The Untold Truth Of Florence Henderson

Florence Henderson, the beloved star of The Brady Bunch, raised a lot of children—and not just the slew of kiddos from the show. Because of her long-lived cultural impact on the TV-watching world and influence on many viewers' upbringings, she's been nicknamed "America's Mom," and her recent passing at the age of 82 has hit fans particularly hard in this year of so many celebrity deaths. The sitcom star was beloved for her tempered management of such a large brood on-screen and her fun-loving attitude when the cameras weren't rolling. Even though many television viewers might feel like they know Florence Henderson as their shared fictional mother, there are still a few details about her life that might surprise audiences. Here are some things you might not know about the legendary small screen actress.

She had a tough childhood

There's a reason Henderson's on-screen affections for her Brady brigade read as genuine; she was trying to make up for the motherly love that she never had in her own life. The actress revealed at a 2016 event for the American Heart Association that she was the 10th child of her impoverished parents and that there wasn't much affection given to her during her upbringing.

"I portrayed Carol Brady as the mom I always wished I had," she explained. "I wanted to portray Carol as a loving, fun, affectionate mother and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people who maybe had the same situation I did growing up ... I think what happens when you grow up poor, as you get older you want to amass everything and keep everything for yourself, or you know how that feels so you want to give back. So thank God [the latter] happened to me."

She was the first female guest host of The Tonight Show

Just before she became a legend of the sitcom scene by way of The Brady Bunch, Henderson also made history by becoming the first female guest host for The Tonight Show in 1962. She was hired to fill in for Jack Paar on the show after he left and later earned the title "Today Girl" on The Today Show. Her stint on the program wasn't as well remembered as her turn as Carol Brady, of course, but it was certainly an auspicious start to what would become a flourishing career in television work.

She was best friends with the other famous sitcom mom

Shirley Jones, who played the similarly beloved on-screen mom Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family, which debuted soon after The Brady Bunch, was actually really close friends with Henderson going back to their earliest days on the stage. The pair met early on in their careers when they were starring together in a stage performance of Oklahoma! and became lifelong friends. Interestingly enough, Jones revealed in her 2013 memoir Shirley Jones: A Memoir that it was she who originally received an offer to star as Carol Brady in the series.

She wrote, "While the idea of playing the mother in The Brady Bunch was initially attractive to me, I turned it down because I didn't want to be the mother taking the roast out of the oven and not doing much else ... I had no doubts at all about playing Shirley Partridge. First, because she was destined to become the first working mother on TV and I loved the script. Second, because working on the series would let me be an almost full-time mom and raise my kids."

That might've seemed like a bit of a cut on the character, of course, but the two have always had a tongue-in-cheek relationship with one another, where the public is concerned. For example, in 2007, Henderson told TheaterMania that she'd gone out for the Broadway revival of Oklahoma! which Jones ultimately starred in but that "that b**** Shirley Jones got it!" Jones responded to the interview tidbit by releasing a press release in which she cast doubts on the seriousness of Henderson's statement, writing, "I've known Florence Henderson a hundred years and I've never known her to be a tough guy—And this kinda' sleaze isn't really Florence's style, unless one of two things: Either she was smiling when she said it (no mention of that by the writer) in which case I'm smiling too ... OR she wasn't smiling when she said it, in which case 'the new Florence Henderson' is about to see how it feels to get her block knocked off by 'an old and well-trained Danny Bonaduce's mama."

Oh to have been on a fly on the wall when those two got together for some kid-free fun times ...

She once saved her on-screen daughter's life

According to many of her pretend children on The Brady Bunch, Henderson was just as nurturing a mother off-screen as she was when suited up as Carol Brady for the show. In fact, actress Susan Olsen, who played the youngest girl Cindy Brady on the show, said that Henderson once saved her life during a production accident.

Olsen told Fox News that when the show was being filmed in Hawaii, she was hit by an outrigger that was being operated by the crew, and she fell over the side and nearly fell into the ocean before Henderson rescued her from potential peril. "I didn't have any family on that outrigger to calm me down except for Florence," she said. Their bond was about more than just that incident, though, and Olsen said she considered Henderson to be a mother figure to her, with even her children considering their former faux matriarch a second grandmother.

