Remembering Ann B. Davis Of 'The Brady Bunch'

Emmy-winning actress Ann B. Davis, who became the country’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.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans talks to Here & Now about her life and her role on the show.


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We want to take a minute now to remember somebody that's been a fixture on the American TV screen for generations.


ANN B. DAVIS: (As Alice) Bobby, telephone.

HOBSON: Everybody awake now? That's Emmy award-winning actress Ann B. Davis who played the housekeeper, Alice, on "The Brady Bunch." She died yesterday in San Antonio after a fall. She was 88 years old. And joining us to look back at her work is Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic. Hi, Eric.


HOBSON: Well, we think of that square at the beginning at the opening of "The Brady Bunch" and all the faces in it. And Ann B. Davis was right in the center. What did she bring to the show?

DEGGANS: Well, she was a longtime character actress. She had a lot of charisma. She was an old hand at being funny on television. And also, she was the one who got all the great lines, you know. The other characters kind of had to play roles.

But her role was to come in and be the comedic relief. So she got slapstick, and she got all the great lines. And people kind of fell in love with her.

HOBSON: Well, let's listen here to her as Alice with "The Brady Bunch" characters, Bobby and Cindy, going door-to-door to get neighbors to sign a petition to save their park. I think I remember that episode. And Alice tries to soften one particularly gruff man. Here she is.


DAVIS: (As Alice) Hi, there. Is the lady of the house at home?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, there ain't no lady of the house.

DAVIS: (As Alice) You mean a big, strong, handsome man like you isn't married?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Maybe it's that I just ain't met Mrs. Right yet.

HOBSON: Eric, she was self-deprecating. She was kind of willing to do anything for the kids.

DEGGANS: Exactly. And, you know, everybody wanted - talked about wanting to have an Alice in their home. And you also had a situation where with "The Brady Bunch," a show that became a classic in syndicated reruns. This show was is in our home every day just by virtue of the reruns. And we got to know those characters in a way that you don't get to know characters in newer TV shows because they're not syndicated in the same way.


Well, you know, Eric - Robin here - it's kind of funny. We've been talking about this. I don't think I ever once saw this show. It was just not in my TV-watching time.

I loved Ann B. Davis. And - I don't know. She was not just on the TV. She was in the culture. I mean, I feel that I knew her character, but I never saw it.

DEGGANS: Yeah, and that's another thing that we talk about where when people - when shows really penetrate the zeitgeist, you can get a sense of them even though you're not necessarily watching them. We see it with "Mad Men," and of course we saw it with "The Brady Bunch" and "All In The Family" and "Gilligan's Island" and all these great shows.

HOBSON: And, Eric, if you could please send Robin all the DVDs of "The Brady Bunch."

YOUNG: Because I have nothing to do.

HOBSON: Robin, I think you have some work to do.

DEGGANS: I don't have DVDs. It's on reruns.

HOBSON: It's all on - right.

DEGGANS: Just turn on your TV.

HOBSON: Yeah, just turn on TV Land. Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic. Thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: And from NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.