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Florence Henderson Biography

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Birth Name: Florence Henderson
Born: 02/14/1934
Birth Place: Dale, Indiana, USA

Born on Feb. 14, 1934 in Dale, IN, Henderson was raised one of ten siblings by her father, Joseph, a tobacco farmer, and her mother, Elizabeth. Vocally gifted at an early age - she reportedly knew and could sing note-perfect renditions of over 50 popular tunes at the age of two - Henderson attended St. Francis Academy in Owensboro, KY, before making her way to New York's American Academy of the Dramatic Arts. Henderson landed her first professional acting role on stage at 17 in the 1952 musical "Wish You Were Here," and her skills soon attracted the attention of legendary composers Rodgers and Hammerstein, who tapped her to play the lead in the national touring company of "Oklahoma!"

More roles in prestigious stage productions soon followed. She was top-billed in "The Great Waltz" at the Civic Opera in Los Angeles, then soon returned to New York to star in the Broadway musical "Fanny" (1954). There was a brief setback in the mid-1950s when, while starring opposite Ricardo Montalban in "The King and I" in Los Angeles, she began losing her hearing. The condition progressed swiftly and dramatically, requiring Henderson to have surgery to repair a hereditary condition called otosclerosis. Her health quickly improved, however, and she returned to a busy performing schedule, which counted numerous appearances on television variety programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-71) and "The Dean Martin Show" (NBC, 1965-74), the latter of which allowed her to demonstrate light comedy alongside her musical abilities.

In 1969, producer Sherwood Schwartz cast Henderson as single mom Carol Brady, whose three daughters came together with new husband Mike (Robert Reed) and his three sons to form "The Brady Bunch." A genial family sitcom in the vein of "Father Knows Best" (CBS-ABC, 1954-63) and the feature "Yours, Mine and Ours" (1968), "The Brady Bunch" rarely offered Henderson much dramatic material beyond the simplest of household conflicts. But her even-keeled and kind-hearted presence did much to endear her to the show's vast audience of younger viewers, who kept the show alive in reruns for generations to come. Its enduring popularity in syndication led to numerous revivals, with Henderson gamely returning as Carol in nearly all of the TV-movies, reunion specials, variety show appearances and tributes. Most of the original cast reunited for three subsequent series - "The Brady Bunch Hour" (ABC, 1976-77), a stunningly awful variety show with the cast in musical numbers and sketch comedy; "The Brady Brides" (NBC, 1980-81), which saw Carol pass sage marriage advice on to her grown daughters; and "The Bradys" (CBS, 1989-90), which attempted to place the happy-go-lucky family into a more dramatic scenario. None of these efforts repeated the success of the original series, even though it appeared that audiences simply could not absorb enough Brady-related entertainment.

Being Carol Brady consumed much of Henderson's acting career for the next three decades, though she did manage to appear in other projects along the way. She made her feature debut in the ill-fated film adaptation of "Song of Norway" (1970), a biopic about composer Edvard Grieg, and appeared sporadically in features after that, often as herself, as in "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" (1994). She deflated her sunshine-streaked persona on several occasions, including a turn as a slatternly fan of rodeo clowns in Bob Goldthwait's cult comedy "Shakes the Clown" (1991) and delivered tough love to Jennifer Elise Cox's delusional Jan as the Brady's grandmother in the popular parody film "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995). In that film and its subsequent sequels, actress Shelly Long gave an eerily accurate portrayal of Henderson's Carol Brady.

Audience affection for Henderson as Carol Brady also allowed her to enjoy a popular and lucrative side career as a television spokesperson and hostess. In 1976, she began pitching Wesson Oil in television commercials and remained the company's on-air spokesperson for the next three decades. She also appeared in spots for the Midwestern department store Prange's, Polident denture fixture and Rainsoft Water Treatment Systems. In 1985, she began a nine-season run as the hostess and co-producer of "Country Kitchen" (The Nashville Network, 1985-94), which featured chats and recipe swaps with celebrity guests. The show later inspired a book, A Little Cooking, A Little Talking and a Whole Lot of Fun, and preceded a second cooking show, "Short Cut Cooking," which aired briefly on PBS in 1998. A talk show, "Living Live," aired on the Retirement Living Television network in 1997 before Henderson signed on as co-host of "Later Today" (NBC, 1999-2000), a morning roundtable talk show. In 2008, "Living Live" was reworked as "The Florence Henderson Show."

Over the years, Henderson made several guest spots on series television, including episodes of "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-97), "Dave's World" (CBS, 1993-97), "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98) and "The King of Queens" (CBS, 1998-2007), Henderson's status as America's favorite mom even carried her into the turbulent waters of reality television. In 2005, she gave reluctant counsel to former television son Christopher Knight on his series "My Fair Brady" (VH1, 2005-08), though she later recounted her disgust at the show's circus-like atmosphere in newspaper reports. The experience apparently did not prevent her from serving as mother hen/relationship therapist for the 2006 season of "The Surreal Life" (The WB-VH1, 2003- ), though "Brady" fans were appalled to see her verbally abused by contestant Tawny Kitaen in one artificially tense episode. In 2008, she landed her own series on the Retirement Living TV channel called "The Florence Henderson Show," while the following year Henderson earned an Emmy Award nomination for her guest starring role on an episode of "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 2007-09). Meanwhile, it was announced in mid-2010 that Henderson would take part as a contestant for the 11th season of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ), joining the ranks of celebrities like Michael Bolton, former NFL star Kurt Warner and comedian Margaret Cho.