Ann B. Davis in 2000. Photo by Bev Sykes via Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1gZsYeQ)

Ann B. Davis in 2000. Photo by Bev Sykes via Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1gZsYeQ) Photo by Bev Sykes via Wikimedia Commons


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Ann B. Davis had a long and varied career before audiences ever knew her as Alice on The Brady Bunch. But it was as a housemaid to America’s favorite blended family that she became one of the most beloved television characters of her day, and for good reason. Davis played Alice with a deft mix of physical comedy, compassion, and practical problem-solving acumen. She was Dear Abby, Julia Child, and a Lucille Ball-esque character all in one.

Davis, who died on Sunday in San Antonio, was 88 years old and in excellent health before she took a fall at home. Her home, since 1976 (two years after The Brady Bunch ended), was with the Episcopal School for Ministry; at first in Denver, then in San Antonio. Trinity School for Ministry–the seminary at which Ann took classes with her mentor, Episcopal Bishop William Frey–is “an evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition;” a unique combination of two threads of Christianity that began in the mid-1970s when some Episcopal leaders sought to correct what they saw as too-liberal theology in their denomination.

Speaking with People in 1992, Davis talked about the religion that meant so much to her: “‘My mother would write letters when I was away at camp and say, “There’s an Ann-shaped space around the house. Nobody fills an Ann-shaped space except an Ann.” I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole,’ she said.” 

Davis lived with Frey and his wife for most of her post-Brady life, volunteering at a homeless shelter in Denver and leading Bible studies in San Antonio. She still took the occasional acting role, but mostly, her “priorities had changed.” In 1993, Davis told the Associated Press that she was born-agan. “It happens to Episcopalians,” she said, gently teasing about the denomination’s reputation as more intellectual than emotional. “Sometimes it doesn’t hit you till you’re 47 years old.”

It was the reminder that “you didn’t have to be related to relate,” as television critic James Poniewozik put it, that made Davis’s Alice the kind of person that every viewer wanted in their life, and in that way, she was very much a Christian character. No one, even the kids’ most annoying friends, was outside of Alice’s care. She never took herself too seriously, but did her job with humor and humility. She adopted a family when she started working for Mike Brady and his three sons, and they adopted her right back. Toward the end of the series, Alice announces her engagement to Sam the Butcher. In real life, Davis never wed, but made a full life of her career, her community, and her devotion to the Episcopal church and Christian faith.

There are plenty of ways to remember Ann Davis. I’m watching this video on repeat today. It’s my favorite episode of The Brady Bunch; one of a three-part series in which the family takes a trip to Hawaii (guest-starring Vincent Price!). In this clip, the Bradys are at a luau and must sound the conch (“the horn of brotherhood”) to celebrate. Everyone is cracking up as they go — especially Marcia — but Davis’s expression is so vintage Alice here. Rest in Peace, Ann.

 

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Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic. She is interested in the intersection of church and culture.

18 Comments

  1. Ann B. Davis will be missed.

    On a sillier note, 2 things that always bothered me about The Brady Bunch:

    1. Carol didn’t work, why did they need a live-in maid? What was she doing???

    2. Aside from a quick reference in the pilot, what happened to Mike and Carol’s previous spouses? [They were both widows]

    • @Larry,

      Sounds like you are on to something:

      1. Nobody on the show seems to feel anything at all for the dead relatives.
      2. The dead spouses are not ever brought up in any episodes.
      3. On a show where the trauma of a ‘boyfriend’s nasty looks’ seem to garner the fuel of an entire episode it is peculiar that there is nothing about the lost parents at any point.
      4. Divorce was a taboo subject in the 70s but it was okay to kill off spouses instead.

      You’ve opened up a can of worms.

      What did Carol do anyway?

      • The whole divorce taboo/kill off a spouse thing is the reason why Mary Tyler Moore Show was so noteworthy at the time. She was a not-young adult, single woman and not widowed through some contrivance.

