With The Brady Bunch 50th Anniversary TV & Movie Collection now available on DVD, we were offered the opportunity to speak to Christopher Knight, who played Peter on the popular series of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Christopher was only 10 when he auditioned for the show, which enjoyed five seasons.
Christopher went on to appear in many of the subsequent Brady Bunch series and specials, such as The Brady Bunch Variety Hour (1976 to 1977), the TV movie The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988), The Bradys (1990) and The Brady Bunch Movie (1995). Over the years he’s combined his love for science and tech with his love for acting.
Chris reveals how he was cast on the show and why his initial response was mixed — due to a negative reaction to one of his fellow cast members. He also describes why having a working child actor in the family is difficult on the rest of the family.
However, Chris also mentions that the cast was like a second family to him and says the experience of starring on the show was a positive one. Read on to find out which cast member he initially didn’t like and what Chris did after the show ended. ~Alexandra Heilbron
It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I remember when I was a kid, how much my friends and I looked forward to Friday nights because it meant The Brady Bunch and then The Partridge Family.
Oh, you’re an original viewer, then.
Absolutely. I was wondering, how did you feel when you were cast on the show at 10? Were you thrilled?
Really not having much of a reference point for it, and I think what is natural is, this was good news. I mean, I was working for a number of years prior to that and I hated going to [auditions], but who would like that? Driving in an hour’s traffic, being surprised when you came home from school to find your mom dressed to go out when you had all those plans with your friends in the neighborhood that you then saw were not going to happen. But when there was work, I did enjoy that. So this was more of the same, and also there’s sort of an “Atta boy” feeling around getting that. I’m feeling like, well this pleases those around me, pleases my mom and dad. Not that I was a pleaser as a kid necessarily (laughs), but certainly there seemed to be an esteem associated with getting work. I had done episodic work and commercial work in television so something that had the chance to be ongoing sounded like I could continue working without having to go on interviews.
Once you got the job, did you look forward to going to work?
When I got the job, it was a pilot, so in that respect, it was exactly like an episodic television piece only in this particular case, you were starring in it. I’d never done a pilot before so I didn’t have a clear idea of how difficult it was to assume that though you’ve done a pilot, that you would then be doing a series. We did the show at the end of September, early October of 1968. Like most jobs, you’re probably never going to see these people again, but with this one, there’s a chance we might — let’s hope that that happens. I think I sort of forgot about it. I wasn’t waiting on pins and needles because my life wasn’t really revolving around work. I just was a kid — who happened to work. And then about March or April a call came in that the pilot had been picked up for series. And there was great elation, this is going to be gigantic fun, and the cast, I’d get to reacquaint myself with my new friends. I’m now 11, we would start working at the end of school, which would be mid-June, so in a few months, I was looking forward to seeing these new friends that I made.
Then all of a sudden, it dawned on me that I was going to have to see “him” again. Barry [Williams, who played Greg] had made a really strong impression on me and it wasn’t positive (laughs). He was decidedly intimidating. And I was younger than Barry, of course. I didn’t work that way. My construct in life wasn’t to intimidate others. Barry’s was. He had no need for children. He was an adult at 14. He was on the set, smoking, though he says now he didn’t really want anybody to know it, but he didn’t really do much to hide it. And as we worked together, I decided I didn’t like him because he had an attitude. He was haughty and dismissive of anybody younger than him. And though he was considered by others to be one of the kids, he never assumed that position — he assumed the position of being one of the adults. And this would play out over years in much funnier fashion than I paint here, but my five or six days with him, however long the shoot was, I think the pilot took eight days to shoot, wasn’t one that I really enjoyed. So here is this kid, who doesn’t consider himself one of us, acting disdainfully towards us (laughs) because others are considering him a child, sort of like, just acting superior.
And while we were shooting the wedding, I’m standing next to him and he’s got his hand in his pocket and he’s clicking this thing in his pocket. My whole feeling towards him throughout this pilot sort of resonates through this one story and it maybe encapsulates it. I was a curious kid, anything could get my attention, and I was kind of innocent. When he saw me noticing it, he said, “You wanna know what that is?” And I said, “Yeah, what is it?” He said, “I want you to guess by the end of the day.” It was kind of weird, but okay. I’m crafty enough to try to figure this out, but how do I do that? Well, they made us change our clothes at lunch. They were afraid we’d get our lunch on our wardrobe. We all shared the same dressing room and there it was, I saw his tuxedo pants that he’d removed to go to lunch. On a whim, I just figured, Let me just reach into the pocket that he had his hand in — maybe I can find the thing that was making the sound (laughs).
