November 25, 2016

"She was the 10th child of a tobacco sharecropper of Irish descent."

"Florence Agnes Henderson was born Feb. 14, 1934, in the small town of Dale in southern Indiana."

Goodbye to Florence Henderson.

Just the other day, I was listening to the Broadway channel on the satellite radio in my car, and they played "Cockeyed Optimist" from the 1967 revival of "South Pacific," and I was blown away by how great it was, even by comparison to the next song they played, the very famous and beautiful Shirley Jones performance of "Till There Was You" (from "The Music Man").

Maybe you know these 2 Broadway stars better from the way they came across on 1970s television  scaled down into the role of perfect mom. If I were 10 years younger, I'm sure I'd have a closer emotional connection to "The Brady Bunch" and "The Partridge Family." I'm more of a "My Three Sons" and "The Monkees" person (to name the first 60s counterparts to those two 70s shows that spring to mind). I didn't even have a TV in the early 70s. And not because I was snobbishly avoiding having one. We tightly conserved our money back then, and buying a TV did not make the cut. We substituted radio. I remember listening to the Watergate hearings and the 1973 World Series on the radio.

Anyway, I was so impressed by Henderson's singing of "Cockeyed Optimist." I wish I could find video of the performance, but you can listen to the audio at the link above, and you'll just have to picture her in character as the Navy nurse from Arkansas, in the South Pacific during WWII, who falls in love with a rich French widower and has to learn to accept his mixed-race children.



I have heard people rant and rave and bellow/That we're done and we might as well be dead/But I'm only a cockeyed optimist/And I can't get it into my head....

30 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I didn't realize she played that part in South Pacific, and yes -- it's really nicely done. Now I'm listening to her sing "Wonderful Guy"

David Begley said...

"South Pacific" was close to being the "Hamilton" of 1967 and Florence Henderson was Phillipa Soo.

mike in houston said...

I saw her in that production at the New York State Theater. She was great and held that very large audience in the palm of her hand.

DrMaturin said...

I remember seeing the 1967 revival of South Pacific. My sixth grade class went there on a field trip. I vividly remember being struck by Florence Henderson's talent and beauty. RIP.

Ann Althouse said...

The original Broadway production had Mary Martin in the role. That was back in 1949.

tcrosse said...

Florence Henderson and Bill Hayes used to do Oldsmobile commercials back in the late 50's. Here's and example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKv8ELjVFf8

cornroaster said...

Florence Henderson always remembered where she came from, and did several benefit concerts for St. Meinrad Archabbey near her childhood town of Rockport, IN. RIP.

David Begley said...

She was a lovely lady with four children of her own.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deb said...

Lovely, thank you for sharing that.

MayBee said...

Is there anyone in America who doesn't know who Carol Brady is? Or at least know The Brady Bunch?

Goodbye, Florence Henderson.

EDH said...

That lyric seemed familiar.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head....


"I can show you..."

If the rain comes
They run and hide their heads
They might as well be dead

Hagar said...

But "Song of Norway" is hard to forget and forgive.

MayBee said...

I wonder what The Brady Bunch would have been like if it had taken place in this era of hot moms, rather than the short mom cut styles Carol always had. Imagine her with extensions and borrowing Marcia's clothes.

Luke Lea said...

Cockeyed, alas, just might be true. Can you imagine the song translated from the South Pacific to the East for example.

EDH said...

In case you need a synopsis of the Florence Henderson autobiography...

The Florence Henderson story was about love, deception, greed, lust and…unbridled enthusiasm. You see, Florence was a simple country girl. You might say a cockeyed optimist, who got herself mixed up in the high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.

glam1931 said...

EHD...now THAT'S a subtle reference. Billy Mumfrey would approve.

William said...

