More: I confess—I love The Brady Bunch.
Florence Henderson: [Laughs.] The little show that won’t go away. It has amazing staying power, all over the world. I get even more fan mail now than when we were filming the show. I mean, places like Russia, India, Poland and China. It is amazing.
More: Florence Henderson and Carol Brady come from completely different walks of life.
FH: I know. Isn’t that a shocker? I have always been very private about my personal life, and when I am in public I just walk around smiling. What’s funny is, people think I come from a very privileged background with higher education. That is so far from the truth. I never came from that. That was an image the public wanted to believe.
More: To say you grew up in poverty would be an understatement.
FH: Yes. When people say Carol Brady was just so wonderful, my answer to that is I created the kind of mother that I wished I had.
More: In your new book, Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond, you write about how you used to wear potato sacks for clothes.
FH: When you grow up in the country and you are very poor, you make clothes out of seed sacks. The sacks were very colorful, though.
More: Unlike Carol Brady’s beautiful home, the house Florence grew up in was a shack that was infested with roaches and other nasty bugs.
FH: Yes, which I hated. To this day, if I see a critter in my house, I go crazy. But in many ways it made me very strong. When you don’t have anyone to care if you are in pain, like me growing up, you learn very early on how to deal with it.
More: Your father was an alcoholic?
FH: Yes. It was horrific. One of my earliest memories is of when I was really young and we were living on a farm that had no running water or electricity. Back then, where I lived there was no such thing as AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] to help people like my father who had this disease. Anyway, my mother was yelling at my father one night and shaking her finger at him. He was drunk and started to cry. That was my first awareness of that, and seeing it was devastating.
More: Then when you were 12 years old your mother abandoned you and your siblings?
FH: I never knew what was going on. I thought she went to work somewhere in Cleveland. It was so hard and yet I just had to deal with it.
More: Since you had absentee parents, who were your role models?
FH: I gravitated toward musicals. I loved seeing movies with beautiful settings, song and dance because they inspired me. When I was in school I was always drawn to kids who were achieving something.
More: Despite what she did to you, you reconnected with your mom as you got older. Why?
FH: Yes. I wrote to her. I began writing in a notebook at age seven and asked God to give me the gift of understanding. I guess I wanted to believe that my mother truly loved me. When I was 18 years old and doing Oklahoma in Ohio I saw my mother. She was right out there and a real force of nature. I even took care of her as she got older.
FH: I guess I was looking for that love.
More: Weren’t you angry your mother skipped out on you?
FH: Skipped out, or was never really happy. I never felt she was really glad to see me. That is just the way she was, and I had to accept it.
More: Did you ever confront your mom and ask her why she left you?
FH: I think that as I got older I realized she dealt for so many years with my father’s problem and the poverty that came with being married to him. I think she struggled so much, and in order to survive, she had to make a choice.