And lo and behold, he’s left it in his pocket, but at the same time he’s opening the door to the dressing room and I’ve got my hand in his pocket, finding out that this thing was a lighter. I don’t recall what happened at that moment, I think he laughed, as opposed to being mad at me. But, having that feeling of, I don’t know where he’s coming from, was what I felt when I was excited about being called back to do a series. I’m going to see all these people, but there’s one person that I could do without seeing. I’ve told this story before and he certainly is apologetic about it, he didn’t mean to be such an ass, but that was my honest feeling at the time. And we would get together and that attitude sort of washed away, he sort of accepted us as his younger brothers and sisters, but he still also identified with being one of the adults. Not that they saw him that way, but he saw them seeing him that way. That’s why the issue of him going on a date with Florence [Henderson, who played their stepmother] (laughs) — it was sort of like, “Barry, you’re one of us!” He emancipated himself, got his GED so he didn’t have to go to school with us, drove himself to work at 15½, he did everything he could not to have to have a parent around, or need to be parented because he thought of himself an adult already. It wouldn’t be a problem after the pilot. That’s what I remember about that pilot — it’s a long response to your question but that’s truly what happened.
Over the course of the show, did you get closer?
Oh, much closer. I mean, it didn’t really take much time at all after getting back together. Now we were together much more frequently and he was sort of the older kid, he didn’t have that kind of air about him after that. It took about a week or two after getting back together [to realize] that there was no reason to be intimidated. I got to know his personality and his kind of wit and then I’d have fun with him as well, in being three years younger as I was. I mean, getting back at him in certain ways or playing practical jokes on him or others, mostly though, the practical jokes were on Maureen [McCormick, who played Marcia, one of their stepsisters]. We were just very much kids.
During the five years run of the show, did you look forward to going to work each day?
Loved it. Loved it! If you watched every reincarnation of Brady, I’m not one of those who doesn’t show up, I mean, I do every one of them (laughs). And it’s not because, you know, I’m looking to satisfy my artistic side. It really is like working with family. They’re a surrogate family and they provided the environment for me personally. Having them as an example of how a functional family works proves to have been very useful looking back on it, because I wouldn’t have had that experience with my own. My own was quite a bit different. It’s as though I had a secondary surrogate family that represented what a family could be much better than my own. I enjoyed it. Every one of them. Everybody has a different personality and they are truly like brothers and sisters, or maybe cousins.
What’s one question you get the most from Brady Bunch fans?
Are you friends and are you still friends? And absolutely! It’s interesting that people ask that. And we are — luckily we are. I can’t explain it any other way other than like family, where you have differences, you’re not nearly the same but there’s an allowance for that and the forgiveness for whatever because it’s family. I probably have more forgiveness for my Brady brethren than I do my own brother and sister. It’s been 51 years now and I don’t know anybody other than my sister and my brother — there’s no one else on this planet that I’ve known as long that I still am in contact with — and am friends with.
I read that you became a child actor because your family was struggling financially.
Not necessarily in that order. It wasn’t like, we’re struggling financially, let’s find something to do to make money. My dad [Edward Knight] was an actor and therefore [we had] the proximity to the industry and how it works, agents and so forth. I believe that it was expressed to us, “We’ll get you an agent and if you work, we’ll put the money away for your college.” We all ended up — I had two brothers and a sister, a brother one year older [Mark] and my sister [Lisa] three years younger and then a brother [David] seven years younger and all at about seven years old, except for my older brother and I, because we started at the same time, everybody attained an agent and started going on interviews and attempted to land work. For two or three years we went out on every interview together and I ended up getting the job at the first and third interview I ever went on. That kind of return wasn’t usual, you’d usually have to go on far more interviews to get a job but it started out that way and my brother never got the job so ultimately over time, it becomes a waste of time in his mind: “I’m not doing this anymore, I’m not going in the car with mom, I’m not going on the interview.”
For me, there was sort of a validation of self because now I’m working and looking back on it, it was an adult environment, but getting validated in a way that I didn’t get at home, so there was some benefit from getting to work. My sister worked a couple of times and my younger brother worked a couple of dozen times. It was explained to all of us that we could put that money away for college but you know, depending on what you would do, there wouldn’t be much. But I also discovered that my mom, was my manager, so she would take 20 percent and that went towards the family. So there was something about this being a way to supplement, your mom’s going to have to spend all this time with you [as my onset legal guardian], might as well make it worth her while. There’s some logic to it and I think every kid’s mom actually does this, takes 20 percent.
I know too much now about the industry to ever suggest to any family that they should have a child seeking stardom or work in the entertainment industry because of what it does to the rest of the family. I mean, my mom was with me every day for at least half the year. I had a brother seven years younger and that was when I was 11, so he was four. She needed to be with him! So who’s mothering him? Our sister, who is what? Four years older than him. She’s eight. It’s sort of disruptive to a family. My younger brother passed away but other than that, we’re all functioning. So somehow, we all survived this methodology but I look back on it and realize my father was the first generation born in this country to a middle European family and to him, this was what you did! Everybody worked to support the family. So it was natural for you to contribute.
