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October 22, 2014

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For a night, it’s ‘The Ballet Bunch’ as Florence Henderson is honored by NBT

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Florence Henderson.

Florence Henderson

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Florence Henderson makes an off-topic reference to “The Love Boat,” and this is fine. I am armed with what I feel is sufficient Florence-Henderson-on-the-Love-Boat information: That she was among the romance craft’s first passengers.

“Oh, right, ‘The Love Boat,’ ” I say. “You were on the pilot, right?”

“I was!” says Henderson, who will be honored as the 2014 Nevada Ballet Theater Woman of the Year during the 30th anniversary of the company’s Black & White Ball on Saturday night at Aria. “I did the pilot, but actually I hold the record for most appearances on ‘The Love Boat,’ 14 times.”

“You were on the ‘Love Boat’ 14 times?” I say. “More than Charo, even?”

“Yes,” she says. “I got to know the whole cast pretty well.”

“After 14 times, you should have been married to Gopher or something,” I say.

“I played all different characters,” she says. “Actually, I have seen Bernie Koppel (who played Doc on the show) all the time at Encino Little League in the (San Fernando, Calif.) Valley. His son and my grandson play Little League together. They’re 11 years old — Bernie had a son late in life. It’s fun. You know, I was just talking to Gavin McLeod about this the other day …”

And we haven’t even touched on Henderson’s most famous role, that of Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch,” or her surprisingly rich history of performance in Las Vegas. Or, even, the honor she is to receive Saturday night, as she joins such luminaries as Debbie Reynolds, Ann-Margret, Chita Rivera, Celine Dion, Bette Midler, Marie Osmond and Eva Longoria.

The event is to honor Henderson on the event of her 80th (whoa) birthday, which is Feb. 14. The honorary chairwoman of the event is Osmond, the 2010 Woman of the Year. Standup comic Judy Gold (who has appeared on the Food Network cooking-competition show “Rachael vs. Guy” with Henderson) is the emcee. The ever-dynamic Bella Electric Strings will be on hand, performing a piece with a group of NBT dancers.

Acclaimed auctioneer Christian Kolberg is loosening the purse strings, and my new favorite Seattle Seahawks fan, Chet Buchanan of KLUC, will host a live-music appeal, and last year’s honoree, Mitzi Gaynor, will introduce a birthday tribute to Henderson.

And if you believe this will be anything but a Very Brady Event, Barry Williams and Christopher Knight — Greg and Peter Brady, respectively, in the flesh — will introduce their one-time TV mom.

We talk some more, about the show and Las Vegas.

“What are Greg and Peter going to be doing?” I ask.

“I have no idea, but I am so excited,” she says.

“I’ll ask the obvious about the show. Did you ever feel you would be famous outside the era you were actually on TV?” I ask.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” she says. “We’re in 122 countries. It’s never been off the air. I get so much fan mail, still, it’s just mind-boggling.”

“I just watched an episode the other day, when you were in Hawaii, when Greg beefed it while surfing.”

“Hah, yes. I always liked when we could get out of the studio. Hawaii was a terrific experience. We did three episodes there. We went to the Grand Canyon and also to King’s Island (amusement park) in Cincinnati. That’s when I knew we were really big. We were just mobbed there, like The Beatles or something.”

“The show is still so popular. It’s huge in pop culture, even today.”

“We now have parents who watched the show when they were kids, watching it with their children now. It’s amazing how I’m always getting hugged all the time. I’m always asked for hugs, like everyone wants to hug Mrs. Brady.”

“Do you mind that?”

“No, I just love people. I like to embrace them.”

"Up until you were on 'Dancing With the Stars,' not many people realized that you're a trained dancer."

"Yes, I am still good enough to be on that show (laughs). I love that 'Dancing With the Stars' has revived the art of dance to a national audience."

“You played Vegas even before you were on 'The Brady Bunch,' right? I came across a commercial for the old Dean Martin celebrity roasts, and you were onstage roasting somebody.”

“Oh my, yes. I was up there with Dean, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope. I can’t remember who we were roasting, but I was blessed to work with all the greats, and Dean was just fabulous to work with. Fabulous.”

“What was your first appearance in Vegas?”

“I was with Alan King at the Sands. It was 1967, around there. I performed many times there, and at the D.I. with Milton Berle. At the Sahara with Tennessee Ernie Ford and Bob Newhart. I was at the Flamingo, Caesars Palace. I played just about every hotel there.”

“Any favorites?”

“I liked Caesars Palace a lot. It was kind of neat and fun, and we got treated so well there. That was when we had big orchestras and shows on the Strip.”

“You were a singer-dancer in those shows, right?”

“My first shows were really musical acts, me and four guys. In fact, I played for three years, on and off, at the old MGM with Shecky Greene.”

“You played with Shecky Greene at the old MGM?”

“Yes, in the late ’70s, early ’80s, around then. I would come out in a showgirl costume at a certain point in his show, and we would do a whole routine ad libbing. He’d sing fake opera, we’d have our little arguments, and it was a crazy 5 to 10 minutes.”

“He has played Vegas fairly recently, about three years ago.”

“He’s a very complex man, but very talented. You know, I did a ‘Love Boat’ with Shecky.”

“You did a ‘Love Boat’ with Shecky Greene?”

“Yes. He was very nervous about it, but we got along really well. We knew each other. He was really good.”

“I had no idea. You’re full of surprises.”

“Oh, you have no idea. Life is amazing, isn’t it?”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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