Valerie Harper: You Will Be Missed

This month, my blog’s theme is “Valerie.” I apologize ahead of time to any of you who have the lyrics of the Amy Winehouse song running through your head all month. It’s a great song, but every January blog I wrote kept the song in my brain for a few days.

I decided to begin the series, and the new year, looking at the career of Valerie Harper who passed away in 2019.

Valerie Harper lived to be 80, despite being diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013.

Harper recalled attending an ice-skating show as a child and deciding she wanted to be involved in show business of some type. She loved the lighting, the audience, and the entire theatrical experience. She began her career as a dancer. Joining the Radio City Hall dancers, she transitioned into acting.

She eventually made her way to the Second City troupe in Chicago. After perfecting her comedy skills, she was on to Broadway, appearing in Dear Liar, Story Theatre, Something Different, and Metamorphosis.

Valerie appeared in a few movies and television series during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

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Richard Schaal and Valerie Harper

From 1964-1978, she was married to Richard Schaal. The couple wrote a script for Love American Style in 1969 called “Love and the Visitor.” Harper also acted in the segment “Love and the Housekeeper” in 1971.

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Her big break came when she was offered the role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Ethel Winant spotted her in a play and asked her to audition for the role. For four years, she played Mary’s best friend who lives upstairs. Rhoda was a window decorator for a large department store. The characters of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern were total opposites, but they had a tremendous chemistry and became best friends.

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Although Mary was the nicest person on the show, we all wanted Rhoda to be our best friend. Her humor and attitude toward life made the world a more fun place to be.

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In 1974, Valerie was rewarded with her own show, Rhoda. She marries and returns to New York. Harper won four Emmys during her time as Rhoda between the two shows. After capturing Rhoda’s Jewish persona so accurately, many people were surprised to learn she was not Jewish and grew up Catholic.

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Some of the funniest moments on either of the sitcoms was Rhoda’s relationship with her mother Ida, played by Nancy Walker. Rhoda loved her mother, but was driven absolutely crazy by her.

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When Rhoda was abruptly cancelled, Harper made a cluster of made-for-tv movies.

In 1986, Harper was cast as the lead in the show Valerie’s Family. After being abruptly fired from the show in 1987, she was replaced with Sandy Duncan as the children’s aunt. The plot line was that Valerie died in a car accident and Sandy comes to help out. The show changed its name to The Hogan Family and continued until 1991. Harper sued Lorimar Productions for breach of contract and was awarded $1.4 million plus part of the show’s profits.

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In 1990, City debuted starring Harper. The show only lasted one season. I have never seen this show, but most of the reviews I read were by people who loved it. One write-up on imdb.com concluded “This was the funniest sitcom Valerie Harper has done (except of course for the Mary Tyler Moore Show). The city manager’s office that provided the setting is the perfect locale for the parade of crazies that give comedic impetus to this type of show, The funniest was James Lorinz as the security guard (in one episode, he was convinced that white-out was being stolen to aid illegal immigration; to prove his point, he painted his entire body with it). One of the Mysteries of the Universe is why this failed while “The Hogan Family,” a profoundly mediocre show, lasted several years.”

From that point on, Harper did not star in any other television series, but she did show up in a variety of series and made-for-tv movies, including a recurring role on The Office in 1995.

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Valerie contributed to many causes during her career. She was a big advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She co-founded L.I.F.E. with Dennis Weaver, a nonprofit that gave food to the hungry in Los Angeles.

Valerie re-married in 1987, wedding Tony Cacciotti whom she remained with until her death.

Harper continued in stage work throughout her career. From 2005-2006, she portrayed Golda Meir, touring throughout the US.

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She accepted the role of Claire Bremmer on Desperate Housewives in 2011. In 2013, she returned to her dancing roots, appearing on Dancing with the Stars, partnered with Tristan MacManus.

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In 2009, Valerie was diagnosed with lung cancer. She fought the illness, but in March of 2013, she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, given only months to live. Those couple of months turned into six years. Harper discussed her disease in 2015: “I talk to the cells all the time. I say, ‘What the hell are you doing? Not only are you destructive, coming in and ruining all my plans, but you are dumb! You are killing the host. If you take a low profile, I can live with you, here on the edge of the sword. You can fall one way or the other.’ Right now, things are working fantastically. Tomorrow, I don’t know.” Her philosophy was “We’re all terminal; none of us are getting out of this alive.”

