Emmy-winning actress and University of Michigan graduate Ann B. Davis, who became America’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 Episcopal bishop and a longtime friend of Davis, said she suffered a fall Saturday at her San Antonio home. 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.
Frey said Davis became part of his and his wife’s “household community” after she re-embraced her Christian faith and left Hollywood behind.
“The public image of her that people have is an accurate image of a strong, wonderful, lively human being,” he said. “The only part that’s inaccurate about that is she had trouble relating to small children, and she doesn’t cook.”
Asked if the friend he called “Ann B” ever missed her life as an actor, he replied: “Not once.”
Maureen McCormick, who played teenager Marcia Brady, said in a statement that Davis “made me a better person. How blessed I am to have had her in my life. She will be forever missed.”
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.
Eve Plumb, who played Jan Brady on the series, called Davis “an amazing lady.”
“She was great to work with, and I have wonderful memories of our scenes together on ‘The Brady Bunch,’” Plumb said in a statement. “She was kind and generous to all of us on set.”
“The Brady Bunch” had a successful run until 1974, but it didn’t fade away 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.
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.”
By Lynn Elber