For five seasons, she was the “lovely lady,” who played the matriarch of a blended family who entertained and taught all of us for five seasons on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). She also had a remarkable career in film, stage and television that spanned six decades, which also included a stint as a contestant on the same network that introduced us to her back in the early 1970s. Recently she had her own talk show and cooking show. Last week unfortunately, this amazing treasure said farewell to the world on a day that we all gave thanks.
A week ago from tomorrow, Florence Henderson, who is forever television’s most adored mother and iconic matriarch Carol Brady from the great ABC sitcom “The Brady Bunch,” which ran from 1969-74 passed away back on Thanksgiving night following a brief illness. She was 82 years old.
A report from New York’s Newsday Henderson, who is survived by her children Barbara, Joseph, Robert and Lizzie, their respective spouses and five grandchildren, was last Thanksgiving Eve at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, where she unfortunately passed away after suffering heart failure.
Her manager Kayla Pressman said to Newsday that Henderson in her final moments was “surrounded by family and friends.”
Actress Maureen McCormick, who played daughter Marsha Brady on “The Brady Bunch” and remained friends even after the show concluded tweeted about her TV mom, “You are in my life forever Florence. Florence Henderson was a dear friend for so very many years & in my <e forever. Love & hugs to her family. I’ll miss u dearly.” #RIPFlorence.
Born Florence Agnes Henderson on Valentine’s Day in 1934, she was the youngest of 10 children in Dale, IN to Elizabeth, a homemaker and Joseph Henderson, a tobacco sharecropper.
It was Florence’s mother during the Great Depression who taught her how to sing at the age of two. By age 12, Henderson was singing at the local grocery store.
Upon graduating from St. Francis Academy in Owensboro, KY in 1951, Henderson moved to New York City and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she became an Alumna Initiate of the Alpha Chi chapter of Delta Zeta sorority.
Her entertainment career for Henderson began as a performer in musicals, like the touring production of Oklahoma! And South Pacific at Lincoln Center in New York City.
She made her Broadway debut in 1952 in the musical Wish You Were Here and two years later was the star in the long-running 1954 musical Fanny, which had 888 performances and Henderson originated the title role.
Henderson four years later portrayed Meg March in the CBS-TV musical adaptation of Little Woman, which aired on Oct. 16, 1958.
In that same year, she along with Bill Hayes appeared in the Oldsmobile commercials from 1958-1961 on The Patti Page Show, which Oldsmobile was the sponsor.
Henderson’s last musical performance was in Jack Paar’s subsequent talk show in 1963, which included the Jan. 25th and Feb. 22nd broadcasts. She also performed in the May 19, 1963 broadcast of The Voice of Firestone, where she performed alongside baritone Mario Sereni.
Henderson’s big break came in 1969 where she played the beloved Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch” which aired from 1969-74 and 117 episodes.
It was 117 episodes that displayed a blended family of a lady with three girls, McCormick, who played Marcia Brady; Eve Plumb who played Jan Brady and Susan Olsen, who played Cindy Brady and Robert Reed, who played her husband Mike Brady, who had three sons Peter, played by Christopher Knight; Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady and Mike Lookinland, who played Bobby Brady. The family also had a maid Alice Nelson, played by the late Ann B. Davis.
The one thing that Henderson did say in a 2012 interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters back in 2012 that she wished that her character had a job.
On last Friday’s addition of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Executive Editor at People magazine Kate Coyne said to Dan Harris and Paula Faris that Mrs. Henderson was a very modern woman.
“She was very ambitious. She was very successful. She herself had carved out a career that spanned well beyond ‘The Brady Bunch,’” Coyne said. “She made sure that she stayed relevant. She was very, very driven.”
Earlier this year in an interview with Newsday, Henderson said of her role on the show, “I decided a long time ago to embrace it. You gotta cherish your past. I can’t say I didn’t do it. I get more fan mail today from all over the world than I did when the show started…The question I’m asked the most is, ‘Can I have a hug?’”
She also once said of that playing Mrs. Brady as “The Mother I always wished I had, as the mother a lot of people wished they had.”
If you had a chance to see the show, you can understand why even today Mrs. Henderson has and continued to receive mail from fans. Playing the character of Mrs. Brady, Henderson was the wise, calming and generous presence to her blended family of six children, three of which, who were all girls that were hers.
That ability is a major reason why the series became a major global phenomenon, which resulted in spin-offs, variety shows, movies and cartoons that were begot from the series that consisted or “The Brady Bunch Hour (1977);” “The Brady Brides (1981);” “A Very Brady Christmas (1988);” “The Bradys (1990)” and “The Brady Bunch Movie (1995).”
