FLORENCE HENDERSON, 82 Actor from Valley recalls working with ‘Mrs. Brady’


By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

Florence Henderson, whose portrayal of Carol Brady on the iconic television show “The Brady Bunch” (1969-74) created an idealized mother figure for an entire generation, died of heart failure Thursday in Los Angeles at age 82, said her longtime manager and publicist Kayla Pressman.

As Pressman’s telephone continued ringing, the woman who has worked with Henderson for 43 years – starting as her personal assistant – said the actress was “the most vibrant, beautiful-inside-and-out person I’ve ever known in my entire life. We just never left each other. She was so wonderful to be with, and she was most loyal.”

Fidelity proved to be one of Henderson’s trademarks, she said, adding that the actress stayed with the same business manager since she was 18 years old, and when he died, worked with his son. Henderson also had the same agent for more than 30 years.

Bernie Appugliese, former executive director of the Youngstown Playhouse and a theater professional who now works in Chicago, met Henderson in 1986 when he worked with her in a variety show for the Kenley Players that also starred Jim Nabors. The show started in Warren and went on tour. It was one of Appugliese’s first professional acting jobs.

“On the first day, she asked, ‘What can I do to help you guys?’ I’ll never forget that. And she did. She came to the theater in the morning every day, way before her call and separate from rehearsals, and held classes for us,” said Appugliese. “She had her musical director work with us and she listened to every one of us sing over and over and gave us advice. She also treated each of us like she was lucky to be working with us, not the other way around.

“On the last day, she gave every one of us a gift. Mine was this beautiful little handwritten note with $150 in cash. I still have the note.”

When the tour returned to Warren for a performance at Packard Music Hall, Henderson asked Appugliese to take her shopping at Eastwood Mall in Niles.

“As we were walking in, she said, ‘Now if anyone comes up to me, please let them. They are the reason I’m still around.’ And it was an amazing sight. Once a few people noticed her, they just started flocking to her. There had to be a hundred people surrounding her ,and she talked to each and every one of them. It took over an hour. She hugged people and took pictures and signed autographs. It was actually really moving. Then we went to Alberini’s restaurant, sat at the bar and had martinis. Me and Mrs. Brady.”

In the ensuing years, Henderson would occasionally send letters to Appugliese, asking how he’s doing.

Henderson’s work on “The Brady Bunch,” and her slyly sexy chemistry with co-star Robert Reed made the show thrive. The pair helped broaden acceptance of blended families.

Henderson began her show business career at 17, when she attended New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Henderson left the school because she got a job in the chorus of the Broadway musical “Wish You Were Here.” She segued from the chorus to the lead role in the final national touring company of “Oklahoma!”

Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this story.

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