Her own kids played with the show kids

Olsen also recalled how delicate a balance it was for Henderson to portray a mother to all of her screen children and to raise her own family back home. She told Fox News that a fan once confused Olsen for being Henderson's biological child right in front of her real-life daughter Lizzy and that Henderson's actual children "had to share her so much." To make time for everyone, Henderson allowed her off-screen kids to play with her Brady youngsters, even hosting sleepovers between them. "It was interesting because I'd see her without the false eyelashes and all that," Olsen told the site. "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 kissed one of her on-screen kids

Actor Barry Williams, who portrayed her on-screen stepson Greg Brady, claimed to have once dated Henderson in his biography Growing Up Brady: I Was A Teenage Greg. Although Henderson herself clarified on her website that the story was "blown way out of proportion" and that it was only a date because Williams thought it was, Williams nevertheless revisited the story after her passing to again tell the tale of that time he once planted a smooch on his faux mom.

"From the time that I met her I had a great affinity for her and then an attraction to her. She's played so many different roles in my life as a mother, as a professional, as a mentor and she was inspiring to me as well," he told a radio station (via Entertainment Tonight). "I think she knew that I had a crush on her and I think that was kind of amusing. We went out to dinner one night to talk about music and that side of show business, performing in Vegas and showrooms and also on Broadway, and I was very interested in that. I used that as an excuse to pick her up in the car and take her out and try an steal a kiss. Which I did!"

She was a licensed hypnotherapist

Although Henderson had plenty of work to do on-screen and raising her real-life quartet of kids, she still pursued a second career passion as a licensed hypnotherapist. She first got into the practice to deal with her own fear of flying and the jitters she had when she first got into the performance business, and she used the trade to help others around her deal with their issues. She was once even asked by Christopher Knight, who'd played Peter Brady on the show, to appear on his show My Fair Brady and perform some of her counseling with then-girlfriend Adrianne Curry; and while she generally avoided reality television, she agreed. Unfortunately, her words fell on deaf ears because, as she told People magazine in 2008, "They didn't take my advice at all! And as you may have seen, they did get engaged and they did get married. Maybe I will counsel the divorce!"

Her late second husband John Kappas was also a licensed hypnotherapist and founded the Hypnosis Motivation Institute. Kappas was largely credited with advancing the practice into a separate concept from pure hypnosis as well as psychology.

She once got an STD from having an affair with a famous politician

Henderson might have maintained a wholesome public image over the years, but she's had her fair share of naughty moments over the years as well. Henderson revealed in her 2011 biography Life is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to Lovely Lady and Beyond (via Reuters) that she had a one night stand with former New York City mayor John Lindsay, which took place while she was still married to her first husband Ira Bernstein.

She admitted about the affair, "I was lonely. I knew it wasn't the right thing to do. So, what did I do? I did it." Of course, that decision came back to bite her—in a very literal sense. She revealed that when she woke up the next day after their tryst, she saw "little black things" crawling across her body and went to the doctor to cure herself of pubic lice (also known as "crabs"). Of the discovery, she wrote, "Guess I learned the hard way that crabs do not discriminate but cross over all socioeconomic strata. He must have had quite the active life. What a way to put the kibosh on a relationship." Lindsay apologized to Henderson for the intimate infestation by sending her flowers ... hopefully bug-free ones, at that.

She championed senior citizen vitality 'til the end

Even as an octogenarian, Henderson refused to stop living life as though age was not a number. Not only did she stay active with her extracurricular activities and become the oldest-ever Dancing With the Stars contestant, but she was a vocal proponent of staying young on the inside and outside later in life.

As she told The New York Post in early 2016, she enjoyed several "friends with benefits" even in her final years and maintained that it's never too late to engage in a steamy romance with a gentleman caller. "It's very healthy for the heart," she explained. "I think no matter how old you are—and I am pretty up there in terms of numbers—I think you should do whatever makes you happy. If you want to wear long hair or wear that dress, as long as you're not hurting yourself or anybody else, I say do it. If you want to go out and have a romantic sexy affair, do it."

She'd previously admitted to keeping a Florida-based bedroom buddy on speed dial, saying, "It's foolish to think that older people don't enjoy sex. It's a big myth. There is no age limit on the enjoyment of sex. It keeps getting better. You learn to do things with more experience, intelligence, and the ability to choose more wisely."