Florence Henderson had a lot to bring to her role on “The Brady Bunch” that some of her fellow co-stars did not. “The Brady Bunch” was all about a blended family of six children.
Henderson brought her personal life with her to the role of Carol Martin. It may have made all the difference in making the on-screen family more realistic.
Florence Henderson Early Life and Family
Florence Henderson was the youngest of 10 children growing up. She was born in a small town in southwestern Indiana. She was the daughter of a homemaker and a tobacco sharecropper. Besides acting, Henderson started out as a singer at the age of two in the midst of the Great Depression.
Her roles in “Fanny” and “Wish You Were Here” were some of her first appearances that would help give her traction in the industry. It was Henderson’s family life that made her stand out to the cast, producers, and directors of “The Brady Bunch.”
While the show was on she was married to her first husband Ira Bernstein. They were together from 1956 to 1985 and had four children. Eventually, she would marry Dr. John George, a hypnotherapist, in 1987. They were together until he passed away in 2002.
She was the only actor that had experience raising a family, being in a long-term relationship, and also being raised in a large family. She could connect to her character in a very real way and producers and writers used that to their advantage.
“I think being a mother and having four children and seeing some of the things they were going through. My kids when they were smaller would say, ‘How come you don’t scream at those kids on television’ and I go ‘Because they won’t let me, otherwise I would,'” Florence Henderson said in a Television Academy interview.
Henderson and ‘Stability’
On television during the ’60s and ’70s, everything was a bit more monitored. Families like the ones in “Shameless” and “The Sopranos” wouldn’t quite meet the codes outlined back then.
“We had certain codes on television. You couldn’t raise your voice above a certain level and you couldn’t whack a kid across the behind, you just couldn’t do things like that,” Florence Henderson said.
On television, families were more empathetic and caring than perhaps what some people experienced in real-life. Despite that, Henderson could bring in her experience raising children to help her character seem dynamic and well-developed.
While a comedic show, it also had some very real elements. At the time, it was one of the first shows that featured a blended family. Divorce rates were rising at the time and blended families were becoming more common. It was an element of realism that brought the show so many viewers.
“There were certain things that I brought to the role. I think my experience as a young parent. The fact that I understood kids I felt close to them … I was really the only one on the set that was married, had children, that had an ongoing relationship, the others didn’t. I think in a way that I became this sort of stability of the show and I think Sherwood saw that, that I could be very funny but I could also bring the empathy or what is necessary for a show like that,” Florence Henderson said in a different Television Academy interview.
Henderson proved to be the perfect fit for Carol on the show.