There is a good explanation why Florence Henderson has endured as one of the most beloved American entertainers of the last six decades. Long before she became a television icon as Carol Brady of "The Brady Bunch," Florence's talent, love of performing and love of people were matched with an ethic of hard work and a curiosity to explore new dimensions. These qualities opened doors of opportunity and success soon followed in almost every genre of the performing arts.
That talent, drive and determination have been a constant since she literally sang for her supper at age six in the height of the Depression in Indiana. It followed her when she arrived with suitcase in hand to try out for the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York at age 17, and in more recent times, performing on "Dancing with the Stars" at age 76 in 2010.
Henderson passed her audition at the American Academy, but lasted there only for a year before a Broadway job beckoned. Henderson had mixed feelings about leaving school, but an administrator set her straight, "What, are you crazy?!! That's why you're here!” From a role in the chorus of Josh Logan's Wish You Were Here, Henderson was discovered and became a protégé of the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein and embarked on the national tour of Oklahoma! in the lead role of Laurey. From there, her name was soon above the Broadway marquis in Fanny. Leading roles would follow in major productions of The Sound of Music, The Girl Who Came to Supper (Noel Coward's last play), South Pacific, and The King and I, among others.
But the emerging medium of television piqued her interest, and Henderson accepted the job as the "Today Show" Girl, sitting alongside pioneering broadcaster Dave Garroway as a female anchor (and would be succeeded by Barbara Walters when she left). Henderson was also a mainstay on live performance shows like "Ed Sullivan," the "Bell Television Hour" and others. Later, her ability to match wits as well as sing made her a favorite of Dean Martin and Johnny Carson (becoming the first woman to guest host his show). Her competitive nature also came out in her love of game shows, and regular appearances on shows like "Hollywood Squares" and “Password” also reinforced her appeal as a personality.
But that was all a warm up for mega-popular "The Brady Bunch," the television series that has remarkably not left the airwaves in syndication since it ceased production in 1974 after 117 episodes. Aired in over 122 countries, "The Brady Bunch" was an opportunity that Florence Henderson initially viewed as lukewarm at best. Her work between her nightclub act, stage productions and television appearances was satisfying and allowed her to balance her family life as mother of four school-aged children. The Hollywood-based production would also mean having to uproot her family from their home base in New York City. But the series about the blended family with its trademark tic tac toe opening credits hit an immediate chord with the American public. Carol Brady became one of the most popular mothers in television history, an irony given that Henderson's childhood was anything but idyllic.
Born the last of ten children to a tobacco sharecropper and his wife, Henderson faced the hard consequences of poverty and deprivation at an early age. Her mother loved music and taught her how to sing fifty songs by age two. Exhausted by the difficulties of her life, her mother moved away when Henderson was twelve, leaving her with her next oldest sister and her father, who struggled with alcoholism. She had to grow up fast but singing was her saving grace.
One of her best friends came from a well to do family and recognized her talent, arranging for a scholarship for theatrical studies in New York. Although loving, compassionate and forgiving about her parents and the difficulties they faced, Henderson created the mother in Carol Brady that she never had.
In the aftermath of "The Brady Bunch," Henderson continued to star in major theatrical productions, headline in Las Vegas and perform live at major venues around the country.
Today, she stars in her autobiographical one woman show All the Lives of Me, which takes her audience from her hardscrabble childhood in Indiana through each chapter of her career and personal life to the present.
Although she had represented General Motors as a spokesperson early in her career, Henderson also became in high demand for commercials both during and after “The Brady Bunch.” For many years, she was affiliated with Wesson Oil and Tang, among others. The Wall Street Journal recently ranked her #5 in consumer appeal among celebrity product endorsers. Today, she is the national spokesperson for Bausch & Lomb's Crystalens, the corneal lens implant she wears herself after cataract surgery.
Today, Henderson maintains a non-stop work schedule and is excited at the opportunities that she is blessed to have continue come her way. In her spare time, her priority is family, notably her four children and five grandchildren. She also does motivational speaking and continues to pursue her passion for hypnotherapy, which she learned under her late husband, the renowned and pioneering hypnotherapist John Kappas.
Henderson wrote her autobiography, "Life Is Not A Stage, From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond," which is published by Center Street/Hachette Book Group and is now available.
Henderson was inducted into the Smithsonian Institute's first permanent Entertainment History Exhibit as one of the greatest pop cultural icons of all time in November 2008. She was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003. Her enthusiasm, professionalism, commitment to quality and artistry has made Florence Henderson one of the most respected and endearing performers of our time.