We Love Our TV Moms

Many of us grew up as latchkey children with the family television as our regular babysitter.[1] If you watched enough television as a child, you had a favorite TV mom – a woman who embodied the decade’s ideals of motherhood and never made you eat your broccoli.[2] Opinions may vary, but the prototypical American TV moms by decade would be:

  • 1950s: June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley), Leave it to Beaver
  • 1960s: Samantha Stephens (Elisabeth Montgomery), Bewitched
  • 1970s: Carol Brady (Florence Henderson), The Brady Bunch
  • 1980s: Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rachad), The Cosby Show
  • 1990s: Maggie Seaver (Joanna Kerns), Growing Pains
  • 2000s: Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights
  • 2010s: Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen), Modern Family
  • Honorable Mention: Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), The Simpsons[3]

My prime after-school TV viewing days were in the early 1970s, so for me the prototypical TV mom is Carol Brady (née Martin, née Tyler[4]). She put up with a lot over 5 seasons and 117 episodes,[5] including six children (seven, if you count Cousin Oliver) and a dog, the ongoing Jan/Marcia rivalry, the occasional cursed tiki statue, riding mules through the Grand Canyon, all those perms in season 3, etc. Yet she did it all with a pressed skirt and nary a hair out of place.[6]

The actress behind the mom, Florence Henderson (1934–2016), began her career in musical theater. Her television debut was in A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein[7] in 1954, followed by her television acting debut in an episode of I Spy[8] in 1955. Like Carol Brady, Henderson was a devoted mother with four children of her own.[9] While filming The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles, Henderson would fly home to New York each weekend to spend time with her family. Carol Brady never worked,[10] but Henderson had a long and accomplished career: she was a professional singer by the age of 16, was the first woman to host The Tonight Show, was a licensed hypnotherapist, and continued acting up until her death at 82.[11]

Florence Henderson will always be remembered as Carol Brady, but her screen credits include so much more, mostly on television but also in feature films and the occasional music video. Her entire filmography as an actress can be found in the EIDR Content ID registry, along with links to a variety of external data sources that help tell the full story of Florence Henderson and all the non-Brady roles she played.

[1] If I were British, that would be “childminder.”

[2] I actually liked broccoli as a child, though US President George H. W. Bush (or “Bush Classic”) famously hated broccoli, but his mother still made him eat it. For me, it was liver. Ror our purposes today, we’ll stick with the broccoli metaphor. Fun Fact: Broccoli is in the cabbage family, but rapini (a.k.a., “broccoli rabe”) isn’t really broccoli – it’s a type of turnip.

[3] The Simpsons originated as a segment of The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, spinning off into their own series in 1989, and still on the air in 2022, making it the longest running television sitcom of all time.

[4] Carol’s married name was Martin when she met (and then married) Mike Brady, but her maiden name was Tyler, implying that she was a divorcée, not a widow. (It’s made clear in the show that Mike Brady is a widower.) However, the network (ABC) would not allow a divorced mother in a family sitcom, so no mention is ever made of Carol’s husband and the girls never see their father again (unless that only happened during the commercials).

[5] Carol Brady actually appeared in 146 television programs between 1969–2010, including TV specials and movies, played by two actresses – first Florence Henderson then later Shelley Long.

[6] It helped that she had a full-time, live-in housekeeper in the form of Alice Nelson (Ann B. Davis).

[7] She played Laurey in the touring company of Oklahoma! and reprised her role for the television special. According to Henderson, she played Maria in The Sound of Music more times than any other actress. Later, she sang the Wesson Oil jingle, “Wessonality” in a series of commercials from 1976–1996.

[8] No, not that “I Spy”. The Robert Culp/Bill Cosby vehicle aired on NBC from 1965–1968. The earlier show of the same name (1955–1956) was a syndicated anthology program narrated by Raymond Massey. Florence Henderson appeared in the episode “The Abbe and the Nymph”, a Napoleonic-era period piece, as “the nymph.”

[9] According to Henderson, “I said, ‘Can I just hit the kids every now and then? I mean, real life!’ They wouldn’t let me. … Sometimes my kids would say to me, you know, ‘How come you don’t scream at those kids on television like you do us?’ I said, ‘Because they’re not my real kids and you are, and I want you to turn out to be wonderful human beings.’”

