Center Street / 1599953889 (2011)
The title is meant to belie the content; for Florence, with her dirt-poor childhood ruled by an alcoholic father,
life had to be a stage. Performing was the only escape from an intolerable reality, where her mother had deserted
the family and she was left to put the best face on the situation to everyone. Never mind that when her father was
drunk he pretended to think she was his wife as a way to fondle and abuse her. She had to be thankful a best friend's
family was paying for her tuition at a Catholic school so that at least for a few hours a day she was taken by bus
from her substandard housing. And the school uniform! A lifesaver, since she had few other clothes to wear.
Mind-boggling to think that in such a short time she would be a star, with all the luxeries.
And hard, as it always is, to balance stardom, a hectic schedule, money, and universal love against a childhood of
poverty. It doesn't surprise me that these people turn to drinking, drugs, whatever, to help them deal with the
roller-coaster ride they're on. Florence Henderson is to be commended for being as honest as she has about the
mistakes and hard decisions. Drinking was not an option; she had seen what alcohol had done to her father.
Faith and gratitude in her good fortune generally kept her grounded, but there were times...
Everyone knows Florence Henderson from The Brady Bunch, but how many know she nearly went deaf?
Otosclerosis is a hereditary disorder caused by an abnormal growth of spongy bone in the middle ear.
It's more common in women and made worse by having children, and a Catholic married woman in those days
using nothing but the rhythm method (the world's worse form of birth-control) as Florence was doing --
was bound to be pregnant often. After the birth of her fourth child she began to notice a loss of hearing.
Luckily, with the money to find the best doctors, have a state-of-the-art surgery, and get special permission
from a priest to use birth control, she was able to save her hearing and her career, but it makes me wonder how
many other less-fortunate Catholic women simply went deaf in middle age. I was totally unaware of the condition.
Wonderful information on old performance venues that no longer exist (the Concord in the Catskills, where the
patrons banged wooden knockers at the tables in lieu of applauding) but again, my eternal complaint -- no index.
Someday I'll wonder where I read about Maria Von Trapp showing up for a performance of The Sound of Music,
"dirndl-clad and very striking," and have to go through the list of "Maria"s in my mind before remembering it
was in Chicago at the national touring company's production. Thanks, Florence, for making me thumb through the
book before finding it on page 110-11. (Sneaky note to myself.) Thank you, Florence, sincerely, for sharing your
(often sad) memories. You're much more than just a Brady to me.
dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 1.1 in / weight: 1.2 lb / volume: 288 pages