Florence Henderson made her TV debut on all four major networks at the same time

The future Mrs. Brady showed off her singing voice in a historic 1954 special.

AP Photo

Few actors can claim everyone in America was watching their television debut. In fact, it might just be one, Florence Henderson. You know and love her as Carol Brady, but 15 years before raising a blended family of six kids, Henderson was showing off her singing pipes on a rare television event.

General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein aired for two hours on the evening of March 28, 1954. Confusingly, the special was celebrating the anniversary of the sponsor, General Foods, which formed as a corporation in 1929. Broadway legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had only been collaborating for about a decade.

Rodgers and Hammerstein burst onto the Broadway scene with Oklahoma! in 1943. The General Foods 25th Anniversary Show showcased a young star in the lead role of Laurey Williams. You guessed it — Florence Henderson.

That's Henderson in the arms of Gordon MacRae, who played Curly McLain in the 1955 film adaptation of Oklahoma! And, yes, that is indeed Rosemary Clooney to Henderson's right.

Henderson and MacRae belted out show tunes "Oklahoma" and "People Will Say We're in Love." The special also featured Yul Brynner (The King and I). Groucho Marx emceed the event.

And it was indeed an eventGeneral Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein aired on all four major networks — at the same time!

Now, you might be asking, what was the fourth major network? At the time, the DuMont Network vied for viewers against NBC, ABC and CBS. 

It was not the only time the four networks combined forces. Light's Diamond Jubilee was another two-hour special October 24, 1954, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the light bulb. But Florence Henderson was not involved. Most of us would have to wait until the Brady Bunch episode "The Voice of Christmas" to hear her lovely voice again.

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Geronimo 45 months ago
Wow! She was only 20 years old then
Balogna 45 months ago
And another future tv mom got the movie role in Oklahoma; Shirley Jones aka Shirley Partridge.
stephaniestavropoulos 45 months ago
Easy peasy question:
Which actress who was first asked to play Carol Brady, played the role of Laurie in the movie Oklahoma?
Joyce Bullifant
bradyguy Geronimo 18 months ago
Well....you're BOTH a bit confused...Shirley Jones was CONSIDERED to play Carol...and perhaps AUDITIONED...but there has never been any evidence that she was ASKED. Jones, of course, played Laurie in the film version of Oklahoma, and later, America's SECOND-favorite TV mom - Shirley Partridge.

Joyce Bulifant, on the other hand, was NOT in Oklahoma, but was VERY LIKELY the frontrunner for the part of Carol Brady...until fabulous Florence arrived and auditioned. As the well-known story goes, after Carol was cast instead of Bulifant, it had a domino effect on the casting of housekeeper Alice. Monty Margetts was originally cast as Alice, a more-serious domestic counterpart to the funnier Bulifant. After Henderson was cast, creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz realized he needed a funnier presence in the kitchen with the more serious Henderson. Margetts was out, and two-time Emmy winner for comedy Ann B. Davis was in!!
Mike 45 months ago
From left to right:
Tony Martin and Rosemary Clooney;
Gordon MacRae and Florence Henderson;
Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza.
The latter two were staring on Broadway in SOUTH PACIFIC at the time.
I'm just old enough to remember this ...
cperrynaples 45 months ago
Technically, this show didn't get 100% viewership! There were 2 non-network stations in New York [WOR and WPIX] and some stations preempted this special! However, it was proably in the high '90's!
Wiseguy cperrynaples 44 months ago
The way the sentence was written it seems to assume that everyone was watching TV at the time. I'm sure some were reading a book, etc.
cperrynaples Wiseguy 44 months ago
True, many houses didn't have a TV in 1954!
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