        Killing off spouses never to be heard of after the pilot is a long sitcom tradition.

        I am thinking Mike and Carol bumped off their former spouses so they could marry each other. They only needed one income because they both got big life insurance payouts.

    • It was never said that Carol Brady was a widow. I seem to remember reading an article about Sherwood Schwartz talking about the Brady Bunch, saying he wanted Carol Brady to be a divorcee, but in those times the networks frowned on that. So he purposely left it vague as to what happened to Carol’s first hubby, Mr. Martin.

      • Confirmed, but evidently TV Guide assumed otherwise

        1969 “Fall Preview” issue of TV Guide:

        “This season’s widows-and-widowers epidemic reaches an inevitable climax in The Brady Bunch. Widow (Florence Henderson) marries widower (Robert Reed, late of The Defenders), and they live happily — if frenetically — ever after.”

        http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:P2RBzRAz-ggJ:davidbrady.com/eb/bbtop10.html+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a

        • Silly as it is to pursue this….

          The culture shift against male dominated society certainly did happen.
          Women’s liberation has been the continuing shake up.
          The manic republicans are correct that there is a culture war going on
          And women’s emancipation is winning it.

          Carol Brady would no longer have to fake being a widow.

          As long as women keep rejecting traditional roles and insist on birth control options male-run institutions will continue to die.

          Religion is a male-dominatrix paradigm. Religion is the last true men’s club.
          May it be snuffed in its rat hole!

  2. I fail to see any connection between the Alice character of the Brady Bunch
    and Christianity except as a competition for banalities.

    “you didn’t have to be related to relate…made Davis’s Alice the kind of person that every viewer wanted in their life, and in that way, she was very much a Christian character.”

    CHRISTIAN?! Really?

    That is weird because SHERWOOD SCHWARTZ, WHO INVENTED ALICE, WROTE HER DIALOGUE AND DIRECTED THE SHOW was JEWISH.

    The absurdity continues:

    “No one, even the kids’ most annoying friends, was outside of Alice’s care. She never took herself too seriously, but did her job with humor and humility.”

    Well what is particularly Christian about this? I want to know!
    I know many Atheists, Jews, Agnostics, Muslims – even Satanists! – who would be just as awesome, loving, humble and friendly.

    My complaint is that Christians attribute the positive traits of the Alice Character as positive “Christian characteristics” when they are simply witnessing humanistic, common decency.

    And I do not see Alice preaching Hell, recommending slavery or surrendering to an obedient god and burning a few heathens every once in a while.
    So she can’t be very ‘Christian’ at all, can she?

    You should correct this nonsense of a ‘Christian character’ which you have foisted onto Alice. That is a hollow, solipsistic, silly claim.

    • Sorry that sounded harsh but the Brady Bunch was deliberately banal
      to be unoffensive and banal for a wide audience.

      Decency and kindness are not ‘Christian characteristics.’
      They are humanitarian characteristics which directly oppose Christianity in any number of ways.

  3. George Vreeland Hill

    All of us who have watched the Brady Bunch, which is just about everyone, wished that Alice was our housekeeper too.
    Ann B. Davis is an American icon in her own right.
    We loved her work as an actress and fell in love with her smile.
    We will miss Ann, but she will always be in our hearts.

    George Vreeland Hill

  4. So ATHEIST MAX, if you are an atheist like you say, why on Gods Earth are you looking up christian articles?

    And those characteristics are first and foremost christian and they are also in many, many other religions, etc…..

  5. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyway, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  1. […] Ann B. Davis tribute to air tomorrow on INSP. Six Alice-centric Brady Bunch are set to air back-to-back beginning at 5:00 PM (ET). Davis, who died Sunday at the age of 88 following a fall in her home, played the favorite maid of a generation of TV viewers who grew up on reruns of the iconic family sitcom. She was also a woman of faith as noted in this Religion News Service obituary. […]

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