Harper was fondly remembered by her co-stars when she passed away. Mary Tyler Moore who died before Harper, said she was devastated the day Valerie called her to tell her about the cancer. Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Show, remembered his years working with Harper: “A beautiful woman, a wonderful actress, a great friend. . . . Her brilliance burst through and shined its light upon all of us. Goodnight beautiful. I’ll see you soon.”

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Alyssa Milano who played her daughter on an episode of Melrose Place, said “Valerie Harper was always the most gracious and kindest actor on the set. She will be missed. Rest in Peace. ”

Valerie Harper had a unique gift of making us laugh, not at her characters, but with her characters. We could all relate to her. She was a role model for how to keep a positive attitude about living with a terminal illness. It’s a rare person who learns to work hard while making it look easy, fight for causes that help others, inspire others to live better while she was dying, and infuse laughter into every aspect of her life. We will truly miss you Valerie Harper, but we will remember you for all the gifts you left behind for us.

The Show That Never Really Ended

 

The past few weeks we have been exploring the shows that were part of the Friday night schedule from 1970-1972. We end this series by getting to know The Brady Bunch.

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How It All Began

Sherwood Schwartz read a stat in LA Times that 31% of all marriages include children from a previous marriage. He put together a script for a show based on that statistic. All three networks liked it, but they all wanted significant changes, so he shelved it. In 1968, the films With Six You Get Eggroll and Yours, Mine, and Ours debuted. Schwartz’s script predated the two movies, but because the movies were so popular (Yours, Mine and Ours was the 11th top grossing movie that year), ABC decided to put Sherwood’s show on the air. At the time, the title of the show was either “Yours and Mine” or “The Bradley Brood.”

ABC gave Schwartz a 13-week commitment. John Rich was brought on to direct the pilot, the cast was hired, and sets were built at the Paramount TV Stage 5. The filming began Oct 4, 1968 and lasted 8 days.

The Brady Bunch

The show was supposed to reveal how a blended family overcomes daily problems, but by the second season, we forget that this was ever a blended family and the family deals with the same issues all siblings do.

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Realizing how popular The Brady Bunch has been for decades, it’s surprising to learn that the show was never in the top 30 during its original run. When it had the number of episodes it needed for syndication, it was canceled by the network. The series found a new life in syndication becoming an American icon. When anyone says it was a “Brady Bunch” kitchen, dress, etc., everyone instinctively knows what that means.

 

Casting the Show

Shirley Jones was offered the role of Carol Brady first. Joyce Bulifant was then given the role. I’m not sure why she did not get the role; the only information I could find was that she was surprised because she had already signed the contract and had the wardrobe. But for some reason, they tested Florence after and thought she was the better choice for Carol.

 

Both Kathleen Freeman and Monty Margetts were auditioned for Alice. When Florence Henderson got the role, Ann B Davis was hired because they wanted a comedienne that seemed a better fit for Carol.

To find the 6 Brady kids, 464 were auditioned. Sherwood felt it would be more realistic if all the boys had dark hair like Reed and the girls were blonde like Henderson. Mike Lookinland, hired to play Bobby, was really a blonde and they had to dye his hair dark brown.

Allan Melvin played Sam Franklin, Alice’s boyfriend who owns the butcher shop. He was only in eight episodes but was mentioned often.

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Tiger the dog appeared in half the episodes from season 1 but only six in season 2 and then disappeared altogether.

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During the middle of season 5, Robbie Rist was introduced as Oliver, Carol’s nephew who came to live with them while his parents traveled overseas.  It was an attempt to get the younger audience back since the youngest kids were now 11 and 12. The addition of Oliver felt forced and it wasn’t a popular change.

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Schwartz’s daughter Hope was on the series four times:  Jenny at a slumber party in season 2, episode 3; Rachel, Greg’s girlfriend in season 3, episode 18 and in season 4, episode 15; and in the series’ finale as Gretchen, a graduate in Greg’s class. Many of the script ideas came from her real life.

