LOS ANGELES, Nov 26, (Agencies): For Susan Olsen, who played youngest Brady girl Cindy on “The Brady Bunch”, the passing of her TV mom, Florence Henderson, is a blow. But she is careful to keep in mind the ones who are really hurting: Henderson’s children. “My heart right now is going to her four children”, Olsen told Variety. “I always felt we stole the limelight from them.”
Case in point: Olsen said once she was out with Henderson and Henderson’s youngest daughter, Lizzy, when a man came up to them and told Olsen, “You must be her real daughter.” Lizzy objected, tears in her eyes, and the man said, “Oh, well, she looks more like your mom.”
“They had to share her so much”, Olsen said. At the same time, there was so much of herself to go around, and the four Henderson children were all friends with Olsen. “My first husband and I spent time with her sons, and he told me, ‘Her kids are terrific,’” Olsen said. “That’s how you know how good a mom she was. Two families and a career, and her kids still turned out terrific.”
In the “Brady Bunch” days, Henderson would have Olsen over for sleepovers with Lizzy, and even throw joint birthday parties for Olsen and her son Robert. “It was interesting, because I’d see her without the false eyelashes and all that”, Olsen said. That meant she also got to see Henderson be a real mom: “Lizzy and I had made a mess in the bathroom, I think, and I got to see her get mad at us. It was neat”, she said with a laugh.
When the cast and crew were out in Hawaii shooting on outriggers, Henderson even saved Olsen from a possibly fatal ocean fall. The crew outrigger had bumped young Olsen over the side, and she was clinging desperately to the side. (“I’m not a strong swimmer at all”, Olsen clarified.) Henderson hooked her ankles under the seat in front of her and drew Olsen out of the sea, mothering her until she stopped shaking. “I didn’t have any family on that outrigger to calm me down”, Olsen said. “Except for Florence.”
Such was the bond formed that Olsen’s son considered Henderson an honorary grandmother. “When his last grandparent passed away, I told him so just like that, and he said, ‘No, I’ve still got Grandma Flo!’” Olsen recalled.
“Brady Bunch” star Barry Williams turned a fair amount of heads with a chapter in his book, “Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg”, titled, “Dating Your Mom.” Williams, who played oldest Brady son Greg, did not really date Florence Henderson, who played Brady matriarch Carol, but, Williams told Variety on Friday, “anything that is semi-salacious and ‘Brady’ in the same sentence, and you’re off to the races.”
What Williams and Henderson really had was a five-decade-long friendship. “At different times she acted maternally, but also as a good friend, and then as a mentor”, Williams said.
That mentorship took a form Williams had never seen before. Shortly after “The Brady Bunch” had ended, Williams went to New York to audition for Bob Fosse for the lead role in “Pippin.” The audition was at the Imperial Theater, with Fosse and the bigwig producers and writers in the audience. “There were a gaggle of guys my age who look about the same, auditioning. You could cut the tension with a knife”, Williams said. He was increasingly nervous as the auditions wore on.
And who should show up just before his name was called? “Florence just appeared backstage”, Williams remembered. She sauntered out pretending to be an ingenue, ribbing the assembled notables. “And of course she knew everybody”, he added. “But what she did was to really break the ice, and the whole place relaxed, so when I was called, I was much more focused and comfortable. And that was how I became the next Pippin.”
Following the death of Henderson, the matriarch of “The Brady Bunch”, here’s a look at the other cast members from the iconic TV show:
Maureen McCormick went to a dark place after playing the oldest girl on “The Brady Bunch”, including a five-year addiction to cocaine. She co-starred in the 1980 film “The Idolmaker”, toured as Wendy Darling in “Peter Pan” and Betty Rizzo in “Grease”, and has released several albums, including “When You Get a Little Lonely.”
Eve Plumb broke from her sweet image immediately after “The Brady Bunch” ended by starring as a 15-year-old prostitute in “Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway” in 1976. She’s also become a painter, with gallery showings around the country.
Before she was the “youngest one, in curls”, Susan Olsen sang on “The Pat Boone Show” and had a bit part in an Elvis Presley movie, “The Trouble With Girls.” As an adult, she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and went on to become a radio talk show host, an artist, a designer who worked with Converse on their glow-in-the-dark sneakers, and an animal-welfare advocate.
As a young child, actor Barry Williams appeared on TV shows such as “Dragnet”, “Mission: Impossible” and “The Mod Squad.” At 14, he got the role of the eldest boy on “The Brady Bunch.”
Christopher Knight was doing commercials at the age of 7 and landed the part of the middle Brady brother at age 11. After the show ended, he went on to become a businessman and enjoyed a semi-resurgence in Hollywood throughout the 2000s by appearing on reality shows including “Celebrity Family Feud.”
Born with strawberry-blonde hair, Mike Lookinland’s locks were dyed dark brown so he’d look more like a Brady. After “The Brady Bunch” ended, Lookinland battled alcoholism and found a fulfilling role on the other side of the camera.
Emmy-winning actress Ann B. Davis, who became the country’s favorite and most famous housekeeper on “The Brady Bunch”, died in 2014 at age 88. More than a decade before playing Alice, Davis was the razor-tongued secretary on another stalwart TV sitcom, “The Bob Cummings Show”, which brought her two Emmys.
Robert Reed, who trained as a Shakespearean actor, only to gain fame as the father on “The Brady Bunch”, died in 1992 at age 59. Reed appeared in movies, on Broadway and in several TV shows.