Child of Television
Florence Henderson died yesterday in Los Angeles, and with her passing we also lost Carol Brady, a great television mom.
Back in my day, the era just after World War II and Korea, most American moms were getting out of the house and going to work. As wages began their steady decline and it became apparent that households which had been supported by just one working parent were fast becoming a thing of the past, more and more American women, many of them young mothers, rolled up their sleeves and joined the job market.
Television became the caretaker of the kids who were old enough to stay at home without constant parental supervision - and the result of that could serve as fodder for a whole series of blog postings. But the immediate effect that constant immersion in television had on America's youth of that particular time was to show them "ideal" families. The notion of correct and proper motherhood, in particular, was fashioned during that period.
True, there were some less than ideal mothers being presented on television back then. Lucy Ricardo, the scatter-brained mother of one television youngster, was too busy getting into wild situations with her friend, Ethel Mertz, to ever focus much on the issues involved with raising Little Ricky.
But other television moms took their parental roles more seriously.
Margaret Anderson (Jane Wyatt) was my personal favorite. The mother of two teens and one pre-teen on the television show, Father Knows Best, she was able to solve all of the problems besetting her children each week, usually before Father even got home from work. Mrs. Anderson kept a very neat home, and she was always dressed as if she just stepped out of an upscale catalogue. If she ever put her hair up in curlers, it was very late at night with the curtains drawn.
Another great mother of that era was June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley), the woman who raised American charmer, Beaver Cleaver. June's boys were a bit more realistic than the Anderson children, but June herself was cut from the same pure linen that produced Margaret Anderson. June, like Margaret, was an immaculate dresser, especially for a woman who never left the house, and she was known for always wearing her trademark strand of pearls - obviously a fashion essential for dusting and putting away groceries.
Margaret Anderson and June Cleaver showed kids of the 1950's and 1960's what they were missing by not having Mom at home. By the end of the 1960's, however, as the world was undergoing social upheaval, changes were also beginning to occur in television families.
Enter Carol Brady.
Florence Henderson, as Carol Brady, ushered in the age of blended families on television. She was the mother of three pre-teen and teen daughters who married a young architect - the father of three pre-teen and teen boys. The possibilities for funny situations to develop within the Brady Bunch household were almost limitless - and they had a wise-cracking maid to boot. Not only did this television comedy introduce the ideas of blended families to a nation that was already awash in them, it also was the first television sitcom in which the mother and father slept in the same bed. America was maturing.
But the Bradys, as cute as they were, still came up short on mirroring real America. That task fell to Roseanne Barr who in the early 1990's presented us with the blue collar Conner family. Dan and Roseanne's kids drank, had sex, lied to their parents, and even smoked the occasional joint as they traversed life in a chaotic household that was steeped in relatives and in-laws, good times and hard times, and a steady undercurrent of parental tolerance and even love. There were no pearls hanging around Roseanne's neck, and her outfits could have come from Good Will.
And the very realistic mother portrayed by Roseanne Barr begat, a decade later, Jane Kaczmarek who played Lois Wilkerson, the crafty, conniving, and very hard-working mother of (eventually) five boys in the hit television series Malcolm in the Middle. By the time Lois added her input to television parenting, moms were no longer above the fray of life, they were knee-deep into it. Lois was a person who could have been right at home stomping grapes or wrapping chocolates with Lucy Ricardo.
Goodbye Florence Henderson. Thanks for helping us grow up.