Friday, 25 November 2016

Florence Henderson and Her First TV Husband

Florence Henderson spent close to 15 years on stage and television by 1969, yet all of that was wiped from the world’s collective memory starting that year when she landed the role of perky mother Carol on “The Brady Bunch.” The show was white bread with a laugh track, yet it’s what she’ll always be lovingly associated with. The sitcom was a rousing success because the characters were just so darn likeable and became tied up in situations (always with a happy ending) that viewers could picture themselves in.

Henderson and TV husband Robert Reed are welded together in the minds of several generations as a couple. But there was a time she and another man were considered by some fans to be husband and wife—a gentleman named Bill Hayes.

In the late ‘50s, Henderson and Hayes were tabbed by the agency representing Oldsmobile to do singing TV commercials for its cars. That was parlayed into a nightclub tour and reached a climax when producer David Susskind came up with an idea for a live programme of original dramas with songs (it was insisted they were “not musicals”). It was sponsored by Olds, and presided over by its commercial crooners. It was also a flop.

Here’s a piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer of May 9, 1959 to tell you about it.
Hayes and Henderson Go Together Like Syrup and Hotcakes

H & H. conjures up a popular eatery chain hereabouts, but in the TV-served hinterlands beyond Philadelphia and New York, the initials (a pair we're kind of partial to) also represent the ubiquitous team of Bill Hayes and Florence Henderson (a pair we're kind of partial to, too!).
Dark-haired Bill and blonde Florence (they're both blue-eyed) spend so much time together, as TV entertainers, TV spielers, supper club singers, touring industrial show stars and (beginning this month) recording artists, they might just as well be married.
Well, they are—but not to each other. Bill, 33, is the father of five; Florence, 23; alias Mrs. Ira Bernstein, has one two-year-old daughter. But fans, they report with a sigh, take it for granted they're as much Hayeses as Peter Lind and Mary.
Their make-believe "marriage," like most real ones, has its ups and downs. Right now it's recovering from just about the worst blow yet. "The Oldsmobile Music Theater," in which they were supposed to double as hosts and sometimes actor-singers at least through June, was abruptly canceled after last week's performance, sixth in the series.
In addition, the program's April 30 show, on which they were scheduled—finally!—to co-emote, was abruptly converted from drama to video vaudeo.
"I looked forward to the dramatic bit," Bill conceded, "but it was no tremendous disappointment. The variety show was great fun. Florence is quite disappointed because we didn't have more to do while the show was on."
Bill doesn't think "Music Theater's" collapse will affect his third year-long contract with Oldsmobile, which runs to Oct. 1, as far as the sponsor's concerned. He has a few qualms himself, however. "I enjoy the association," he said, "as long as it permits me to be a performer, too, not just a representative."
So far he's had no complaint, on that score. Although he and Florence are paid a yearly retainer to be "on call" for various commercial chores, the arrangement hasn't interfered too often with their accepting other, non-auto offers, together and apart.
Thus, Bill has guested several times on "Voice of Firestone," made concert appearances, played roles in "Kiss Me, Kate" and other TV specials and waxed several tunes, including the currently popular "Wimoweh." Florence has been a frequent visitor to “The Jack Paar Show” (I'm one of the few singers Jack lets sit and talk," she says proudly), sang Richard Rodgers tunes on last week's Firestone hour (she and Bill are both alumni of Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musicals) and has accepted various other solo dates.
Together, they've played non-commercial- linked engagements in a “U. S. Steel Hour” comedy, "A FamilyAlliance;" portrayed sweethearts in TV's musicalized "Little Women" earlier this season, and starred at New York's St. Regis and other swank supper clubs. This month, for the Kapp label, they'll record highlights for their supper club routines.
When Bill in 1953, after years as a featured singer in Sid Caesar's pioneer—and still fondly-remembered—TV variety program, "Your Show of Shows," went into Broadway's "Me and Juliet," he received a congratulatory telegram from the late Fred Allen: "It must be a pleasure to sing through an evening without having to stop for the commercials." It's ironic, Bill feels that, now he so often is the commercial.
"People used to recognize me on the street," he said wryly, "and yell, ‘Ah! Show of Shows!’ Then it became: 'Ah! Me and Juliet!' Then (after his recording of the song became a 2,000,000-copy best seller) 'Ah! Davy Crockett!' Now, once in a while, I hear 'Ah! Oldsmobility!'"
Does it bother him that he's hailed that way, instead of by name? "Not in the least," Bill said firmly. Nor are he and Florence irked by audiences' frequent misconception of their marital status. "Sometimes," Florence noted with a laugh, "when we're singing in a supper club, I'll overhear someone say something like 'Oh! Did you see the way he smiled at her?'"
Their respective spouses don't mind, either. "My husband is in show business, too—in the production end," said Florence, "and he thinks my being teamed with Bill is a very good thing. He has a great deal of respect for Bill's ability."
"If a Broadway show came along tomorrow," Bill pointed out, "she could do it on her own. There are absolutely no strings. You can't knock an arrangement like that."
"We're not possessive about each other," Florence, laughed.
"I'm happy whenever she gets anything good," said Bill.
They don't do much extracurricular socializing, but that's partly because they live many-miles apart, and partly because, as Bill points out, "Some weeks we spend more time with each other than we do with our families. We don't do much socializing anyway. We both work full time at our jobs."
"It's so wonderful to go home," Florence sighed. "I guess we're both kind of hicks at heart. What we like best is to go home and take our shoes off."
Sometimes the Hayes-Henderson collaboration upsets his youngsters. Bill reports.
"Once in a while we're on TV before their bedtimes," he said. 'They get involved in the story of the moment, rather than the fact that I'm working with Florence."
"When we did the ‘U. S. Steel’ play," Florence recalled, "Bill's little girl came to rehearsal. I had to slap Bill, and she was furious! My own little girl tells people, ‘My mama's going to work, to sing with Bill Hayes.’"
"The kids always feel that way about my appearances," Bill laughed. "If I'm with a girl who's acting nice to me, they're very happy. If she's mean, they don't forget. Once, on the Arthur Murray show, I sang a song with Judy Johnson, pleading, 'Don't Send Me Home,' while she kept trying to close the door. I had to persuade the kids afterwards that she wasn't being mean."
Spending so much time together, have they been able to spot each other's quirks and foibles? And do these ever get on their nerves?
"We're a pretty good personality match," said Bill. "We have lots of fights and squabbles. Not really!" he hastily amended. "Actually, they're rare occasions."
"We're able to discuss things," said Florence. "If we disagree—on how to do a song, for instance—we talk it over. We seldom reach an impasse. We're both able to back down."
Bill winked. "You just hit 'em a few times, and that gets things under control."
"I'm more inclined to be snippy and short," said Florence. "Bill has wonderful qualities. Competition in show business is so fierce that there's lots of jealousy. Once in a while I say things that are better left unsaid, but Bill never knocks another performer. I can count people like that on two fingers! He has a few faults, too, but who hasn't?"
"She's one of the longest say-goodbyers," Bill groaned. "Shell talk on for 18 sentences before she finally leaves."
"When he's mad," said Florence, "he tugs his right rar and gets quiet. Sometimes I'm a foot-tapper."
"That doesn't bother me," said Bill.
"Yes it does," said Florence. "It drives you nuts!"
Bill tugged his ear and said nothing. That seemed an opportune moment to call it an interview. We all said goodbye. Florence added some postscript sentences, but nowhere near 18!
Since someone will want me to mention it, Hayes is married to Susan Seaforth Hayes and both starred on the soap Days of Our Lives.