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Many famous guest stars who played themselves met the Bradys: Davy Jones, Desi Arnaz Jr., Don Drysdale, Don Ho, Deacon Jones, NASA astronaut Brig. Gen James McDivitt, Joe Namath. Imogene Coca starred as Aunt Jenny. In an early episode Cindy and Bobby are ill; without discussing it, the parents each call their doctor to make a house call, so two doctors arrive at the same time played by Marion Ross from Happy Days and Herbert Anderson from Dennis the Menace. It worked out because the family decided to keep both doctors.

The Theme Song

The well-known theme was written by Schwartz and Frank De Vol with the famous and often-parodied tic-tac-toe board featuring the family members.

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The Peppermint Trolley Co. recorded the theme in season 1. The Peppermint Trolley Co. was a pop band that is known for performing on The Beverly Hillbillies and Mannix. They released one album in 1968. When Christopher Knight was heard singing it on set, the producer decided to have the Brady kids sing the theme, and a new arrangement was recorded each year.

If you need a reminder, the words are:

Here’s the story of a lovely lady Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother, The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the story, of a man named Brady, Who was busy with three boys of his own, They were four men, living all together, Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow And they knew it was much more than a hunch, That this group would somehow form a family. That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.

The Brady Bunch, the Brady Bunch That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.

The Brady House

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The house was a mid-century modern split-level home at 11222 Dilling St., Studio City, CA. Schwartz chose it because he thought it looked like a home an architect would live in. To make it look like there was a second story, a window was placed on the A-frame. The interior was used in two Mannix episodes and one Mission: Impossible episode. It was also re-created for an X Files episode “Sunshine Days.”  In that show, Scully and several agents investigate a bizarre murder case where the main suspect has an obsession with The Brady Bunch.  The Bradys’ address was given as 4222 Clinton Way. To help with privacy when the show ended, the owners put up a fence and tried to let some of the greenery grow to block the house from the street.

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Vehicles

The vehicles were provided mainly by Chrysler. Throughout the series, Carol drove a brown Plymouth Satellite station wagon, using different models each year.

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Mike primarily drove convertibles: Pilot – a blue 1968 Dodge Polara 500 convertible, Season 1 and 2 – a blue 1969 Plymouth Fury III convertible, Season 3 – a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda convertible, Season 4 – a blue 1972 Chevy Impala convertible, and for something different Season 5 – a red 1973 Chevy Caprice Classic convertible.

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In one episode, “The Winner,” from season 2, Carol and Mike take Bobby to a local television station to compete in an ice-cream eating contest. They leave in their blue convertible but return in the brown station wagon. Whoops!

Spin Offs

This show spawned a variety of spin-offs and reunion shows including The Brady Bunch Hour (1976-77), The Brady Kids (1977), The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), The Brady Brides (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988), The Bradys (1990), and a big-screen movie, The Brady Bunch Movie (1995).

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Kelly’s Kids – a pilot for a spinoff was one of the episodes about the Bradys’ friend and neighbor Ken Kelly, played by Ken Berry. Ken and his wife Kathy adopt three boys, all of different racial backgrounds. One of the boys was played by Mike Lookinland’s younger brother. (Todd Lookinland went on to have a successful acting career.) The show was not picked up by the network.

The Brady Kids was a show from 1977 with 9 episodes. Eve Plumb declined the role, so Jan was played by Geri Reischl. It was scheduled sporadically and did not receive great ratings.

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The Brady Girls Get Married was supposed to be a one-night tv movie. It ended up being split up into four half-hour weekly shows with the final one being the pilot for a show called The Brady Brides. In the movie, Jan and Marcia have a double wedding. It was the only time the entire cast worked together again after the original show. Mike is still an architect while Carol is a real estate agent. Marcia is a fashion designer, Jan is an architect, Greg is a doctor, Peter is in the Air Force and Bobby and Cindy are in college. Alice has married Sam. The concept of the series is that the two married couples buy a house and live together, but the guys are very different and don’t see eye to eye about much. After ten episodes, the show was cancelled.

THE BRADY BRIDES, Susan Olsen, Mike Lookinland, Eve Plumb, Christopher Knight, Maureen McCormick, Ba

When the show ended, the kids released a few albums; however only Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick stayed involved with the music business in their future careers.

