Published September 21, 2011
'Brady Bunch' star Florence Henderson grew up dirt poor and the youngest of 10 children to an alcoholic tobacco farmer and an absentee mother. In "Life Is Not a Stage," Henderson, 77, writes about her hardscrabble upbringing, her failed first marriage, affairs, (including a one night stand with a prominent politician that resulted in a humiliating case of crabs) and bouts of depression.
FOX411: A lot of people don’t know you were a big Broadway star before ‘The Brady Bunch.’
Florence Henderson: No they don’t. For me ‘The Brady Bunch’ is just a part of the fabric of my career, but for a lot of people, that’s it.
FOX411: Does that bug you?
Henderson: Not really because I’ve sung all my life. I kept performing through ‘The Brady Bunch’ and still do. It doesn’t bother me. If I hadn’t been allowed to do that it may have.
FOX411: Your second husband was a hypnotherapist and you became one too.
The reason I got into it was because I had developed stage fright and fear of flying which are two things you don’t want to have in my business and I tried everything to get rid of it. I went to psychiatrists, I read books, I tried everything and a friend of mine suggested hypnosis. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ anyway I went and I was helped so quickly. It took a few months and I got over it and I thought this is amazing. So I went to school and I studied hypnosis and became a certified hypnotherapist. It’s just a very, very valuable tool to have in your life. It’s not like you don’t know what’s going on. As a matter of fact when you’re hypnotized you’re in a very heightened state. Your body is very much at rest, you’re very, very still but your mind is very open and very aware and open to accept very positive suggestions and ideas to change your life for the better.
FOX411: You had a hardscrabble childhood yet you always remained so positive.
Henderson: I’ve often thought about that. I do think children come in wired a certain way. Why else would I be filled with hope and optimism, you just could not keep me down for very long. You can call it grace or a gift from God but I do think I came in with it. I had an instinct to gravitate towards people who were smarter than I was, teachers that were nice people that were trying to do things in life that were constructive and that’s what I gravitated to instead of what I saw and what I was in. I didn’t want to be in poverty, I didn’t want to be with people who were doing unpleasant things, I wanted to be better than that. I was lucky that I had that instinct inside of me.
FOX411: Why did you include the story about New York City Mayor John Lindsay giving you crabs?
Henderson: I love to read memoirs but I know when they’re not being really honest and I thought if I’m going to write this I’m going to write about myself as a human being who has had to overcome an awful lot in my life and had to face a lot of challenges, make a lot of mistakes, make some bad choices but I’ve managed to keep growing and evolving to live a very full life filled with friends, four children that I adore, five grandchildren and a career that I dearly love. So I just want people to know that they can make mistakes, have a hard childhood but you don’t have to be a victim of all of it.
FOX411: And have STDs and get over it.
Henderson: Yeah! Hey as I said in my book it takes courage to be happy. You don’t get happy by sitting around going on, ‘Oh this is a horrible situation, what to do?’ You’ve got to find the courage to change that. I think change is extremely hard for people.
FOX411: You write about how Robert Reed was always complaining about the scripts. Didn’t you ever take him aside and say, ‘Listen we’re doing a sitcom, not Shakespeare.’
-Oh yeah I took him aside a lot. One time we were fighting over a scene. We were running out of time and the whole crew and cast were there. He was arguing and saying, ‘This is such crapy, blah, blah, blah.’ I said, ‘Bob, this is a sitcom.’ Usually I wouldn’t do it in front of the cast but this had been going on now for a while and everyone was getting impatient. I said, ‘Bob, just do the scene, everybody here has a job to do,’ and he said, ‘I didn’t get into this business to have my career ruined by such crap,’ or something like that. So I said, ‘Bob, why don’t you get a new career?’ Well he walked off the set and we did the scene without him which we did a few times but he later apologized. He would always be contrite. I would try to remind him that what we were doing was valid, it was just a different form of entertainment.
FOX411: Why do you think the show is still so popular?
Henderson: All over the world. I get more mail now than I think I did then. It’s absolutely amazing to me. I think especially when the world is in such chaos people gravitate towards something that’s going to give them some hope or make them feel good. I think the family represents a certain safe haven for people and to see a family that has a loving mom and father. It’s something I always wished I had.
FOX411: You’re still in contact with all the kids.
Henderson: Yeah as a matter of fact I heard from Barry the other day. He sent me reviews, he’s appearing in Branson, he’s very talented and he thanked me for inspiring him and paving the way. I thought that was so sweet. I keep in touch with all the kids. I was sad that Chris Knight is getting divorced again.
FOX411: Was that a big surprise, really?
Henderson: No, no it wasn’t. But he’s such a sweet guy. I just want him to be happy.
FOX411: You wrote how you went on a date with Barry and there was a kiss.
Henderson: It was a very innocent kiss.
FOX411: So no tongues were involved.
Henderson: (Laughs) Oh God no! No tongues were involved. We laugh now because we could really date now.
FOX411: You’d be a cougar.
FOX411: On your website you get hit on all time by men in their 40s who grew up watching you.
Henderson: I got one the other day from a young man who said, ‘Hi, I’m 35 years old. I’m so in love with you. I think you’re so hot. I don’t know if you would consider dating me.’ I get so much of that. But then I was reading that Ellen Barkin is dating a 26 year old, she’s 57 and I thought good for her.
FOX411: So are you going to date the 35 year old?
Henderson: You know I never say never. Life is funny. I do date. I have dated younger men, not that young. I don’t want to have to change diapers.