HomeEntertainment‘The Brady Bunch’ Star Florence Henderson Was One of First Women to Ever Host ‘The Tonight Show’

‘The Brady Bunch’ Star Florence Henderson Was One of First Women to Ever Host ‘The Tonight Show’

by Joe Rutland
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Before her role as Carol Brady, actress Florence Henderson found herself guest-hosting NBC’s “The Tonight Show” in the 1960s.

Wait a minute. Did I just say Henderson guest-hosted “The Tonight Show”? Yes. In 1966, Florence Henderson found herself behind the desk microphone. She happened to be one of the first women to host the late-night show.

Henderson, though, wasn’t a stranger to regular NBC viewers. Between 1959-60, she was the “Today” girl who hosted fashion segments on the morning show anchored by Dave Garroway.

As for Florence Henderson, she was a frequent guest on both “Tonight Show” versions. Jack Parr’s reign lasted from 1957 until 1962 when he left the show. Johnny Carson started hosting duties on Oct. 1, 1962, in New York City and, of course, stayed in that role until May 22, 1992.

By appearing on numerous Broadway plays or shows in New York City, Henderson could go on the show, sing a song or chat it up, and promote any appearance.

Listen to Henderson talk about her times being on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

Florence Henderson, Joan Rivers Among Female Hosts

Some longtime “Tonight Show” fans will remember that Joan Rivers served as a guest host for Carson into the 1980s. But Rivers, who Carson had an eye on as a possible replacement for him at one time, fell out of favor with him.

Why? Rivers, behind Carson’s back, signed a deal to host “The Joan Rivers Show” on FOX. The story goes that Carson found out about like much of the rest of the world…through the media. Rivers said years later that she did attempt to call Carson after the news broke and Rivers had done a press conference.

Carson hung up on her. Rivers’ show was a bomb on FOX and she never hosted a talk show again.

Florence Henderson and Rivers, though, were two trailblazers for women hosting in the predominantly male late-night talk-show host world.

Henderson Had Awkward Interaction with William Shatner

In the world of show business, sometimes stars’ paths cross at some inopportune times. Such was the case when Florence Henderson happened to bump into William Shatner back in his “Star Trek” days.

She was doing a screen test for the role after “The Brady Bunch” executive producer Sherwood Schwartz didn’t like the on-screen chemistry between two previously-hired actresses. He noticed Henderson from her other work. Schwartz called but Henderson was on her way to a music gig in Houston and wasn’t interested, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

But she relented and, thus, follows her explanation of meeting with Capt. James T. Kirk.

“We’re on the ‘Star Trek’ set,” Henderson said. “They made me up in the ‘Star Trek’ dressing room. Bill Shatner was in there. Not overly friendly, I might add, which I have razzed him about many times over the years. They made me up. I went back and did a screen test. Not with Robert Reed, with another actor. They thanked me very much. I got on my plane to Houston that night.”

The rest, as they say, is history as Henderson was offered the role of Carol Brady. She accepted and joined a long list of favorite TV moms.