Florence Henderson to talk about the 'Brady Bunch,' at Life: Boomers and Seniors Expo in Chattanooga

Sunday, August 18, 2013

photo Florence Henderson will be the featured attraction at the Life Expo for seniors on Saturday in Chattanooga.

Brady Bunch trivia464 children auditioned for roles as the six Brady children.When Florence Henderson arrived to do her screen test, there was no one on staff to do her make-up, so she went over to the adjoining studio where "Star Trek" was being filmed; she was seated in a make-up chair between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, being made up for their day's work on their series. Henderson recalls that both actors ignored her."The Brady Bunch" theme song, written by show creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz, was performed by The Peppermint Trolley Company for the show's first season. The last four seasons, it was sung by the Brady kids, and rerecorded yearly.Sherwood Schwartz originally wanted Gene Hackman for the role of Mike Brady, but Hackman wasn't considered well-known enough at the time.Due to its marginal ratings (only reaching No. 34 in the Nielsen Ratings at its peak), the show was never renewed for a whole 22-episode season until its last season on the air (1973-74). During its first four seasons, it was renewed for only 13 episodes at a time.Comedienne Joyce Bulifant was originally cast as Carol Brady in the series. Character actress Kathleen Freeman was first picked to be Alice. However, when Florence Henderson was cast as Carol, comedienne Ann B. Davis was given the part of Alice to keep things "evenly balanced."The show received lots of viewer fan mail, including a few letters from children asking if they could come live with the Bradys, since their own families were troubled or imperfect.Source: imdb.comIF YOU GO* What: Life: Boomers and Seniors Expo* When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 1:45 p.m. Florence Henderson fan photo session; 3 p.m. Florence Henderson on stage* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1150 Carter St.* Cost: $5* Contact: 757-6498LIFE EVENTSHere are some of the other happenings at the Life expo:Live musicBingo for prizesProduct demonstrations from Comcast and BeltoneA chance to win Christmas getaway at the Opryland HotelFree hearing evaluationsPerformances by Cigna-HealthSpring Silver StarsRV display onsite by Camping World

Get ready for a hug. Florence Henderson has an endless supply.

"It's the one thing that people ask me over and over, 'Can I have a hug?' I guess it's because I represent something to people that makes them feel good," Henderson says in a telephone interview from her home in California. "If I'm going to be remembered for something, I'd rather be remembered for that."

Henderson, who made Carol Brady a household name with her portrayal as the doting mom of a blended family on "The Brady Bunch," will be the special guest at Life: Boomers and Seniors Expo on Saturday. Held at the Chattanooga Convention Center, the expo is sponsored by the Times Free Press.

"The Brady Bunch" aired from 1969 to 1974 and has been in constant syndication since, now airing in 122 countries around the world.

"I loved the show from the beginning," Henderson says. "I thought it was such an uplifting show.

"Just last night I was at a restaurant having dinner with my son when the waiter told me that I had brought so much joy to his life when he was a child. I hear that a lot. I don't think anyone at the time could have imagined the show would still be around today, that it would be so popular and to have never been off TV here in America. The show references part of our cultures, and almost every day someone tells me that."

On the Times Free Press Facebook page, readers discussed their favorite memories of the show. While the phrase "Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!" showed up several times (a line uttered by Jan Brady about her older sister), others brought up "pork chops and applesauce," which Peter Brady said when he was told what was for dinner ("Pork chops ... and applesauce. Ain't that swell?"). Even more touted was the episode in which Marcia is hit in the face by a football, causing her nose to swell and turn purple.

Timothy Daugherty, of Cleveland, Tenn., recalled "The Brady Bunch" as "The days when television was actually entertaining," while Pamela Cline Burgess, of Dalton, Ga., described it as a "good, clean family show."

While in Chattanooga, Henderson said she'll talk about her 2011 tell-all autobiography "Life is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond." The book chronicles Henderson's life from her childhood in rural Indiana and Kentucky to her long-running career that ranges from Broadway, film and television to singer, spokeswoman, humanitarian and motivational speaker.

"I'll talk about my book, my experiences, aging, and I'll be happy to answer questions, as well," said Henderson, 79. "I hope to make people laugh and make them think about their own lives. And I hope to be a little uplifting."

Henderson, who has been married twice and is the mother of four children and grandmother of five, grew up the youngest of 10 during the aftermath of the Great Depression. Her father was a "dirt-poor" tobacco tenant farmer who was nearly 50 years old when he married her 25-year-old mother. He was almost 70 when she was born and "was an alcoholic at a time where there was no rehab or help for the disease," according to a news release from the book's publisher.

"Florence's childhood was full of deprivation and abandonment. Their home rarely had electricity or running water. When she was 12, Florence's mother left the family to work in Cleveland [Ohio] and never returned," the release says.

Still, it wasn't all bad, she says.

"My background has had a lot to do with my development in life. As a child, I learned a lot about the good and bad. I had wonderful teachers and a family unique with their own dysfunctions and happiness," Henderson explains. "My parents taught me a lot of good things. They taught me to have pride in myself and to work hard. It made me to be very independent because I started working very young just to earn money. It prepared me to face difficulties and it also taught me that there were people who wouldn't always be nice."

But because of its very personal nature, the autobiography was, at times, difficult to write, she said.

"To be honest, it was extremely difficult for me, very painful. At times I struggled. I've always been a private person, even though I like to make people laugh. It was hard to go back and relive a lot of things.

"The purpose of writing the book was that hopefully somebody would be inspired by my story and feel they could fulfill their dreams, even with all the hardships one faces. You can overcome them."

At 17 and after graduating from high school -- and with the financial help from the family of her best friend, who had heard her sing and believed in her talents -- Henderson moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

"Within a year I got an audition and my first job in a musical," she said. But it was the second audition that catapulted her to fame.

"I had an audition for 'Oklahoma.' When I walked into the audition, the floodlights were blinding, but I sang. I heard a man say, 'It was lovely. Would you come back and sing for my partner, Oscar Hammerstein?' I had unknowingly auditioned before Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein. I got the lead in the touring production of 'Oklahoma!' and traveled all over the United States."

In addition to her acting skills, Henderson is also talented at pitching products. The Wall Street Journal rated her No. 5 out of the all-time Top 10 television endorsers.

"It means that a lot people trust me," she said. "I've never sold anything that I haven't researched and believe in. I hold the record for the longest-sold Westinghouse [TV advertisement] for 22 years. That's a pretty good record and they've never done another commercial."

Still, Henderson will forever be tied to "The Brady Bunch" and she has great memories of her years on the set.

"I'm in touch with them all," she says of her TV children and Ann B. Davis, who played housekeeper Alice and is now 87 years old. Robert Reed, who played Henderson's TV husband, Mike Brady, died in 1992.

As for her own health, she says she keeps in shape by working out three times a week, taking a voice lesson once a week and eating "reasonably" well. Even a stress fracture in her foot a couple months ago hasn't slowed her down.

"I'm wearing a boot but haven't missed a workout," she said. "I'm hanging in there and keeping on going."