Seth Remembers Florence Henderson

Seth Rudetsky   Seth Remembers Florence Henderson
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth remembers the late Florence Henderson and her incredible Oklahoma! audition story, plus new deconstructions!
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Holding my DYNAMITE magazine featuring the Brady Bunch Variety Hour! Courtesy Seth Rudetsky

Well, if Juli has a school vacation, that’s usually a cue for her asthma to flare up. Why enjoy the carefree days of a three-day weekend when you can spend it in the ICU? Oy. She flew to London last week to see Disaster! and I think the trip, the change of weather, and the fact that James had a cold all contributed to Juli having asthma issues Thursday night. The good news is: She was able to have a delish meal cooked by her Gran. The bad news is: Directly after that she had to hightail it to the hospital. She’ll be fine, but I feel so bad that her whole vacation was ruined. Here’s her sassy Instagram post of herself in hospital regalia:

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Juli in the hospital Courtesy Seth Rudetsky

I was very sorry this week to learn of Florence Henderson passing away. I met her when she did Broadway Backwards for BC/EFA and promptly asked her to do my Chatterbox talk show.

Here’s a recap of the really fun interview I got to do with her:

Turns out, Florence was the last of ten children, and her father was 50 when he began having kids. She was very poor growing up but was able to come to NYC to study for one year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts because someone from her hometown sponsored her. That’s where she learned to get rid of her thick southern Indiana accent. Before she began her second year of school, she auditioned and got cast in the chorus of Wish You Were Here… alongside Phyllis Newman! Then she auditioned for the national tour of Oklahoma! It was an old-school audition in a Broadway theatre (as opposed to a rehearsal studio). After she sang, the man in the audience said that he wanted his partner to hear her sing later on that day. “Who’s your partner?” Florence asked, innocently. “Oscar Hammerstein,” responded Richard Rodgers!

Yowza! After her callback, they offered her the role of Laurey, but she didn’t know anything about the show. She asked Richard Rodgers, “What’s Laurey like?” And he said, “She’s a lot like you.” Aw!

Florence told us that after a year on the road, they wanted her to renew and she negotiated that she’d do the role again if she got to screen for the film version. I asked her how it went and she glared and said, “I obviously didn’t get the film. It went to that b*tch, Shirley Jones!” She then told us she was joking, and they were actually good friends.

After Florence did the tour, she auditioned for her first leading role in a Broadway show and got called back many, many times. Finally, she had her final callback and went home to visit her family in Indiana. When she got there, she suddenly got a telegram from the producer, David Merrick. It was the old-school way of getting a text. The telegram read: “Come back to New York…Fanny!” What a great way to find out you got a title role in a show!

She played opposite Ezio Pinza and told us about opening night. Back in the late ’40s, Mary Martin had done South Pacific opposite Ezio, and she was about to open in Peter Pan. Mary sent Ezio an opening night card saying, “I hope your Fanny is as big as my Peter.” Wow. They were dirty back in the '50s! Here she is singing “Almost Like Being in Love.” I love how she always would opt up for the endings of her songs. Listen:

Right before I left for London, I interviewed the multi-hyphenate Rachel Bloom from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at a press event. I am so impressed by her: starring in a TV show, co-writing the scripts, co-writing the songs. Really amazing! She talked about funny lyric writing and I totally agree with her; you have to constantly up the funny each time. Meaning, there are certain songs that have a funny title and when it’s first sung, it’s hilarious. Then the song goes on and the same lyric keeps coming back and it’s not as funny the second and third time because the audience now knows it. So she tries to constantly stay ahead of the audience and keep changing the gag. Here’s one of her songs from the show called “Heavy Boobs.” I love that she has “permanent retinal damage” as one of the lyrics!

She talked about her character on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; a high-powered lawyer in NYC who runs into a guy she dated when she was a tween at camp. He mentions that he lives in West Covina, CA, and she quits her job and moves there to win him back. She told us that there is some mental illness in her family and a part of her thinks that if she plays someone super “crazy,” she herself can’t actually be crazy. One of the things she said which I thought was hilarious was that after a recent episode, “My Mom called and said she was proud of me. So…I’m quitting show business! Mission accomplished!”

And finally, I’ve started new deconstructions! First, in honor of the Merrily We Roll Along documentary (Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened) being the number one documentary in the country(!), I deconstructed Lonny Price in Merrily, and Rags and connected it to Carole Demas (the original Sandy) in Grease!

And just yesterday, I deconstructed Jennifer Simard’s brava comedy and brilliant singing (a high B!) in “Never Can Say Goodbye” from Disaster!.

And if you’re gift shopping, don’t forget “Seth’s Broadway Diary” Volumes 1 and 2! And “My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan” and the sequel “The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek”!

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Courtesy Seth Rudetsky

Perfect stocking stuffer or Menorah insert!
Peace out!

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