In 1983, Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, Maureen McCormick, Christopher Knight, and Cindy Olsen competed on Family Feud in a celebrity edition of the show.

Life After the Brady Bunch

The cast was close and remained friends after the series ended. Robert Reed did not always agree with Sherwood Schwartz on the details of certain episodes, but he was close with the crew, especially Florence Henderson. At his own expense, he took all the kids to London on the QEII in 1971. When he was dying in 1992, Florence called each of the kids to tell them personally.

 

Maureen McCormick battled several demons before finding herself after the series ended. She performed in Peter Pan and Grease. Maureen has appeared in many television guest spots and feature films, including Dogtown in 1997, Baby Huey’s Great East Adventure in 1999, and The Million Dollar Kid in 2000.  She has released several albums and played country singer Barbara Mandrell in a tv movie. She wrote a memoir, Here’s the Story. She also recently competed on Dancing with the Stars.

 

Eve Plumb starred in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway to combat getting locked into an image when the show was cancelled. She has done guest spots on a variety of television shows including One Day at a Time, Murder She Wrote, and The Love Boat. She played the mom on the Fudge series in the 1990s and was in the television special Grease: Live. She has become a well-known artist, primarily painting still lifes.

 

Susan Olsen sang on The Pat Boone Show and in the Elvis movie The Trouble with Girls before becoming Cindy Brady. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, became a radio talk show host, an artist, an animal advocate, and co-wrote a book titled Love to Love You Bradys about the variety show.

 

Barry Williams starred in Pippin after the show ended. He has been a radio host and co-wrote a tell-all book Growing Up Brady: I was a Teenage Brady. He also guest starred in many shows including Murder She Wrote, Three’s Company, and Highway to Heaven. He tours with music theater and does speaking engagements.

 

Christopher Knight has been employed as a businessman for many years in the high-tech industry. During the 2000s, he appeared in several reality shows.

 

Mike Lookinland also had his share of issues to deal with after the show ended as he grew up. He attended the University of Utah and became a camera technician for two decades. Currently, he creates concrete countertops. (Photo on right courtesy of huffingtonpost.com)

 

Ann B Davis rarely acted after life on The Brady Bunch. She was very involved with her church. (See my blog “Oh Alice” dated February 5, 2018). She passed away in June of 2014.

 

Robert Reed was a trained Shakespearian actor, studying at Northwestern and at the University of London. He continued to guest star in a variety of television shows after The Brady Bunch ended. He passed away in 1992.

 

Florence Henderson continued to stay busy performing after the show. She and Shirley Jones traveled, performing together. She also wrote an autobiography titled Life is Not a Stage: From a Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond. She also spent much of her time raising money for charitable causes. She passed away in November of 2016. (see my blog “The Passing of a Pop-Culture Parent dated December 6, 2016.)

 

Allan Melvin continued to accumulate many acting credits after the show, primarily in animation. He passed away in 2008.

 

Conclusion

It’s amazing how popular the show has been for almost fifty years. Rarely does a show that aired for five seasons have so many spin-offs and show variations. It probably hurt the cast more than it helped because they could never overcome their strong identification as a Brady kid. The cast went on to do a variety of careers. Currently, The Brady Bunch can be seen on ME TV on Sundays for their “Brady Brunch” from 11 am to 1 pm central time.

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In July of 2012, there was a lot of talk about a new version of The Brady Bunch. A reboot was approved by CBS to be produced by Vince Vaughn. The sequel apparently revolved around Bobby as an adult. I could not find any information about the status of the project.

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While I enjoyed watching The Brady Bunch, I was a Partridge Family fan. I loved Alice though and always wanted to be Jan. I remember hoping I might have to get braces when she got them. I think it would be hard to find a show that had such an impact on so many different generations. Brady Bunch memorabilia is still being created and there are a ton of quizzes on the internet such as “Which Brady Kid Are You?”

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I hope you enjoyed getting to know a little more about these Friday night shows from the early 1970s. I am looking forward to a Friday night when I can sit back and watch a few episodes of each show for my own dream line-up.

 

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.