Doogie Howser MD: The Smartest Kid on TV

We are in the midst of our Teen Scene blog series this month. Today we learn about a true teen genius, Doogie Howser, MD.

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Photo: sitcomanddramas.weebly.com

This half-hour sitcom was created for the fall of 1989 by Steven Bochco who created Hill Street Blues and LA Law and would go on to develop NYPD Blue. He asked David E. Kelley for help writing the pilot. Kelley, who also wrote for Hill Street Blues, would go on to write for Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Public, and Boston Legal. Bochco and Co felt Neil Patrick Harris was the perfect kid to play a teenage doctor. ABC did not like the casting and was not fond of the show in general or the pilot. However, Bochco’s contract required that if the network canceled his project, they had to pay a penalty. They ended up putting the show on the air because test screenings ranked so well. The show ended up being on the air for four seasons, creating 97 episodes. It was one of the first sitcoms not to have a live audience or a laugh track.

While Doogie had to deal with professional medical problems at work, in his personal career, he was still a teenager dealing with the same issues all teenagers do. His best friend Vinnie (Max Casella) had been in his life since kindergarten. Vinnie wanted to pursue film school, but his dad wanted him to join the family business. Doogie’s family business was medicine; his dad, Dr. David Howser (James B. Sikking) had a family practice, and his mother Katherine (Belinda Montgomery) became a patient advocate at the hospital.

Sikking, Harris, and Montgomery Photo: showbizjunkies.com

Doogie and Vinnie dated best friends. Wanda (Lisa Dean Ryan) was Doogie’s girlfriend but before the end of the show, she left to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and they broke up. Vinnie’s girlfriend Janine (Lucy Boyer) drops out of college to become a department store buyer.

Doogie’s professional colleagues include Dr. Benjamin Canfield (Lawrence Pressman), head of the hospital and friend of Doogie’s father; Dr. Jack McGuire (Mitchell Anderson), a resident who eventually moves overseas to help third-world countries; Mary Margaret Spaulding (Kathryn Layng) a nurse who ironically dates McGuire, Canfield, and Doogie; and Raymond (Markus Redmond), an orderly who Doogie got hired after he left gang life. In seasons 2-4, Barry Livingston (Ernie from My Three Sons), plays Dr. Bob Rickett, a fellow doctor at the hospital.

Doogie Howser, M.D. (ABC-TV, 1989-93) Shown (l. to r.): James B. Sikking (as Dr. David Howser), Belinda Montgomery (as Katherine Howser), Markus Redmond (as Raymond), Neil Patrick Harris (as Doogie Howser), Lawrence Pressman (as Dr. Canfield), Kathryn Layng (as Nurse Curly Spaulding), Max Casella (as Vinnie)

Doogie’s (Douglas) story is that he was a two-time survivor of early-stage pediatric leukemia which gave him a desire to become a doctor. He was labeled a genius in school and had an eidetic memory and earned a perfect SAT score at the age of six, graduating from high school in only nine weeks at which time he entered Princeton at age 10. By 14, he had finished medical school and was beginning his career. A couple of sources I read said Bochco based the character of Doogie somewhat on his own father who was a violin prodigy.

Harris, Cassella Photo: flickr.com

We meet him at 16 when he is a second-year resident surgeon at Eastman Medical Center in LA. He lives at home with his parents, and he keeps a digital diary which he typically ends the show with, writing as he makes observations about what he has learned during the episode.

The show dealt with some heavier topics including AIDS awareness, racism, homophobia, and gang violence, but most of the shows also involve Doogie’s personal life and his social issues being a teen in an adult world. By the time the show ends, Doogie has moved into his own apartment. Howser then resigns from the hospital to take a trip to Europe. If the show had come back for a fifth season, the creators planned to have Doogie explore a writing career.

While audiences responded enthusiastically to the show, critics were not on board. Marvin Kitman of Newsday rated the first season 40/100 and said sarcastically, “What a wasted childhood my kids have had, I got to thinking while watching this otherwise normal Doogie Howser. It makes you look at your kids differently. What lazy bums they must be still in high school at 16.” Christopher Smith of the Bangor Daily News gave it a C and said, “No classic, this series.”

