Get Ready to Be Bowled Over: The Greatest Bowling Episodes

Along with Labor Day this year, September 3 is Bowling League Day. It’s also a good reason for me to put together a list of my favorite bowling episodes. Bowling has been a staple on television since shows first started airing. Let’s look at a few of the best ones.

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Tom and Jerry

One of the first programs to be set in a bowling alley was Tom and Jerry in “The Bowling Alley Cat” from 1942. It was originally seen in theaters and later debuted on television. A play on the phrase “alley cat,” the animated show is directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

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This is a fun setting to watch the duo’s antics. Jerry hides in a bowling ball and then skates down the alley. Tom slips trying to catch him. Eventually Jerry makes it to the end of the lane and waves from behind a pin. Tom tries to throw a ball to hit him as Jerry has to jump behind different pins to keep from getting hit. Jerry bats one of the balls back to Tom using the pin as a bat. Tom’s thumb gets stuck in a ball as he tries to release it and he is propelled all the way down the lane. Quickly acting, Jerry pulls the pin setter down and Tom looks like one of the pins. Tom drops a ball on his foot at one point trying to get Jerry out of one of the holes. These escapades continue until Tom is sent down the alley again knocking over all the pins. Jerry hops onto the desk and records a strike on his scorecard.

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Ozzie and Harriet

In 1953, in an episode titled “Bowling Alley,” the Nelsons are sitting around the living room. David and Ricky decide to go play basketball. Ozzie and Harriet are discussing how many people have colds. Harriet thinks Ozzie is coming down with one. He feels fine, but then her friend Mary stops by. The girls decide to go to the Emporium shopping. When Harriet asks Ozzie to drive them, honest Ozzie feigns a cold to get out of taking them. His neighbor Thorny stops by and convinces him to go bowling because the high scorer for the day gets a case of Ginger Ale. It’s not Thorny’s night, and Ozzie beats him four games in a row,  winning a whopping $.20. Just as the guys are changing their shoes, Thorny spies Harriet, and they make a quick get-away. Relieved, they get home before her and no one is the wiser. Of course, Ozzie is the high scorer and the next day when the pop is delivered to the Nelson home, Ozzie confesses. He calls everyone he knows to brag about his achievement.  Harriet doesn’t have the heart to tell him that the high score was her game.

 

The Flintstones

One of the most famous bowling scenes is from The Flintstones’ third season, “Bowling Ballet.”  Wilma has her work cut out for her getting Fred off to his job. When the lunch whistle blows, Fred meets Barney to practice bowling. Fred feels he is out of rhythm and his timing is off. After driving into a fence, dropping a rock on a truck at work, and having a bowling ball hit his toe, he decides he needs help. Mr. Slate tells him the employees are betting double that his team will win the bowling championship. That night Fred sees a commercial for the Bedrock Dance Studio airing the promise to help someone get their rhythm back. Fred signs up for classes. A few days later, Fred calls in sick.  The girls spy him ballet dancing in the basement. Wilma assumes he’s been seeing another woman since he’s been gone every night. Betty promises that Barney will follow him that night to make sure it’s not another woman. When Barney calls Wilma and Betty to say Fred is dancing, they assume he’s with another woman and go to check it out. Fred’s secret is out. The night of the big championship, the team faces the Rockland Rockets. Fred’s first ball is a gutter ball.  Barney puts on some music so Fred can bowl while dancing ballet, and he gets a strike. The Water Buffaloes take home the first prize.

 

 

That Girl

That Girl’s “This Little Piggy Had a Ball” episode aired in 1967. The show begins with a group throwing their friend Sharon a surprise party for an award she won.  However, Sharon has been called to Hollywood for an audition, so she chooses Ann to accept the award for her. Don and Ann are supposed to go bowling, so Don agrees to write an acceptance speech for her while they’re there. While Don is writing, Ann reads a bowling magazine and reads an article about a man who bowls with his feet. While demonstrating, she gets her big toe stuck in the ball. No matter what they try, the bowl stays stuck. The owner throws away the magazine because Ann is the fourth person to get a ball stuck on their foot that week. He puts axle grease on her toe but nothing he does helps her. Ann is sure the fire department can help her. The crew was at a fire, and the underwater diver who was at the station cannot find a way to help her either. Ann makes Don take her to the hospital emergency room. The doctor she sees is convinced that his doctor friend set him up and this is a prank.  When he is convinced that she is a real patient, he diagnoses her with an excited toe and gives her muscle relaxers to help her toe come loose. She is supposed to take one every half hour but her neighbor Leon, an obstrician,  realizes she took three in the first hour and he decides to cut off the bottom half of the ball so there is a flat surface and put a cast over the the rest of it, so she can walk, and they sober her up. Rob Reiner and Terri Garr show up at the banquet as acting friends and give Ann a hard time about her cast. Sharon wins the prize, and when Ann goes up to accept the award, the ball and cast fall off.

