However, my daughter Annie and her writing partner, Jon Emerson, wrote an episode of INSTANT MOM (starring Tia Mowry) in which Ms. Henderson was a guest star. They got to spend the day with her. I asked Jon if he would share their recollection with her and he graciously wrote this post for the blog. As you'll see, it's a terrific profile of a special woman. Thanks, Jon.
|Jon is right above her, Annie to her left|
We pitched having Florence Henderson show up and never heard from them again.
The episode centered on Stephanie's (Tia Mowry) first Mother's Day with her new family. Stephanie is crushed when the kids ignore her, only to realize that she forgot her own mother, Maggie (Sheryl Lee Ralph). She hastily takes Maggie for a spa day, but ruins the whole thing by moping about being ignored. Maggie suggests that the kids ignored Stephanie because they have a “real” mother, prompting a huge fight. Stephanie starts to fear if there's any truth to that. Is being a stepmom somehow less valid than being a “real” mom?
It's a fairly heady premise, so we needed a fun way for Stephanie to work through her concerns. We thought, “What if she went into the sauna and Carol Brady was there to tell her off?” That quickly ballooned to having the sauna filled with classic sitcom mothers, many of which we were lucky enough to book. But Florence Henderson was always the top of our list.
We knew Florence Henderson for about four hours. She was modest, kind, sharp, and had a mouth to make David Mamet blanche. She came into the scene cold and nailed every joke. She was even nice to the writers.
Reading tributes written by people who really knew her only confirms what we felt at the time: if you met Florence Henderson, you met Florence Henderson. No pretense, no ego, no playing up to a character that will be indelibly linked with her name. Carol Brady wishes she could be her.
The mothers in the sauna ended up being Florence Henderson, Marion Ross, Jackée, Meredith Baxter, and Tempest Bledsoe (makes sense in the scene).
A few takes in, Florence and Marion started to get punchy. (When the show reached out to see if they'd be willing to do the episode, they each agreed on the condition that we call the other to come do it too. Let that melt your heart for a moment.)
Here now is our favorite memory of working on Instant Mom, transcribed from an outtake we asked to have burned on a DVD. A DVD we will now have bronzed. The first line was from the script. Florence takes it from there.
FLORENCE HENDERSON: Jump the shark? What does that mean?
MARION: They wanted me to say “fuck the shark” but I said no.
FLORENCE: Because everybody in Hollywood’s already fucked the shark.
MARION: You’re going to be sorry when that’s on YouTube.
FLORENCE: I couldn’t care less... So, Tempest, what was Bill Cosby really like?
However you imagined Florence Henderson, she was more.
Thanks again to Jonathan Emerson for that marvelous profile.