‘I Feel at Home Here’
Parade Grand Marshal Florence Henderson on what it was like to live on a boat in Marina del Rey
If you think you’ve spotted Florence Henderson at J. Nichols Kitchen or Café del Rey, you’re not imagining things.
The television, film and Broadway star who made Carol Brady America’s favorite TV mom in the beloved ‘70s sitcom “The Brady Bunch” has made her home in Marina del Rey for the past 30 years.
She spent half that time living on a boat docked outside the California Yacht Club with her late husband, Dr. John Kappas.
On Saturday, Henderson takes the helm as grand marshal of the Marina del Rey Holiday Boat Parade, having done the honors once before in 1991.
Between a stint on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2010, publishing a memoir in 2011, keeping up with her grandkids, performing on cruise ships with “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” and staging a one-woman show titled “All the Lives of Me,” the 81-year-old entertainer has stayed busy and isn’t slowing down.
Upon returning from a whirlwind trip to the Midwest, the TV icon talked about her life in the marina, what she’s up to now and what it’s really like to live on a boat.
— Christina Campodonico
What was it like living in a boat in Marina del Rey?
I loved every minute of it. Our third boat was almost 90 feet long. People would ask, “What is it like living on it?” And I’d say, “It’s like a New York triplex.” [Laughs] “Three levels.”
What made you decide to live on a boat?
My husband loved boats. That was his dream, and I loved it as much as he did. We had an apartment in the marina, where my office was, but there’s nothing like being in a hot studio all day and then you come home and you walk down the dock, breathe the fresh air and sit on the aft deck. It’s pretty cool.
The only thing was the tour boat that goes around the channel, especially on weekends. The first time that happened, I’m sitting in the back and it goes by and they say, “Oh, and over here” — the name of my boat was Big Flo III — “this boat belongs to Florence Henderson.” Well, I hit the deck! I had no idea that they were going to do that. I’m sitting out there in my pajamas!
What are some of your memories of past boat parades?
I used to watch the boat parade every year on our boat. I was grand marshal many, many years ago and I sang. It’s very interesting, you know, that you can hear people who are on the sidelines, watching the parade. They’ll sing along with you and you can hear people saying, “Hi Florence!” … you know, “Hi Carol Brady!” I’m always surprised about how many people participate and how important it is for people. It’s like the fireworks on July 4. I used to be amazed at how many boats would collect in the channel for these events.
I love the Marina. I’ve lived here for many, many years and I just wish it wouldn’t build up so much. Too much building going on for me. Makes me want to go back and live on a boat.
What was the most interesting adventure you had on your boat?
We were going to La Paz in Mexico, and we were in the Sea of Cortez. It was a beautiful day, but it’s what they call an “angry sea.” The winds were blowing in all directions and water was coming from the sides and from the front. It was pretty hairy. The front of the boat would go under and come back up. They were really high seas, but I stayed calm and strapped myself in. [Laughs.] You need a seatbelt when seas are like that.
Do you get out on the water much these days?
In June I did “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” on Holland America.
What’s it like dancing and performing at sea?
If the sea is smooth, it’s wonderful. [Laughs.] If the sea is rough, you hang on. … You do a few more steps then you intended.
What else are you up to now?
Next week I’m filming on the Disney Channel — with Zendaya, for her TV series … and then I’m starting rehearsals with “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea,” and on and on and on it goes. I also have a movie coming out end of January with Marlon Wayans, called “50 Shades of Black.”
What’s that about?
Did you see “50 Shades of Grey”?
Something like that?
Uh-huh. I teach music and sex.
Oh my goodness, that’s going to be kind of juicy then. Have you ever seen anything juicy happen during boat parades?
I can’t say that I have, but I’m sure there have been things. [Laughs.] A serious boater is most concerned about safety … so you don’t want to be out there falling down drunk. You have to show respect for your fellow boaters. You take a lot of pride in your boat, especially safety for yourself and your guests and for others.
What else have you learned from boating?
I could take [the boat] out of the dock, and I could take her out of the channel, and I could handle her while we’re dropping anchor, so I’m very proud of all that. And you also learn that sail boaters are always asking the power boaters for ice. [Laughs.]
What has living in the marina meant to you?
I have just loved it here. Being somewhat well-known, there are places that I can go here by myself, if I choose, and I know everybody. Nobody bothers me. You know I love J. Nichols Kitchen. I’ve been eating there forever, since Jimmy Nichols was a young, young guy. And I can go into CPK [California Pizza Kitchen] — I know everybody there. I just quietly sneak in and nobody bothers me. And I love Café del Rey, and I love the yacht club. I go to the Ritz and the doormen, they all know me.
I feel at home here.
This is my community.