Harris, Dean Ryan Photo: sitcomsonline.com

However, fans continued to tune in, and a review by c l lance on imdb.com, in 2005, said “Doogie Houser [Howser], MD. Just the name brings a smile of remembrance to me. In the tradition of such television classics as L.A. LAW, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, Doogie Houser, MD was wonderfully funny with a touch of life. As a 30-something adult when I first watched Doogie in late-night reruns, I was hooked by its humor and wit while watching this “kid” with an adult mind, yet the hormones and maturity of a teenager, grow into independence. Memorable episodes include his first day, the late-night skinny dip (as mentioned by another viewer), the practical joke he played on other hospital staff only to have it ruthlessly reciprocated, and the apartment with his best friend Vinny. There is some risqué humor but it is nothing when compared to today’s standards. I always enjoyed seeing the relationship he had with his dad and mom. I had the entire series recorded but sacrificed them for NFL games. BIG mistake!! Doogie Houser, MD will long be cherished by this now 40 something dad and his now 20 something daughters. I look forward to seeing Doogie’s journal again.”

A lot of us knew Harris better from his role of Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. During one episode, “The Bracket,” Barney writes in his computerized diary while the theme song for Doogie Howser plays in the background.

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 19: DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D. – Season One – Pilot – 9/19/89, Neil Patrick Harris played 16-year-old child prodigy Douglas “Doogie” Howser, a second-year resident at Eastman Medical Center who zipped through high school in two months, graduated from Princeton at 10, and medical school at 14. At the end of each episode, Doogie entered his experiences in his electronic diary, on his computer. , (Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

On September 19, 2019, USA Today did an interview with Harris on the 30th anniversary of the show and mentioned that upon the death of Steven Bochco, Harris reflected about his time on the show: “I look back on that with fondness. That was a very remarkably wonderful chapter for somebody who had never really been in the entertainment business before.” Doogie might have missed his chance to become an author, but Harris has written a series of kids’ books, The Magic Misfits, as well as an autobiography.

I do remember watching the show during prime time. If I was home, I watched it but it was not a must-see show for me. It was an interesting concept though and seemed realistic enough given the few people who would experience this type of life. I think the bigger issue for me was that the first three years it was on against Night Court, so I probably watched more of the fourth season when it was sandwiched between The Wonder Years and Home Improvement.

Photo: pinterest.com

Celebrating National Oregon Day with David Ogden Stiers

We are celebrating National State days this month.  This week we are celebrating Oregon. I’m sure a lot of stars grew up in Oregon, but my choice is David Ogden Stiers. Although Stiers was born in Illinois on Halloween in 1942, his family moved to Eugene, Oregon when he was in high school.  Based on his life, I think Oregon has the better claim to him. After graduation, Stiers enrolled in the University of Oregon.

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Photo: ebay.com

Early in his career, Stiers moved to San Francisco, performing with the California Shakespeare Theater, the San Francisco Actors Workshop, and the improv group, The Committee. I would like to learn more about The Committee whose members included Rob Reiner, Howard Hesseman, and Peter Bonerz.

In the 1960s, Stiers moved to New York to study at Juilliard for a couple of years and was able to appear in numerous Broadway productions. At Juilliard, Stiers was mentored by John Houseman.

Stiers was a prolific actor, appearing in 38 big screen movies, 39 made-for-tv movies, and more than 90 different television series.

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Stiers with Mary Tyler Moore–Photo: amazon.com

In the 1970s, he showed up on Kojak, Charlie’s Angels, Phyllis, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Tony Randall Show, and Paper Chase.

Most of us got to know him as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H. He became part of the cast in 1977 and continued with the show until it ended in 1983. As Winchester, Stiers would receive two Emmy nominations in 1981 and 1982. Both years he got beat by a Taxi alumni, Danny DeVito in 81 and Christopher Lloyd in 82.

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Stiers with Harry Morgan and William Christopher–Photo: thenewyorktimes.com

Winchester replaced Frank Burns whom Hawkeye and Hunnicutt made fun of for his inept medical skills. Charles was a brilliant surgeon but was an aristocrat from Boston and never let anyone forget it. However, as with all M*A*S*H characters, Winchester continues to evolve, and we learn more about his past and how that affected his personality.