[10] Despite Henderson’s repeated requests of the show’s producer to give Carol a job.

[11] Interestingly, Henderson was born on Valentine’s Day (1934) and died on Thanksgiving (2016) – she apparently had a thing for upstaging holidays.

Florence Henderson Filmography

Title Year Type EIDR ID
The United States Steel Hour 1953 Series 10.5240/AB0D-CEA1-BD40-9034-F826-Y
I Spy 1955 Series 10.5240/F9B8-80B7-46D2-AEF9-3853-7
Little Women 1958 TV 10.5240/EF72-927A-DD8F-A524-B81A-L
Sing Along 1958 Series 10.5240/B7E4-E264-0671-639F-4CE4-3
Medical Center 1969 Series 10.5240/8363-3176-3A07-67AA-7B87-R
The Brady Bunch 1969 Series 10.5240/B388-A586-E8A3-AD1C-E654-7
Song of Norway 1970 Movie 10.5240/13C8-BB01-164D-0669-DD48-F
ABC Afterschool Specials 1972 Series 10.5240/1C7B-23B0-3C45-7C03-A655-E
Alice 1976 Series 10.5240/9F22-FA5A-9681-FEA0-7AA2-N
Good Heavens 1976 Series 10.5240/17D3-13B3-4ADC-84A1-70EB-K
The Brady Bunch Variety Hour 1976 Series 10.5240/FC33-F3EA-067A-C2FE-6073-O
The Love Boat 1976 TV 10.5240/B9BB-0E88-2621-5AA8-A656-F
Fantasy Island 1977 Series 10.5240/041B-2BB0-785F-2CF2-F41B-3
The Love Boat 1977 Series 10.5240/40E1-8B32-678D-FEFB-796B-P
Hart to Hart 1979 Series 10.5240/CA40-E412-AED7-8979-4954-U
Pink Lady 1980 Series 10.5240/883E-A13B-5349-7388-5269-3
The Brady Brides 1981 Series 10.5240/0AAC-6D36-B6FC-1757-E37D-3
The Brady Girls Get Married 1981 TV 10.5240/51D1-6951-B837-678B-C926-O
Police Squad! 1982 Series 10.5240/ACF8-4AC5-AA80-4960-3106-P
Cover Up 1984 Series 10.5240/3FEA-5C68-59D5-741E-03DA-B
Finder of Lost Loves 1984 Series 10.5240/81E6-61D9-2617-6B1A-368E-2
Glitter 1984 Series 10.5240/F047-E53C-A21E-CFA9-3734-7
Kids, Inc. 1984 Series 10.5240/995C-3EEB-A4D8-620C-9801-O
Murder, She Wrote 1984 Series 10.5240/FA26-74E4-6C72-65D4-651D-7
Out of This World 1987 Series 10.5240/9598-6E96-D0E1-0D60-8D5C-E
A Very Brady Christmas 1988 TV 10.5240/14E6-0326-7034-7268-0AB8-1
Day By Day 1988 Series 10.5240/66DC-9CB0-986E-5C16-70D1-N
Roseanne 1988 Series 10.5240/1F56-54F6-DFB8-B900-3F6B-Z
Free Spirit 1989 Series 10.5240/9637-BEB0-6BD1-FE91-9B20-7
The Bradys 1990 Series 10.5240/0666-32FE-2B6B-C87F-3487-U
Shakes the Clown 1991 Movie 10.5240/CE46-BADB-3DCF-1671-9623-5
Dave’s World 1993 Series 10.5240/E618-7660-10F2-25A1-6C3A-6
For Goodness Sake 1993 Short 10.5240/8E2F-FCA6-98EC-B1C2-F59A-M
Politically Incorrect 1993 Series 10.5240/A830-3941-7AE3-1547-C78B-W
The Mommies 1993 Series 10.5240/D755-1C7E-FD90-9FB3-2323-G
Burke’s Law 1994 Series 10.5240/5DA4-25D9-1D74-95B0-29AC-6
Ellen 1994 Series 10.5240/D7F1-88C1-DE6A-B814-ABB4-X
