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A Belated Farewell

Ann B. Davis, flanked by Alice Nelson and Alice Nelson as the Wicked Witch of the West
Ann B. Davis, flanked by Alice Nelson and Alice Nelson as the Wicked Witch of the West
Photos from various sources; composite by Peter Heimsoth

The recent deaths of Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams reminded me that I should have paid tribute to another celebrity after her passing two months ago, because once upon a variety show, she went to Oz.

Ann B. Davis, known worldwide as the wisecracking, big-hearted Alice Nelson, housekeeper to the eponymous family in the sitcom The Brady Bunch, was born to Cassius and Marguerite Davis in Schenectady, New York, on May 5th, 1926 along with her twin sister Harriet. Possibly because of the rigors of having to spell "Schenectady," the Davises moved when the twins were three. Ann's elder brother Evans became involved in theater at school, and it was seeing him in the musical Okalahoma! that convinced Ann that she too wanted to act.

With a degree in drama and speech under her belt, she attacked Hollywood, where her career in television took off in just a few years. She came to prominence on The Bob Cummings Show as secretary Charmaine "Schultzy" Schultz, for which she was four times nominated for an Emmy, winning the award twice. After more successes came 1969's The Brady Bunch and the role which made Ann a television icon. Through the five-year run of the program with chronicled the lives of a remarried widower and widow and their six children, Ann's Alice dispensed homespun wisdom, romanced Sam the butcher, and proved to be, as Barry "Greg Brady" Williams put it, the glue that held that family together.

The Brady family made several returns to television, beginning with a 1976 attempt to cash in on the variety show craze which was then prevalent. The curious premise of the series had the Bradys moving house with the help of estate agent Jack Merrill (comedian Rip Taylor), and performing songs and skits for a live audience.

In her later years, Ann, a devout Christian, became a member of Trinity School for Ministry in Denver, Colorado. When its leader, Bishop William C. Frey, and his wife Barbara moved the ministry to San Antonio, Texas, Ann went with them. It was there, on June 1st of this year, that Ann took a bad fall which caused a subdural hematoma. She was taken to hospital, where she passed away at the age of 88.

In one sequence of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Alice tries to convince Marcia (Maureen McCormick) to give up her Wizard of Oz toys. Marcia refuses to do so, and under her breath berates Alice for being "witchy." The scene transitions to Alice as the Wicked Witch of the West in a blazing red gown and bouncing hat, keeping tabs on Dorothy (Marcia), the Scarecrow (Greg), the Tin Woodman (Peter, played by Christopher Knight-- in shining armor) and the Cowardly Lion (Merrill) as they perform the song "Car Wash" at just such an establishment.

After the song, the Witch appears with her usual threats, Dorothy douses her with the usual bucket, and the Witch melts away with the unusual warning, "I'll be back!"

Rest well, Ann B. Davis.

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