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Stiers with Morgan and Loretta Swit–Photo: enews.com

Stiers always described Harry Morgan as his acting mentor, but he loved the entire cast. Although Stiers could come off a bit like Winchester at first meeting, once he got to know you, his castmates said “the walls came down and you saw a sweet, tender man.” Kellye Nakahara (Nurse Kellye) shared that she used to jump into Stier’s arms every morning so he could twirl her around like a princess at a ball.” Loretta Swit said “he was very much his own person, but he loved and adored us as we did him.” Executive producer Burt Metcalfe reported that “I have always felt that one of the reasons for the show’s success was that the audience sensed that the characters loved another and they loved the characters. And that love goes down to the actors.” All his coworkers described Stiers as a prankster on the set.

His life after M*A*S*H included roles on a variety of shows, including Alf, Wings, Star Trek, Murder She Wrote, Dr. Quinn, Ally McBeal, The Outer Limits, Touched by An Angel, and Frasier.

He would also receive recurring roles in four additional series during his career. In Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place, he played Mr. Bauer.

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Stiers with Swoosie Kurtz, Paget Brewster, and Brian Van Holt Photo: pinterest.com

I never watched Love & Money, but Stiers played the wealthy Nicholas Conklin; the show is described as “The penthouse-residing Conklin family of scholars and the basement-dwelling McBride family of maintenance men find themselves unhappily linked when the heiress daughter and blue-collar son fall in love.”  

I also never watched the Dead Zone, but Stiers played Reverend Purdy in the show where “Johnny had the perfect life until he was in a coma for six years When he awoke, he found his fiancé married to another man, his son doesn’t know him, and everything had changed including Johnny because he can now ‘see’ things.”

Rizzoli & Isles 6x09 - Love Taps - Recap - Pop City Life
Stiers with Sasha Alexander–Photo: popcitylife.com

He also played Arthur Isles in Rizzoli & Isles, one of my favorite shows from the past few years.

You could also hear Stiers in a number of animation films including Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and the Lilo and Stitch movies. He narrated many audiobooks as well.

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Photo: OregonCoastDailyNews

One of the reasons Oregon can lay claim to Stiers is because he continued to live in Newport and spent his later years as a conductor for the Newport Symphony Orchestra. As a fan of classical music, Stiers was able to be a guest conductor in more than 70 orchestras around the world. Newport seems to be a quirky, but fun, place with a population of only about 10,000. It is definitely on my list of places to visit.

In 2018, Stiers passed away from bladder cancer. He generously bequeathed funding for a variety of cultural groups including the Newport Symphony, the Newport Public Library, and the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts.

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Photo: amazon.com

I appreciate that Stiers loved and celebrated the arts. One of his thoughts about experiencing culture was: “The thing I love about the arts—music, theater, museums, galleries—is that everybody wins. You are touched and hopefully moved, and it is unique to each person. Even though you may have listened to the same performance, what you heard could be vastly different from what anyone else heard.” I’m happy that he was able to spend the last years of his life doing something he enjoyed so much after a life of giving to others through his acting performances—something we can all aspire to.

When She Tugged on Her Ear, She Tugged At Our Hearts

Today’s topic had me thinking about how much better things are in a group.  Roses are beautiful on their own but pair them with some complementary-colored blooms and everything comes alive.  Juicy watermelon is perfect on a hot, summer day, but combine it with berries, kiwi, and peaches, and all the tastes meld together. One book is a treasure on its own, but put ten together, and you have a library. There’s never a bad choice when deciding between vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream, but someone invented Neapolitan so you could get all three.

This works for our show this week as well.  Look at the work of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner and you will find gems, but put them together and you have a sparkling jewelry box full of wonderful things.

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These performers came together between 1967 and 1978 working on The Carol Burnett Show. Let’s see how that came to be.

Carol Burnett – Carol is a truly versatile performer; she acts, sings, does comedy, dances, has been on the stage, and has appeared on the big screen as well as the small screen. America has always had a love affair with her.

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She was born in Texas and moved to Hollywood with her grandmother. One of her first jobs was working as an usherette.  She received an anonymous gift of money that covered a year at UCLA where she majored in journalism. At one point she decided to switch her major to theater arts and English and planned to be a playwright. She gained some experience performing in several college productions. Her good luck continued when she received another gift – a $100 interest-free loan to move to New York City to try her hand at musical comedy.  She worked as a hat girl and began her acting career.  She married Don Saroyan in 1955. In 1959 she got her first big break, appearing in the Broadway show, Once Upon a Mattress for which she received a Tony nomination. Around this time, she became friends with Jim Nabors; he would be a life-long friend and her daughter’s godfather. When the Carol Burnett Show started, he became the first guest every season and was her good luck charm.