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult 1994 Movie 10.5240/6C69-5602-F33A-C6BB-0E89-M
Caroline in the City 1995 Series 10.5240/7B54-D224-0F77-85D4-54DD-5
Fudge 1995 Series 10.5240/12C2-AB12-0E6E-E60C-FCD5-F
Night Stand 1995 Series 10.5240/1D31-F0AD-2CD7-EE71-92C3-A
The Brady Bunch Movie 1995 Movie 10.5240/E1E6-946F-A844-EB98-90CE-5
Bad Hair Day: The Videos 1996 Short 10.5240/4042-682B-69D6-F054-FB84-R
For Goodness Sake II 1996 Short 10.5240/C049-64A0-202F-88F6-22BF-Q
Sherman’s Way: A Kid’s Guide to Coping with Change 1996 Short 10.5240/972A-05B5-4CDC-8CD9-0AAC-A
‘Weird Al’ Yankovic: Amish Paradise 1996 Short 10.5240/1AEE-032F-233F-ACAB-CEBF-I
Ally McBeal 1997 Series 10.5240/ADD8-F86A-EBAB-8636-72E8-2
Hercules 1998 Series 10.5240/856A-9E4E-2582-5A22-49C5-A
Holy Man 1998 Movie 10.5240/4C66-472F-1C14-90CC-D0F6-I
The King of Queens 1998 Series 10.5240/246F-A33B-6A0E-1BD8-DF69-G
The Legend of the Candy Cane 2001 Movie 10.5240/1ADE-790B-2126-03CC-B163-T
Moms on Strike 2002 TV 10.5240/99A4-CD2F-42B5-45FF-0B5A-1
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star 2003 Movie 10.5240/3C02-B2B4-7BE5-24BD-B5EF-K
Weird Al Yankovic: The Ultimate Video Collection 2003 Movie 10.5240/4BEF-77DA-A02D-2DB4-6109-Q
Loonatics Unleashed 2005 Series 10.5240/F61E-A2B0-3C41-34D8-1B80-N
30 Rock 2006 Series 10.5240/920C-D802-C433-807B-246C-S
Handy Manny 2006 Series 10.5240/2D94-01D7-6C48-CFA0-1CFE-2
Samantha Who? 2007 Series 10.5240/BA0C-1C94-D297-5483-EEFC-8
For Heaven’s Sake 2008 Movie 10.5240/C8A0-019B-3780-1414-6C07-P
Ladies of the House 2008 TV 10.5240/CE81-06AB-01CC-3D7A-CE9F-T
The Cleveland Show 2009 Series 10.5240/1898-0728-CCC4-9DED-C021-L
Venus & Vegas 2009 Movie 10.5240/C919-C202-226A-85BB-D6DB-Q
Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated 2010 Series 10.5240/285F-73C5-FF23-00C5-33A9-2
The Christmas Bunny 2010 Movie 10.5240/595A-3B90-28E0-1F10-74D9-W
The Tonight Show With Jay Leno 2010 Series 10.5240/C537-5277-3604-2B28-DCBF-G
Happily Divorced 2011 Series 10.5240/F778-29FD-4519-084C-EA01-V
Matchmaker Santa 2012 TV 10.5240/DB56-B51A-C4EB-0695-8937-0
Instant Mom 2013 Series 10.5240/BC78-9D2E-E7D4-31BA-246C-A
Sofia the First 2013 Series 10.5240/63FB-DBAD-B3FD-0A00-EABC-S
Trophy Wife 2013 Series 10.5240/186C-C095-9CC6-196E-675C-H
K.C. Undercover 2015 Series 10.5240/C80B-E1DC-9B7D-904B-A27A-G
Mark Ronson Feat. Mystikal: Feel Right 2015 Short 10.5240/1F6C-0201-37E2-DA45-02DB-Q
The Eleventh 2015 Series 10.5240/1B24-6FF4-2EA7-B59B-1118-I
Fifty Shades of Black 2016 Movie 10.5240/F7DD-879B-C3D4-6727-2B40-A
Bad Grandmas 2017 Movie 10.5240/30A6-F440-6A8A-7400-E60C-2