On June 1, 2014, American baby boomers lost one of the most precious and beloved members of their extended television families in learning of the passing of actress Ann B. Davis, who played “Alice Nelson” for four decades of the beloved “Brady Bunch” franchise of television shows, variety specials and made-for-TV movies. Davis died as a result of a hematoma from a slip and fall in her bathroom Sunday morning, as reported by Matt Webb Mitovich of TVline.com today.
Davis was known to most of America by one name, “Alice,” but Baby Boomer parents also embraced her 50 years ago as “Shultzy” on “The Bob Cummings Show.” The character of Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz was a part of the series (also called “Love That Bob”) where she was the right-hand gal to Bob's playboy photographer character. Trying to keep the rakishly handsome Cummings in line lasted for 155 episodes, which ran from 1955-1959.
The Brady Bunch ran from 1969-1974 and only produced a comparative 117 episodes. And yet, the beauty of syndication from Paramount/Gulf-Western made it possible for, now, three generations to know the “story of a lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls” and, well, you know the song, “it’s the way they all became the Brady Bunch.” Alice was originally a part of the Brady men’s world, having assumed motherly supervision duties when architect Mike Brady became a widower.
The Brady girls, though, quickly welcomed Alice into their blended environment and they were all a delightfully idyllic family and for 30 minutes each week, children without siblings could have six of their very own from across the small screen, and they could think about how nice it would be for Alice to make them one of her famous cakes.
Davis was born May 3, 1926, in Schenectady, New York, and came from a family of actors. As IMDB shares, her mother, Marguerite Scott Davis, was an actress in theatre stock productions for thirty years and her brother was a lead dancer in a national touring company. A lesser known fact is that Ann was a twin and few fans realize that her early career included being a part of USO tours going to Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea, another sign of her gracious and giving heart.
When she left the small screen for private life, she chose to be a religious missionary. Although she never married, she was a faithful aunt to the children of her twin sister, Harriet, who lives in New Jersey. In 1992, Ann told People Magazine that she had become part of another extended family, that of “William Frey, an Episcopal bishop and his wife, Barbara, who collectively relocated to Pennsylvania when Frey became Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in 1990, where the three are dedicated to prayer and Bible study.”
It could be that the frenzy and chaos of living the Hollywood life can be as hard to watch as it is to exist inside. Ann as Alice watched the real lives of the adult actors who portrayed the Brady kids become less than idyllic, as most of them were trapped within the confines of the teenagers that America fell in love with. That had to have been hard to watch. Barry Williams hasn’t been able to escape his identity as “Greg Brady.”
The biggest news of his adult life was admitting he was madly “in crush” with co-star Maureen McCormick and sort-of, kind-of in major crush with co-star Florence Henderson, who gamely handled that like the mother hen she really is. Every major Brady fan knows that “Greg” was born Barry William Blenkhorn, and perhaps they’ve read his biography, “Growing up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg,” even though it’s not Pulitzer caliber. Williams has been married twice.
Then, there’s America’s sweetheart, “Marcia Brady,” played by Maureen McCormick. Maureen’s biography, “Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice,” describes her struggles with drug addiction and trying to make it as a singer.
Actress Eve Plumb who, as a child, was more in demand as a singer as part of the Mike Curb Congregation, so greatly hated her identification as “Jan Brady” that she appeared in very few of the post-Brady Bunch projects, until they tried for a “Brady Brides” pilot, that didn’t succeed, because one sweet and one whiny pair of competitive teenage girls just grew up to be sweet, and whiny, rather competitive adult women. Eve went on to become a prominent alumnus of Cal State University Northridge. Without Eve’s participation, a great career opportunity opened for actress Geri Reischl, better known to fans as “fake Jan,” with her own following. Ann B. Davis loved these all actors as children and she still loved them as adults, as “part of her family.” As Gayle King said on "CBS This Morning," on June 2, 2014, "Alice always gave the best advice...and cookies." True enough.
None of the other Brady children found tremendous acting accolades as part of their adult lives. But just as with the case of Ann B. Davis, perhaps it’s not the worst thing in the world to be known and loved for work you did as a child. Something to be said for an actor having instant name recognition for work they did 40 years ago. For Ann B. Davis, she’s been a household name from work with Bob Cummings, with John Forsythe, and most of all the whole, big Brady Bunch.
As for Ann, the civilian away from acting, of her work with Bishop Frey and his ministry school, she told People Magazine, “It is obvious, I am where the Lord wants me to be.” Indeed, today, she is as well. Rest in peace, Ann B. Davis. We loved you then and we love you still today. Godspeed.