Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dr. Kildare, Weird Science
December 16, 1937
Currently Known For:
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dr. Kildare, Weird Science
December 16, 1937
“It was never my intention to marry famous Hollywood men, it just happened that way.” Instantly recognized for her cheerful, Southern voice, Joyce Bulifant is a beloved stage, television, and film actress whose career spans over four decades. Her undeniable girlish voice is what made her one of the most recognized faces on The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 to 1977 when she played Marie Slaughter. She was also initially considered for the role of Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch but saw the part go to Florence Henderson as Bulifant went on to make regular appearances on classic television game shows like Password Plus, Chain Reaction, and Match Game. Along the way, she appeared on the silver screen in the 1980 comedy spoof Airplane! and even took home a Theatre World Award for her performance in the 1960s production of Take Her, She’s Mine. Retired since 2005, let’s take a look at Bulifant’s career, what she’s doing now, and her high-profile marriages to some of Hollywood’s best known leading men!
Joyce Collins Bulifant came into this world on December 16, 1937 in Newport News, Virginia. She attended the prestigious Solebury School, a boarding school known for its notable alumni like actors Jack Coleman and Peter Hobbs. While at the Solebury School, Bulifant met and fell in love with a fellow aspiring actor named James MacArthur, the son of the legendary actress Helen Hayes who was known as the “First Lady of American Theatre” and as one of only 15 people in history to win an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, an Oscar, and a Tony Award. “In fact, I was 14 when I first met Jimmy while we were at boarding school together,” Bulifant recalled of her early romance, “and we started dating a couple of years later but only after I told him he had to join the drama club because I spent all my time there.”
Bulifant and MacArthur graduated from the Solebury School in 1955 and married just three years later. They quickly started a family with the birth of their daughter, Mary, followed by the birth of their son, Charles. However, Bulifant’s life at home with MacArthur wasn’t as happy as she envisioned as she spent the next decade in an abusive relationship fighting against MacArthur’s growing fame as Danny “Dano” Williams on the long-running series Hawaii Five-O.
“When he wasn’t working, he would drink more, and it became a terrible situation,” Bulifant admitted. “The biggest challenge was thinking every day it would get better and he wouldn’t be mean. That he won’t be angry with the children. He won’t be saying I’m stupid and I’m crazy and I don’t know what I’m doing. He was abusive… I think verbal abuse is so difficult because you can’t see the scars… but they never go away. I didn’t realize he continued to be, as the children grew older, very verbally abusive.”
Amid her tumultuous first marriage, Bulifant pursued her career in the spotlight and made her earliest television appearance as a dancer on Arthur Murray’s Dance Party from 1950 to 1960. She made her Broadway debut in the 1959 production of Tall Story and played Timmie Barnes in Too Young to Go Steady later in the year. Once she gained some recognition on Broadway, she made the transition back to television and made guest appearances on The Play of the Week, Naked City, Thriller, General Electric Theater, Alcoa Premiere, Gunsmoke, My Three Sons, Empire, Perry Mason, The Real McCoys, McHale’s Navy, The Virginia, and Wagon Train. In 1964, she appeared as Mary Gentry in Tom, Dick and Mary but found even bigger success two years later when she won the recurring role of Judy Cannon in Dr. Kildare.
Returning to Broadway as Amy Rodgers in the 1967 production of The Paisley Convertible, Bulifant divorced MacArthur the same year and set out to create a new life as an actress and single mother of two. She made her silver screen debut in the 1967 musical film, The Happiest Millionaire, where she met Walt Disney himself. “I was recording a song for The Happiest Millionaire when he came down from his office,” she recalled. “He put his arm around me and said, ‘I’m going to walk you over to the studio.’ I said, ‘Oh Mr. Disney, that’s so nice!’ I couldn’t believe the special attention. He said, ‘And young lady, I have big plans for you!’ And then he died… I only found out later that Disney was working on a series where Lesley Ann Warren and I would be the guides at Disneyland and our boyfriends would be Tommy Steele and John Davison. Wouldn’t that have been fun? But there you go. That’s life. That’s show business.”
Bulifant spent the next few years making appearances on The Woody Woodbury Show and Lancer before she caught the attention of Gilligan’s Island creator Sherwood Schwartz who believed she was the perfect actress to star in his new sitcom, The Brady Bunch. Bulifant auditioned for and won the role after ABC producers fell in love with her comedic portrayal of Carol Brady. However, something soon changed and Bulifant was ousted from the series and replaced by Florence Henderson. “I was all signed, sealed, and delivered to play Mrs. Brady on The Brady Bunch,” Bulifant recalled. “One Friday, I was showing the director and producer (and writer, Sherwood Schwartz) my wardrobe but they were acting very strange. When I asked what was wrong they sat me down and said the executives at ABC in New York wanted Florence Henderson for the role.”