Her exit timing was superb. She died right around a family holiday which plays into her image as one of America's mothers. Her death wouldn't have played all that well on Halloween. Mother's Day would have been ideal, but this was pretty good......Also she didn't die on some day when some other, bigger star died. Pity those poor second tier stars who perish on the same day as Elvis or Prince. Nothing is worse for an actor than being upstaged whilst taking a final bow or making a dramatic exit. Also, it was a slow news day so she gets everyone's full attention.

Robert Cook said...

Henderson was born just a year later than and only about 40 miles from where my mother was born and grew up.

JAORE said...

" Pity those poor second tier stars who perish on the same day as Elvis ..."

I recall Groucho died the same week as Elvis. Time magazine had at least 10 pages devoted to Elvis. Groucho? Time put him in the obits to the tune of something like, Grouch Marx, famous Jewish comedian, age XX dies.

I'm of an age where I know how "big" Elvis was. But I could not believe the treatment of Mr.Marx.

JAORE said...

Oh yeah, FWIW, I liked Mitzi Gaynor in South Pacific.

Sydney said...

She was a cousin to my mother-in-law. I never met her, but my brother-in-law met her at an uncle's funeral. He said he approached her and said something about how she held him once when he was a baby. She was very charming, and even though she probably had no idea who he was, made him feel as if she had known him all his life.

RigelDog said...

Till There Was You was my mother's favorite song---Mom was an amateur singer and involved in community theater. Shirley Jones was from southwestern Pennsylvania, as is my family, and she was close to my mother in age; Mom met Shirley's parents once, and they exclaimed how much my mother looked like Shirley. Eight years ago, my daughter competed in the Pennsylvania Junior Miss pageant---and sang, Till There Was You. Pardon my musings, but with the holidays, I'm really missing my Mom and other family members of that generation, now gone. This post should have come with a trigger warning I guess.

William said...

Snark free comments to follow: I just watched a 2004 show on MTV/You Tube where the older Brady Bunch actors talked about their experiences on the show. Apparently they all had a good time, and they all got along. None of them became drug addicts, and they all seemed like nice people. Florence Henderson, in particular, seemed genuinely warm and good humored.......I take some comfort in that. Most of us don't have idyllic childhoods with wise, loving parents. We do get to have these happy childhoods by proxy by watching tv. It's good to see that our proxy parents and siblings weren't total frauds.

rcocean said...

Yes, I was surprised what a great singer she was. And even more surprised that she was "Irish" and a 10th kid. I would've expected her background to have been German or Anglo.

Sadly, I never had a great connection to her as a TV star. Even though, i was the target audience, I hated the Brady Bunch. It struck me as Plastic and Phony. I felt zero connection to someone with an enormous house, live-in maid, and 6 kids. I liked "leave to beaver" (in reruns) 10x better, with all the kooky supporting characters like Lumpy, Eddie, and Judy.

buwaya puti said...

South Pacific is my moms favorite musical, though of course only the movie version. Us foreigners dont get Broadway.

It was tremendously popular, back home. They loved these American musicals. I think also because of the sympathetic view of the "natives", who seemed much like the Filipinos.
The general social situation/WW2 was also extremely familiar.

Btw, I have seen "Bali Hai" - Mindoro Island, approaching Puerto Galera, before that beach resort was popular, on a sunny day with the thunderheads gathering over Mt. Halcon. Paradise very, very nearly exists, if you squint a bit, and forgive a great number of people their trespasses.

Brady Bunch played in the PI for a while but wasnt very popular. One of those things that are TOO American to travel I think, like country music.

Leslie Graves said...

I hear the human race is fallin on its face
and hasn't very far to go
but EVERY whippoorwill
Is sellin' me a bill,
And tellin' me it JUST AIN'T SO

campy said...

" 'Til There Was You" was the only Broadway show tune to be covered by the Beatles.

tcrosse said...

In 1954 Florence starred in the Broadway show Fanny, with Ezio Pinza and Walter Slezak. Here, as a young slip of a thing, she sings a song from that show
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHWJ5yyOOec

Saint Croix said...

Great tribute to her in the WSJ