 

The Odd Couple

In 1974 the question was “To Bowl or Not to Bowl.” Felix and Oscar’s bowling team, the Bon Vivants, are battling the Kingpins for the championship game. This is the first time in five years the Bon Vivants have had an opportunity to be in the final game. The episode begins with Oscar telling everyone they need to practice every night and complaining to Murray and Vinnie about how bad they were. Felix hates the pressure and quits the team. Oscar makes it clear he’s mad at Felix, and Felix tries to get him to talk it over. When Felix still says he won’t bowl, Oscar refuses to discuss it. The other team sticks to the rule that a bowler cannot be replaced. The next night, the boys play poker. Oscar decides to play without competition to teach Felix a lesson. Felix wins the round but since there is no competition, the next round goes back to even and no one wins any money. The guys discuss the fact that Felix always has an ailment when a competition is on the line. They decide his real problem is psychological. Murray brings a healer to talk to Felix whose back is hurting. After the guys leave for the bowling alley, Felix decides to go and bowl with the team. The other team is also short a man because on of their players is getting married, so they decide each of them can substitute someone but they can’t agree on two people they can use. Part way into the game both Felix and the groom show up to finish bowling with their teams. They are down to the final frame. Felix can win with his final ball, but as he gets ready to let it go, his back goes out and the teams start arguing. Felix lectures everyone. He rolls the ball down the aisle while laying down. He wins and the team is so excited they all run off so the losing team can buy them a drink, but they forget about Felix who can’t move and has to crawl off the lane.

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Laverne and Shirley

In another season 1 episode, “Bowling for Razzberries,” the girls are in the championship game in 1976. Laverne dislikes Karen, who gives tours at the brewery and torments her. Shirley convinces her to get even with Karen by beating her team at the company bowling night. Laverne coaches the girls about their abilities during practice. Laverne doesn’t criticize Shirley because she always over reacts and takes it personally. Shirley convinces Laverne to give her some tips and when she does, Shirley quits. Shirley realizes Laverne is coming down with a cold and tries to convince her not to practice with her fever. Leonard shows up with a pink ball and his fingers were stuck in there.  He made a comment about Karen’s body, and she slammed the ball on his hand. On the day of the championship, Carmine stops by to tell them he, Lennie and Squiggy bet on their team to win. Shirley calls the doctor to stop by and see Laverne. The doctor is young and good-looking. Laverne puts on lipstick while he scrubs up. He gives her some cold medicine and tells her she needs bed rest till Monday.  To keep Laverne inside, Shirley hides all her clothes while Laverne is sleeping and joins the team again. A sergeant comes collecting clothes for the needy. Laverne tells her she has no clothes, and the sergeant gives her her clothing, keeping her cape and hat. The Hot Shotz are playing the Big Shotz. Shirley finds and old lady from the brewery to fill in for Laverne. In order to participate in the game, Laverne decides to take the medication which leaves her muscles jerky. She shows up at the bowling alley in the sergeant’s clothing. Laverne gets worse as the night goes on. In the last frame, she needs six pins to win. Squiggy, Carmine, and Lenny carry her in her chair to the lane. She wins the game for her team but is too tired to tell Karen what she thinks of her. She asks Shirley to do it and Shirley congratulates her, using good sportsmanship. The next day, Laverne tries to convince Shirley to go to Karen’s house and give her the “razzberry” Laverne wanted to the night before. Shirley calls her on the phone and does so, making Laverne proud. There are a lot of similarities between this episode and The Odd Couple episode discussed above. That’s not too surprising since Garry Marshall produced both shows.

