Hello again readers, family and friends. Today we take a break from reviewing an episode of The Bradys so that we may have a look at “Life Is Not a Stage” by the late Florence Henderson. As I have stated in the past, I am not a literary critic, so this blog is really just sharing my own thoughts on the book and sharing some of the information shared. The book was published in 2011 and ends with the author sharing her experience on Dancing With The Stars. She would be with us only five more years after the book came out, but if she spent those remaining years living her life as she did in her autobiography, I would surmise they were lived to the fullest.
The book numbers 264 pages and recollections of The Brady Bunch do not begin until page 167. Pages 1 through 166 focus on Henderson’s childhood in Kentucky and her rise as a star of the stage. She was the last of nine children and most were grown and no longer part of the household for the duration of her childhood. Her father was an alcoholic with intervals of sobriety through the years. She wrote, “When he wasn’t drunk, he could be the sweetest, kindest man.” She describes her mother as a strict but fair woman who showed little love and adoration for her children. She would leave Florence and her sister to move to Cleveland while they were still young. Fortunately, she remained a presence in Florence’s life in later years. There are pictures of them enjoying time together in Florence’s adult years. An interesting factoid shared was that Florence Henderson modeled the Great Grandma Hutchins character in “You’re Never Too Old” after her own mother.
Through the charitable act of a friend’s parents, Florence Henderson got her big break. Through the family’s connections, Florence landed a spot at a prestigious acting school in New York City. From here she rose quickly appearing in hit plays. Her adventures as a stage actress are peppered with stories of meeting famous players, troubled celebrities and other interesting tales. Unfortunately, many of the big names she mentioned were unfamiliar to me. I am sure one more knowledgeable of Broadway and musicals in general might enjoy this portion of the book more.
Other than her time on The Today Show, her experience in front of the camera was limited prior to playing Carol Brady. As she wrote about The Brady Bunch, I was a bit disappointed that most of the information shared has been shared before. She wrote of how she helped ease Robert Reed’s anxiety in the romantic scenes for the show. It is well known now that Robert Reed was gay. Florence Henderson describes his anxiety over performing as her husband was challenging at first. She of course mentions how he wanted The Brady Bunch to be as realistic as possible and would bump heads with Sherwood and Lloyd Schwartz over scripts.
Florence describes how filming a weekly sitcom required long and grueling hours. She arrived at the set before the sun was up and left after it went down. She wrote of what a great friend she had in Ann B. Davis who told her she must conserve her energy and encouraged her to take up needlepoint. She also maintained a family like relationship with the child actors on the series. She made a great point that she was spending more time with her cast mates than her own family, thereby making them like family.
The one story shared by Florence Henderson about the show, that I never recall hearing before, occurred in Hawaii. There is a scene where the Bradys are in an outrigger canoe. The watercraft capsized and none of the cast were wearing life jackets. Florence knew Susan Olsen was not a good swimmer, nor was she herself, so she held on to her TV daughter for dear life. The event shook everybody up, but the show must go on and they continued filming. Florence stated, “It could have been a major disaster”. Indeed it could have.
Henderson is grateful for the persona the character Carol Brady gave her in her post Brady years. She never lacked for work in the years following the show. She mentions briefly The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. She remembers fondly the beautiful gowns she got to wear and the great talent that made guest appearances on the program. I was disappointed that not even a passing mention was made regarding The Brady Brides, A Very Brady Christmas or The Bradys. She also did not mention her cameo in The Brady Bunch Movie. Instead, the rest of the book shares with readers the bittersweet divorce from her first husband. She and him remained friendly in the years that followed their divorce. She found that ending a marriage she had entered into in another phase of life to be a liberating experience. She also speaks only fondly of her second husband to whom she was married for 20 years until he passed away.
Dear readers, if any of you have had the pleasure of reading “Life Is Not a Stage”, I would love to hear your own thoughts and opinions. If you have not, I would encourage any fan of The Brady Bunch to learn more about the woman who gave us Carol Brady. She ends the book encouraging readers to find their own positive energy and follow their dreams. I like to think she was doing just that until November 24, 2016 when she left this world. Rest in peace Florence Henderson. Thank you for sharing your story with us.