Ann B. Davis considered herself retired when she visited her native Schenectady in 1995.
“I’ve got my Medicare card and everything,” she said. “Like a lot of actors, I’m retired until the phone rings.”
The phone had brought Davis back to the stage. The actress, who died Sunday at age 88, was in Schenectady for a March ’95 presentation of “Crazy for You” at Proctors. The play gave her the chance to see her hometown, and also meet her fans. She signed copies of “Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook” in the Proctors arcade.
Davis was eternally identified with Alice Nelson, the witty, caring housekeeper who watched over three daughters of a lovely lady and three sons of a man named Brady. The two families had combined to form “The Brady Bunch,” with Alice often in the middle of things. The show ran on ABC from 1969 until 1974.
By 1995, Davis had been with the “Crazy for You” national touring company for nearly two years.
“I’m an actress,” Davis told The Daily Gazette during her Schenectady homecoming. “I do whatever I’m lucky enough to get a part to do. And I’ve done musicals before both in small places and in large places.”
She said she didn’t miss the “Brady Bunch” after she hung up Alice’s apron.
“You do the job you’ve got at the time and then you move on,” she said. “The extraordinary thing about ‘The Brady Bunch’ is that it never went off the air. It instantly went into reruns and syndication and it’s been on the air somewhere for the last 20 years. Now, go figure.”
She was born in Schenectady, but didn’t spend much time in the city.
“I left when I was 3, so I can’t say I can remember much about it,” Davis said. “My father worked for GE. He worked 20 years in Schenectady and when they opened the Erie works, we moved to Erie and he worked another 20 years there.”
Longtime Schenectady resident Esther Swanker remembers Girl Scout camping days in Erie with Ann and her twin sister Harriet.
“They were both funnier than a rubber crutch,” said Swanker, who also grew up in Erie. “They played jokes on the counselors, nothing dangerous or cruel. They were just really funny.”
Swanker, who now lives in Niskayuna, wasn’t surprised when Ann’s skills as a comedian surfaced on television. “Not a bit,” she said. “I was wondering what took her so long.”
Davis picked up fans on television long before Carol and Mike Brady began playing house.
She starred in “The Bob Cummings Show” from 1955 to 1959, playing lovesick secretary Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz.
The role won her Emmy awards for best featured actress in a comedy series in 1958 and 1959.
Davis was back in the area during the summer of 1959. She and actress Fay Bainter appeared in “The Girls in 509,” Aug. 24-29 at the Spa Summer Theatre in Saratoga Springs. The two-act play featured Bainter and Davis as an aunt and niece who locked themselves in a hotel room after Herbert Hoover’s defeat in 1932 and never left the room for 26 years.
Davis’ other work included roles as Doris Day’s secretary in the 1961 film “Lover Come Back” and as a physical education teacher in the 1965 fall and early winter shows of “The John Forsythe Show.” The situation comedy switched gears in early 1966 and became an espionage series — following the TV spy boom of the mid-1960s. “Forsythe” was canceled after one year.
A religious woman, Davis also spoke in Schenectady in 1979, at the Weekend of Renewal at Christ Church Episcopal.