Florence Henderson Remembered: Big-Hearted, a Little Bawdy and Incredibly Talented

Cynthia Littleton
Variety

Florence Henderson loved playing Carol Brady. She respected what the chipper “The Brady Bunch” matriarch represented to millions of fans. But she was not Carol Brady.

Henderson, the actress and singer who died unexpectedly on Nov. 24 at the age of 82, was a fun-loving person endowed with a bawdy sense of humor.

“She loved raucous behavior,” said Lloyd Schwartz, producer and son of “Brady Bunch” creator Sherwood Schwartz. “She would always be palling around with the guys, and she could give as good as she got, in such a great way.”

At the same time, Henderson was a motherly presence to the six youthful stars of the series. She was beloved by the entire “Brady” company for being a consummate pro with a gigantic heart. She commanded respect for forging a showbiz career after a hardscrabble upbringing in Kentucky, where she was the 10th child in a family of 10.

“If you needed anything, she was immediately there for you,” said Schwartz, who worked with his father on the many “Brady” projects over the years, starting with the original ABC series when he was fresh out of college. “She remembered everybody’s name. We became a family on that show and she went to our weddings, our funerals.”

“Brady Bunch” was never a huge hit during its 1969-74 run on ABC, but its durability in reruns ensured that Henderson would be forever typecast as a “TV mom.” She never expressed an iota of regret, only gratitude that the show made her a household name.

“She knew the respect that people had for that character,” Schwartz said. “Whenever anybody came up to her to say anything about the show, she was as warm as could be — I saw it a million times.”

Schwartz’s only regret was that he never found the vehicle to show a wider range of Henderson’s talent as an actress.

“She was a very gifted actress,” he said. “I was always on ‘Brady’ set telling directors ‘She can give you more. Let her go.’ ”

Schwartz first met Henderson on Stage 5 of the Paramount lot on the first day of shooting on the first season (he was still in college when the pilot was shot). He was star-struck, having been a fan of her work in stage and TV musicals.

“She immediately said ‘We’re going to be great friends’ and put me at ease. And we always stayed very close,” Schwartz said.

As he grappled with the shock of Henderson’s death, Schwartz said he found significance in the fact that she was born on Valetine’s Day and died on Thanksgiving.

“I think that means she was born as someone we were all to love and she died at a time when we could be thankful she existed,” he said.

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