Henderson got her first break as a teenager. And it was a big one. Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer again, in a story by Barbara L. Wilson published May 2, 1954. Henderson was 20. She’s still in the “golly gosh, I’m just so glad to be here” stage of her career.
When Florence Henderson, youngest of the Kentucky Henderson clan numbering 10 children, was 9 years old, "Oklahoma!" began its fabulous reign on Broadway. Although she had no idea then of ever appearing in "Oklahoma'" Florence’s only desire was to eventually go to New York and become a musical comedy star. The New York opportunity came in 1952 and in September of that year she became the twelfth Laurey in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, now at the Shubert.
Florence is a blue-eyed, fair-haired lass of Irish descent with a will to win in her chosen profession.
“I don't remember when I decided that I wanted to sing on the stage. It seems that it was always that way. No one else in my family ever had such ambitions, yet all of them like music.”
"My real chance to study came when Christine Johnson, the original Nettie Fowler of ‘Carousel,’ married a doctor in my hometown of Owensboro. I sang two numbers for her. I squeeked terribly. I don't know what she thought but I guess she realized I was determined because she agreed to give me lessons. A few years later relatives of a high school friend sponsored my trip to New York."
After auditioning for "Oklahoma!'—her second musical—her first was in the chorus "Wish You Were Here." Richard Rodgers questioned Florence about her age. “I told him I was 18. He looked at me very seriously and said, 'Don't you think you're too old?' I thought he meant it," Florence grinned.
"It has been a wonderful experience. I went into ‘Oklahoma!’ and saw the United States. Up to that time I had only been in Lexington and Chicago. But we have been all over, even in Florida where one of my brothers lives. He saw the show about six or eight times while we were there."
Recently Florence had an opportunity to audition for the film role of Laurey. “Everybody was wonderful,” she beamed. “Arthur Hornblow, the producer, was sure I would get the part. One day he came to the theater with Fred Zinneman, who will direct the movie version. Mr. Zinneman took me aside and told me that he was certain I could do the role if he worked with me constantly. But he said that he felt he should audition some other actresses.
Believe me, I wasn't disappointed. It was such a relief to know one way or another. And maybe if I had done Laurey in the movies, people would always have thought of me as Laurey. I don't want it that way. But Mr. Zinneman and Mr. Hornblow gave me wonderful hope. They said they were sure I would make a great star,” Florence smiled happily.
When "Oklahoma!" closes Saturday evening. Florence will return to New York to await word about auditions she has made for the Hit Parade television program, and for "Fanny," the S. N. Behrman-Joshua Logan-Harold Rome musical which will star Ezio Pinza and Walter Slezak and is scheduled for fall production.
“I would play the title role,” Florence remarked hopefully. “A number of people who have read the script say ‘Fanny’ is better than ‘South Pacific.’ But I couldn’t say. I just can’t imagine another character like Nellie Forbush.”
Let’s jump ahead 12 years. She’s most definitely not in the “golly gosh, I’m just so glad to be here” stage of her career. This syndicated piece was published in papers starting December 16, 1966.
All Flo Wants Is to Be Noticed

