Ann B. Davis Was the Zesty Antidote to the Bradys
Here’s the story of the housekeeper who didn’t even get a single lousy line in an iconic theme song, yet managed to be one of the most memorable characters on television.
Alice Nelson, played by the late Ann B. Davis, just manages to sneak into the iconic opening credit of The Brady Brunch as an afterthought. Sure, she gets the center square, but it’s for a fleeting moment during which she’s flanked by a glamorous blonde with her three adorable blonde mini me’s on one side, and a handsome man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit type with three classic looking boys on the other. It would have been easy to forget all about Alice.
Yet when Davis’s death at 88 was announced on Sunday, it was clear just which (honorary) Brady was everyone’s favorite. “Ann B. Davis” and “The Brady Bunch” trended just below #GameOfThrones (it was a Sunday). That’s pretty remarkable, especially considering that The Brady Bunch went off the air in 1974 before the average Twitter user was even born.
It’s a testament not only to The Brady Bunch’s surprisingly robust popularity, but how beloved Davis was as Alice. In the uber-perfect, uber-perky Brady household, Alice was the one who rarely had things go her way. Often this was for comedic purposes, and it is a credit to Davis’s acting chops that she carried out the role so well. Davis shined as a great comedic foil. She ran the gamut with physical humor and dished out droll, self-deprecating one-liners. Alice stood out against the obnoxiously ideal Brady existence, and Davis made her so lovable for it.
Davis built her acting career around adding zest to sidekicks that would have been depressing drab and pathetic in another actress’ hands. Anita Gates of the New York Times wrote that Alice was one of “a series of plain-Jane characters Ms. Davis played, women who yearned for but never really expected to find romance.” Davis earned two Emmy Awards in the 1950s for playing a lovelorn secretary to a successful playboy on The Bob Cummings Show. Picture a slightly younger Alice with a pinch more physical humor in an office. Davis nailed it.
It would have been easy to pity—and forget—the women that Davis played: ordinary, working class, and unromantic. But instead of letting these women fade into the walls against the Carol and Marcia Bradys, Davis used her delivery and comic timing to make her Alice-types the most endearing-and the most fun. There was something empowering in the self-deprecation and spunk Davis brought to their lives.
And let’s be real. Which Brady would you actually want to spend an afternoon with? Marcia was boringly hot, Jan was predictably whiny, Cindy was annoyingly cutesy, and the boys were all pretty blah and not too swift. Alice is the one you would want to hang out with, even if it meant making meatloaf and listening to Greg rehearse as Johnny Bravo. No wonder that of all the Bradys, it is the quintessential old maid who we miss the most.