Wise maid leaves big audience

“Some of the happiest moments of my life have been spent right here in this house,” observed Ann B. Davis in character as Alice, the housekeeper, on the Brady Bunch television series. Davis died late last week. She was 88.

Her portrayal of the dutiful, but wisecracking maid put her in the pantheon of iconic sitcom characters. In the way that Valerie Harper will always be Rhoda Morganstern, and Barbara Billingsley will always be June Cleaver, Davis will always be Alice.

Even so, students of television history may well recall that Davis had another notable comedic presence in early television. She starred for four years as Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz, the perennially single secretary.

As Schultzy, she won two Emmy awards, two additional nominations for best supporting actress and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. It is, however, as Alice that she will be indelibly etched on the public conscience.

In a 2004 interview with Karen Herman of the Archive of American Television, Davis described how she developed Alice: “I made up a background story. I did have a twin sister, so I used that as a basis. … I cared very much about this family. It was my family. It was as close to my family as Alice would ever get. I would have died for any single one of them at any point. You know, they wrote me such gorgeous things to do, as the intermediary between the kids and the adults, and between the boys and the girls. And they gave me funny things to do.”

In this role of arbitrator, counselor and wise neutral party, Davis played the perfect foil. Ironically, though, Davis in real-life lacked the handiness and motherliness possessed by Alice. In a 1992 interview with People, she confessed to not being a good cook. Perhaps more interestingly she revealed that she didn’t “do well with children.”

Actor Barry Williams, who portrayed the eldest brother, Greg, on the Brady Bunch obliquely confirmed this in a recent interview when he recounted Davis “making sure we (his child co-stars) hit our marks and that we were quiet.”

Of course Alice wasn’t one-dimensional. She had outside interests — a love interest in particular.

Played by actor Allan Melvin, Sam the Butcher, owner of a local meat shop, was Alice’s boyfriend throughout the entire series run. Even though he only made eight on-screen appearances, Sam is repeatedly referenced in the show’s dialogue. By the time the 1981 made-for-TV movie, The Brady Girls Get Married, aired, Sam and Alice were an old married couple.

As Davis became older, her religious devotion took more of a center stage. She moved to an Episcopal community and performed work with the homeless. Of her devotion, she told People: “”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.”

She also told the magazine that “everyone wants an Alice.” Mostly, we’re just glad for the one we got.