Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
The Brady Bunch, The Bob Cummings Show
January 1, 1970
Currently Known For:
The Brady Bunch, The Bob Cummings Show
January 1, 1970
“If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a perfect kid. And six of ‘em, yecch!” One of the most beloved housekeepers in Hollywood throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ann B. Davis will always be remembered for her performance as the lovable and sometimes mischievous Alice Nelson on The Brady Bunch. However, there’s a lot more to Davis than her five-season run on the popular family sitcom especially since the New York native got her start in the mid-1950s as the peppy Charmaine Schultz on The Bob Cummings Show, which earned her four Primetime Emmy Award nominations and two wins for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. So, what is Davis’ story of fame and how on earth did she make the move from Schenectady, New York to the bright lights of Hollywood? Let’s find out!
“I think I’m lovable. That’s the gift God gave me. I don’t do anything to be lovable. I have no control.” Ann Bradford Davis and her identical twin sister, Harriet, came into this world on May 5, 1946 in Schenectady, New York. When the twins were three years old, their parents—Marguerite and Cassius Miles Davis—moved the family (the twins and their older brother, Evans) to Erie, Pennsylvania where Davis attended elementary and middle school and later graduated from Strong Vincent High School. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and initially planned on going into the medical field to become a doctor, but everything changed when she saw her older brother in a production of Oklahoma! Mesmerized by his presence on stage, Davis dropped her pre-med major and earned her degree in drama and speech in 1948.
“My twin sister and I used to do recitations and things when we were kids,” Davis recalled. “Beyond that, my mother was very interested in amateur theater, community theater, which was very popular back in the 1920s and 1930s… and my brother was a professional dancer for quite a number of years… so, I was pretty interested in acting pretty early.”
Fresh out of college and hungry for experience, Davis spent the next few years pursuing her career as she auditioned for every role she could find. In 1953, her hard work finally paid off when she landed her first television role as a guest musical judge on the series Jukebox Jury. After a season on the show, her luck dramatically improved when she found herself on The Bob Cummings Show. “Somebody said, ‘Get your agent to call the new Bob Cummings show. They’re looking for a funny lady,” Davis recalled of landing the part of Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz. “Within three hours, I had the job. That was January 1955. I had such fun with that show.”
The Bob Cummings Show launched Davis to stardom and gave the young actress her first real chance to show off her comedic talents, which is exactly what earned her four Primetime Emmy Award nominations and two wins for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. After wrapping up the show in 1959, she was honored with a star on the newly paved Hollywood Walk of Fame and went on to host the ninth annual American Cinema Editors Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The following year, she made a guest appearance on an episode of Wagon Train and was appointed to the Screen Actors Guild Board of Governors, a position she held during the lengthy actors’ strike.
Amid her growing success in television, Davis made her Broadway debut in 1960 when she replaced Carol Burnett as the star of Once Upon a Mattress. Over the next few years, she stayed fairly busy in television with special guest appearances on The New Breed, Here’s Hollywood, and McKeever and the Colonel, the latter of which inspired her next pilot—the spinoff series, Get with It. The spinoff, however, was never picked up and led Davis to join The Keefe Brasselle Show comedy troupe where she shared the stage with a young Barbra Streisand on the show’s premiere.
By the mid-1960s, Davis’ star status was slowly fading as she filmed several failed pilots and appeared in television commercials for the Ford Motor Company’s Ford Fairlane. “I did a couple of pilots that didn’t sell, a few movies, and one year of nightclub work, which I hated,” Davis recalled. That nightclub work included a lot of regional theater and summer stock with performances taking her around the country with dates in Milwaukee, Palm Beach, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Erie. Then, in a stroke of good luck, she was invited to join John Forsythe, who would later star in Dynasty, in The John Forsythe Show, which ran from 1965 to 1966.
Although The John Forsythe Show was short-lived, Davis had already caught the attention of the talented Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz who, despite having never met Davis, believed he had the perfect part for her in his new series, The Brady Bunch. Determined to cast her in the role, he reached out to see if Davis was interested in the part, but Davis’ schedule was already booked with nightclub dates. At the time, Davis didn’t have the extra money or the confidence to cancel her engagements for a pilot that was still being developed. Fortunately, Schwartz refused to take “no” for an answer and went to great lengths to fly Davis out to Los Angeles within 24 hours so she could audition without missing a performance. Once she auditioned, the entire network was on board to cast Davis and Schwartz paid the nightclub for all her remaining nights to ensure the actress was free to do the show.Becoming Alice – Davis’s Brady Bunch Story and Secrets
“All of us wish we had an Alice.” One of the first acts Davis had as part of The Brady Bunch was to help with an early decision on the show’s name. With Schwartz unable to decide between naming the series The Brady Bunch or The Brady Brood, Davis suggested “Bunch” was a funnier word. With the name decided, Davis made her debut on the series on September 26, 1969 and spent the next five seasons alongside Florence Henderson, Robert Reed and the Brady children—Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb, Susan Olsen, Barry Williams, Christopher Knight, and Mike Lookinland.
