Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In Praise Of Florence Henderson

Acting is a funny profession, in a lot of ways.  Unless you get into the producing end of show business, you don't get to pick your jobs.  Your jobs, on the other hand, get to pick you.  And, in the process, they define and limit your ability to perform every bit as much as they may make you both rich and famous.  Sometimes, it's not even about talent.  It's just about finding a role in which you resonate for audiences more than you do in anything else.  The history of acting is filled with examples of this; Eugene O'Neill build an entire play, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," around his father's financial success in one role, and how that success crippled him as an artist.

Of Florence Henderson, it could almost be said that she was born too late.  She began her career on Broadway, which offered her roles that maximized her singing ability, but did so at a time when Broadway was beginning a slow and painful decline in audiences and artistic merit.  Like a lot of performers in the same position, she ended up in Hollywood and on television.  And, as a result, she found the role in which she resonated for a large audience:  Carol Brady, the matriarch of a blended family in "The Brady Bunch."

If you've ever watched the show, you know that no one would mistake it for Great Ideas of Western Thought.  At the same time, if you watched it, and were yourself part of a blended family, you found solace in seeing on TV a family that was just like yours, but also treated blended families as "real" families.  Since the show was on the air, I became part of a blended family, and have come to appreciate what "The Brady Bunch" did for a lot of children in my generation.

Florence Henderson did a lot to make the Brady family real, while still finding opportunities to sing. Her talent wasn't thwarted, but re-directed in an unexpected way.  And, as a result (and thanks to reruns), that talent is still making a difference.  She was one of the lucky ones in finding that type of success as an actor, but she worked hard to deserve it, too.

RIP, Florence.  Carol will continue to to a good job of showcasing who you were, and who you always will be to the Brady families around the world.

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