Soon after she began appearing on television and won her first Emmy in 1962 for her work on The Paul Winchell Show. This was also the year she and Don divorced. In 1963, she married Joe Hamilton, and they had three children. Lucille Ball had become a mentor to her, and they also remained friends for life.  Lucy sent her flowers every birthday.  On her birthday in 1989, Carol awoke to the news that Lucy had died.  She received her flowers later that day.

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She did several specials with Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, and Beverly Sills. Carol had a clause that she could decide to do a permanent variety show which would expire in 1967. Carol decided to take advantage of the clause and do the variety show.  The network tried to talk her out of it because they said variety shows tended to be men’s territory.  They offered her a sitcom of her own, but luckily for us, she stuck to her guns.

In 1974, she went back to the stage to star with Rock Hudson in I Do I Do. In 1984 she and Joe divorced.  She would win her second Emmy for her work on Mad About You.

In 1995, she returned to Broadway to appear in Moon Over Buffalo which gained her a second Tony nomination.

Carol was the Grand Marshal for the 109th Rose Bowl Parade. She has written five books. She has remained close friends with many of her costars including her show cast, Jim Nabors, Betty White, Beverly Sills, Julie Andrews.

Not only did she help a young Vicki Lawrence, but other stars looked to her for help as well. Jim Carrey sent her his resume at age 10.

In 2001, Carol married again. Her current husband Brian Miller is a drummer for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Most recently she guest starred on several episodes of Hawaii Five-0.

Harvey Korman – Born in Chicago, Korman served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he studied at the Goodman School of Drama.  He attended classes at DePaul University and the Chicago Art Institute. During 1950, 1957, and 1958 he was part of the Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Door County, Wisconsin.

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His first television role was on the Donna Reed Show in 1960. He also married that year and they had two children. He continued to act on television on such shows as Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, Route 66, Jack Benny, Hazel, Here’s Lucy, and Gidget – 30 shows in all; he also appeared in many movies. You might recognize his voice if you watch The Flintstones; he played the role of the Great Gazoo. His first big break was on The Danny Kaye Show in 1963. With his expressive voice, he played a wide assortment of characters. In was due to his work on Danny Kaye, that Carol recruited him for her show in 1967.

In 1977, he made the tough decision to leave The Carol Burnett Show and star in his own vehicle, The Harvey Korman Show.  The show was about an out-of-work actor Harvey Kavanaugh who lived with his daughter. The critics thought Korman was wonderful in the show, but the show got very low ratings and was cancelled after six episodes. Then he was an out-of-work actor in real life. Dick Van Dyke had taken his place on the Carol Burnett Show so he could not return.

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After his show fizzled out, he went back to movies. In 1977 he divorced his first wife. In 1982 he remarried and had two more children.  Korman continued to make tv appearances on a variety of shows such as the Love Boat, Ellen, and ER. He also made movies. He is probably best known for two of his movies: Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety.  In 1983-84, he appeared in Mama’s Family with Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence. In 2008, he passed away from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm that was diagnosed four months prior.

Tim Conway – Conway was born in Ohio and joined the Army, serving at a radio station. After the war, he studied at Bowling Green State University, majoring in tv and radio. He married in 1961 and they had 6 children.

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He was discovered by Rose Marie and became a regular on The Steve Allen Show. He earned even more fame when he joined the cast of McHale’s Navy in 1962. McHale’s Navy had two different formats.  I was surprised to learn that Joseph Heller (author of Catch-22) wrote one episode but removed himself from the credits when he had an argument with the producer. Conway became very close to Ernest Borgnine and considered him his mentor. Later the two of them would work together in SpongeBob Square Pants as old superheroes.

After McHale’s Navy, he was cast in Rango. A comedy/western, Conway played Rango. He was an inept Ranger, but his father was the head of the Texas Rangers, so he was moved to a very quiet post.  Unfortunately, a crime wave broke out after his arrival. The show lasted for 17 episodes.

Conway got his own show in 1970, but it never really worked and was cancelled after 12 episodes. He played an airline pilot who was not very good at flying. He and his partner owned a decrepit airplane and they were always fighting creditors, barely making a living.

