or walk sixty miles an hour to reach the highway in twenty minutes, being twenty miles away.

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  7. Anyone else notice that the white wallpaper with the pastel blue and pink flowers in the girls room is gone? We get our first look at the painted pink walls here, and will have them until they re-wallpaper in Season 5.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. If the prospecctor lived there, there must’ve been water and food nearby. And the Bradys would’ve still had the donkey he probably rode to obtain them

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  9. As to Alice’s comment at the beginning about telling the other kids to “not to try pumping me,” this was a ripe line for the satiric movies to borrow and add onto as, “You can tell the other kids to not to try pumping me; that’s Sam’s job.”
    (In unison, with head shaking back and forth, slightly tilted: “Oh, Alice…”).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Observations:
    1.When the donkey brays loudly after Mr. Brown spies on the Bradys from close by (he introduces himself mere moments later), why did no one hear the donkey?
    2. Bobby should have been the excited boy over a story about Jesse James, not Peter. Afterall, isn’t it in Season 4 that Bobby writes a book report about his hero, Jesse James?
    Perhaps by then, Peter had grown out of being thrilled by the murderous JJ, and his little brother picked up on what his bigger brother used to be interested in (as younger siblings often do).
    3.Carol’s voiceover concerns included “no bread or water”. However, moments earlier, Alice offers to fetch some water for Mike and Pete’s walk.
    Did she give them ALL the water they had for the entire trip?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It costs money to do a new opening, and TBB didn’t have a lavish budget. It was probably a choice: either the pricey trip to the Grand Canyon or new opening credits. At least they re-recorded the theme song, though.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I noticed something about Mike, he seems to have the keys in his pocket sticking out. Unless its something else but they look like keys.

    I can see RR having issues with this script. Mike you touched on it too, having your family go 20 miles out of the way to a place that is deserted would not be a smart move and the camper not being hitched when they first left.

    I still want to know how they lock the sliding door. Was there a lock on the outside of that door handle?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrea,
      You got me stumped on that one! I was going to guess a hold bar in the bar tract, used only at night, but then there has been eps where they go out back in the middle of the night and no one ever seems to unlock it.

      Maybe it was one of those chintzy turn knob locks that really didn’t prevent break-ins as much as kept the door from sliding open on gusty days. You could usually turn the little button lock and open the handle in one, smooth motion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When it comes to a sliding glass door and security, a lock may be as useful as a peephole. If you aren’t home, no lock would deter somebody determined to get inside. When you are home, the stop bar is good because the sound of glass breaking would still alert you to something amiss.

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