Sunday 1 June 2014

Before She Was Alice

There was a time that Ann B. Davis was worried about being typecast in the role of Schultzy, which brought her a pair of Emmys. But who remembers Schultzy today?

Blame the relentlessly ticking clock. Schultzy appeared on “The Bob Cummings Show” more than 50 years ago. It wasn’t a show too many boomers grew up with (dad may have appreciated the female models that surrounded Cummings, though), and disappeared from reruns when colour punted virtually every old black-and-white show off the air (“I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners” being notable exceptions). “The Brady Bunch” came along 12 years later, appealed to tons of kids, and played in reruns forever (and probably is on some channel somewhere, even today). Those kids are now grown up and remember Davis as the likeable stalwart maid Alice.

Davis’ death at the age of 88 was reported today.

She once told Associated Press reporter Bob Thomas (in a column published May 6, 1958) she appeared in tent shows in Erie, Pa. for $20 a week—then got a raise to $25 because she helped set up the tent. In 1949, she headed to California to the Porterville Barn Theatre, then accepted stage roles in Monterrey and San Francisco before heading to Hollywood. In 1954, she was working in the Christmas card line of a local department store. Then came Schultzy.

Here are a couple of columns done about the same time as the Thomas interview. The Niagara Falls Gazette of April 13, 1958 reported:

‘Schultzy’ Leads Double Life
Television may be here to stay, but Ann B. Davis is taking no chances.
Ann, the girl with the bun hairdo, is in her fourth year as Charmaine Schultz, the irrepressible secretary on the highly successful “Bob Cummings Show” on (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.) Chan. 17.
You would think that would be assurance enough, but Ann is sticking to the night club job that she had when discovered by Bob Cummings and George Burns. Every night, after the work is done for the television show, Ann returns to a small place called The Cabaret Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. It is a little walk-down cellar place. You have to look carefully, or you'll miss it.
Night Life
There Ann, with three or four other performers, does songs, satires and funny sketches, most of which she writes herself. It is a pleasant little place. It has what the newspaper boys call “Atmosphere.” And always, it is crowded. Ann will do a bit entitled “A Streetcar Maimed Ammonia” that would make Tennessee Williams quit writing if he ever sees it. And another thing is called “Typhoid Mary.” All of which gives you an idea.
One night in 1954, two friends told Ann that Bob Cummings was looking for an actress for a new television show. They arranged an audition. She read for Bob and Mary Cummings; George Burns, who is part owner of the show; Paul Henning, writer-producer, and Frederick de Cordoba [sic]. She had never met any of them.
“I've never met with more patience and consideration since I walked through that door,” she recalls.
However, Ann flubbed a line and she was sure that error wrote finish to her efforts. She could not have been more mistaken, because immediately, auditions were called off and Ann B. Davis was signed to her first television, series, bun and all.
Movie Work
Other television roles followed, and some movies.
“My first movie was ‘Strategic Air Command,’ but my bit was cut out.” However, the tight schedule for “The Bob Cummings Show” does not give her time for much else.
“I continue my work at The Cabaret Theatre. Well, in the first place. I like it.” She says. “It gives me a great opportunity for keeping in practice and for developing new routines. I can try anything there.”
Ann Davis was born in Schenectady, and then the family moved to Erie, Pa. Her mother was interested in amateur theatricals. Ann and her twin sister Harriett made their joint debut at the age of four. They recited before clubs, etc. By the time they reached ten, they were doing their own puppet show and making the puppets themselves. Harriett still has some of them.
Ann attended the University of Michigan, and had some vague ideas about studying medicine, but the taste of theater was too strong.
Ann Davis now lives in Hollywood with a poodle and two parakeets, “as near the studio as can.”
The role of Schultzy definitely has affected Ann's life. People recognize her everywhere, on the streets, in restaurants and at theaters. They yell, “Hi, Schultzy. When are you going to marry Bob?”

And this story is from June 21, 1958.

The Three Faces of ‘Schultzy’
There’s Ann, Her Twin And ‘Typhoid Mary’

