Childhood & Early Life
Alice Ghostley was born on August 14, 1923 in Eve, Vernon County, Missouri, to Harry Francis Ghostley and Edna Muriel (née Rooney). Her father worked as a telegraph operator. She had a sister named Gladys.
Alice spent much of her growing up years in Arkansas, Oklahoma. She began performing when she was hardly five; she used to recite poems, sing songs and do tap-dancing.
Upon completing her preliminary education, Alice enrolled for a degree in drama at the University of Oklahoma. However, she dropped out of the same to pursue a career in theatre in New York, along with her sister Gladys.
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Alice Ghostley’s struggle period was nothing close to being glamorous. She started off by teaming along with her sister Gladys for an act called ‘The Ghostley Sisters’ but soon developed her own cabaret show as a singer and comedienne.
She took up odd jobs for survival, working as a secretary to a music teacher in exchange for singing lessons, as a theatre usherette in order to see free stage shows, as a waitress, in a detective agency, and even as a patch tester for a detergent company.
Her big break in acting came with the Leonard Sillman’s Broadway show, ‘New Faces of 1952’. It starred upcoming stars, such as Eartha Kitt, Carol Lawrence, Robert Clary and Paul Lynde. Two years later, she starred in the film version as well.
Alongside theatre, her television career also started during the early 1950s. She appeared as one of the ugly step-sisters Joy in the 1957 musical television production ‘Cinderella’.
In 1960, she appeared in the revue ‘A Thurber Carnival’. Two years later, she featured in ‘The Beauty Part’, playing multiple prominent roles in the theatrical production. She also performed in several musical comedies, including ‘Shangri-La’, ‘Trouble in Tahiti’ and ‘Sandhog’. In 1965, she was seen as Mavis in the comedy play ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window’.
Other than theatrical productions, she guest starred in several NBC comedies including ‘Car 54’ and ‘Where Are You?’ She also played several recurring characters including as an inept maid Naomi in ‘Bewitched’. Her role lasted for 15 episodes beginning with ‘Maid to Order’ that stretched between 1969 and 1972.
In 1965, Alice Ghostley was offered the role of Gladys Kravitz, a nosy neighbour in ‘Bewitched’. Initially played by Alice Pearce, the role remained vacant after Pearce’s death. However, Alice refused the offer. She then refused the role of Aunt Clara as well before finally signing up as a shy witch Esmeralda who served as a maid and baby sitter.
While playing her character in ‘Bewitched’, Alice simultaneously joined the cast of ‘Mayberry R.F.D.’, playing Cousin Alice. She appeared in 14 episodes.
In February 1969, she bagged the guest role of Aggie on ‘The Ghost & Mrs Muir’ for the episode ‘Make Me A Match’. Next year, she reappeared on the show for the episode ‘Curious Cousin’, in which she played nosey cousin Harriet who interfered with Mrs Muir's private life.
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After a phenomenal eight years of run time, ‘Bewitched’ was finally closed down in the spring of 1972. Following this, she was signed as a semi-regular for the ABC-TV variety series, ‘The Julie Andrews Hour’. In the show, both Andrews and Alice Ghostley were featured in a recurring segment as roommates sharing a small apartment. The Julie Andrews Hour was cancelled by ABC in 1973 after 24 episodes.
Alice spent the better part of the 1970s and 1980s appearing in episodes of situation comedies such as ‘Hogan's Heroes’, ‘Good Times’, ‘Maude’, ‘One Day at a Time’, ‘The Odd Couple’, and ‘What's Happening!!’. Her last Broadway outing came for the 1978 musical ‘Annie’, in which she succeeded as Dorothy Loudon, who had created the role of Miss Hannigan.
In 1986, she went slightly offbeat from the usual course of her career to portray the role of Bernice Clifton, the slightly off-kilter, eccentric friend of Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker's mother, Perky, on ‘Designing Women’. The show lasted until 1993. Meanwhile, she did a number of guest roles including as Irna Wallingsford in ‘Evening Shade’ and Ida Mae Brindle in ‘Small Wonder’.
Alice’s other guest roles include playing a crazy mother ‘The Golden Girls’. She even made a one-time appearance as Great-Grandma in ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’. Her other guest appearances include playing ghost of Matilda Matthews in ‘Passions’ in 2000.
Alongside her career in television, Alice Ghostley’s film career also took off at a steady pace. She made her film debut in 1962 with the movie ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Her other film appearances of the 1960s include ‘My Six Loves’, ‘The Flim Flam Man’, ‘The Graduate’, ‘With Six You Get Eggroll’ and ‘Viva Max’.
During the 1970s, she appeared in supporting roles in a couple of films including ‘Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies’ as Sister Lite, ‘Gator’ as Emmeline Cavanaugh, ‘Blue Sunshine’ as O'Malley's Neighbor and ‘Rabbit Test’ as Nurse Tumm. She also appeared in the film version of ‘Grease’ as shop teacher Mrs. Murdock.
In 1985, she played a supporting role in the Nancy Allen comedy ‘Not for Publication’. Alice played Grandmama in the direct-to-video movie ‘Addams Family Reunion’, in 1998. Her last outing for big screen was for the film ‘Mothers and Daughters’ in 2006.
Personal Life & Legacy
Alice Ghostley married Felice Orlandi, an Italian-American actor, in 1953. The two remained married until Orlandi’s death in 2003. The couple had no children.
Alice suffered from colon cancer during the latter part of her life. She also suffered from a series of strokes. Finally, on September 21, 2007, she breathed her last at her home in Studio City, California thus ending her long battle with ill health.
On August 20, 2009, her ashes were taken to Oak Hill Cemetery in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, where she was buried along with her sister, Gladys who died on June 21, 2009. The two sisters are interred next to their parents.