Ann B. Davis dies at 88; actress best known for ‘Brady Bunch’ role

Ann B. Davis (1926-2014) -- The Emmy-winning actress played the housekeeper Alice on the "The Brady Bunch."
(ABC Photo Archives / ABC via Getty Images)

Ann B. Davis, the Emmy-winning actress best remembered as the nutty housekeeper on television’s “The Brady Bunch,” has died. She was 88.

Davis died Sunday in San Antonio, said her agent, Robert Malcolm. She had fallen Saturday at her home there and did not regain consciousness.

For the last several years Davis had lived in San Antonio with the family of retired Episcopal bishop William Frey, a close friend.


“She was a wonderful, smart, funny woman,” Frey told The Times on Sunday. “She was Alice.”

Davis was a two-time Emmy winner playing the wisecracking assistant on “The Bob Cummings Show” in the 1950s, but it was her “Brady Bunch” character that brought her the greatest fame. As housekeeper Alice Nelson, she provided a dizzy comic presence amid the busy Brady household, solving disputes and offering advice through 117 half-hour episodes.

The family sitcom lasted from 1969 to 1974 on ABC and, despite the withering views of critics, went on to become one of the most successful programs in syndication, spawning reunions of the cast in several television movies and spin-off series during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“Every once in a while I’ll come across an episode, just flipping around the dial,” Davis told an interviewer in the ‘90s, “and I’ll sit down and watch it ‘cause I don’t remember how it came out. And that makes it kind of fun. Some I recognize right away, some I literally don’t remember having shot. It’s amazing to me that it’s lasted 20 years.”

Since 1976, Davis lived with an Episcopal community, first in Denver, then in western Pennsylvania, finally settling in the Texas hill country near San Antonio. She worked in a homeless shelter in Denver and devoted herself to prayer and Bible study but took occasional acting roles through the years.

“I never heard a large voice from above saying, ‘Get out of show business, Ann,’” she told Newsday in 1995. “I just found that my priorities had changed and I knew that I needed some space.”

Ann Bradford Davis was born May 5, 1926, in Schenectady, N.Y., and grew up in Erie, Pa., where she and her twin sister Harriet were encouraged to perform in puppet shows and play acting. She switched her major from pre-med to drama while studying at the University of Michigan, and she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1948. After college, Davis performed in various nightclubs and stage productions before eventually settling in Los Angeles.


In 1955, she landed the role of Charmaine “Shultzy” Schultz on “The Bob Cummings Show,” playing the devoted assistant to Cummings’ playboy photographer until the series ended in 1959. It was later retitled “Love That Bob” in syndication.

“It depends on how old you are whether you remember ‘The Cummings Show,’” Davis told the San Antonio News Express in 1998. “For most people, I’m just Alice. But I don’t mind. Now, if I were Alice the ax murderer, then I’d hate it.”

During TV hiatuses, she headlined regional theater productions of “Auntie Mame,” “Blithe Spirit,” “Funny Girl,” “Once Upon a Mattress” and many others. With the USO, she toured Southeast Asia. In the mid-1990s she appeared on Broadway in the Gershwin-themed musical comedy “Crazy for You” after touring extensively with the road show.

On the big screen, Davis appeared with Rock Hudson and Doris Day in the 1961 romantic comedy “Lover Come Back.” Her other movies included “A Man Called Peter,” “Pepe” and “All Hands on Deck.” She made cameo appearances as Alice in “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult” in 1994 and as a truck driver in 1995’s “The Brady Bunch Movie.”

Davis’ other television credits included: “The Keefe Brasselle Show,” “The John Forsythe Show” and guest appearances on such series as “Wagon Train,” “The Dating Game,” “Love, American Style,” “The Love Boat,” “Day by Day” and “Hi, Honey, I’m Home.”

In 1994 Davis co-wrote “Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook,” a collection of Brady-themed recipes and anecdotes, despite her confession that she was clueless in the kitchen.


“Part of the fun of promoting that book was that I would admit it from the beginning: I don’t know how to cook,” she told the San Antonio News Express years later. “The fact that Alice didn’t know how to cook is a funny bit.

“When I did ‘Regis and Kathie Lee,’ Regis picked up on it very fast when he realized I didn’t even know how to handle the utensils. He moved in and led me every step of the way.”

Davis is the second “Brady Bunch” cast member to die. Robert Reed, who played father Mike Brady, died in 1992 at 59.

Times staff writers Steve Chawkins and Ryan Parker contributed to this report.