The show only lasted five seasons in its original run, yet “The Brady Bunch’s” endless life in syndication was enough to make Ann B. Davis a TV icon.
But Davis, who died Sunday at age 88, was active in TV, film and stage for more than 15 years before she donned the blue uniform to become housekeeper Alice Nelson on the enduring ABC sitcom. When “Brady Bunch” began, Davis received equal billing with stars Florence Henderson and Robert Reed.
Davis, after all, had earned two supporting comedy actress Emmys for her role as “Shultzy” in the 1960s rom-com “The Bob Cummings Show” (aka “Love That Bob”). She played the devoted assistant with a deep crush on her boss, a professional photographer and ladies’ man.
Here are a few things most “Brady Bunch” fans probably don’t know about Davis’ career, gleaned from the pages of Variety.
- Always a cut up: Davis hosted the ninth annual American Cinema Editors awards fete at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1959.
- In 1960 she made her Broadway debut, replacing Carol Burnett as the star of “Once Upon a Mattress.”
- Davis was elected to the Screen Actors Guild board of governors in 1958. She was active on the board during the lengthy 1960 actors’ strike.
- After she won her second consecutive Emmy in 1959, Davis’ twin sister Harriet wired her the message: “One of us was bound to have twins.”
- In 1963, she starred in a pilot, “Get With It,” that was a spinoff of the NBC military-school comedy “McKeever & the Colonel.” The “wacky WACS” project, as Variety dubbed it, didn’t get picked up but it did send Davis to the hospital during filming for a strained arch due to “prolonged marching scenes,” as she told Army Archerd.
- Davis was part of the comedy troupe on 1963’s “The Keefe Brasselle Show,” a summer replacement series on CBS that featured a young Barbra Streisand on its premiere episode.
- She did an awful lot of regional theater, night club dates and summer stock in the 1960s. Milwaukee; Palm Beach; Indianapolis; Chicago; Porterville, Calif.; San Diego; Traverse City, Mich.; Harrison, Maine; Erie, Pa. — Davis was all over the map.
- She opened a stint in “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater on the same day her father died in 1964.
- She co-starred with John Forsythe, later of “Dynasty” fame, and Elsa Lanchester, aka “Bride of Frankenstein,” in the short-lived 1965-66 NBC comedy “The John Forsythe Show,” about an Air Force major who inherits a girls’ school.
- In 1969 she co-starred with Louis Gossett Jr., William Windom and Bill Bixby in a “Hollywood Television Theater” one-shot production of the Hugh Wheeler play “Big Fish, Little Fish” for L.A. pubcaster KCET.
- Davis was very active in the USO and served on showbiz’s USO Council in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1967, she spent the Christmas holiday period touring Vietnam, and led a 35-day trip to South Korea the following year. In 1970, a USO auditions session in Hollywood that Davis was overseeing was disrupted by a bomb threat allegedly from the Students for a Democratic Society org. “It’s too bad SDS doesn’t recognize that the USO is not a military organization,” she told Variety.
- “The Brady Bunch” was originally titled “The Brady Brood.” The first report of Davis joining the cast ran in the Oct. 3, 1968, edition of Daily Variety, which misspelled Robert Reed’s surname as “Reid.”
And one bonus item:
- In the spring of 1969, a few months before “Brady Bunch” premiered, Davis co-starred in the edgy satire “The Chronicles of Hell,” by avant-garde playwright Michel de Ghelderode, for L.A. Repertory Theater.