Today is the 89th birthday of Alice Ghostley. Who wouldn’t want a babysitter like Esmerelda or a friend with no social filter like Bernice Clifton? She stole the scene, the focus, and the laughter over and over again on dozens of TV shows. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Alice Margaret Ghostley
BIRTHPLACE: Eve, MO
LOCATION of death: Studio City, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Cancer – Colon
REMAINS: Buried, Oak Hill Cemetery, Siloam Springs, AR
BEST KNOWN FOR: Bernice Clifton on Designing Women
Alice Margaret Ghostley (August 14, 1924 – September 21, 2007) was an American actress. She was best known for her roles as housekeeper Esmeralda (1969-72) on Bewitched, as Cousin Alice (1970–71) on Mayberry R.F.D., and as Bernice Clifton (1986–93) on Designing Women, for which she received an Emmy Nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1992. Ghostley was also a regular on the James Garner-Margot Kidder NBC western Nichols (1971–72) and the critically acclaimed variety series, The Julie Andrews Hour (1972-73).
A veteran of early television, Ghostley appeared as Joy, one of the ugly stepsisters in the 1957 musical television production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which starred Julie Andrews in the title role. The other stepsister was played by actress Kaye Ballard. Twelve years later, Ghostley guest starred as a harried maternity nurse on Miss Ballard’s comedy series, The Mothers-in-Law.
Ghostley portrayed recurring characters on several situation comedies, beginning with Esmeralda, a shy witch who served as a maid and babysitter to the Stephens’ household beginning in season six of Bewitched. Ghostley’s role of Esmeralda was created after the death in May 1968 of Marion Lorne, who portrayed Aunt Clara. (Coincidentally, Ghostley and Lorne shared a brief scene together in the 1967 film The Graduate, a few months prior to Lorne’s death and before Ghostley was cast in Bewitched.)
Ghostley’s “Esmeralda” appeared in 15 episodes between 1969 and 1972. Ghostley had previously guest starred once as a mortal character, “Naomi”, during Bewitched ‘s second season.
After two plus years on “Bewitched” as a semi-regular, she joined the cast of Mayberry R.F.D., playing Cousin Alice after Frances Bavier’s character, Aunt Bee, was written off the series. She appeared in 14 episodes.
In the spring of 1972, Bewitched was canceled by ABC after eight years. In September of that year, Ghostley was hired as a semi-regular for the ABC-TV variety series, The Julie Andrews Hour. In addition to participating in songs and sketches, Andrews and Ghostley were featured in a recurring segment as roommates sharing a small apartment. The Julie Andrews Hour was canceled by ABC in the spring of 1973 having completed a full season of twenty-four episodes.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ghostley appeared in episodes of situation comedies such as Hogan’s Heroes (playing Gertrude, General Burkhalter’s Sister), Good Times, Maude, One Day at a Time, The Odd Couple and What’s Happening!!.
Between 1986 and 1993, Ghostley portrayed Bernice Clifton, the slightly off-kilter friend of Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker’s mother, Perky, on Designing Women. She later played Irna Wallingsford in six episodes of Evening Shade. She also had a recurring role of Ida Mae Brindle in the sitcom Small Wonder, which ran from 1985 to 1989. Among many other guest roles, she appeared in a flashback episode as the crazed mother-in-law of Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) on The Golden Girls. She made a one-time appearance as “Great-Grandma” in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Ghostley also made a few guest appearances on the daytime drama Passions in 2000, playing the ghost of Matilda Matthews.