Every once in a while, my writing career allows me to do something that I think is really cool. So cool in fact, that if I were to go back in time and tell my younger self it was going to happen…I probably wouldn’t believe me. Over the years, I have interviewed my musical idol (twice), called my childhood celebrity crush, met legendary journalists and best-selling authors, hung out with athletic icons and conversed with the man who, this month, will become the Vice-President of the United States. However, one of the stories I am proudest of is my interview with America’s Favorite TV Mom and Dale, Indiana native, Florence Henderson.
I cannot recall a time in my life when I was not crazy about The Brady Bunch. Although I cannot remember watching it when it originally aired, I rarely missed an episode in syndication. Coming from a small, nuclear household, I loved everything about the hustle and bustle of having a big, blended family like the Brady’s. I wanted problems that could be solved in 30 minutes or by building a house of cards. I wanted enough talented siblings to start a singing group. I wanted to square dance in the living room. And most of all, I wanted a mother who had nothing better to do with her day than to help me track down my lost diary, perform “Wherever We Go” at my high school talent show or help me stalk Davy Jones and convince him to take me to the spring prom.
Don’t misunderstand me, my real-life mother was a lovely lady, but she was no Florence Henderson. She couldn’t sing, didn’t needlepoint and (thankfully) did not wear her hair in a horrible mullet. In fact, the only things she had in common with Carol Brady was her Hoosier heritage and that she occasionally made pork cops and applesauce for supper.
Through my interview, I would learn that even though Florence Henderson was Carol Brady, she was more multifaceted than her television counterpart. Born on Valentine’s Day into a large, but poor Catholic family, Henderson grew up near the Ohio River, was taught by the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Indiana and moved to New York at the age of 17 thanks to the financial support of some personal friends.
She was the “Today Girl” on NBC’s Today Show, was the first woman to sit behind Johnny Carson’s desk on The Tonight Show, appeared on Broadway in a number of productions, did a stint on Dancing With The Stars and was a spokesperson for everything from Wesson Oil to Polident and most recently, the LG ProBake Convection oven. She was a regular fixture at the Indianapolis 500, a benefactress to the nuns who educated her, and a consummate professional who was devoted to her family, her television children and fans.
“I have been very blessed in my career,” she said in the interview. “I love what I do and I am always thinking the best role is just around the corner. I’ve always said I’d think about retiring when I’m 95! I love the challenge of performing in front of a live audience.”
She was certainly blessed and for all of us “Brady kids” around the world, we were blessed to have been impacted by her through those 117 zany episodes. The loss of Henderson on Thanksgiving at the age of 82 is a difficult one to accept. She was our surrogate parent who was there to greet us after school. She kept us company until dinner time and showed us that even though life isn’t perfect, we can achieve a happy ending provided that we find out what we do best and then do our best with it and no matter what, “don’t play ball in the house.”
RIP Florence, we’ll miss you.
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