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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Farewell Esmerelda

Alice Ghostley passed away at her Studio City, California home yesterday after a long battle with colon cancer and a series of strokes. She was 81 years old.

One of Ghostley's first roles was as one of the ugly step-sisters in the landmark 1957 musical television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella", which starred Julie Andrews in the title role.

Since then she has portrayed several well-known recurring characters on situation comedies, beginning with Esmerelda, a shy witch who served as a maid and babysitter to the Stephens's household beginning in season six of "Bewitched". The character appeared in fifteen episodes, and is best known for her invisibility and for sneezes that produced unexpected magical effects. Ghostley had previously guest starred once as another character, Naomi, on the show's second season. During this period she also joined the cast of "Mayberry R.F.D.", playing "Cousin Alice" after Frances Bavier's character ("Aunt Bee") was written off the series.

Among her forays into motion pictures, Ghostley appeared in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), playing "Aunt Stephanie Crawford". She also appeared in the film version of Grease as shop teacher "Mrs. Murdock" (a role which does not exist in the Broadway version of the show).

Ghostley and Marion Lorne had cameos in one scene of 1967's "The Graduate" at the hotel where Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin have their first tryst. Ironically, on Bewitched, Ghostley's character, Esmerelda, was brought in to try to fill the void after Lorne, who played "Aunt Clara", died suddenly in 1968.

Between 1986 and 1993, Ghostley portrayed Bernice Clifton on "Designing Women", a kind but ditzy friend and client to the Sugarbakers. She later played "Irna Wallingsford" in six episodes of Evening Shade. Among many other guest starring roles, she appeared in a flashback episode as the crazed mother-in-law of Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) on The Golden Girls.

Ghostley was married to Felice Orlandi, an Italian-American actor, for fifty years (from 1953 until his death from lung cancer on May 21, 2003); they had no children.


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Blogger Fini Finito said...

She will be missed. Alice Ghostly was one of those character actors in Hollywood who make memorable but minor appearances in many different scenes of TV shows and movies that makes you get nostalgic whenever you see them pop up in something. "Hey she was in..." is probably something she heard a million times in her lifetime and it is the actors and actresses like her that toil in obscurity for decades that are the glue of Hollywood. Congratulations to Alice for a long and successful career entertaining TV addicts like me and my best goes to her family and friends left behind.

title="comment permalink">September 22, 2007 12:02 PM  
Blogger Mary Ellen said...

How sad! I loved her in every role she played, especially in the role of Bernice in Designing Women. Her character had me rolling on the floor laughing at times.

She was one of those talents that often go unnoticed because they play their roles so well and complement the lead actors who garner the attention.

They don't have many like her anymore in the movie industry, that's so sad.

title="comment permalink">September 22, 2007 1:06 PM  
Blogger Vic DeMize said...

I remember Alice for uncountable guest appearances in sitcoms, but mostly I remember her from a short-lived series called "Captain Nice", where she played the mother of the title superhero, in turn played by William Daniels of "Knight Rider" fame.

title="comment permalink">September 22, 2007 1:28 PM  
Blogger John Good said...

All - I missed one! We lost Brett Somers last week, as well. =(

title="comment permalink">September 23, 2007 11:21 PM  

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