Obituary: Ann B. Davis / She was beloved TV housekeeper

May 3, 1926 - June 1, 2014

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Emmy award-winning Ann B. Davis has often been described as the "most famous housekeeper" because of her role as Alice Nelson in the popular TV sitcom "The Brady Bunch."

But in her real life, Ms. Davis "actually had a hard time dealing with young children and she couldn't cook worth a darn," her longtime friend, retired Episcopal Bishop William Frey, said Monday.

They lived in an extended Christian community in Denver and during his time with ministries in Beaver County and in San Antonio. Each member was to take turns cooking dinner for the group. When it was Ms. Davis' turn, they always ate out.

Bishop Frey questioned her about her lack of qualities that her Alice character embodied, and she turned to him and said: "That's acting, dearie."

Ms. Davis died Sunday at a San Antonio hospital, after suffering a fall at her home the day before. She was 88.

"The Brady Bunch" theme song began each week with the words "Here's a story of a lovely lady," a reference to Carol Brady, a widow with three daughters who married a widower with three sons. Florence Henderson portrayed the mom; the late Robert Reed portrayed the dad, Mike Brady.

In the opening credits, each character appeared in his or her own square and looked up down and sideways. It was Ms. Davis as housekeeper Alice Nelson who appeared in the middle square. Her character was the dependable and reliable anchor whom each member of the family turned to in times of trouble or joy.

"The Brady Bunch," which ran on ABC from 1969 to 1974, is known to later generations through reruns.

Ann Bradford Davis was born in Schenectady, N.Y., with her twin sister Harriet and they grew up in Erie, Pa. Her first paid acting job was a puppet show that she and her sister performed at the age of 6. They earned $2. Ms. Davis graduated from the University of Michigan in 1948 with a degree in theater and later joined a repertory theater in Erie.

She got her big break while doing a cabaret act in Los Angeles, singing and telling jokes.

Her acting career included theater and television. She won her Emmy awards as a supporting actress in 1958 and 1959 for her role as the razor-tongued secretary "Schultzy" Schultz on the sitcom "The Bob Cummings Show." Cummings, who died in 1990, played a dashing photographer and ladies' man.

Ms. Davis also appeared on Broadway and in occasional movies.

She considered her ordinary looks 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 -- first on NBC, then on CBS and back to NBC. "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."

Ms. Davis met Bishop Frey in the 1970s when he was a bishop in Denver, and she stopped by his church, he said in an interview Monday from San Antonio.

She wanted to try life in his extended family household community. After one month, she called her agent and said "Don't call me for one year. I have a better gig." She became very involved and found her own large family in that community. That gig became her life.

Ms. Davis had lived with Bishop Frey and his wife, Barbara, since 1976.

"She was a devout Christian, very bright and had a great sense of humor," he said.

During her time with the Christian community, Ms. Davis took a long sabbatical from the theater, largely limiting her performances to "Brady Bunch" specials and TV commercials.

Bishop Frey later moved to Ambridge as the third Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, serving from 1989-96. While there, in 1993, Ms. Davis joined the national touring company of the musical "Crazy for You," featuring the songs of George and Ira Gershwin.

When Bishop Frey retired from the ministry school in Ambridge, members of the community started to look for another place to live.

"We were going to start in San Antonio because Bishop Frey's grandparents lived here and he used to come here every summer when he was a kid," Ms. Davis said in an interview in 1998.

Ms. Davis never married, saying she never found a man who was more interesting than her career.

Learning of her death, Maureen McCormick, who played teenager Marcia Brady, said in a statement that Ms. Davis "made me a better person. How blessed I am to have had her in my life."


Lorri Drumm: ldrumm@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3771. The Associated Press contributed.

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