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In her last interview, Florence Henderson reflected on the role of her life, Carol Brady

Alberto E. Rodriguez/GettyImages North America/AFP

Patty Knap - published on 12/03/16

The late actress reflected on how the Brady Brunch represented "what everyone wants in life"

To hear of strong Catholic faith as the foundation of any actor’s life is noteworthy. When it’s a beloved American icon such as Florence Henderson, from one of the most popular TV shows of all time, it’s all the more fantastic.

Actress Florence Henderson, known for her motherly role as Carol Brady on the 70s sit-com The Brady Bunch, told St. Anthony Messenger magazine that the Catholic faith was her foundation.

The Brady Bunch Television Cast - Paramount CBS Promotional Photo
Paramount/CBS Promotional Photo
The Brady Bunch Television Cast - Paramount CBS Promotional Photo

“I don’t ever remember not praying. Bedtime prayers, the rosary, praying for friends, relatives, for the sick and for those who had died. It was a natural part of our lives,” she said in August, in what turned out to be her final interview. The story appears in the January 2017 issue of the magazine, published by Franciscan Media. Henderson died on Thanksgiving day at the age of 82.

“I frequently am contacted by people who want to thank me for The Brady Bunch,” Henderson told the magazine. “Whether they grew up during the show’s original television run or are brand-new fans of the present generation, they tell me how important The Brady Bunch has been in their lives. I wanted to portray Carol as a loving, fun, affectionate mother, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people who maybe had the same situation I did growing up. To think that something I was involved in had such a positive effect on the lives of so many people is satisfying beyond words.”

Florence Henderson and husband, Ira Bernstien with their children. Courtesy of Flohome.com
Flohome.com

Florence Henderson and husband, Ira Bernstien with their children. Courtesy of Flohome.com

But being mom to her own four children was her favorite role. “My children and their happiness have always been my greatest concern,” she said.  She described her children as “the nicest people you could ever meet” and “very spiritual people. Being a mom makes you far more compassionate. You have more empathy for people, more love,” Henderson added.

Like so many of us, Henderson occasionally found herself questioning her faith. As a new mother, the actress experienced postpartum depression.  She also had hereditary bone deformity of the middle ear and needed surgery to prevent deafness. Stage fright and insomnia also crept into her life at various points. “The loss of family and friends, especially her siblings, weighed heavily upon her, as well as a natural fear of her own mortality,” she told the interviewer.

Henderson was educated by Benedictine nuns and priests in St. Meinrad and Ferdinand, Indiana, where she grew up the youngest of 10 children. In the St. Anthony Messenger interview, Henderson fondly remembered her first grade teacher – Benedictine Sister Gemma.  Later she studied acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC, and made her debut in 1952, starring in “Fanny” on Broadway. She then played Maria in the original Broadway version of “The Sound of Music.” She was also applauded for her performances in “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma!”

Just this past September, she appeared with Maureen McCormick (who played daughter Marsha Brady) on Dancing With the Stars.

Florence Henderson at the 1989 Emmy Awards. Photo by Alan Light
Alan Light CC
Florence Henderson at the 1989 Emmy Awards. Photo by Alan Light

In a 1994 interview with the Catholic News Service, Henderson lovingly recalled her role as Carol Brady and The Brady Bunch legacy. She mentioned that parents sometimes approached her to ask if certain TV shows were good for their children to watch, maybe based on her wholesome parental image on the TV show. “They’re responsible for this little soul they’ve brought into the world and they wonder what’s being taught,” she told CNS. “Very few people in our business have been a part of something that everyone seems to feel with great affection. They really love the characters. They love Carol Brady, everyone in it. And that it’s still going strong after so many years absolutely amazes me,” she said.

The show “represents what everyone wants in life, and that is a loving family, unconditional love, a place to make mistakes, to get angry, to be forgiven, to forgive.”

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