Florence Agnes Henderson’s entertainment career lasted six decades. This versatile performer could sing, dance and act with aplomb. She starred on Broadway, in the movies, and on tv. For good measure she hosted her own talk show (The Florence Henderson Show), cooking show (Who’s Cooking with Florence Henderson), appeared frequently as a substitute host and guest on many talk and reality shows (among then the Tonight Show after Jack Paar and before Johnny Carson), as a tv spokesperson for products such as Wesson Oil, Polident, and Pepsi, and performed on Dancing with the Stars.
Despite that extensive resume, however, she is best remembered for one role – her five-year stint as “Carol Brady” on the hit tv show The Brady Bunch. “Carol” was the wise, calming character on the show (almost like Robert Young on the 1950’s show Father Knows Best). I dare say many of you “grew up” with the show and may now watch it with your kids.
In a twist of irony that could only occur in the entertainment business, initially, Henderson was not particularly interested in pursuing the role. As an established star on Broadway, she was reluctant to accept a role in a tv show and uproot her family. The producers then offered the part to Shirley Jones, but after she turned it down Henderson relented. The show, which featured a blended family with six children, was very successful. It ran for 117 episodes from 1969 – 1974. Its greatest success, however, was in syndication. It has been shown all over the world and, in fact, can still be found on tv. In addition, it has spawned spin-offs, variety shows, movies, and cartoons. It is safe to say that more people have seen Henderson as “Carol Brady” than in all of her other roles combined.
Florence was born on February 14, 1934 (Valentine’s Day, for you trivia buffs) in Dale, Indiana. She was the youngest of ten children. Her father was a sharecropper; her mother was a homemaker. Basically, Florence went directly from the cradle to performing. Her mother taught her to sing as soon as she could talk (at age 2). By 12 years old she was singing at local stores in town.
Upon graduating high school she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC. Within a couple of years she had landed small parts in touring companies of hit musicals. Then in 1954 she got her big break as the lead in Fanny (creating the role as well). She was a rousing success, and she was on her way.
Henderson was married twice. She had four children, all with her first husband, Ira Bernstein, whom she divorced. Her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, died in 2002. She also had five grandchildren.
Henderson passed away on November 24, 2016 at the age of 82 of heart failure. It was unexpected. She had been in good health. In fact, just three days prior to her death she had attended a live taping of DWTS.
Rest in peace Florence. We will miss you.