I woke up this morning to several emails, one of which said, “My heart skipped a beat when MSNBC put your picture up. Are you alive?” According to MSNBC and Chris Jansing, I might be dead: When she reported the sad death of Ann B. Davis, who so famously played the loyal maid Alice on The Brady Bunch, they put up my picture — me in the center square from when I played Alice in 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie and its 1996 sequel, sporting Davis’ iconic updo and blue smock. Good God, Chris, I thought upon learning this. Have you no respect for Brady fans all over the world? You should have such a following. Get a grip, sister! We have lost a legend!
It was the summer of 1994 when I met Alice: Paramount Studios, Hollywood, a big day on the Brady Movie set. Somehow director Betty Thomas, our fearless leader, had gotten Ann B. Davis to appear in the film. My scene wasn’t with her, but I was psyched to meet the iconic maid who I had the honor of portraying. I had watched every scene she was in over and over to prepare for the role. I tried to emulate her extremely positive and spiritual attitude on the inside. Then I learned to imitate her walk and delivery – along with putting my hands in my apron pockets, making a big smile, going up on my heels and saying, “Pork chops and apple sauce.” I felt like I knew her, but most of all I thought I knew how she felt about things. And it was fun.
Jennifer Elise Cox, who played my Jan Brady (and was in the scene with Ann B.), had left me a note: “Make sure you find me, I can’t wait till we meet her, so awesome.” I was a tad nervous. Geez, I was a late-to-the-party Brady fan, but thanks to my slightly obsessive preparations, I knew every line she had ever spoken in the series.
I walked on the set in my blue uniform, white apron, proper dorky curls for bangs, hair up in a bun, my clean maid shoes tied and pretty and there she was. Alice herself. The real thing. The person who the die-hard Brady fans were ready to judge me against for the rest of my life.
She just looked at me and said, “Ok, this is eerie, really really eerie.” We both laughed and thankfully she said, “Let’s go over to that craft service table and talk for real.”
So we did, for a half-hour I will never forget. She said how lucky she felt that she could wear a uniform every day and all the others had to go through elaborate costuming. Boy did I agree. We discussed how neither one of us was a cook, neither one of us had kids, neither had a butcher boyfriend named Sam and let’s face it, who has housekeepers that look like us?
But then she told me of how over the years thousands of people had told her what she meant to them. She said it always touched her heart to know that she might have brought up kids all over the country in her own way. She beamed at the thought of kids learning from her. I prayed I could do the character of Alice justice and with it, keep the deep sense of humor we had in common.
Before it was time for my scene and she was on her way, I had to ask her one question that I felt was an underlying premise in the series and yet was never addressed directly. “So, Jan was your favorite, right?” She just laughed with that twinkle in her eye, went up on her heels and said, “I’ll never tell.” But I knew, because after all, we were both Alice.
photo of Ann B Davis (TV's Alice) and Henriette Mantel (film's Alice) courtesy of Henriette Mantel