There is a basic contradiction at work with regard to “The Brady Bunch.”
Ask Florence Henderson, who portrayed mom Carol Brady through five seasons in the 1970s, to ascertain the roots of the shows appeal and she speaks of the unabashed simplicity of its message. Each episode found the clean-cut clan dwelling in a moral certitude as idyllic as its California suburb.
“There was a moral on those shows that holds up today,” Henderson once told me in an interview. “It left a very warm impression, a very sweet, gentle impression of life. People hold on to things like that.”
Why, then, has the show acquired such kitsch value?
“We always distort our past,” Henderson said. “But I don’t know. I love this business and I don’t even pretend to understand it. I try to do what I do very well.”
That includes being a vocalist. Henderson will be in the Bay Area this weekend to headline Help Is On the Way 20, the annual Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation gala.
Set for Sunday night at the Palace of Fine Arts, proceeds will primarily benefit Abzyme Research Foundation, Aguilas, AIDS Legal Referral Panel and Positive Resource Center. The bill features a wide range of performers including veteran Bay Area jazz vocalists Paula West and Meg Mackay, Roslyn Kind, Maureen McGovern and others.
Henderson was a singer before anything else. She grew up listening to country as her family scratched out a living on farms in Indiana and Kentucky. At 17, through the benefaction of wealthy neighbors, she moved to New York and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Within a year, the legendary Joshua Logan cast Henderson in his musical “Wish You Were Here.” Then Richard Rodgers stole her for the lead in the last national touring company of “Oklahoma!”
Over the next 15 years, Henderson mixed music, theater and television. She had the lead in “The Girl Who Came to Supper,” Noel Coward’s last Broadway show; appeared in a touring production of “The Sound Of Music”; and was directed by Logan in “Fannie.”
“Early in my career, I realized I wanted to diversify”, she said. “It has really been the key to my longevity in my business.
“Concerts hold a unique appeal. I love going out and communicating with the people. I don’t think enough performers do that. For some reason, they tend to become isolated and insulated. If you really love entertaining, if you love lifting up an audience, then you never really lose that ... you don’t want to.”
Henderson was 35 and well established when she signed on to “The Brady Bunch.” Some cast members disdain discussing the show. Not her.
“My philosophy is ... you have to learn to accept it and you have to learn to love it,” Henderson said.”For a performer, your credits are like your family. There they are, and some of them are not as nice as you’d like them to be.”
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