Ann B. Davis
Character actress Ann B. Davis secured her place in television history with her career-making portrayal of a loyal and loving housekeeper on one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time. She achieved early television success when she was cast as lovelorn secretary Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz on the popular sitcom "The Bob Cummings Show" (NBC 1955, 1957-59/CBS, 1955-57). After winning a pair of Emmys for her portrayal on the program, Davis went on to appear in such feature films as the Rock Hudson-Doris Day romantic comedy "Lover Come Back" (1961) and as a series regular on the short-lived comedy "The John Forsythe Show" (NBC, 1965-66). It was, however, her role as Alice, the ever faithful, always upbeat live-in maid on "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-1974) that would eclipse all of Davis' previous professional efforts. Although the family sitcom was never a hit during its original run, it thrived in syndication, forever making Alice a staple of American pop culture. While nearly all of her younger co-stars periodically dropped in and out of later spin-off ventures like the variety show oddity "The Brady Bunch Hour" (ABC, 1977), "The Brady Brides" (NBC, 1981), "A Very Brady Christmas" (CBS, 1988) and "The Bradys" (CBS, 1990), Davis could always be counted upon to return with Alice's unique brand of wit and wisdom. A brief cameo in the hilarious feature film adaptation "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995) provided Davis with a fitting and fond farewell to the show that made her a household name. Television fans around the world remembered both Davis and her most famous role fondly when she died at the age of 88 on June 1, 2014.
Born Ann Bradford Davis in Schenectady, NY on May 3, 1926, she was one of twin daughters born to Cassius Miles Davis, an electrical engineer with General Electric, and Marguerite Stott. When Ann was three, her father's work took the family to Erie, PA, where she and her sister Harriet were raised and later attended Strong Vincent High School. As a teenager during the Second World War, Ann worked alongside her mother at a local aluminum forging plant during the summers until the war ended, while her older brother Evans served in the U.S. Navy. Despite her penchant for performance, acting was not Davis' first love, as she initially intended to become a doctor. However, a one-two punch of watching her brother in a production of "Oklahoma!" and the realization that she did not possess the academic acumen to pursue a medical career convinced Davis to change majors in college. In 1948, she graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in speech and drama.
Odd jobs with various stock theater troupes took Davis from Erie to California, where she eventually made her way from San Francisco to Hollywood by the mid-1950s. Small parts in Los Angeles cabaret shows and a bit of television work soon followed until an audition in front of none other than comic legend and executive producer George Burns led to her big break in 1955. Davis joined the cast of the sitcom "The Bob Cummings Show" (NBC 1955, 1957-59/CBS, 1955-57) as Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz, secretary to jet-setting photographer Bob Collins (Bob Cummings). Eternally pining for her boss like every other woman on the show, Schultzy did her best to put the kibosh on the romantic schemes Collins continuously hatched. So popular was the bubbly Davis on the light-hearted Golden Era sitcom that the actress was nominated four times for the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress, bringing home the trophy twice in 1958 and 1959. Even after her tenure on "The Bob Cummings Show" had come to an end, the endearing character Davis had created was seen in a brief cameo in the comedy feature, "Pepe" (1960), starring Mexican screen phenomenon Cantinflas.
Davis picked up a modicum of further film work in features like the Pat Boone musical comedy "All Hands on Deck" (1961) and "Lover Come Back" (1961), a romantic comedy starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day. It was television, however, that ultimately provided Davis with steady work; after a handful of appearances on the short-lived variety program "The Keefe Brasselle Show" (CBS, 1963), the comedic actress joined the cast of "The John Forsythe Show" (NBC, 1965-66) for its single season. Over the next few years, Davis kept busy with work in television commercials for the Ford Motor Company and the occasional TV guest spot until a role on another sitcom once again changed the course of her career. Created by small-screen impresario Sherwood Schwartz, "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-1974) followed the comic exploits of newly married single parents Mike and Carol Brady (Robert Reed and Florence Henderson) and their combined six children. As Alice Nelson, Davis played the Brady clan's fulltime housekeeper, cook, confidant and, most importantly, comic relief. Always there with a zany quip or up for joining the Brady boys in a game of driveway basketball, Davis' character could also be counted on to offer a bit of sage wisdom to her youthful charges, particularly the frequently conflicted middle-daughter Jan (Eve Plumb). In an ongoing subplot of her own, Alice carried on a chummy romance with Sam, the local butcher (Allan Melvin), who was frequently mentioned throughout the series run and to whom Alice became engaged by the final season.
