Wednesday, 8 August 2018

She's a Happy Joyce

“Mr. Disney liked me because I reminded him of one of his animations.”
“Cinderella?” she was asked.
“No. Dopey,” she replied.
That rim-shotting line came from actress Joyce Bulifant, who appeared in “The Happiest Millionaire” (1967) for Uncle Walt. She also showed up seemingly everywhere on television where a laugh-track could be heard (or before live studio audiences), or a tumbleweed tumbled (such as “Bonanza”), and in some of the most obscure places.
Good reviews greeted the 23-year-old Bulifant in an off-Broadway production of “There is a Play Tonight” in 1961 (syndicated critic Alice Hughes declared her “a good actress, with charm and stage presence”). She soon found work on the West Coast in all kinds of TV roles, including a spot on the “Tom, Dick and Mary” portion of the rotating sitcom “90 Bristol Court” (1964, photo to right) and a season as a dancer on “Arthur Murray’s Dance Party.”
Due to its huge popularity, she’s perhaps most associated with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where she showed up occasionally as Murray Slaughter’s (Gavin McLeod) wife. Alas, attempts at other junctures in the ‘70s for her to break out in a starring role somewhat eluded her. One was in a short-lived series called “Love Thy Neighbor” in 1973. It was during that period where TV executives, uniting almost as one, decided if they imported some Britcom with a left/right, rich/poor or black/white dynamic, they’d be greeted with instant success. Let this King Features syndicated column from June 20, 1973 try to bring back some memories.

TV Key, Inc
HOLLYWOOD (KFS) – "Love Thy Neighbor," a modified version of the English TV series about blacks moving into a white neighborhood, arrived on ABC last Friday for a summer run, and the results are not encouraging. "All in the Family" it is not.
Even so, the black-white female comedy — scheduled for a six weeks' engagement — may have an extended run, earning a chance to find its groove, since the prolonged writers' strike has forced networks to drop plans for the customary grand fall opening in mid-September.
For those who missed the first episode, "Love Thy Neighbor'' looks in upon a middle-class San Fernando Valley, Calif., development called the Sherwood Forest Estates. Charlie and Peggy Wilson, played by Ron Masak and Joyce Bulifant, live on Friar Tuck Lane. Blue collar man Wilson, a shop steward, blows a fuse at the plant over the hiring of an efficiency expert, then has a second fit at home when hit with the news that a black couple has bought the house next door. The new neighbors, Ferguson and Jackie Bruce, turn out to be the efficiency man and his wife, portrayed by Harrison Page and Janet MacLachlan.
Wives Peggy and Jackie become immediate friends while the men are more wary, unable to drop their suspicions and prejudices over a handshake With wives forming allies, the promise slides into male-versus female combat for comedy playoff, and judging from the first two episodes, actresses Joyce Bulifant and Janet MacLachlan clearly have the best of it.
Bulifant had another obscure starring role, on—of all places—Saturday mornings. Here’s King Features again in a story published July 25, 1976. This series didn’t take off, either.
Joyce Bulifant, a Happy Little Dizzy Blonde, Can Make Silliness Palatable

TV Key, Inc.
HOLLYWOOD – (KFS) – Joyce Bulifant has a rare quality that's much in demand these days on the tube; she can make silliness palatable.
The happy little dizzy blonde with the turned-up nose, the elfish grin and the high-pitched squeaky voice brightens game shows like the new "Cross-Witts," and "The Match Game" in the daytime.
At night there's Joyce, when she has time after telethon and guest spots, bolstering her series husband, writer Murray Slaughter, on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
This fall the busy Bulifant invades a new territory of the ridiculous — Saturday morning, where she joins Herb Edelman and child actor Robbie Rist in NBC's "Big John, Little John." It's a crazy show by Sherwood ("Gilligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch") Schwartz and His son, Lloyd, about a housewife (Joyce) whose 45-year-old husband drinks from the fountain of youth and regresses back to the age of 12.
In the Schwartz rendition, fans will see both the 45-year-old husband in the form of actor Edelman, and the head of the household when he has slipped back to 12. Whether hubby is 45 or 12, Joyce's housewife remains steadfast, going along in her happy, giggling fashion.
As Bulifant fans can attest, the Schwartzes hit the bullseye when they thought of Joyce. On game shows, the actress plays the dizzy blonde, shooting verbally from the hip. She may be miles off target, but that hardly matters because she makes everyone feel better with her happy disposition.
"I speak before I think," Joyce admits. "That's a terrible thing to say, but it usually pays off in the game show business. I've never lost a job because of the habit."
Just because Joyce says the first thing that comes to mind doesn't mean she's a lame brain. "It's not a dumb mind, only a silly one," is her explanation. Silliness has its limits with the actress. She goes through periods of depression wondering what she is doing playing dumb games for daytime consumption. But then she bumps into an elderly couple at the supermarket and hears "You make our day." Little kids run up to her on the street and fuss over her. "That's really nice," she says.
Thanks to her happy-go-lucky silly image, the actress earns a good living, enough for three children. A working mother, the 13-year charter member of International Orphans, Joyce is known for her inability to say no to anything involving kids. When the first Vietnam refugees arrived in California's Camp Pendleton, there was Joyce ready to lend a comforting hand. This had nothing to do with show business.
As for her happy disposition — it's real, not put on. Evidently, the actress was born that way, and a lucky thing too. Before Joyce reached the seventh grade, she had attended 21 schools.
The Bulifants kept on the move after Joyce was born in Virginia, and the youngster learned to adapt quickly to new environments, shifting from the Southern states on up to New York before she went off to boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she met her first husband, "Hawaii Five-O's" James MacArthur, son of playwright Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes.
Sailing through her childhood without visible scars, the outgoing actress appears to feel at home anywhere. True, she will get up and perform at the drop of a hat, but nobody ever minds. She brightens an evening.
"I enjoy people." she says. "And I don't take myself seriously. I'm having a great time.”
The scars may have been invisible but they were there. Joyce’s parents divorced when she was very young and she ended up in an orphanage. She married alcoholic husbands—four of them. You can find out more about her book on her web site. And this afternoon at 4 p.m. Pacific time, she’ll talk about her life with Stu Shostak on his webcast. If you’ve heard Stu’s previous interviews, you’ll know he likes and respects the people he has on his show, and has the background knowledge to ask the right questions. It should be a worthwhile few hours of listening.

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