Everyone’s favorite TV mom, Florence Henderson, played the Brady family matriarch for 15 years. However, before she dazzled us as Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch,” Henderson made her TV debut when she appeared on not one, not two— but four television networks at the same time.
In 1954, 20-year-old Henderson appeared in “General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein.” At the time, Rodgers and Hammerstein had been around for a little over a decade after they got their Broadway start with Oklahoma! in 1943.
The show celebrated the anniversary of the sponsor of the Broadway musical, General Foods. A young Henderson played the lead role of Laurey Williams. Not only did she act, but she also sang several songs in the taping. Florence Henderson sang “Oklahoma” and “People Will Say We’re In Love” alongside actor Gordon MacRae.
However, it’s probably safe to say that Henderson had some nerves ahead of filming. The performance went live in front of four television networks: DuMont Network, NBC, ABC, and CBS. If fans missed the show, they would have to wait until “The Brady Bunch” episode, “The Voice of Christmas,” to hear Henderson’s vocal chops again.
The networks also collaborated on the two-hour television special, “Light’s Diamond Jubilee,” which aired on October 24, 1954. It acted as a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the light bulb.
Florence Henderson Gets Start on Broadway Stage
Before becoming a household name, Florence Henderson got her start in entertainment by booking parts in musicals. She made her Broadway debut in 1952 in the musical Wish You Were Here. Later, she starred on Broadway in the long-running musical Fanny in 1954.
After her appearance on the anniversary show, she booked a gig in an episode of the 1950s TV series “I Spy.” She also played Meg March’s role in a CBS-TV musical adaptation of Little Women that aired on October 16, 1958.
Later, Henderson won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre in 1962. The same year, she became the first woman to guest host “The Tonight Show” before Johnny Carson began his 30-year stint.
She also dabbled in morning news when she appeared on NBC’s “The Today Girl,” which became the network’s long-running morning show. Florence Henderson would do weather and light news, a position once held by the veteran journalist, Barbara Walters.