Throughout her years on "The Brady Bunch," Davis also devoted much of her spare time to trips to Southeast Asia, where she entertained the troops as part of the USO during the Vietnam War. Surprisingly, during its five seasons on the air, "The Brady Bunch" never managed to break into the Top 30 in the Nielsen ratings and as soon as it had reached the minimum number of episodes needed for syndication, it was promptly canceled. Perfectly positioned in an after-school timeslot and featuring stories targeted specifically at kids who may have missed the show during its primetime run, "The Brady Bunch" - and by extension, Alice - quickly became an American pop culture institution in TV syndication. Unfortunately, such an iconic role led to type casting for the actress, who found herself woefully under-employed until she was asked to join the ill-conceived variety show "The Brady Bunch Hour" (ABC, 1977). Produced by Sid & Marty Krofft, it moved the family to a Southern California beach house, where they performed comedy skits, welcomed such guests as Donny and Marie Osmond, Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Rip Taylor and inexplicably had a synchronized water ballet troupe performing in their swimming pool. Only Plumb was wise enough not to reprise her role on the soon-to-be-canceled experiment.
Along with the entire original cast, Davis returned for the more traditionally structured spin-off "The Brady Girls Get Married" (NBC, 1981), a made-for-TV pilot that preceded the series, "The Brady Brides" (NBC, 1981). Premised on sisters Jan (Plumb) and Marcia (Maureen McCormick) finding the men of their dreams and the newlywed couples sharing a house together, it lasted a mere six episodes before being given the axe. As she had for Ford Motors, Davis remained a familiar face on television as the spokesperson for Minute Rice, although by the mid-1980s, she had long since left Hollywood and relocated to Denver, CO to live in an Episcopalian religious community. She later attended Trinity Episcopal School in Pennsylvania, and was a fixture in church groups around the country, eventually settling down with what she referred to as her "Christian family" in San Antonio, TX. That was not to say that her spiritual pursuits precluded any further acting endeavors. When the Bradys called, Davis was happy to oblige, as she did for the TV holiday movie "A Very Brady Christmas" (CBS, 1988) and the curiously downbeat comedic drama series, "The Bradys (CBS, 1990), which featured such traumatic storylines as Bobby (Mike Lookinland) being paralyzed after a racing accident and Marcia struggling with alcoholism. Tying the record set by "The Brady Brides," the latest reboot effort also met its demise within six episodes.
Though many believed that Davis had retired from acting by this time, she kept a hand in the business throughout the next two decades. There was a national tour of the musical "Crazy for You" in 1993, and a cookbook, Alice's Brady Bunch Cookbook, co-authored by series creator Sherwood Schwartz, in 1994. Davis also contributed an amusing cameo to "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995) as a kindhearted trucker who rescues the bewildered Jan (Jennifer Elise Cox) from the perils of the road. Referring to herself as "Schultzy," the appearance was an an affectionate nod to her first star-making role in "The Bob Cummings Show." Appropriately Davis' enduring television popularity was paid tribute by the TV Land network on several occasions, most notably in 2007 when she and the rest of the original "Brady" cast were given the Pop Culture Award and a standing ovation at the 5th Annual TV Land Awards. In later years, she was also twice named "Favorite Made-For-TV Maid" by the nostalgia-themed network. Ann B. Davis died of injuries sustained in a fall at her home in San Antonio, Texas, on June 1, 2014.
By Bryce P. Coleman