That is not bad when you consider that at first Mrs. Henderson was uninterested in the playing the role that made her an icon.
When “The Brady Bunch,” concluded, Henderson continued to work making guest appearances on some of the best show of today and back then like “The Love Boat (1977-87, 10 episodes);” “Fantasy Island (1979-83);” “Murder She Wrote (1986-90, three episodes);” “Roseanne (1988-97, one episode) “Ally McBeal (2000, one episode)” and “30 Rock (2006-13, one episode).”
Along with her television credits, Mrs. Henderson beginning in the 1980s hosted a cooking and talk series, Country Kitchen,” on The Nashville Network for eight seasons.
Six years ago, she was one of 12 celebrities to compete on Season 11 of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” which premiered on Sept. 20, 2010. Her professional dance partner was Corky Ballas, the father of two-time DWTS champion Mark Ballas. Mrs. Henderson was the fifth contestant eliminated that season.
Mrs. Henderson had made many appearances on CBS’s early afternoon talk show “The Talk,” hosted by Julie Chen, Sheryl Underwood, Aisha Tyler, Sara Gilbert and Sharon Osbourne.
In her last appearance on “The Talk” was back in Feb. 2014, where the host and those in audience celebrated her 80th Birthday.
When Henderson appeared on the show in 2011, she said about her role as Mrs. Brady, “I never set out to be a role model. I’m an actress. I created a character Carol Brady. I loved this character and I created her as the mother I think that everyone wishes they had. It was the mother I wish I’d had. I didn’t have a mother like that at all.”
In her 2014 appearance, in honor of her 80th Birthday, her television children expressed what Henderson was like and what she meant to her and what they learned from her.
“I thought she was so beautiful and I thought she had eyes like a dove,” Olsen said.“I definitely recall her saying to me about the show be nice to your fans because no fans, equals no show and I’ve taken that with me. I’ve taken that kind of attitude with me my whole life,” Lookinland said.
Underwood asked Henderson how would Carol Brady feel about turning 80 years young?
Her answer, “She’d probably feel the same way I do. A little nervous. A little excited. I think she’d be out there like I am dating younger men,” which got a serious round of applause from the audience.
Before the conclusion of that taping when Henderson was honored with a nice birthday cake, Williams gave his television mother roses and a lovely passionate kiss. Something he said that he had been waiting four decades to do.
On this past Monday’s edition of “The Talk” the host were still in shock that someone who became a good friend to them and their show was suddenly gone.
“I think it’s especially sad for us because we’ve been here for so many seasons, certain people sort of become a part of our extended family and part of our show and I think we had that special bond with her,” Gilbert said on Monday’s show.
Chen echoed those same thoughts when she said, “We were lucky enough to celebrate Florence’s 80th birthday right here on this show, but we will continue to celebrate her life and her legacy always. Florence we love you.”
Along with her amazing talent, Henderson, as Coyne mentioned on GMA last week displayed an out of this world class that everyone she worked with or even talked to her wanted to be like. She put that class on display for the world to see during her elimination six years back.
“I loved the show since it began. I think it’s just a tremendous show and I hoped I’ve inspired people to get up off their behinds and move and dance and live and enjoyed,” Henderson, who even made an appearance in the audience during the season finale of DWTS last week, which unfortunately was her final public appearance.
Florence Henderson was an entertainer who could connect with her audience. Whether it was her legendary voice on Broadway, to her acting skills on the silver or small screen. She had a way of holding the attention of those that watched her perform and they always came back wanting more. She had a presence that stood out from the rest. She had the wisdom that she was willing to share with fellow actors that made them better. Above all she never took an opportunity for granted and that resulted in a long and stellar career that will always be remembered.
When someone passes on, one question always comes to mind. How would they liked to be remembered?
Mrs. Henderson once said that, “I think probably as someone who survived for a long time in a very tough business and hopefully managed to retain a sense of humanity. I think that’s how I would like to be remembered.”
Information and quotations are courtesy of 11/25/16 7 a.m. edition of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” with Paula Faris, Dan Harris, Diane Macedo and Rob Marciano; 11/26/16 Newsday article "A Memorable TV Mom," by Verne Gay; 11/28/16 2 p.m. edition of “The Talk” on CBS with Julie Chen, Sheryl Underwood, Sara Gilbert, Aisha Tyler and guest co-host Country Singer and actress Reba McEntire; http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brady_Bunch and http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Henderson.