He was on Carol Burnett throughout the years of her show, and in 1975 he became a regular. When the show ended, he kept busy with television shows, appearing in more than 50 shows including Newhart, Larry Sanders, Drew Carey, Ellen, Yes Dear, Hot in Cleveland, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Roseanne, and Ally McBeal. He also performed around the country with Harvey Korman and began making his Dorf videos. In 1984 he married his current wife.

 

Vicki Lawrence –  Vicki grew up in California. When Vicki Lawrence was 17, she wrote Carol a fan letter.  She was entered in a Miss Fireball contest, and someone told her she resembled Carol. She asked for some advice about her performance. Carol not only gave her advice – she drove all the way to watch the contest.  She told her they would talk about her career. A short time later, while Vicki was singing with the Young Americans, Carol offered the inexperienced girl a regular role on her show.

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Vicki was mentored by both Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett, and her talent blossomed during her years on the variety show. In 1974, she recorded the hit song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

In 1983, she was offered her own show based on one of the Carol Burnett skits, Mama’s Family.

She hosted Win, Lose, or Draw and has appeared in stage performances. She spends most of her time now giving speeches for women’s groups and charities.

Lyle Waggoner – Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Waggoner was the heart throb of the show. He sold encyclopedias door to door. To jump start his career, he appeared in summer stock. He received roles in a lot of bad sci fi and beach party films. His career might have been different because he was in consideration for Batman, but the part went to Adam West. He was hired as the emcee of Carol’s show but progressed to being a part of the ensemble playing in a variety of skits. He left The Carol Burnett Show in 1973. He was offered a role in Wonder Woman in 1975. His career never picked up after that. He now runs a rental trailer company which is the largest one in Hollywood. He has been married more than fifty years, and he and his wife have two sons.

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The Carol Burnett Show

The show was the best and the last variety show to be on television. Carol wanted to develop her own cast. She handpicked her costars. She hired The Ernie Flatt Dancers to do all the choreography. The head male dancer for the run was Don Crichton.

Artie Malvin was the musical writer. Carol used a live 28-piece orchestra conducted by Harry Zimmerman for the first three years and Peter Matz for the final eight years. She had a guest star on every week, often a singer.  Some of the performers included Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Lena Horne, The Carpenters, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ray Charles.  Steve Lawrence was on 25 times and Eydie Gorme performed 13. Unfortunately, when the show went into syndication, it became a half-hour show, and the musical numbers were cut.

Sonny and Cher taped next door and Carol often popped in on their taping and Sonny and Cher visited her show.

Some of Carol’s favorite guests included Bernadette Peters, Alan Alda, Roddy McDowell, Paul Lynde, Bob Newhart, Rita Hayworth, James Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Vincent Price, the Smothers Brothers, Donald O’Connor, Lucille Ball, Rock Hudson, Mickey Rooney, Betty White, and Nanette Fabray. The only guest star Carol was not able to book was Bette Davis.  She demanded too much money.

The Carol Burnett Show received 22 Emmy Awards during the 11 seasons it was on the air. Harvey Korman was nominated for six of those and won four. Lawrence also received five Emmy nominations and one win.

Bob Mackie was her favorite designer, and he designed all the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show. Typically, he had to design 60-70 outfits per week, adding up to 18,000 over the course of the show.

For the first 3-4 minutes of each show, Carol appeared in a Bob Mackie creation and took questions from the audience. Some of these are the funniest parts of the show.

The cast would rehearse every day, and they did two tapings on Friday.  If the first taping went fine and they got what they needed, they would let Tim Conway improvise on the second taping and many of his unrehearsed moments made it into the show.

The show aired on Monday nights up against Big Valley and I Spy. In Season 5, they were moved to Wednesday nights up against Adam-12 on one network and Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father on the other. In 1972, they made their final move to Saturday nights. The final year they faced some stiff competition against The Love Boat.

Some of her favorite regular skits were Stella Toddler where Burnett played an older character who always seemed to get tripped, whacked by something, or knocked down; Mrs. Wiggins who was an inappropriately dressed and incompetent secretary to Mr. Tudball; a woman who watched commercials on tv —  a cast member showed an item each week that drove the woman crazy; Marion from Canoga Falls in “As the Stomach Turns”; Chiquita, Burnett’s imitation of Charo; Nora Desmond, a has-been silent film star and her butler Max; The Old Folks where Burnett and Korman talked on the porch reminiscing; and Shirley Dimple, based on Shirley Temple.

