Donald D’Haene talks with Florence Henderson about families, reality television, and Robert Reed aka Mike Brady coming out as gay—as well as her new show: All the Lives of Me…A Musical Journey.
Florence Henderson, multi-talented entertainer and veteran of stage, screen and TV, is touring North America with her one-woman show. I was invited to the Canadian premiere of her critically acclaimed show at the Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, Ontario. All the Lives of Me… A Musical Journey features Ms. Henderson singing familiar tunes, sharing humorous anecdotes about her life and a no-holds-barred Q&A at the end of the show. Here’s hoping for a no-holds-barred DISH!
We’re both Aquarians. Hope that’s a good sign!?
Florence Henderson: I love Aquarians. We always have our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground.
Do you believe there has been a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in your world?
Florence Henderson: I’m not sure how it works, but I’m sure it has.
Hell as I if I know either. I always thought it meant we love water sports! We both had a childhood that was a bed of thorny roses. You left home at 17; I left home at 15. It made me an overachiever. It made you ____ ?
Florence Henderson: It made me an overachiever, as well, and an independent and compassionate person.
Well, I try…And yet despite the struggles, you admit in your memoir that even in your singing/acting training – learning how to portray sad feelings was a challenge. Fascinating. How did you resolve the problem?
Florence Henderson: I studied acting and developed technique that allowed me to portray all kinds of emotions.
I love the title of your one-woman show, All the Lives of Me as well as the title of your memoir, Life Is Not a Stage. I’ve always said, “My life is a stage, but I happen to have written my best lines.” What’s your take? Holy creative titles, Ms. Henderson! Haven’t you written/coined your own best lines?
Florence Henderson: I always think my best lines have yet to be uttered because I hope with age I’m getting smarter.
Florence Henderson: I never felt like a baby. I started working at 8, singing for my supper even before then, and I’ve been singing for my supper ever since.
I feel like I know too much about you. You’ve been very open in interviews and in your book. I call it the many C’s of Florence Henderson’s life: From Florence Henderson early stage Catholic to alpha Chi to Carol to Crisco to Country Kitchen to Christopher’s My Fair Brady to Dancing With Corky (Crabs is another C word – and it’s in your bio – but a DISH interview can only go so far! LOL) What haven’t you done?!!
Florence Henderson: YOU!!! By the way, I sold Wesson Oil, and you can do a lot of things with it besides fry chicken!
I’m not touching that one! Did you really like Christopher’s Top Model Wife? She was gorgeous but her whining voice and attitude drove me bonkers!
Florence Henderson: No comment.
Good move. I wouldn’t either. But a DISHer has to ask…You give off a force of goodness even when you’ve been brutally honest about your life and displayed a delicious, wicked sense of humour in some of your interviews. What do you think accounts for the positive force field that is Florence Henderson?
Florence Henderson: Wow, what a nice observation. I think having faith since I was a young child has kept me grounded and I’ve learned that there is a solution to every problem.
I think the fact you were the first woman to guest host The Tonight Show is not paid enough attention. Why do you think that is?
Florence Henderson: I really don’t know. I’ve had a lot of “firsts” in my career I just don’t talk about them very much.
Oh my goodness, Florence. I love talking about “firsts”…Are you a Feminist?
Florence Henderson: I believe in equality for all human beings!
So Cary Grant joked about marrying you and Frank Sinatra tried to pick you up. Which of those two were more your type?
Florence Henderson: I was crazy about both of them. I don’t have a specific type, just someone who’s funny, confident, has their own money and is still breathing!
Amen to that sister! Of course, my intro to you was Mrs. Brady. At that time the blended family was foreign to me. Now I’ve got siblings I’ve never met! Were there issues at the creative stage in ’69 – how to explain having a single mom and single dad with three kids hooking up?
Florence Henderson: I think that was a period in our history when more people were getting divorced and experimenting with free love, drugs, and “looking for love in all the wrong places”. I think The Brady Bunch represented a positive solution.
I know people always talk about being surprised the late Robert Reed was gay. But I remember back when I was 14 in’75 and didn’t even know what “gay” was “Mike Brady” shocked his fans when Reed played a doctor on Medical Centre who wanted to undergo a sex change. I remember it like it was yesterday…the way adults in my world were horrified. Would anyone who had seen that really be surprised your television hubby was gay? I mean that was 13 years before even I wore a dress! And you had a well-established career before you even landed The Brady Bunch role. My guess would be your “gaydar” would be better than the rest of us, right?
Florence Henderson: You are absolutely right. My GAYDAR is a like a laser beam.
You’ll see some gay activists today criticize closeted gay actors for not coming out. Is there any way Reed would have been cast as your husband had he been out?
Florence Henderson: There is no way Robert Reed would have been cast as Mike Brady if he had “come out”.
We’ve come along but how soon we forget that part of our history.
Florence Henderson: Yes, that is true. We’ve still got a long way to go for ALL human rights.
Does one of TV’s favourite moms watch TV? Do you even have the time?
