The beloved star left Hollywood after the sitcom and was proud to pray, knit and be happy
Early baby boomers knew her as Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz, the man-hungry receptionist on TV’s 1955-59 The Bob Cummings Show. Late baby boomers knew her as Alice Nelson, the eternally optimistic housekeeper on a 1969-74 slice of fantasy Americana called The Brady Bunch.
But no matter the character she played, actress Ann B. Davis, who died Sunday at 88, was unquestionably one thing to all audiences: lovable.
“All of us wish we had an Alice,” Davis told PEOPLE in 1992. “I wish I had an Alice.”
At the time, the actress, who was born (with an identical twin sister, Harriet) on May 3, 1926, in Schenectady, New York, was sharing a home in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, with an Episcopal bishop and his wife. She was dedicated to prayer and Bible study and said she was far more content than she ever had been in Hollywood.
She explained her spiritual self to the magazine with a memory from childhood.
“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.
Originally Davis was going to study medicine, but she caught the acting bug instead after seeing her brother in a production of Oklahoma!. After graduating from high school in Erie, Pennsylvania, she got her degree in drama and speech from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1948.
Her own theater work finally got her the attention of casting directors, and she appeared on early TV game shows before her star was launched with the Bob Cummings sitcom, which was also known as Love That Bob.
Though she did accept acting roles after The Brady Bunch – she loved doing that show, by the way, and got the cast to take up her hobby of knitting (“I had the boys hooking rugs and the girls doing needlepoint”) – they tended to be small, yet, in one case, memorable. She parodied herself in the 1995 The Brady Bunch Movie, playing a truck driver named Schultzy, who rescues a runaway Jan Brady.
As PEOPLE reported in 1992, Davis never married and lived comfortably on her Screen Actors Guild pension. (She had recently bought a bright red Mazda Miata.) And she took classes – aerobics in town, theology at the seminary.
“It is obvious,” she told the magazine, “I am where the Lord wants me to be.”
Her death was first reported by TMZ. Bexar County, Texas, medical examiner’s investigator Sara Horne told the Associated Press that the actress died Sunday morning and that an autopsy is planned for Monday.
Davis’s longtime friend, Bishop Bill Frey, said she suffered a fall Saturday at her San Antonio home and never recovered.
Said Brady Bunch star Florence Henderson in a statement Sunday, “I’m shocked and saddened! I’ve lost a wonderful friend and colleague.”
And the B stood for Bradford.