Carol loved the parodies they did of old movies.  Some of the original stars loved them, and some were quite unhappy with the comedies. Her favorite was “Went with the Wind” with Starlett O’Hara, Rat Butler, and Mr. Brashley. The curtain rod in the dress was conceived by Bob Mackie. Coming down the stairs, Starlett replies to Rat’s compliment on the dress, “Thank you.  I saw it in the window and couldn’t resist.” The dress is now at the Smithsonian Museum. She also liked “Pillow Squawk”, a Doris Day parody.

She was always complimentary about her entire cast. One of her quotes was “When you play tennis, it’s important to play with a better player because it makes your game better.  Well, Harvey made my game better. I miss him dreadfully. And Tim Conway, God bless him, is just genius when it comes to improvising, coming up with stuff that we never rehearsed.”

These compliments were returned by her costars. Harvey Korman was quoted as saying, “We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away.”

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Of course, everyone watches to see how Tim Conway makes Harvey Korman laugh during their skits.  Apparently, Tim had a knack for improving the scripts and throwing in lines and action that Korman didn’t anticipate. Here’s Tim Conway on Harvey Korman: “He was one of the brightest people I’ve ever met, but the man could not tie his own shoes . . .  I would put him on constantly . . . We were on an airplane and we refueled in Arizona. Taxing on the next runway, I said, ‘Harvey, I don’t know if the guy put the gas cap back on. It was on the wing and now it’s not.’ Harvey got worried. So, he got up and went to the pilot and said, ‘Your gas cap’s not on.’ The pilot just looked at him.  There is no gas cap.”

One of the memorable parts of the show is the opening and closing theme song.  She always ended the show with “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started, and before you know it, comes the time we have to say so long.” Then she tugged her ear. She would tug on her left ear which was a message to her grandmother that things were going well, and she missed her.

No matter how many years go by, the show remains a timeless comedy.  It has a balance of silliness and savvy. It’s hard to believe that the generations growing up in the 1980s and 1990s have never seen a variety show.  I love to catch reruns of this show.  I laugh out loud through the show.  Thank you, Carol for spending time with us. The show currently can be shown on Me TV at 10:00 pm with Mama’s Family airing at 8:00 pm.

The Passing of a Pop-Culture Parent

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In memory of Florence Henderson, who passed on away on Thanksgiving, I just wanted to spend some time reviewing her career.  It’s hard not to call someone lucky and successful who became a multimillionaire (10-15 million depending on the source), is well known all over the world, and beloved by many fans. But, after researching her career, I wonder if she had been able to do it over, would she have chosen to take on the role of Carol Brady?

Florence’s life was a far cry from The Brady Bunch; the only similarity was having a huge number of people under one roof.  Her father didn’t marry until his late forties and he married a woman 25 years younger than him. He was a tobacco sharecropper and alcoholic and life was not like a sitcom. Florence, growing up in Indiana, was the tenth child to come along, and her father was close to 70 by the time she was born. Her mother and father divorced when she was a teen and then her mother moved to Cleveland, Ohio to work, and Florence did not see her until she was there for a musical performance. Her father passed away the same time she began a Broadway show. She had to choose between keeping the job and attending her father’s funeral, and she took the job and dealt with the guilt for many years.

During her career she was in eleven Broadway shows. She had a very interesting career.  She was the first woman to fill in as host for the Tonight Show during the transition from Jack Paar to Johnny Carson. She then became a Today girl on the morning show, presenting the weather and light news in 1959. Although she appeared in various commercials, she is best known for promoting Wesson Oil which she did from 1974-1996. Her last appearance before her death was at a taping of Dancing with the Stars which she had competed in along with Maureen McCormick, her daughter Marcia, on The Brady Bunch. (Dancing with the Stars photo credited to ABC News)

 

After her iconic role as Carol Brady, she became the queen of one episodes.  She appeared in three episodes of her friend Angela Lansberry’s Murder She Wrote, three shows on Fantasy Island, four times on Dave’s World and ten episodes of The Love Boat, the most of any star. However, from 1975-2016, she worked on 31 shows where she appeared in one episode only. Some of these shows were classic sitcoms such as Alice, Roseanne, Ellen, King of Queens, and 30 Rock. Some were dramas including Medical Center, Hart to Hart, and Ally McBeal. Some were children’s or animated shows such as Scooby-Doo Mystery, Inc.; The Cleveland Show; Handy Manny; and Sofia the First.  However, the most by far were sitcoms that didn’t leave a lasting impression and many are probably quite forgettable.  During those years she appeared on Good Heavens, 3 Girls 3, Glitter, Free Spirit, Night Stand, Samantha Who, Happily Divorced, Trophy Wife, and Instant Mom.

