As most of you probably know by now, Florence Henderson died yesterday. She was 82.
If you’re of my age, or a bit older, part of your childhood was spent in front of the TV, watching Henderson play Mrs. Brady on the Brady Bunch. The show was everything negative critics labeled it: Corny. Contrived. Simplistic. Lame. Flat. But it was also, oddly, magical. The Brady Bunch was escapism; to a place where nobody farted and nobody burped and nobody died in car accidents or contracted cancer or worried about an alcoholic father.
In real life, Henderson was divorced and Mr. Brady (Robert Reed) was gay and Jan and Greg were hooking up in the trailer and some of the kids were surely dealing with awful Hollywood parents. But for us, the viewing audience, the Brady Bunch was something as dependable and reliable as the afternoon mail. You knew it was coming, you knew it was safe and you knew it was comfortable. Actually, the best word may well be uncomplicated. The Bradys gave us an uncomplicated slice of an uncomplicated world.
I can probably cite 90 Brady moments off the top of my head, but—in regards to Henderson—two stand out.
The first came in 1995, when she appeared in the (vastly underrated) The Brady Bunch Movie as “Grandma” and absolutely killed it. The second (and my personal favorite) was the final scene of A Very Brady Christmas, a cheesy, unwatchable 1988 made-for-TV flick at a pre-streaming time when everyone watched this sort of dreck come holiday season. As I’ve made clear, the thing was an abomination; an eye-melting, brain-decaying two-hour ode to toe crud. And yet, Henderson nearly saved the whole endeavor. In that last scene, all the Bradys (as well as some worried extras) are standing outside a collapsed construction site. Mike is inside, presumed dead and crushed by all present (and the seven viewers who had never watched this sort of thing before). Hope is gone. The world is quiet. Jan is secretly wondering what she’ll inherit. And then—wait … what’s that sound?
Holy shit. It’s Mrs. Brady, singing “Joyful and Triumphant.” Her voice is angelic (indeed, Henderson was a classically trained singer with crazy talent). Haunting, even. Slowly, people join in. And more people. Soon enough, everyone at the site is singing.
And, wait! What? Huh? Holy cow! It’s Mike Brady! He’s alive! He’s crawling out of the hole—dust covered and mustached, but unbowed. Music has saved him! Specifically, Mrs. Brady has saved him!
I was 16 at the time, and had I not been gifted with some Hall & Oates records for Chanukah earlier that night, I surely would have accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior.
Alas, Mrs. Brady didn’t save me.
But her singing saved her husband.
And the movie.
RIP to a legit legend of the medium.