Monday, June 2, 2014

The Bradys' Glue in Blue

The wise-cracking maid/butler/servant in situation comedies has been a trope for nearly as long as folks first started flicking on televisions in the 1940s.

So by the time Ann B. Davis showed up to help stay-at-home mom Carol Brady in 1969, she was hardly the first of the hired help in TV history to get some funny lines.

But Davis, who played Alice in "The Brady Bunch" from 1969-74, will go down as one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, live-in helpers of all time.

We lost Davis yesterday at age 88, the victim of a fall in her home.

Unlike some of her brethren on screen---before and after the Bradys---Davis' Alice wasn't snarky or mean-spirited and didn't try to steal the scene. Her lines were delivered with a dose of humility and with a good heart.

Davis was more like Sebastian Cabot's Mr. French in "Family Affair"---subtle but omnipresent. You knew Alice was always around, even if she wasn't chewing the scenery and always going for laughs.

Even "Brady" enthusiasts wondered why Carol Brady needed a maid when she didn't work outside of the home, although that wondering likely came when the viewers grew up and turned into parents themselves.

But who cares why the Bradys needed Alice; we're just glad that they hired her.

It's not a reach to say that Alice was the glue that held the Bradys, and by extension, the show together. In the very rare episodes where Alice didn't appear, watching them was very odd.

Davis embraced her role as Alice, always participating in the reunion shows and other get-togethers with the cast. She didn't look back with any bitterness at being joined at the hip with her alter ego, like some of the cast members did (*cough* Robert Reed *cough*).

After the show's initial run, Davis went back and forth between the ministry and acting. But when the producers called her name, she always responded.

Speaking of her name, she explained her use of her middle initial (B for Bradford) thusly.

"Just plain Ann Davis goes by pretty fast."'

Watching Alice in her iconic blue uniform is a calming memory for those of us baby boomers who grew up making sure we were camped in front of the television on Friday nights. Of course, since "The Brady Bunch" is one of the most widely syndicated shows in TV history, we can pretty much turn on the boob tube on any given day at any given time, somewhere in this country, and catch a rerun.


Ann B. Davis (1926-2014)

Davis had the comedic acting chops to be the focus when she needed to be in "TBB", and she could be a straight woman if that's what was needed. She could be the butt of the joke and she could offer gentle advice to the kids if necessary. No other maid or butler exhibited such versatility.

Contrary to some people's belief, Davis' career didn't just come to life starting with the Bradys.

For several years she was the love struck secretary Schultzy on "The Bob Cummings Show" in the mid-to-late 1950s. Her unrequited fawning over Cummings was the joke, but her range was more than that.

She had Michigan ties, too; Davis received her Bachelors degree in theater from U-M in 1948.

But in the end, Ann B. Davis will forever be remembered as Alice, and that's pretty much it. Not that she ever complained.

In an interview with the Associated Press in 1993, Davis tried to explain why Alice was so revered.

"I think I'm lovable," she said. "That's the gift God gave me."

And it was the gift she paid forward to millions of TV viewers, young and old.

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