Alice Ghostley (1923 - 2007)

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Overview (3)
Born August 14, 1923 in Eve, Missouri, USA
Died September 21, 2007 in Studio City, Los Angeles, California, USA (colon cancer and series of strokes)
Birth Name Alice Margaret Ghostley
Mini Bio (1)
Whether portraying a glum, withering wallflower, a drab and dowdy housewife, a klutzy maid or a cynical gossip, eccentric character comedienne Alice Ghostley had the ability to draw laughs from the skimpiest of material with a simple fret or whine. Making a name for herself on the Tony-winning Broadway stage, her eternally forlorn looks later evolved as an amusingly familiar plain-Jane presence on TV sitcoms and in an occasional film or two during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Alice was born in a whistle-stop railroad station in the tiny town of Eve, Missouri, where her father was employed as a telegraph operator. She grew up in various towns in the Midwest (Arkansas, Oklahoma) and began performing from the age of 5 where she was called upon to recite poetry, sing and tap-dance. Spurred on by a high school teacher, she studied drama at the University of Oklahoma but eventually left in order to pursue a career in New York with her sister Gladys.

Teaming together in an act called "The Ghostley Sisters", Alice eventually went solo and developed her own cabaret show as a singer and comedienne. She also toiled as a secretary to a music teacher in exchange for singing lessons, worked as a theater usherette in order to see free stage shows, paid her dues as a waitress, worked once for a detective agency, and even had a stint as a patch tester for a detergent company. No glamourpuss by any stretch of the imagination, she built her reputation as a singing funny lady.

The short-statured, auburn-haired entertainer received her star-making break singing the satirical ditty "The Boston Beguine" in the Broadway stage revue "New Faces of 1952", which also showcased up-and-coming stars Eartha Kitt, Carol Lawrence, Hogan's Heroes co-star Robert Clary and Paul Lynde to whom she would be invariably compared to what with their similarly comic demeanors. The film version of New Faces (1954)_ featured pretty much the same cast. She and "male counterpart" Lynde would appear together in the same films and/or TV shows over the years.

With this momentum started, she continued on Broadway with the short-lived musicals "Sandhog" (1954) featuring Jack Cassidy, "Trouble in Tahiti" (1955), "Shangri-La" (1956), again starring Jack Cassidy, and the legit comedy "Maybe Tuesday" (1958). A reliable sketch artist, she fared much better on stage in the 1960s playing a number of different characterizations in both "A Thurber Carnival" (1960), and opposite Bert Lahr in "The Beauty Part" (1962), for which she received a Tony nomination. She finally nabbed the Tony trophy as "featured actress" for her wonderful work as Mavis in the comedy play "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" (1965).

By this time Alice had established herself on TV. She and good friend Kaye Ballard stole much of the proceedings as the evil stepsisters in the classic Julie Andrews version of Cinderella (1957), and she also recreated her Broadway role in a small screen adaptation of _Shangri-La (1960) (TV)_. Although it was mighty hard to take away her comedy instincts, she did appear in a TV production of "Twelfth Night" as Maria opposite Maurice Evans' Malvolio, and graced such dramatic programs as "Perry Mason" and "Naked City", as well as the film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). She kept herself in the TV limelight as a frequent panelist on such game shows as "The Hollywood Squares" and "The Match Game".

Enjoying a number of featured roles in such lightweight comedy fare as My Six Loves (1963) with Debbie Reynolds, With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) starring Doris Day, and the Joan Rivers starrer Rabbit Test (1978), she also had a small teacher role in the popular film version of Grease (1978). Alice primarily situated herself, however, on the sitcom circuit and appeared in a number of recurring 'nervous Nellie" roles, topping it off as the painfully shy, dematerializing and accident-prone witch nanny Esmeralda in Bewitched (1964) from 1969-1972 (replacing the late Marion Lorne, who had played bumbling Aunt Clara), and as the batty friend Bernice in Designing Women (1986).

In 1978 Alice replaced Dorothy Loudon as cruel Miss Hannigan in "Annie", her last Broadway stand. Alice would play the mean-spirited scene-stealer on and off for nearly a decade in various parts of the country. Other musicals during this time included "Take Me Along", "Bye, Bye Birdie" (as the overbearing mother), and the raucous revue "Nunsense".

A series of multiple strokes ended her career come the millennium and she passed away of colon cancer on September 21, 2007. Her long-time husband of fifty years, Italian comedic actor Felice Orlandi died in 2003. The couple had no children.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / [contact link]

