What Happened to All the 'Dead' Sitcom Parents? An Investigation
In the early days of the TV situation comedy, there were many quirky tropes, but the weirdest one might have been The Nameless Dead Spouse of Whom We Shall Not Speak.
Sure, husbands and wives die in real life. But people talk about them. There might be a picture somewhere on the mantle. And surely, they had names. But on TV sitcoms, it was another reality entirely.
For example, what happened to Andy Taylor’s wife on The Andy Griffith Show? Even the most hardcore fans don’t know -- it was briefly mentioned on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show when Andy Taylor was introduced, with Mrs. Taylor supposedly dying when Opie was just “the least little speck of a baby.” The cause of death? Or even her name? Never explained. (The show’s spin-off continuation, Mayberry R.F.D. starred Ken Barry as Sam Jones, another widower with a mystery wife.)
What about Mike Brady’s wife and Carol Brady’s husband? It’s insinuated in the Brady Bunch pilot that Mike was a widower but Carol? Again, never explained, although producer Sherwood Schwartz maintained Carol was divorced, a taboo on early 1970s TV. So the guy was a deadbeat dad? Marcia and Jan were plenty old enough to remember him, but they apparently didn’t miss him, same as the Brady boys and their missing mom. The mystery parents are casually discarded in the explanatory theme song.
On My Three Sons, Steve’s wife died sometime before the series began. What was her name again? Never mentioned.
Beverly Hillbillies dad and instant kabillionaire Jed Clampett had a daughter named Ellie Mae and a dead, nameless wife. Gidget’s father had a wife who was buried and gone. Julia was a widower.
Mom on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father was recently deceased so she was at least acknowledged, but apparently not mourned. The show’s premise was young Eddie always trying to fix up Pop with new women to marry -- why wait on a replacement mom?
There’s only one plausible explanation for all the missing sitcom parents.
The 1960s saw the spark of a sexual revolution, a time of free love and experimentation that touched all corners of society. All of this talk of “dead” spouses (or, especially, the conspicious lack of talking) leads us to believe that they didn’t die at all -- they simply flew the coop to join some kind of comedy love commune.
The math makes sense. Carol Brady’s husband? Probably getting busy with Andy Taylor’s wife. The wives of Mike, Jed, Steve, and Bill Bixby? Mixing it up with Julia’s husband in a scene straight from Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’s Spahn Ranch. We like to think that their free-love hi-jinks were accompanied by a laugh track
And the poor spouses left behind to raise children by themselves? Their reward was their own TV shows, with syndication residuals into perpetuity. Sure, not as exciting as frolicking in a sitcom sex commune, but they get to live on in black-and-white forever.
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Top image: CBS