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Towards the end of her life, she seemed to find a comfortable place pursuing interesting and wide-ranging activities.  She and best friend Shirley Jones did a series of concerts together, she hosted a couple of shows on the Retirement Living network, and did a lot of interviews.

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In 1968, she agreed to play the role of Carol Brady but had not heard anything about the show being picked up and was set to star in The Song of Norway being filmed in Norway.  She left for the musical still thinking The Brady Bunch was a no- go.  However, she later found out it was indeed debuting in 1969. They had to film the first six episodes without her and she did her taping later. Appearing as Carol Brady from 1969-1974 gave her the role of a lifetime.  The Brady Bunch has never been off the air since it debuted which says a lot about the show. Many generations of fans admired her and gave her thanks for being a mother figure to them. Some dreamed of being part of a family like the Bradys and obviously Florence could relate, with her background.

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The role made her a national symbol and a lot of money, but you have to wonder what it cost her professionally. It was surprising that both Florence and Shirley Jones became America’s mothers on Friday nights after both being given their start by Rogers and Hammerstein earlier in their careers. They also both wrote “tell-all” books about their lives in show business in 2012 and 2013. Both of these women have been busy their entire lives because they were willing to change along with the times and continue to explore alternatives.

In an interview with Tavis Smiley in 2011, Florence reflected on being Carol Brady: “I’m okay with that.  I think you have to cherish your past because if you don’t cherish your past and love this moment, you have no future. I know a lot of actors hate it when they’re identified with a role. I know what I’ve done in my career . . . I received tremendous affection from people all over the world.”

In a joint interview conducted with Shirley Jones and Florence Henderson, Shirley recalled that her agent told her not to do The Partridge Family.  He said that if she was successful, she would be locked into the role forever.  She wanted a series so she could be home to raise her children, so she took it. She did admit that her agent was right. Even though she had done 20 movies before The Partridge Family, she was forever known as Shirley Partridge. However, she took said at least it was a show she could be proud of and an entire family could watch it together without anything shocking taking place.

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After being The Fonz, Henry Winkler was so typecast that he went into directing and producing because he couldn’t get out of the Fonz’s shadow. I’m not sure why this happens to actors. I think it has something to do with the television being in our homes and we begin to relate to these characters as if they’re real people.  We don’t want anything to ruin the fantasy of the character and how genuine they have become to us. Actors in movies seem to be able to move from role to role without the same obstacles as television stars.

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I guess if you have to be typecast in a role, the role of Carol Brady is not a bad one to identify with. In a recent interview, Florence talked about that fact and if she has to be Carol Brady forever, at least the show “represents what everyone wants in life, and that is a loving family, unconditional love, a place to make mistakes, to get angry, to be forgiven, and to forgive. (photo below credited to Closerweekly)

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Florence Henderson had four children and many grandchildren and became the type of mother and grandmother she portrayed on television rather than the role model she grew up with. That is certainly a success in any field. Not only did she have close relationships with her own family, but she stayed close to her “Brady family” for the past five decades. If that was not enough, she influenced generations of viewers who hopefully took something of Carol Brady and incorporated it into their idea of what a mother should be like.

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I am in that generation who lived for Friday nights to watch The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, wanting to be part of their families, even if it was from a living room across the country.  Along with many viewers from that generation, I was sad to learn of Florence Henderson’s death and did feel like someone special from my life had passed away. Certainly my realization of the ideal mother was based partly on Carol Brady, Shirley Partridge, Donna Stone, Kate Bradley, and even Bentley Greg and Steve Douglas.  With each of their passing, it does feel like losing a family member.

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Thank you Florence for your positive outlook, your energy, your wide range of interests, your honesty, and your willingness to take on parenting a whole generation of baby boomers. Rest in peace.