Here’s the story of a lovely lady…beloved by millions for her career-making role on The Brady Bunch. RIP Florence Henderson.
She Was a Stage Star While Still a Teenager
In 1952, 18-year-old Florence Henderson landed one line in a Broadway play called Wish You Were Here. The theatrical giants of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein happened to catch the play and thought she was right for another part. They gave her the lead role in a national touring company of their musical Oklahoma! She reprised the role for a Broadway revival of the musical in 1954. She followed that with more high-profile theatrical gigs, such as starring in road tours of The Sound of Music and South Pacific, and starring on Broadway in The Girl Who Came to Supper.
She Briefly Went Deaf
In the midst of a successful career as a Broadway performer, it nearly all came to an end. While appearing on stage in The King and I at a theater in Los Angeles in 1965, Henderson suddenly went completely deaf. Terrified, she sought out medical condition, and she was diagnosed with osteosclerosis. It was treatable for Henderson and corrective surgery restored her full hearing in both ears.
She Hosted The Tonight Show
These days when talk show hosts want a vacation, their show airs a rerun. When Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show, he routinely took a day off every couple of weeks at the very least. Many comedians and actors got a big break subbing for Carson as host of The Tonight Show, including Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Joan Rivers. Henderson did it too—the first woman ever to do so.
She Was a Trusted Name in Food
In the ’80s, Henderson parlayed her years of being seen as the trusted Carol Brady in reruns into a career as a TV cook. For eight years, she hosted a Southern-style cooking show on The Nashville Network called Country Kitchen. (Henderson was actually born in Indiana, but who cares?) The show led to a bestselling cookbook called Florence Henderson’s Short Cut Cooking and a lengthy gig as the TV spokesperson for Wesson cooking oil.
She Almost Wasn’t Carol Brady
Henderson is of course best known for portraying one of the most recognizable and beloved TV moms in history: Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, as well as on revivals like The Brady Brides, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, and The Bradys. She’s heavily identified with the role, but she wasn’t producers’ first choice. The part was initially offered to another singer-actress: Shirley Jones. She was Henderson’s best friend at the time…and who one year later would go on to star as the mother on The Partridge Family.