SAN ANTONIO – Emmy-winning actress Ann B. Davis, who became the country’s favorite and most famous housekeeper as the devoted Alice Nelson of “The Brady Bunch,” died Sunday at a San Antonio hospital. She was 88.
Bexar County, Texas, medical examiner’s investigator Sara Horne said Davis died Sunday morning at University Hospital. Horne said no cause of death was available and that an autopsy was planned Monday.
Bill Frey, a retired bishop and a longtime friend of Davis, said she suffered a fall Saturday at her San Antonio home and never recovered. Frey said Davis had lived with him and his wife, Barbara, since 1976.
More than a decade before scoring as the Bradys’ loyal Alice, Davis was the razor-tongued secretary on another stalwart TV sitcom, “The Bob Cummings Show,” which brought her two Emmys. Over the years, she also appeared on Broadway and in occasional movies.
Davis considered her ordinary look an asset.
“I know at least a couple hundred glamour gals who are starving in this town,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1955, the year the Cummings show began its four-year run. “I’d rather be myself and eating.”
She said she told NBC photographers not to retouch their pictures of her, but they ignored her request and “gave me eyebrows.”
Producer Sherwood Schwartz’s “The Brady Bunch” debuted in 1969 and aired for five years. But like Schwartz’s other hit, “Gilligan’s Island,” it has lived on in reruns and sequels.
As “The Brady Bunch” theme song reminded viewers each week, the Bradys combined two families into one. Florence Henderson played a widow raising three daughters when she met her TV husband, Robert Reed, a widower with three boys.
In her blue and white maid’s uniform, Davis’ character, Alice Nelson, was constantly cleaning up messes large and small, and she was a mainstay of stability for the family.
“I think I’m lovable. That’s the gift God gave me,” Davis told The Associated Press in a 1993 interview. “I don’t do anything to be lovable. I have no control.”
Davis’ face occupied the center square during the show’s opening credits. Her love interest was Sam the Butcher, played by Allan Melvin.
“I’m shocked and saddened! I’ve lost a wonderful friend and colleague,” Henderson said in a statement Sunday.
“The Brady Bunch” had a successful run until 1974, but it didn’t die then. It returned as “The Brady Bunch Hour” (1977), “The Brady Brides” (1981), “The Bradys” (1990). It even appeared as a Saturday morning spinoff (1972-1974).
“The Brady Bunch Movie,” with Shelley Long and Gary Cole as the parents, was a surprise box-office hit in 1995. It had another actress as Alice, but Davis appeared in a bit part as a trucker. It was followed the next year – without Davis – by a less successful “A Very Brady Sequel.”
Older TV viewers remember Davis for another non-glamorous role, on “The Bob Cummings Show,” also known as “Love That Bob.” She played Schultzy, the assistant to Cummings’ character, a handsome, swinging bachelor photographer always chasing beautiful women.
It brought Davis supporting actress Emmy Awards in 1958 and 1959.
After the series ended in 1959, Davis appeared in such movies as “A Man Called Peter,” “Lover Come Back” and “All Hands on Deck.” During layoffs she played in summer stock.
Between her two better-known shows, she played a gym teacher at an exclusive girls’ school in 1965-66 in “The John Forsythe Show.”
During her stints in “The Bob Cummings Show” and “The Brady Bunch,” she used the layoffs to appear in summer theater with such shows as “Three on a Honeymoon.” She also toured with the USO to entertain U.S. troops in Korea and elsewhere.
She was born Ann Bradford Davis in 1926, in Schenectady, New York, and grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. She said she took to using her middle initial because “just plain Ann Davis goes by pretty fast.”
She was stage-struck since the age of 6 when she and her twin sister, Harriet, earned $2 with their puppet show. She attended the University of Michigan, joking that she was a premed student “until I discovered chemistry.”
She graduated in 1948 with a degree in theater and later joined a repertory theater in Erie, Pennsylvania. She told the AP in 1993 that she got her big break while doing a cabaret act in Los Angeles, singing and telling jokes.
“Somebody said, ‘Get your agent to call the new Bob Cummings show. They’re looking for a funny lady.’ Within three hours I had the job. That was January 1955. I had such fun with that show.
“I did a couple of pilots that didn’t sell, a few movies and one year of nightclub work, which I hated. Then I did the pilot of ‘The Brady Bunch’ and never had to do another nightclub.”
For many years after “The Brady Bunch” wound up, Davis led a quiet religious life, affiliating herself with a group led by Frey.
“I was born again,” she told the AP in 1993. “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.”
She took a long sabbatical from the theater, largely limiting her performances to “Brady Bunch” specials and TV commercials.
In 1993, Davis returned to the theater, joining the touring cast of “Crazy for You,” a musical featuring the songs of George and Ira Gershwin.
Davis never married, saying she never found a man who was more interesting than her career.
“By the time I started to get interested (in finding someone),” she told the Chicago Sun-Times, “all the good ones were taken.”