Spouse (1)
Felice Orlandi (October 1951 - 21 May 2003) ( his death)
Trivia (9)
Accepted the Best Actress Oscar in 1969 on Maggie Smith's behalf for Ms. Smith's performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). Ms. Smith was in London on Academy Awards night, and Ms. Ghostley filled in since the two actresses had previously starred together on Broadway in "New Faces of 1956."
She earned a Tony nomination as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her various characterizations in "The Beauty Part" in 1963, and won the award in 1965 for Lorraine Hansberry's "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window."
Ghostley, who became a regular as the insecure Aunt Esmerelda, actually made her first appearance on "Bewitched" as a bumbling mortal maid. The producers were so impressed with her that they created Esmerelda for her, the Stephen's babysitter who disappeared either fully or partially when she felt inadequate or upset.
Was partially inspired to become an entertainer by a cousin who was a tightrope walker for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
According to her friend Kaye Ballard, she was actually born in 1924 and made herself two years younger.
In one scene of The Graduate (1967), she had a cameo appearance with Marion Lorne. Two years later, her character Esmeralda on Bewitched (1964) should fill the void after Lorne, playing Aunt Clara, had suddenly died in 1968.
Her father was a telegraph operator.
Her death on September 21, 2007 left Bernard Fox as the last surviving adult cast member of Bewitched (1964). Fox played Dr. Bombay in eighteen episodes of the series between 1966 and 1972.
Was a staunch Democrat.
Personal Quotes (3)
(In an interview with the Boston Globe in 1990) I knew I didn't look like an ingénue. My nose was too long. I had crooked teeth. I wasn't blond. I knew I looked like a character actress.
When I first started out, I had this natural ability to sing. That was another reason why I chose New York, with all the musicals that were happening at the time. But I looked so different from everyone else. I was never what you would call an ingénue. I was having difficulty finding jobs. Get your eyes straightened, they would tell me, and maybe we can work with you.
The best job I had then [in New York] was as a theater usher. I saw all the plays for free. What I saw before me was a visualization of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be.

Alice Ghostley Biography & Family History

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Last Known Residence

Studio City, Los Angeles County, California

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Family

Siblings: Gladys R. Ghostley

Husband: Felice Orlandi

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Gender

Female

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Timeline

1923 - In the year that Alice Ghostley was born, the A.C. Nielsen Company was founded in Chicago. It provided an audience measurement system that could provide radio station owners with information on their listeners and the popularity of their shows. Later, the Nielsen company became the basis for the fate of television programs.

1937 - Alice was just 14 years old when on May 6th, the German zeppelin the Hindenburg caught fire and blew up. The Hindenburg was a passenger ship traveling to Frankfurt Germany. It tried to dock in New Jersey, one of the stops, and something went wrong - it blew up. Thirty-six people were killed out of the 97 on board - 13 passengers, 22 crewmen, and one ground worker. The reasons for the explosion are still disputed.

1960 - She was 37 years old when on September 26th, the first televised debate for a Presidential campaign in the United States - Kennedy vs Nixon - was held. Seventy million people watched the debate on TV. The debate pre-empted the very popular Andy Griffith Show.

1980 - When she was 57 years old, on April 24th, a rescue attempt was begun in the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The attempt failed and 8 US servicemen were killed. Eight helicopters had been sent for the mission, but only 5 arrived in operating condition., Since the military had advised that the mission be aborted if there were fewer than 6 helicopters, President Carter stopped it. Upon leaving, a helicopter collided with a transport plane and the men were killed.

1993 - Alice was 70 years old when on January 20th, William J. Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States. He beat incumbent George H.W. Bush who was seeking his second term. Clinton won 43.01% of the popular vote to Bush's 37.45%. An independent candidate, Ross Perot, won 18.91% - the most votes for an independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt's run for President in 1912.

Alice Ghostley Family Tree

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Alice Ghostley
Siblings: Gladys R. Ghostley
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Had a relationship with Felice Orlandi

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Obituary

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Alice Ghostley, a Tony Award-winning actress who became known to television viewers for her roles as dizzy sidekicks on “Bewitched” and “Designing Women,” died yesterday at her home in Studio City, Calif. Her age was usually given as 81.
The cause was cancer, said a longtime friend, the actress Kaye Ballard, who said that she was actually about two years older.
Ms. Ghostley made more than 90 television appearances in a career that spanned six decades. She was a regular on the situation comedy “Bewitched” from 1966 through 1972, playing Esmeralda, a shy, bumbling witch whose spells never worked, who caused unintentional havoc whenever she sneezed and who turned invisible when she became nervous.
From 1986 through 1993, she played a more-than-usually wacky neighbor, Bernice Clifton, on the hit show “Designing Women.” In one episode, plastic surgery gone awry gives her a pig’s nose, which she wears with aplomb, then with mounting embarrassment until it is repaired. She also appeared in “Evening Shade,” “Love, American Style” and “Mayberry R.F.D.”.
While essentially a comic actress, she won a Tony for best supporting actress in 1965 for her performance in a drama, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” by Lorraine Hansberry, author of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Ms. Ghostley played the conventional sister of the show’s star, Rita Moreno.
Ms. Ghostley also received a Tony nomination in 1963 for her performance in “The Beauty Part,” a fantasy by S. J. Perelman.
Alice Margaret Ghostley was born in Eve, Mo. She first attracted notice in “New Faces of 1952,” one in a series of Broadway revues staged by the producer Leonard Sillman; that edition helped start the careers of Paul Lynde, Eartha Kitt and Carol Lawrence. Ms. Ghostley’s big moment was her rendering of the song “The Boston Beguine,” a send up of proper Bostonians.
She is survived by her sister, Gladys. Her husband, the actor Felice Orlandi, died in 2003.
Ms. Ghostley appeared in 30 films, including “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Graduate.” While she never won an Oscar, she did accept one, standing in for her friend and fellow “New Faces” alumna Maggie Smith in 1970, who was named best actress for her starring role in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”

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