Stunned by the news after signing a seven-year contract, Bulifant reached out to Schwartz directly only to learn the show’s creator was just as devastated. “The little girls were cast to look like me and Sherwood was devastated because the show had a whole new meaning than what he was looking for,” Bulifant said of her intention to play the role of Carol with more humor while the housekeeper, Alice, was written to be played straight-laced. “That’s how Sherwood saw the show, but he came over to my house that night and told me Florence had the part. Then they had to change the housekeeper to more of a comedy role. Sherwood was very upset and offered to put me in his next show, which he did—Big John, Little John—but it only lasted a season whereas The Brady Bunch became a huge hit. But that’s the way it goes in this business. Florence was a wonderful actress and a lovely lady. I did catch up with her in later years, but we never really discussed what happened.”Moving Forward: Life After Losing The Brady Bunch
After losing The Brady Bunch, Bulifant was hired as part of the main cast on NBC’s newest sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show, which was the first eponymous sitcom to star an African American actor. Although the show only lasted for two seasons, it was an audience favorite that put Bulifant back in the spotlight as she went on to appear in an episode of Bonanza in 1970 before landing the recurring role of Marie Slaughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1971. Spending the next six seasons on the series, Bulifant became a household name in a role that ultimately defined her career as she landed additional roles on Love They Neighbor and Love, American Style.
Amid her success on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bulifant went on to make a name for herself on the game show circuit and was a semi-regular panelist on Match Game from 1973 to 1982 and Match Game PM from 1975 to 1977. In 1976, Schwartz kept his promise and cast her as Marjorie Martin in his newest series, Big John, Little John, but the series only lasted one season. From there, she made appearances on $20,000 Pyramid, Three’s Company, Alice, Turnabout, and The Bad News Bears. From 1979 to 1981, she enjoyed another recurring role on Password Plus and spent the rest of the 1980s making guest appearances on Flo, Harper Valley PTA, The Facts of Life, and American Playhouse. As for her career on the silver screen, she returned to film for the 1980 spoof Airplane! and later returned for the 1999 American comedy, Diamonds, and the 2005 film Dirty Love, both of which were directed by her son, John Mallory Asher.Marrying Leading Men: Bulifant’s Five Hollywood Romances
Apart from her life in the spotlight, Bulifant’s personal life has often kept her in headlines thanks to her marriages to some of Hollywood’s best-known leading men. After her divorce from Hawaii Five-O star James MacArthur in 1967, she found love a second time with Days of Our Lives star Edward Mallory. Marrying in 1969, they were together for five years and welcomed their son, John Mallory, into the world before divorcing in 1974. “Ed had a very dark side. He did a lot of yelling and said he was going to kill himself,” Bulifant admitted. “He wasn’t abusive to the children in any way except that he yelled about everything. Nothing was ever right… I just thought it was me. Was I causing this problem? I always thought it was my fault. One day I came home and I saw him drinking straight out of the vodka bottle. I thought, ‘I don’t think it’s me. He must have a drinking problem.’ In that area… I was a really dumb blonde.”
Divorcing Mallory in 1974, she spent the next two years on her own until she met and fell in love with Bewitched director William Asher. Once again, Bulifant found herself in a similar situation as Asher turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with his depression after suffering a series of minor strokes. “He became depressed and took antidepressants. Then he couldn’t sleep so he took sleeping pills and he drank. That changed his whole personality,” Bulifant recalled. “He became angry and difficult. I had to say to him, ‘If you get help, I’ll be beside you forever. But if you don’t, I can’t do this anymore.’ And that was that. On our 17th wedding anniversary, I left.”
Bulifant divorced Mallory in 1993 and was briefly married to Glade Bruce Hansen from 2000 to 2001. Following her fourth divorce, Bulifant entered rehab for co-dependency after finally realizing she married men she couldn’t fix despite her best intentions. “I believed if they knew that I loved them, they wouldn’t drink anymore,” she admitted. “I, as a co-dependent person, fed into that bad behavior… I put myself in a rehab place for addiction because I was addicted to helping people and fixing things.”
In 2002, Bulifant married a fifth and final time (as of now, at least) when she exchanged vows with actor Roger Perry following his divorce to wife Jo Anne Worley. “First of all, that love affair of the heart started in 1962 when we worked together. We were like ships passing in the night. A friend of ours called us star-crossed lovers,” Bulifant said of their life-long love. “It’s been happy because Roger doesn’t drink anymore. My children, boy do they love and respect him. It’s just a very loving, giving marriage. We look at each other and say, ‘This is a miracle.’”
In July 2018, Bulifant lost the love of her life to prostate cancer; Perry was 85 years old. “I lost the love of my life physically, but spiritually he is still with me,” the 80-year-old Bulifant said following her husband’s death. “I was blessed to be able to care for him at home, until his passing, and am grateful that we had a full and rich life together.”