Meeting Florence Henderson
By Kristin Johanson
Fairfax, Virginia

Monday, July 27, 1992: I was the youngest one in the studio audience but I didn’t care. The day had finally arrived! Today, I was going to meet a woman I had admired for many years. I was sitting in one of the TNN studios in Nashville. (For those of you who don’t know, TNN stands for The Nashville Network) When I entered the studio, I saw Florence Henderson and her guest, Phyllis Diller preparing for a taping of the TNN show “Country Kitchen”. Country Kitchen was a cooking/singing/interview show hosted by Florence Henderson and taped twice a year in Nashville. The show featured mostly country stars, but occasionally stars from other entertainment arenas such as TV and sports come on the show. This day being a Monday, it was the first day of the production week for the show and four shows were scheduled for taping. The studio audience for the show was very small and the average age was about 60. Most people my age had never even heard of The Nashville Network. I wasn’t a country music fan, but since I enjoyed just about anything Florence Henderson was in, I tuned in anyway. I loved the show’s laid back atmosphere and Florence’s very open-ended interview style. As I sat in my seat waiting for the show to start, my mind was racing with anxious questions. Would I actually get to meet Florence? What would I say? Do I look okay? The last thing I wanted to do was make a fool of myself. I am a shy person by nature, so meeting someone as famous as Florence Henderson made me both excited and frightened. This woman was a person I had admired for the past four years. Let’s face it, though. I was an awkward teenager. I am nearsighted and had to wear glasses to see the show. The problem was that I picked these big, bulky looking frames (see picture) and I thought I looked like what teenagers call “a major dork”. On top of that, I wasn’t having a good hair day. (The July humidity didn’t help). Still, appearance issues aside, I wanted to come across as an intelligent, articulate person.

The first taping began at around 11:30. The show opened with Phyllis Diller discussing her adventures as the “oldest living flying person” in a performance of Peter Pan. Then they cut to a commercial and prepared for the next segment, the cooking segment. The atmosphere was relaxed, but professional. After about five minutes, the cooking segment began. During the cooking segment, Florence and Phyllis joked around, shared anecdotes about past performances all the while showing the audience step by step how to prepare the dish, which was some sort of oyster dish. After the cooking segment, they cut to commercial again as Florence and her guest prepared for the second interview session.

During that brief chat, Florence asked Phyllis about all of the plastic surgery she’s had. Phyllis Diller was more than happy to talk about all the work she had done. It’s part of her comedy bit. Phyllis mentioned having a tummy tuck, several facelifts, a breast reduction and several other parts of her body either lifted, suctioned, or tucked. After this rather interesting segment, two comedians, Bruce Williams and Terry Ree, did a cooking segment in which they prepared some sort of desert. Of course, with those two crazy guys, more of the ingredients end up on the table than in the actual dish! Williams and Ree hail from South Dakota and are based in Nashville. After their segment came the singing segment. Usually, Florence and her guest do a number together, but since Phyllis Diller wasn’t a singer, Florence performed solo. She has such a beautiful voice! After the singing segment came the final interview segment, where Florence presents the dish prepared earlier in the show, asks one last question and then thanks her guest and the audience for coming. The tape stops and the show is over. Now, audience members get to go onto the set and meet Florence and her guest. This was my moment. I excitedly leapt out of my seat and made my way down the stands to the set, where Florence was talking to another audience member. By this time, I was saying to myself, “What ever you do, don’t make a fool of yourself!” When I finally got to meet Florence, I nervously approached her and congratulated her on a great show. I then proceeded into my “The Brady Bunch Rules” spiel and asked her to sign an autograph for me in person. She enthusiastically agreed and then I asked if I could get a quick picture with her. We both smiled as my dad shot the picture. I thanked Florence profusely and stepped aside to let the next person have her fun. I was ecstatic! Then, I remembered that I had forgotten to take those bulky old glasses off. Still, my excitement overrode any embarrassment about my glasses and I left the studio blissfully happy.

Later that day, I came back to see the other three tapings. After each taping, I got to go down and chat with Florence. I introduced her to my then-seven-year-old brother, who also was a fan of the Brady Bunch and she signed an autograph for him, too. Florence was very kind and personable. She seemed delighted to meet her fans and it pleased me that she showed so much respect for her fans. She looked gorgeous; she had a better figure than I did and she was 58 at the time and I was 16!

You as a reader are probably wondering how I got in the studio audience for Country Kitchen in the first place. In February 1992, I wrote a fan letter to Florence, care of the show. I talked about my love for the Brady Bunch and what a fan I was of her work in general. I also asked how I could be in the studio audience for her show. I concluded by asking for one autographed picture of her and I thanked her ahead of time for reading the letter. Two months later (the delay was probably due to the fact that it was addressed to her show rather than her directly) I received in the mail an envelope labeled FHB productions. I opened the envelope and, lo and behold, I received a brief letter from Florence and not one but two autographed pictures of her. One was of herself and the other was of the Brady cast circa 1971. The message on the first picture read “To Kristin, God bless and love, Florence Henderson” and the second one read “To Kristin, Love from Carol Brady and all the Brady Bunch” I have since framed the letter and these pictures; they are hanging on my bedroom wall in my home in Springfield, Va.

I’ve been following Florence Henderson’s career for eight years now. When I first saw her on TV, I was 12 years old and just beginning to discover the Brady Bunch. Florence stood out in my mind because her character did. Carol Brady was a mother of three who seemed to have it all together. She was a great mother who knew how to handle six kids. It was not, however, until I saw Florence Henderson on TV out of the Brady context that I began to really see what an inspirational person she is. I learned of her childhood family situation on a special she was doing on Nickelodeon in 1989 dedicated to TV moms. It was on that show that I found out that she was the tenth child of a poverty stricken family growing up during the Great Depression. Even as a young child, she had to pitch in to make some money for the family. In an interview on the Sally Jessy Rapheal show in 1990, where she appeared with several other Brady cast members to promote the 1990 series The Bradys, she mentioned that her father was an alcoholic. In another interview, she mentioned that her mother left the family when she was eleven years old. She has also mentioned that some of her older siblings had to play a large role in raising her. These stories really made me think about how easy I had it as a child and how greedy I was at times. To think that someone who went through so much as a child has come out with such a positive attitude as she has! Today, I continue to admire Florence Henderson and I will always remember July 27, 1992 as the day I got to meet one of my heroines.