Yup… this review was reposted on the original blog too, having originally been posted on Epinions.com. I am restoring it to public view for your pleasure, as/is…
I know it’s my third post today, but I just found this book review of Florence Henderson’s life story. And I want to keep it alive, so I’m reposting it for your perusal. Hey, at least I learned that despite her encounter with crab lice, Flo is not as earthy as Shirley Jones is.
Florence Henderson shares her life…
Like so many others, I grew up watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch. And like so many others, I’ve always had sort of a mild obsession with the show. I’ve seen every episode many times and could probably recite lines from each show. Perhaps because of my affinity for all things Brady, I had to read Florence Henderson’s brand new memoirs, Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond. This book was just released last week. I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it in a matter of days. I have to admit, Florence Henderson has led a remarkable life… one that encompasses so much more than The Brady Bunch.
Florence Henderson’s humble beginnings
Florence Henderson grew up poor, the youngest of ten kids born on Valentine’s Day 1934 to Elizabeth and Joseph Henderson of Dale, Indiana. Her father was hardworking, but an alcoholic. Her mother was a bit of a free spirit who left her husband when Florence was young. Florence writes that her father called her “Gal” because he often couldn’t remember her name. I guess that’s understandable, given the fact that the man had ten kids and a drinking habit. Florence Henderson grew up Catholic and was very devoted to her faith.
A star is born
Florence Henderson left Indiana when she was barely 17 years old. She wanted to make it on Broadway and had enrolled in dramatic school. She got lucky early and landed a role in a Broadway show not long after her arrival. That first role led to larger roles, notably Oklahoma!, Fanny, and Wish You Were Here. She worked with many Broadway legends, including Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers. Her work took her to both coasts and places in between, like Las Vegas and Chicago. She got roles on stage, in films, and on television, and of course, she also enjoyed a successful singing career. And she’s never been ashamed to do commercials, either. She likens her spots pitching Polident denture cleanser, Tang powdered drink mix, and Wesson cooking oil as 60 second movies with her as the star. Incidentally, Florence Henderson does not use Polident; she is fortunate enough to still have her teeth.
Florence Henderson, wife and mother
In 1956, Florence Henderson married Ira Bernstein, a man with theater connections. Though Ira Bernstein was Jewish, the couple was able to marry in the Catholic church. They had two sons and two daughters together, though the union wasn’t particularly happy. Florence engaged in several affairs, one of which left her with an unpleasant creepy crawly memento. And Ira wasn’t particularly keen to make the move to Los Angeles, despite his connections in show business. Consequently, he was in New York during the week and flew to L.A. on weekends, leaving Florence to juggle a hectic career and their four children, as well as everything else that comes with family life.
Fortunately, Florence and Ira were able to part somewhat amicably in 1985, freeing Florence to marry her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, in 1987. Florence and John Kappas were married until his death in September 2002.
Florence Henderson’s dear friends
Evidently, Florence Henderson has enjoyed the love and companionship of many good friends. A lot of them were show biz friends, but quite a few of them were people who worked for Henderson. In one entertaining chapter, she writes of the many bizarre domestic helpers she went through before she finally found one who was able to stay for the long haul. And her second husband was actually her therapist before they married. Florence Henderson was even best friends with her doctor.
I was pleasantly surprised by Life Is Not a Stage. I will admit, I haven’t really seen Florence Henderson in anything not Brady related, except for her turn in the classically campy film, Shakes The Clown. But I learned from reading her book that her career has really been long and amazingly successful. And yet, even though she really is a big star, Florence Henderson maintains a very warm tone in her book. It reads as if she’s an old friend, talking about her life. I think my favorite part of the book was the beginning, where Florence writes about her childhood. Her writing made it easy for me to picture her upbringing and I found her stories of her girlhood surprisingly interesting.
Florence Henderson is very candid in her writing and includes some tidbits that aren’t necessarily flattering. There are a couple of things in this book that, for some readers, may verge slightly on oversharing territory; but ever the lady, Henderson very kindly warns sensitive readers and marks off the potentially offensive sections with asterisks. Personally, I didn’t find any of her revelations too offensive.
For those who are curious, yes, there is some dishing about The Brady Bunch. Most of what Henderson writes about her most famous role, however, is not exactly earth shattering news. She references books written by both Barry Williams and Susan Olsen. I did find some of her comments about Robert Reed (Mike Brady) kind of touching. Apparently, the whole “Bunch” still keeps in touch.
Florence Henderson also writes quite a bit about her experiences with hypnosis. Her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, was an experiened hypnotist and he helped his wife get through some traumas that were holding her back professionally and personally. When Kappas was dying of cancer, he asked Florence to learn how to hypnotize him. She learned the craft and apparently, it’s changed her life and enriched the lives of others.
Henderson includes some photos in her book. I’m happy to report that they were easy to see on my Kindle and the captions were easy to read.
I liked Florence Henderson’s book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Broadway legends, hypnosis, or Florence Henderson’s life. Note: Florence Henderson died on November 24, 2016, several years after I posted this review on Epinions in 2011, and reposted on my original blog in September 2015.
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