 

 

Ellen

In “Bowl, Baby, Bowl” in 1996, the cast ends up at the bowling lane. Paige and Spencer decide to meet at the bookstore since it’s located half way between the hospital and her studio. Before Paige gets there, Spencer gets called back to the hospital. To reward the employees for their good work at the store, Ed decides to take everyone bowling. Ed is very competitive and names his bowling ball “Rolling Thunder.” The rest of them are just there to have fun, and they goof around more than bowl seriously. They attract a crowd and in the last frame, despite her lack of skills, Ellen wins. After Ellen beats him, Ed gets mad. He cancels Ellen’s day off. When she tries to talk to him, he challenges her to a game of pool at his house the next day. That morning, Paige shows up at Ellen’s to surprise Spencer with breakfast. Before they can eat, Paige has to go to the studio and Spencer gets a page from the hospital. At Ed’s house, Ellen trash talks while playing pool.  Ed wins, but Ellen is a bad loser. The next morning at the bookstore, Ellen challenges Ed to who can drink the hot coffee the quickest.  After burning their mouths, they decide on a final game of bowling to break the tie. Ed’s young daughter Emily asks to bowl for Ellen in the final frame. After saying no, Ellen gives in and hands her the ball, talking about the fact that winning is not the important thing, how you play is. Emily granny rolls the ball and wins for Ellen. Ed and Ellen call a truce but when Ed’s wife takes the girls to the arcade, the game is back on as those two run to the arcade to beat each other. The show ends with Spencer and Paige finally getting some time together.

 

Modern Family

In “Knock ‘Em Down” in 2015, Jay agrees to sub for Cam’s bowling team. Cam conveniently forgets to mention that it’s an all-gay league. Cam wants to beat his nemesis Martin Sherman. Gloria and Mitchell are bragging about how late they will stay out since they are going out on a night on the town with Haley. Cam and Jay bet them $10 that they’ll be home before they are. As Mitchell and Gloria begin dancing, Cam tells them they’re dancing to the Antique Roadshow theme. When Cam tells Jay everyone has to be gay on the team, Jay says no one will ever believe he is gay. Martin approaches Cam and tells him he’ll beat him again and hopes to see Cam try to throw a chair that is bolted down like last year which hurt his back. Jay dislikes Martin and agrees to bowl. Martin questions Jay’s being gay, so Cam tells him to “up his gay game.” Cam tells Martin Jay is acting a bit weird because he has a crush on Martin. Jay really plays up to Martin to throw him off his game. Near the last frame, Martin tries to ask Jay out and he turns him down which keeps Martin from bowling well. After they win the game, Jay talks to Martin and tells him he turned him down because he’s not gay.  Martin thanks him for revealing it and then has Cam’s team disqualified.

Meanwhile, Phil can’t sell a house in the neighborhood because the house across the street has an obscene statue in the front yard. All the neighbors hate it, including the new neighbors whom Phil and Claire dislike. That couple ask Phil and Claire to go out to dinner, and they can’t find a nice way to say no. Phil and Claire consider the couple a bit “low class.” Phil and Claire are embarrassed that the neighbors they don’t like brought their own wine. But when they wave the waiter over for glasses and he takes it out of the bag, it’s a very expensive bottle that the restaurant doesn’t have. Then they mention their son is going to Julliard for piano playing and composing.  The neighbors say they can tie rope around the statue and haul it away. Phil gets in the car and tries to stop them. As he pulls off, he doesn’t realize he’s in reverse and he backs over the statue. A policeman stops by to talk about the statue; luckily Phil knows him and they aren’t questioned.

Meanwhile, Haley tells Gloria and Mitch that they can’t go out for a few hours because no one goes out till 10 and the band sometimes doesn’t go on till midnight. As Mitchell and Gloria wait to go out they are already falling asleep. They start dancing to stay awake. When Haley comes back with wristbands they are sound asleep. They get up and go to the club with her but realize they can’t stay up any longer and leave.

 

These episodes are a handful of the shows that aired during the 75 years between 1942 and 2015, but they are my favorites. Other shows that featured fun bowling episodes are Happy Days, Looney TunesMike and Molly, Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory, and The Brady Bunch.

If you can’t find any of these great shows to watch today, gather a few of your friends together and get a game of bowling in. Have a ball! Just keep your toes out of it.

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.