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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Remembering Ann B. Davis

I'm a few days late with this post, but given that I was waiting until "Tube Talk Thursday" to write this entry, I figured that it was better late than never.

For those of you who were born too late, you might not recognize the name Ann B. Davis at all.  But for those of you who were around during the early 1970s, you probably remember her very well.  After all, she played the role of Alice Nelson on the television sitcom "The Brady Bunch" during the show's entire run.

On June 1, 2014, Ann B. Davis passed away in San Antonio, Texas at the age of 88.  The cause of death was from a subdural hematoma sustained in a fall in her home.  Ann B. Davis' death marks the second death of the main cast of "The Brady Bunch", following Robert Reed's death in 1992.

I will admit that when I was born, I had absolutely no idea what "The Brady Bunch" was.  I had kept hearing references to the show during my formative years, and my family did watch it when it originally aired, but it never aired in syndication during my early childhood years.  Or, if it did, it was on before my family started subscribing to cable television in the late 1980s.  Whatever the case, "The Brady Bunch" was always a bit of a mystery to me.

I suppose it made sense.  The show debuted in 1969 and ended in 1974 - a full seven years before I was born.  I think I even missed that Brady Bunch Christmas movie when it originally aired in 1988 because I was more interested in watching an episode of "Full House" or some "Punky Brewster" rerun, or whatever else was on television that year.  To me, Marcia, Jan, Cindy, Greg, Peter, and Bobby were the names of kids who played in our school playground at recess.

It was only by chance that I happened to catch an episode of "The Brady Bunch".  You know how your cable provider will sometimes offer you a free preview of some of the superchannels that cost extra to activate?  They may last a weekend, or a full week, or a whole month?  These preview weekends are designed to get you to watch the stations, and get you hooked so that you could spend the extra money to activate them.  On one of these preview weekends some nineteen, twenty years ago, we got to preview TBS, UPN (remember THAT network?), The WB (remember THAT network?), and a couple of other movie channels.  It was a special four day event that lasted Thursday through Sunday.

Well, that was where I saw my very first episode of "The Brady Bunch".  It used to air in the afternoons on TBS just before reruns of "Good Morning, Miss Bliss" and "Saved By The Bell".  If memory serves me, it was the pilot episode where Mike and Carol get married, and the kids are really young, and the dog and the cat get into a fight and destroy the whole wedding feast. 

The episode itself was cute...I suppose.  It sort of reminded me a lot of the sitcoms that I used to watch in the 1980s when sitcoms were more family friendly. 

Now since then, I've seen more and more episodes of "The Brady Bunch", and I have to agree that some shows were better than others.  I don't find it as cheesy and saccharinely sweet as some people might (though admittedly I tended to favour the older characters over the younger ones).  I had my favourite Brady (I was always a Jan fan), and I had my least favourite Brady (sorry, Cousin Oliver - though admittedly Robbie Rist was better in his voice work).  But one constant in every episode was the woman in the sky blue dress who worked at the Brady housekeeper.  A woman who always had a kind word to say about everybody and who always had some decent advice to give.  And, she often used her dry humour to elicit laughs from the audience, which worked great on me.

Truth be told, I was always very partial to Alice.  There was just something about the way that Ann B. Davis played her that made me wish that she could come and live with my family.  That is to Ann's credit, of course.

But would you believe that another actress was lined up to play Alice instead?  Believe it or not, actress Monty Margetts was lined up to play the role when "The Brady Bunch" was being cast.  But just before the show's September 26, 1969 premiere, the role was recast with Davis in the role.  Why this was the case?  Well, perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the role of Carol Brady was also recast.  Originally, Carol was to be played by actress Joyce Buffant, but producers of the show were having second thoughts about casting her in the first place.  At the last moment, Buffant was let go, Florence Henderson was hired, and Ann B. Davis was hired as a sort of comedic foil to Henderson's soft-spoken, low key presence.

It worked.

Now, here's the thing.  Ann B. Davis didn't mind the fact that her role on "The Brady Bunch" seemed to typecast her for all future roles.  In fact, not only did she play the role of Alice Nelson during the five season run of "The Brady Bunch", but she reprised the role for "The Brady Bunch Hour", "The Brady Brides", and "The Bradys" (just how the heck many Brady spinoffs were there?)

And that's not all.  She reprised the role of Alice in other television projects including the sitcoms "Day by Day" and "Hi Honey, I'm Home".

TRIVIA:  On "Day by Day", one of the stars of the show was actor Christopher Daniel Barnes, who ended up playing Greg Brady in 1995's "The Brady Bunch Movie", in which Ann B. Davis did a cameo as a truck driver!  Funny how people are connected, isn't it?

Of course, one thing I want to stress was that the late Ann B. Davis did much more than portray a housekeeper on a 1970s era sitcom.

Interestingly enough, when Ann graduated from high school, she originally considered pursuing a career in medicine!  But she opted to change her major to acting after being wowed by her brother's performance in a production of "Oklahoma!" 

After graduating with a degree in drama and speech in 1948, one of the first jobs that she landed was as a judge in the television show "Jukebox Jury".  (Don't worry, I haven't heard of it either.)

But her first major role came just a few years later in 1955.  The boyfriend of one of Ann's friends personally recommended Ann for a role in the NBC situation comedy, "The Bob Cummings Show".  Long story short?  She won the role and stayed on the program for four more years playing the part of Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz.  Not only did she win an Emmy for her role in the show, but she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960!  I do believe that makes her the first of all the Brady Bunch actors to earn that honour.  But, I honestly am not sure.  Whatever the case, I think it's an awesome piece of trivia.

Actually, come to think of it, the truck driver that Davis played in "The Brady Bunch Movie" was named Schultzy.  That's a really cool throwback to the past, isn't it?

And, of course, Ann also starred in a series of commercials for "Minute Rice", "Shake 'n' Bake", and the Ford Motor Company, and played a physical education teacher in "The John Forsythe Show".  Even as she grew older, she never gave up acting entirely.  In the 1990s, she starred in theatre productions of "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Crazy For You", and her last credited appearance on television was at the 2007 TV Land Awards, in which she was given a standing ovation.

And, why not?  Ann B. Davis was a legend in her own right.  One that will never be forgotten in the history of television.


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