TV icons sing at benefit in SF 

click to enlarge Florence Henderson and Richard Chamberlain
  • Henderson: MATT SAYLES/INVISION FOR THE TELEVISION ACADEMY/AP IMAGES; Chamberlain: RYAN MILLER/INVISION/AP
  • Florence Henderson and Richard Chamberlain are each doing a musical number in “Help Is On the Way 20,” a charity benefit for AIDs organizations at the Palace of Fine Arts on Sunday.
Florence Henderson is warning audiences not to expect a prim and proper mom and Richard Chamberlain is readying a number from “The Fantasticks.”

The TV titans, both 80, are headlining “Help Is On the Way 20,” a cabaret benefit for AIDS organizations celebrating its 20th year with a big show Sunday at the Palace of Fine Arts in The City. The lineup also includes Lucie Arnaz, Laurence Luckinbill, Alex Newell, Jason Brock, Paula West, Maureen McGovern, Lisa Vroman and others.

While the performances mark Henderson’s and Chamberlain’s first appearances at this benefit, they’re not strangers to song-and-dance — despite their worldwide fame as Carol Brady and Dr. Kildare.

Henderson, who says she has never been in public without being approached about her iconic role on “The Brady Bunch,” says most people want a hug, and she’s glad to oblige. People also often thank her for teaching them English.

She gets asked weird questions, too, like, what was the real name of the cat that played the Brady’s pet Fluffy: “I have no earthly idea,” she says, or when someone wanted to know where Carol’s first husband went: “I think I killed him,” she jokes, in an un-Mrs. Brady like way.

She says she created the character to be the kind of mother she always wished she had, but says her real children, when they were young, told her, “How come you don’t scream at those kids like you do at us?”

Henderson says she’s funnier, and more outrageous, than her famed character — her “Help Is On the Way” cabaret selection is apparently something more bawdy than anything that might be associated with Mrs. Brady, or with her accomplished, pre-television career on Broadway.

Also, the Wesson Oil lady and cable TV food show host admits: “I don’t even really like to cook.”

Chamberlain, meanwhile, calls his role as Dr. Kildare “one of the greatest breaks of all-time for a young actor.”

At the time, he took singing and dancing lessons, too. He adds, “The studio management thought, ‘Why don’t we get this kid to do some records?’ They sold really well and were not bad.”

He also worked with Burt Bacharach (“I was so thrilled”) on the song “Close to You,” a not entirely successful version that predated The Carpenters’ huge hit.

He went on to perform in England, and, back in the U.S. on hit miniseries, including “The Thorn Birds” (he says women ask him about this most) and “Shogun” (a favorite with men).

Among his more notable movies is “The Last Wave,” a film he thought had a “sketchy” script upon first reading. But after seeing director Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” Chamberlain says he thought to himself, “I’ll work for this guy for free.”

Perhaps the biggest epiphany and freeing moment in Chamberlain’s life was when he wrote his memoirs and came out as gay in 2003.

He says, “I came to the realization that being gay is one of the more boring aspects of a person,” he says, “and that my fear was absolutely unnecessary.”

Calling it an “immensely positive experience,” he adds that he is looking forward to his next gig: an Off-Broadway production of David Rabe’s “Sticks and Bones” with Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter.

IF YOU GO

Help Is On the Way

Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $65 to $150

Contact: (415) 273-1620, www.helpisontheway.org

Note: Pre- and post-show receptions are slated for 6 and 10 p.m.

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Leslie Katz

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