NEW YORK — Is there a "Mary Poppins" in Florence Henderson's future?
"When I'm 50, I'm going to make a movie and get an Academy Award and then they'll discover me," sighed the singer over a salad made especially for her.
In 21, the elegant eating and watering hole in midtown Manhattan, they have known who Miss Henderson is for some time. So has Broadway, where she starred in the musical, "The Girl Who Came to Supper." So has television, where—she has filled in for Johnny Carson as a hostess on The Tonight Show and been The Bell Telephone Hour's most popular lady singer of musical comedy tunes.
FILMDOM UNKNOWN—But in Hollywood, she sadly confesses, she is just a little girl from Indiana nobody really knows. Julie Andrews' tremendous late start in the film capital, however, has given Miss Henderson hope for the future.
Meanwhile, she is not complaining. As the wife of stage manager Ira Bernstein and the mother of four ("We have two of each, ages 10, 6, 3 and 10 months") she lives in a sprawling apartment on the 32nd floor of a new building overlooking the Hudson River. And when she goes down on the street strangers call her "Florence" or just "Flo."
Last month Flo appeared for the 10th time on Bell when she hosted the series' annual Christmas show.
MISSES FORMAT—"Thank goodness, it was live," she said between dainty bites on her salad. "I miss Bell's old format this season, and wish they would do all their shows like they did in the past."
Her salad was extra large because she wasn't going to eat again until late evening. After lunch, the singer was going to tape some Password sessions (she is a whiz at the quiz game) and see some people about her next television adventure.
NEVER CUT DISK—All this, she figures, is still not getting her to Hollywood where she would very much like to appear in films.
"Would you believe it that I've never had a hit record?" she smiled. "Would you believe that nobody has ever asked me to record a song? There's a lot I have to do to convince Hollywood I'm alive, I wonder if they'll ever wake up?"
Florence Henderson passed away yesterday. Perhaps she didn’t quite get where she wanted to go when she set out on her career in entertainment. But she came across as a sincere and upbeat person that millions wanted in their living rooms, and that’s a good way to end it.


  1. I had just heard coming back from DIsneyland Orange County. Sad.,.yeah brady was whitebread, but Porky Pig, Mickey Mouse,et.c were. Nothing particularly wrong with that (if Filmation had not done the Brady Kids, maybe Paramount Pictures and Chuck Jones could team forces and produce it..and maybe Cindy (Susan Olsen) could have big eyes..I loved the Bradys (Frank De Vol, of "Music by DeVol" fame, had Carl Stalling/Scott Bradley like fame using familiar public domain and (Brady Bunch parent co.Paramount Studios songs on the soundtrack..season 5 could be ppretty Looney or Tom and Jerry,especially the finale with Barry Williamns;s Greg being orange haired thanks to a sceheme from a younger brother which was so "Hair-Brained" that Robert "Michael" Reed - who'd hated it from day ONE-receded like a hairline from the episode!)

    THanks for the post..I posted to it on my twitter SJCarras and my facebook.I assume Arte Johnson, also profiled here, a day ago, died,too.

  2. Nope, Arte's still with us at age 87.