Saturday, August 14, 2010

In Memoriam: Alice Ghostley

One of the most distinct faces (not to mention voices) in the history of television belonged to Alice Ghostley, a veteran character actress whose career spanned the first fifty years of the medium; from her early appearances on shows like Bewitched and Mayberry R.F.D. to the defining role of her career - that of Bernice Clifton on Designing Women - Ghostley was less an actor than a brand, and if one had a role which called for a slightly befuddled older lady with a tart tongue she was your go-to gal...

PhotobucketNaturally enough, Ghostley's talent was too large to remain confined to such a small screen; she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1965 for her role as Mavis Parodus Bryson in Lorraine Hansberry's The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, and in 1978 replaced Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan in the original Broadway run of Annie. Among her many movie roles was a memorable turn in Mike Nichols' 1967 film The Graduate, in which she appeared with Marion Lorne, the actress she was hired to replace in Bewitched following Lorne's death in May 1968. She was also in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - playing Stephanie Crawford, the fussy aunt of Dill Harris - and had a small but funny part as Mrs. Murdock (the shop teacher) in Grease. Ghostley even got the chance to accept an Academy Award - albeit on behalf of her friend Maggie Smith, who was awarded Oscar gold in 1970 for her performance of the title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Ghostley's reward for years of yeoman service on sitcoms - including Good Times, Maude, One Day at a Time, The Odd Couple, What's Happening!!, The Golden Girls, and Evening Shade among many others - was the coveted feature role on Designing Women, an opportunity rife with potential for hit-and-run wisecracking previously filled by Meshach Taylor's Anthony Bouvier . She took to it with her usual elan, earning herself an Emmy nomination in 1992.

Alice Ghostley - born on this day in 1923 - finally fulfilled the promise of her surname in September 2007, four years after the death of her husband of fifty years, Felice Orlandi.

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Y | O | Y said...

When I was little, I thought she was married to Paul Lynde because they reminded me of each other!

michael sean morris said...

They were quite similar in affect, weren't they? They had a similar idiolect in that they both spoke in a kind of halting way; it never occurred to me until I read it today during my research.