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Book Review: Life is Not a Stage by Florence Henderson

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Florence Henderson, best known for her role as Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch opens up about the challenges in her life. Her childhood, stage fright, divorce, and hearing loss are but a few issues highlighted. Her memoir, Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond, to be released September 20, is co authored with Joel Brokaw. Her ability to survive despite setbacks shines throughout the book. She notes that her memoir is written, “as a natural consequence of forgiveness and compassion, not only for those who harmed me, but most importantly, for myself.”

You may be surprised that this woman, best-known for her role of a cheerful, handle-it-all mother of a large blended family grew up in an abusive home, the youngest of ten children. In short, Carol Brady was the kind of mother Florence Henderson desperately wished she had. She left home at seventeen, suitcase in hand, with a one-way ticket to New York City and a life full of hope. She had a talent for singing and a desire to be on the stage. Her destination? The American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Taming her complex accent of southern drawl and mid-western twang was an essential part of her early acting lessons. She writes fondly of her singing and acting training and admits that learning how to portray sad feelings was a challenge. Auditioning for her first role, a rite of passage for any actor, gave her a break. She joined the cast of Wish You Were Here and subsequently signed with an agent. Soon she landed the lead role in a tour of Oklahoma. Her television career launched when she became the first “Today Show Girl.” She claims the famous television series, The Brady Bunch, was a small part of her list of credits.

Personal and professional photos grace the middle of the book. The book is peppered with names of greats Henderson worked with — Rodgers and Hammerstein, David Merrick and Ed Sullivan. The ups and downs of Henderson’s life are reflected in her chapter titles:

• Wide-Eyed and Confident
• Yes, I Was a Virgin!

• The Girl Who Came to Supper Loses Her Appetite
• Hollywood…Finally
• D-Day
• Cutting Through the Layers to the Truth

Henderson opens up on her personal life. Stardom and its impact on her family are discussed. She speaks freely of marriage, motherhood, extra-marital affairs, depression and spiritual questioning.

Her glass-half-full personality kept her optimistic during the worst of times. Even though the scars from her childhood haunted her, she says that voicing them in this book has helped her to heal.  Miss Henderson’s spirit is what triumphs in this memoir. Amidst the triumphs and chaos of a public life, she was able to create a life full of joy and purpose. “Be grateful and forgiving.” That is sage advice from a celebrity who has lived life on many levels.

(Visit Florence Henderson’s website)

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About Holly Weiss