Mother on ‘Brady Bunch’ got start on Broad­way

Baltimore Sun - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Anh Do

Florence Hen­der­son, whose por­trayal of Carol Brady on the show “The Brady Bunch” cre­ated an ide­al­ized mother fig­ure for an en­tire gen­er­a­tion, died Thurs­day. She was 82.

Hen­der­son died of heart fail­ure about 7:30 p.m. while sur­rounded by her four chil­dren, said Kayla Press­man, her long­time man­ager and pub­li­cist.

As Press­man’s tele­phone con­tin­ued ring­ing, the woman who has worked with Hen­der­son for 43 years — start­ing as her per­sonal as­sis­tant — said the ac­tress was “the most vi­brant, beau­ti­ful in­side and out per­son I’ve ever known in my en­tire life. We just never left each other. She was so won­der­ful to be with, and she was most loyal.”

Fidelity proved to be one of Hen­der­son’s trade­marks, she said, ad­ding that the ac­tress had stayed with the same busi­ness man­ager since she was 18, and when he died, worked with his son. Hen­der­son also had the same agent for more than 30 years. “She keeps long re­la­tion­ships,” Press­man said. “I can’t say enough about the re­mark­able per­son she is.”

Hen­der­son was a well­known night­club en­ter­tainer per­form­ing in Texas when she was asked to au­di­tion for the role that would change her life.

Hop­ing to jet into Los An­ge­les, have a screen test for “Brady Bunch” cre­ator Sher­wood Schwartz and then get back in time for the even­ing’s shows in Texas, Hen­der­son was de­layed by LA traf­fic and rushed onto the Para­mount lot two hours late, fran­ti­cally look­ing for a makeup artist to get her ready for the test. Fi­nally, she found some­one Florence Hen­der­son worked in the­ater and night­clubs be­fore land­ing a lead role on "The Brady Bunch." with a few spare min­utes — on the set of “Star Trek.”

“I was sit­ting in a makeup chair be­tween Wil­liam Shat­ner, Leonard Ni­moy and like six or eight space mon­sters. None of them had any idea who I was or made any at­tempt to be friendly, which re­ally bugged me,” she re­called in TV son Barry Wil­liams’ 1992 mem­oir, “Grow­ing Up Brady.”

Both­ered by what she be­lieved to be a shoddy makeup job, Hen­der­son joked through the screen test about how bad she looked, and Schwartz, im­pressed with her comic tim­ing, gave her the role.

Hen­der­son’s work as Carol Brady on the se­ries, which ran from 1969 to 1974, and her slyly sexy chem­istry with co-star Robert Reed made the show thrive.

The pair helped broaden ac­cep­tance of blended fam­i­lies. Carol, a sin­gle mother of three daugh­ters, was married to Mike Brady, a sin­gle fa­ther of three sons.

Born in 1934 on Valen­tine’s Day, in Dale, Ind., Hen­der­son was the youngest of 10 chil­dren of a home­maker and a to­bacco share­crop­per.

She be­gan her show busi­ness ca­reer at 17, when she at­tended New York’s Amer­i­can Academy of Dra­matic Arts. Hen­der­son left the school af­ter her first year be­cause she got a job in the cho­rus of the Broad­way mu­si­cal “Wish You Were Here,” di­rected by Josh Logan. She segued from the cho­rus to the lead role in the fi­nal national tour­ing com­pany of Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein’s “Ok­la­homa!”

Logan re­mem­bered her from “Wish You Were Here” and cast her in the lead role of the 1954 mu­si­cal “Fanny” with Ezio Pinza and Wal­ter Slezak.

She ap­peared in other Broad­way mu­si­cals, in­clud­ing Noel Coward’s fi­nal mu­si­cal ef­fort, 1963’s “The Girl Who Came to Sup­per.” From 1959 to 1960, she was the “To­day Girl” on the “To­day” show, pre­sent­ing weather and light news sto­ries.

Later, she was the first fe­male guest host of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Car­son” in the 1970s.

Af­ter “The Brady Bunch,” Hen­der­son be­came a com­mer­cial spokes­woman and co-pro­duced “Coun­try Kitchen,” a Nashville Net­work se­ries.


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