Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bye Bye Bernice

On the heels of the sad death of Merv Griffin and Charles Nelson Reilly, about which I have already written, comes more crummy news; we have lost another quirky character star, Alice Ghostly.

My first memory of Ghostly must have been her hilarious guest starring role on an episode of "Get Smart," in which she played Max's new neighbor ("Call me Naomi!") who constantly sparred with her lazy husband (a pre-"Happy Days" Tom Bosley) and was incidentally a Kaos agent. Her hysterical attempts to poison The Chief at 99's first dinner party were a scream. I later realized that she was in the midst of a long and varied career, including prestige films such as "The Graduate" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," in which she played Scout's snippy neighbor. She was an accomplished stage actress, gracing the Broadway boards many times. One such appearance, in one of the "New Faces" revues, paired her with another of my favorite comics from that period, a man to whom she was often compared, Paul Lynde. They both had a nasal speech quality and eccentric facial expressions, and were in fact sometimes thought to be brother and sister (they were not).

Ghostly's later stage appearances included replacing Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan in the original "Annie," as well as several Tony nominations and one win, in 1965 for "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window." Still, she achieved her most lasting fame on television. Back when live TV was the norm, she appeared in the now iconic original production of "Cinderella," starring Julie Andrews. With Kaye Ballard at her side, she introduced the world to the Rogers and Hammerstein novelty song, "Stepsisters' Lament."

In the late 60s, she joined the long-running sitcom "Bewitched," and remained with the show during its waning years. A decade later, she delighted old fans and made new ones as half-baked Bernice Clifton (with an "arterial flow problem") on "Designing Women," for which she received an Emmy nomination.

I have a lot of respect for the actors who spend their careers "in support," as Ghostly did. I hope she had a happy life (her marriage to actor Felice Orlandi lasted 50 years) and enjoyed the fact that she gave the public so much pleasure.