After years of struggling to make a name for herself, The Brady Bunch put Davis back in the spotlight where her talents were undeniable especially during episodes like “Sergeant Emma” where Davis played her own twin cousin. While producers knew Davis had an identical twin sister named Harriet, they opted for Davis to play both roles, which showcased her talents even further! Amid playing her twin on the show, Davis also built her reputation as one of the most generous actresses in Hollywood thanks to her work behind the scenes as an integral part of the USO. She served on the USO Council throughout the 1960s and 1970s in addition to spending holidays touring Vietnam and South Korea.
After The Brady Bunch wrapped in 1974, Davis became an even bigger star when the series was picked up for syndication in 1975. She went on to reprise her role in several spinoff series and films including The Brady Girls Get Married (1981), The Brady Brides (1981), A Very Brady Christmas (1988), The Bradys (1990), and The Brady Bunch Movie (1995). She also published her cookbook, Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook, which featured Brady Bunch inspired recipes, in 1994 and joined the cast for the last time in the 2004 television special, The Brady Bunch 35th Anniversary Reunion Special. “You can’t kill The Brady Bunch,” Davis said of the series that made her a household name. “We’ve gotten so much blood out of this turnip, it may not be a turnip.”
Apart from occasionally reprising her role as Alice, Davis focused her energy on theater for a few years and performed in productions of Arsenic and Old Lace and Crazy for You before her life completely changed in 1976 when she met an Episcopal bishop named William C. Frey and his wife. “I wasn’t satisfied. I thought, ‘What is it I haven’t got?’” Davis said of the time in her life where she truly lacked fulfillment. “My mother would write letters when I was away at camp and say, ‘There’s an Ann-shaped space around the house. Nobody fills an Ann-shaped space expect an Ann.’ I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole.”
Davis embarked on a spiritual transformation and, in 1976, sold her home in Los Angeles and moved to Denver, Colorado where she joined Bishop Frey and his wife to form an Episcopal community. The group later relocated to Ambridge in Beaver County Pennsylvania. “I was born again,” Davis said. “It happens to Episcopalians. Sometimes it doesn’t hit you till you’re 47 years old. It changed my whole life for the better… I spent a lot of time giving Christian witness all over the country to church groups and stuff.”
Finding fulfillment, Davis settled into her life as a born-again Christian and later relocated to San Antonio, Texas where she lived comfortably on her Screen Actors Guild Pension and took classes like aerobics and theology at the local community club and seminary. “It is obvious,” she said during one of her later interviews, “I am where the Lord wants me to be.”
Davis lived a quiet life with Bishop Frey and his wife, Barbara, and was in excellent health until June 1, 2014 when she fell in the bathroom of their home and suffered a traumatic brain injury known as a subdural hematoma. Rushed to the local hospital, doctors tried to save Davis, but her injury was far too extreme. Her death came as a huge shock to her family and friends who gathered in the nearby town of Boerne, Texas to pay their respects as she was laid to rest at Saint Helena’s Columbarium and Memorial Gardens.
“I admired Ann B so much as an actor. She was one of the greats. Most of all, I admired her heart. She was a dear friend… deep, honest and true,” Maureen McCormick said of her longtime friend. “She was one of my earliest role models and that continues to this day. She made me a better person. How blessed I am to have had her in my life.” Eve Plumb shared the sentiment saying, “She was great to work with and I have wonderful memories of our scenes together on The Brady Bunch. She was kind and generous to all of us on set. Although we hadn’t seen each other as often as we may have wanted to in the last few years, I am sure she knew she held a very important place in my heart.”
While Davis left a lasting impression on her on-screen children, the actress herself never had any children of her own and often admitted she wished she was more like Alice in real life. “The cast got along beautifully. I had the boys hooking rugs and the girls doing needlepoint,” Davis said. “But, I basically don’t do that well with children, although my sister, a mother of three, says I’m a great aunt. But I hate to cook. When it’s my turn in the house, we just eat out.”
Barry Williams vouched for Davis’ lack of cooking skills in his own tribute to his former castmate. “When she came on our set, she was already a big star, having won a couple of Emmys… so I knew even as a young teenager she was someone I wanted to pay attention to,” he said. “Most people think of her as a really wonderful cook, but she didn’t even know how to make meatloaf… She was a wonderful, wonderful woman. She lived a full life, she lived it on her own terms and in service to the Lord.”