Some of your co-stars have written autobiographies. Is that something you’ve ever considered?
Yeah, I have. My autobiography might be slightly different. I sat down and tried with an author who’s a very close friend and a well-known author in his niche, to write it. I have just enough ADD and dyslexia to make writing not just rather difficult but simply impossible to try to do it myself. But whenever I sit down with somebody else, the real story is not The Brady Bunch. But The Brady Bunch is a background to this life that has been made better, if you will. I think that what’s unique about it is in my case, most people would say that, “Okay, my involvement in showbiz has helped ruin me as a kid.” (laughs) And that I can see. That’s why, if I had children, I wouldn’t want them, until they’re 18, to even pursue it. I certainly don’t think that it’s the family’s job to have the child working and to support them. I think that’s the parent’s job. Nonetheless, in my case, because of this Brady thing, which was a complete luck of the draw, it benefited. I was made healthier for having been involved in this thing that Sherwood [Schwartz] created. When he was casting, he wanted kids who could act, but he didn’t want them to be affected in the way that acting can affect some children. He just wanted kids. He said the important thing on our set was that it was an environment that was wholesome and healthy for children. And that’s unusual. If I was cast on a series and I was the only child, it would have been totally lonely. But I had a group of friends who were constantly there. And of course we’re still friends because of that.
While millions of kids were enjoying The Brady Bunch every Friday night, what was your favorite TV show at the time?
At 10 or 11 years old, now you’re really taking me back. Well, Monday Night Football was one of my favorites. I have to admit, I loved Laugh-In. Certainly, a lot of it was above my head but it seemed fun and quirky. Room 222, which was on later than us. I was always a Wonderful World of Disney fan – in that hour they would have different series, like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, both played by Fess Parker. Daktari, I remember that being one of my favorites. I loved The Rifleman, and Leave it to Beaver cracked me up. I loved Combat!, Rat Patrol, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Anything science based or science fiction really worked for me. And I liked The Twilight Zone, but it kind of freaked me out at the time.
As an adult, in addition to acting, you’ve had a lot of success in a variety of tech companies, including founding your own. Are you still involved in that or are you focusing more on your acting career now?
Both. But not tech. What tech did was exercise a part of me that combined my interest in business and also science and technology. Literally if I didn’t find myself learning about the arts through my attachment to being an actor, I would have gravitated towards wanting to be some kind of scientist or engineer. I think by virtue of the fact that I found myself involved in the arts, it made me more well rounded. It wouldn’t have been my choice, though. When I left acting, I found myself in a job that didn’t allow me the time to pursue [auditions]. I don’t know how people do it if they have a corporate job and they go on [auditions] because ultimately you’re announcing to everybody around you that you’re looking for other work. And then if a series or something came up, goodbye! I realized that I just couldn’t pursue [acting] anymore. But by 2001 I was needing a break from hi-tech, but not necessarily business. I would have to find a way to get my hand back in business some way but this time I wanted to have a career in entertainment and business at the same time and see if I could engineer it so I wouldn’t have to leave the entertainment field for business. And luckily, it would turn out to be this venture that started in 2011, Christopher Knight Home, which is an online space of furniture and I’m now growing into other spaces as well. It’s my way of exercising my business sense and intertwining it with my entertainment life — making them both work together. I maintain technologies in other businesses as well. This is an interesting industry, because I will be available for work if it’s offered, dependent on what that criteria may be for that type of work. I have a number of disciplines that I feel I’m confident at, which don’t include singing and dancing, that’s definitely not what I can do (laughs). But I maintain a presence doing live game shows around the country with some level of frequency. I’m not really active in interviewing for projects — but discussing projects with somebody who might have me in mind for something — and there’s always something.
Final question. What advice would you give a kid who’s starring on a TV series now?
Oh boy. I guess, be humble and have time for fans and for those who are not in your world. Maintain relationships and friendships and a life with people outside of entertainment to give you some level or sense of reality. Again, telling that to a kid is kind of difficult. It’s better given to an adult. But I would just say, Be humble. Because what I’d rather say to him is like, Hey, this stuff doesn’t last. You’ve just got to be prepared with who you are. Because after this is over, that’s what you’ve got. You are not successful or unsuccessful based on how many fans you have.
Thank you so much for talking to me, it’s been such a pleasure. I’ve learned so much and thank you for your part in The Brady Bunch, it’s a really fun show to watch.
You’re very kind. It was and here’s to another 50 years!
The Brady Bunch 50th Anniversary TV & Movie Collection is now available on DVD.