For Broadway Backwards, Mrs. Brady Gets Ready To Go A Little Wild Again : Monkey See Florence Henderson talks about her busy career, her life as a TV mom, and what it's like to be asked by strangers for hugs.
NPR logo For Broadway Backwards, Mrs. Brady Gets Ready To Go A Little Wild Again

For Broadway Backwards, Mrs. Brady Gets Ready To Go A Little Wild Again

When Florence Henderson sang "There Is Nothin' Like A Dame" at last year's Broadway Backwards, the dames in question clearly thought highly of her, too. Michael Portantiere hide caption

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Michael Portantiere

At last year's fourth edition of Broadway Backwards — an annual benefit concert in which women sing Broadway songs traditionally performed by men (and vice-versa) — special guest star Florence Henderson created a sensation, cavorting her way through "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" and indulging in some playfully randy stage business. (See above. And, um, below).

Henderson, still known to millions as America's Mom for her role as Carol Brady on the indelible sitcom The Brady Bunch, apparently made enough of a splash that she'll return Feb. 22 for Broadway Backwards 5. Before that event rolls around, she'll offer a reprise of her terrific one-woman show at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater Feb. 12 and 13 — and she'll be part of the attendant festivities this weekend when the City Center Encores! series presents Fanny, the musical in which she played her first Broadway lead. And still she managed to take a little time out for a chat with Monkey See:

Henderson shares a smooch at Broadway Backwards 4. Michael Portantiere hide caption

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Michael Portantiere

Most people think "sweet and wholesome" when they hear the name Florence Henderson, but in Fanny, you played a teenager who gets knocked up by her lover and is abandoned when he runs off to sea. Was that fun?

[Laughs] Actually, it was a tremendous experience. My first big break. Being at that time a young, naive Catholic girl playing an unmarried girl who goes after this guy and gets pregnant, I thought, "Ooh, I don't know. Maybe I'm setting a bad example here!" But I loved every minute of it. Working with Ezio Pinza, Walter Slezak, Bill Tabbert, Josh Logan and S.N. Behrman — it was one of the happiest times of my life.

Pinza was a notorious ladies' man. Did he ever hit on you?

Well, he was always pinching my bottom. He never really hit on me, but he did have a nice young girlfriend in the show. Yeah, he was something! So charming. He would pinch me and then he would say, "Oh cara, bella, I teasing you!" I adored him.

Henderson's Broadway debut, life as a TV mom, and that Brady variety show, after the jump ...

You made your Broadway debut in 1952, in the tiny role of "The New Girl" in Wish You Were Here. In 2001, I was in a Fire Island production of the show that had some gender-blind casting, and I played your part. If I had sought your advice on interpretation, what would you have said?

[Laughs] Now you're asking me? I guess I would just have said, "Be cute, have fun, sing well."

Wish You Were Here was directed by Josh Logan, who went on to direct Fanny and cast you in the title role. Though he was married, Logan was famous — or infamous — for putting hunky, scantily clad men in almost all of his shows. Any stories about him that you'd like to share?