For Susan Olsen, who played youngest Brady girl Cindy on “The Brady Bunch,” the passing of her TV mom, Florence Henderson, is a blow. But she is careful to keep in mind the ones who are really hurting: Henderson’s children. “My heart right now is going to her four children,” Olsen told Variety. “I always felt we stole the limelight from them.”
Case in point: Olsen said once she was out with Henderson and Henderson’s youngest daughter, Lizzy, when a man came up to them and told Olsen, “You must be her real daughter.” Lizzy objected, tears in her eyes, and the man said, “Oh, well, she looks more like your mom.”
“They had to share her so much,” Olsen said. At the same time, there was so much of herself to go around, and the four Henderson children were all friends with Olsen. “My first husband and I spent time with her sons, and he told me, ‘Her kids are terrific,'” Olsen said. “That’s how you know how good a mom she was. Two families and a career, and her kids still turned out terrific.”
In the “Brady Bunch” days, Henderson would have Olsen over for sleepovers with Lizzy, and even throw joint birthday parties for Olsen and her son Robert. “It was interesting, because I’d see her without the false eyelashes and all that,” Olsen said. That meant she also got to see Henderson be a real mom: “Lizzy and I had made a mess in the bathroom, I think, and I got to see her get mad at us. It was neat,” she said with a laugh.
When the cast and crew were out in Hawaii shooting on outriggers, Henderson even saved Olsen from a possibly fatal ocean fall. The crew outrigger had bumped young Olsen over the side, and she was clinging desperately to the side. (“I’m not a strong swimmer at all,” Olsen clarified.) Henderson hooked her ankles under the seat in front of her and drew Olsen out of the sea, mothering her until she stopped shaking. “I didn’t have any family on that outrigger to calm me down,” Olsen said. “Except for Florence.”
Such was the bond formed that Olsen’s son considered Henderson an honorary grandmother. “When his last grandparent passed away, I told him so just like that, and he said, ‘No, I’ve still got Grandma Flo!'” Olsen recalled.