Florence Henderson: I don’t have much time to watch TV but, I’m so in love with Nathan Fillion on Castle, Simon Baker on the Mentalist, Johnny Lee Miller on Elementary. Their leading ladies are pretty cute, too! I also love Mariska Hargitay on Law & Order SVU, Dancing With The Stars, The Voice, and I watch a lot of news.
Those first 3 shows are my partner’s favourites…in fact, he’s watching Castle this very minute! He says, “Tell her she’s got good taste!” What do you think of reality TV?
Florence Henderson: I think there is a place for some of it, but I think about all the actors who have learned their craft, studied for years, and can’t always find work. The reality show takes a person with no experience and often no talent and creates their “15 minutes of fame”.
How on earth did the producers of The Surreal Life convince you to join the show? You were the classiest house guest of any season. For even the best of the rest, it seemed to bring out their worst.
Florence Henderson: I wanted to know what it felt like to be in an asylum and now I know. And the pay wasn’t bad either.
Did you enjoy your long rollercoaster ride of fame?
Florence Henderson: I always wanted longevity in my career and to work at a pretty high level and I think I’ve achieved that, and I still love what I do.
Some stars resent being typecast. You seem to have respected the iconic role you played in the world’s TV living rooms. How do you really feel about that role? Was it ever a burden? Did you feel the real Florence Henderson was being compared to the make-believe role you created?
Florence Henderson: No, I’ve never felt I had to be anything other than what I am.
Your show All The Lives of Me – A Musical Journey is coming to the beautiful Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia. I’m bringing my two best friends and my straight brother. What should I tell them to expect?
Florence Henderson: Well, I hope to meet all of you, and I hope that you all have a wonderful, fun evening. I look forward to seeing you and all the people who come to the Victoria Playhouse. God Bless and love, Florence
I can’t wait. What a class act you are! I’ve been DISHing for 12 years (well in print anyways – LOL) and you are one of my favourites guests in all that time!
All the Lives of Me…A Musical Journey—The epitome of class
Certain performers attract large audiences only at the zenith of their careers. A select few can attract audiences at any point after reaching stardom.
Florence Henderson’s position in entertainment history is unique in that her zenith has been born again several times over six decades. Imagine auditioning for Rodgers and Hammerstein at seventeen and being cast in the lead (Laurey) in the national tour of Okahoma! Lead after lead on Broadway followed. Then she became a television star in the ’60s (Dean Martin, Tonight Show) and that’s before she landed The Brady Bunch. As we all know that role gave her icon status immortality.
People are travelling far and wide to see All the Lives of Me… A Musical Journey. I talked to people my age who travelled to Petrolia from Detroit – people who have seen all the legends in concert. They raved about this show.
If you are a fan of Ms. Henderson, you will love this one-woman show. I am a bio-style show addict so this was just up my alley. Henderson could have talked all night and I would have been in heaven. She has seen it all, done it all and with the best in the biz. She has a Q&A in the second act and she answers honestly with wit and compassion.
She is so tiny but what a force this gorgeous 79-year-old is. She is no longer a soprano; she has an earthy quality to her voice now – so don’t go expecting to hear Florence as Laurey singing songs like “Many A New Day”. I didn’t and I was NOT disappointed! She is accompanied by the best: her musical director, four-time Emmy winner Glen Roven at the piano, two back up singers (Cynthia Leigh Heim, Hallie Silverston), flutist Julie Ferrara and cellist Laura Bontrager.
The set design was beautiful. Lighting terrific. The theatre itself is wonderful – not a bad seat in the house!
Ms. Henderson wrote in her memoir that early in her career, during her singing/acting training learning how to portray sad feelings was a challenge. When I interviewed her she said, “I studied acting and developed technique that allowed me to portray all kinds of emotions.” I was interested in observing how she would communicate her feelings during her show. A genuine sense of warmth, fun and love of life and people shone through. Her truly emotional moments were when she talked of her beloved father and the love of her life, her second husband, John Kappas. I would have loved to hear one song unplugged where it was just her communicating to us her similar deepest, innermost feelings. Even so, I enjoyed the entire journey. I had a smile on all night.
I happened to bring together an eclectic group to accompany me. I know this is hard to believe but one friend who wasn’t born in North America thought we were going to see a play. I just assumed every human being on the planet knows who Ms. Henderson is. I mean The Brady Bunch has aired in 120 countries and has never left the tube in reruns! Without any knowledge of her career he thoroughly enjoyed the show. That is the highest compliment.
Another guest, my brother (who can count how many plays he has seen in his life on two hands) told me, “Growing up in anything but a Brady Bunch household, watching her show on an old black and white tv as a kid, it was a world I aspired to. What a treat to see Mrs. Brady in living color.”
Funny thing is he ended up with a Brady Bunch life although he brought three daughters into the second marriage and his wife brought a son and a daughter!
One should never discount the impact of sitcoms on people’s lives. I am so impressed that Ms. Henderson never does!
We all were marveling over our surreal visit with Mrs. Brady during a fantastic pre-show meal at Petrolia’s Actor’s Casual Dining. (All the meals are named after stars so it set the appropriate tone for the night.)
I mean we got to sing The Brady Bunch theme with Florence Henderson. What’s not to love?