NEA Hollywood Writer
Hollywood—You've seen or heard about “The Three Faces of Eve,” of course. But do you know about the three faces of Ann?—Ann B. Davis? Or “Schultzy” to you.
The Emmy winning comedienne of The Bob Cummings TV show. The sharp-witted, rubber-faced doll who wears her hair in a bun atop her head and a sign, “I Want A Man,” in her eyes.
There is Ann's TV face of Schultzy. That you know. But even while she is working on a sound stage in Hollywood, there is the face of Ann 3,000 miles away in Lexington, Mass.
The face is the same — of her identical twin sister Harriet Norton. When Harriet twists her hair into a bun atop her head she can fool J. Edgar Hoover into believing she's Ann. Or Schultzy.
Harriet, in fact, almost joined Ann in the cast for one Cummings show during a visit to Hollywood. They dressed her like Schultzy for a double vision plot. They made a film test but Harriet, a mother and a housewife, couldn't handle the lines and the idea was shelved.
• • •
THE THIRD FACE of Ann is one only a few people have seen.
She used it as an unknown comedienne in a little downstairs beer and wine only bistro at the wrong end of Sunset Blvd. here. Ann was known as “Typhoid Mary” in those struggling-for-recognition days.
She had a bun on her head then, too, but it was pierced by a big chicken bone set at a rakish angle. She were a sarong, high-laced shoes, horn-rimmed glasses and a lei around her neck. She came out on the little stage by stages— first sticking a bare leg out from behind a curtain. The other leg and the arms and the rest of her followed while the customers pounded heavy beer mugs on the red-topped tables.
Then Ann sang about having a romance with an Englishman in a song she says “made no sense at all.” Her salary didn't make sense, either. A couple of dollars or so a night. But Typhoid Mary helped the career of Ann B. Davis far more than all of her six years of little theater, stock companies and touring musicals in the bush leagues.
People in Hollywood who knew people who knew other people passed the word about Ann's flair for comedy. One of these people was an agent and after a couple of passes at the movie studios—all turned her down—Ann auditioned for the role of Schultzy.
• • •
THERE WAS NO question about it. She WAS Schultzy.
Every now and then on the show Ann comes up with some fourth face to keep the laughs coming. Like when she slipped her head into a blonde wig and her hips into a high gear wiggle for a Marilyn Monroeish character called “Flaming Charmaine.”
Charmaine was quite a challenge. But it's why, after three years as Schultzy, Ann isn't a bit weary or frustrated, like some TV series show regulars, about the limitations and the monotony of it all.
“Our writer, Paul Henning, is a genius,” Ann says. “He keeps throwing challenges at me.”
• • •
The Ann B. (for Bradford) Davis who ditched plans to study medicine at the University of Michigan, switching to drama (class of '48), is a native of Schenectady, N.Y., and a member of the “I Live Alone and Like It” Club. She has a Hollywood bungalow, where she chatters to a French poodle and a parakeet and where she cooks, reads science fiction hair risers and keeps a weight chart—“I have to count calories”—which is down 30 pound points since 1953.
But quite unlike Schultzy, there are nights when Ann hits the night club beat on the arm of some male pal and takes tourists by surprise with a mean rhumba.
She's a doll with romantic frustrations on TV, but she's had her chances as Ann, she will tell you.
“I could have married for love, once and once for money,” she told me. “But I would have had to give up acting—and that I can't do.”

Davis never did marry but she did give up acting. She was heavily into religious studies for several years before her death and quite content.

Ann B. Davis had a life of happiness and gave happiness to others in return.


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  2. Wow...Brady Bunch deaths are pretty scarce (Robert Reed died back in 1992)...RIP Alice..."Those kids (the first ones) are now grown"(including 80s-90s gerntions) and the later ones in later years after 1999 are teenagers or younger watching on Disney or Nick at Nite.....I presume she didn't make it big in the radio....related to another interest here, animation, even uncredited theatricals woulda been a good vehicle, but then there's the case of Joe Barbera in 1971 casting (for "Hair Bear") Joe Flynn and it turned out with him,that HE couldn't pla the irritable zookeeper Peevely on "Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch",so John Stephenson was hired to do te more "animated" Joe Flynn.

    On that same note, withh Ann B.Davis, if Joe Barbera or anyone based a character on her voice on persona it was beter to hire a mimic as there's no cartoons (at least outsaide "Simpsons" :)) with her doing a voice (again if "Love that Bob" or "Brady" had been 1930s-1940s radio shows I'd think Ann B.Davi would b a shoo in, even appearing on Jack Benny or Bing Crosby but as we know as it turned out in real life, that's not the case at all..). (There's not even a mention o any character being "a spoof of Schultzy" or later "Alice"...) RIP..I'll post this to my face book (The Partridges only lost Rueben Kincaid..) so thankfully most of both unusual 1970s ABC light comedy TV families' casts are still alive..The Bradys were lucky after Robert Reed not to lose another till today..:) Steve

  3. Ann's original role was kind of an early model for the Jane Hathaway character that Paul Henning later created for Nancy Kulp on "The Beverly Hillbillies" in term of being the boss' sane assistant ,,, except that Davis wasn't enough of a contrast to Joi Lansing and the other hot female models on the show, so Hennnig went out and got Nancy Kulp to play the role of the woman men ran from. Combined with Cummings' desire to insert some of his real-life interests into the show, and it made things aside from Bob's sex drive a little too unfocused to make the show really memorable, though the basic personality of Schultzy was transferred over to Alice pretty much intact a decade later.

  4. I never thought of the parallels, J.L., but I'd agree, though I admit I never sat through an entire episode (when it was syndicated as "Love that Bob"). It doesn't have a lot that would have appealed to a six-year-old, not like talking horses (and cars), genies, housewife witches and castaways. (The same local channel broadcast reruns of "Topper," which was equally unappealing and suffered from laughtrack-itis).
    I don't know if Henning cast his shows but the casting was perfect (except maybe for the revolving daughter door at "Petticoat Junction").