Alice Ghostley (1926-2007), American actress best-known for her television roles as "Alice" on Mayberry, R.F.D., as "Esmerelda" on Bewitched (1969-72) and as Bernice Clifton on Designing Women
This page is the most complete and thorough biography of Alice Ghostley which exists. It's however not finished. So if you have something to add let me know.
This article written and copyright 2008 by Will Johnson, Freelance Biographer and Professional Genealogist, All Rights Reserved. You may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice Ghostley was born 14 Aug 1926 in a train station in a place called "Eve" in Vernon County, Missouri as the second child of Harry F Ghostley and his wife Edna M Rooney. Her father was at that time, a telegrapher at this "whistle stop", and shared quarters in the building. Wikipedia reports her middle name as "Margaret", but I don't know on what authority.
By 1930, the family had moved to Siloam Springs, Benton County, Arkansas where her father Harry was buried in 1933 having died at a hospital in Missouri that year. She attended school in Siloam Springs through the sixth grade, and then the family moved to Henryetta, Okmulgee County, Oklahoma where Alice finished growing up and graduated from high school.
Afterwards Alice went to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where she majored in English and drama, but dropped out, to move with her older sister Gladys to New York City. Gladys got a job as a secretary at Columbia University, while Alice got her first job as an usher at the Imperial Theatre for $11.88 a week. She studied singing, aiming for a career in that area, but at her 648th audition, as she relates, she was accosted by pianist-composer George Wood. George hated his first name and so he was always credited as "G. Wood". He persuaded her, that what she really was, was a comedienne. The two of them begun doing comedy in small venues where she was spotted by Imogene Coca.
Her act, as reported many years later consisted of : "Appearing in horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in a frumpy black sweater, she stumbled across the stage as a bewildered, sexually repressed young woman, crooning to a beguine beat about her ill-fated romance with a Harvard man, underneath a 'Voodoo moon' in Boston."
On Broadway, Alice had parts in 1956's "Shangri-La" a musical. Also and again on Broadway but in an as-yet-unknown-year in "Maybe Tuesday" a comedy. In March 1957 she appeared in the live show "Cinderella", as one of the ugly stepsisters with Kaye Ballard playing the other one, and with Julie Andrews as Cinderella. Watch the "Making of Cinderella" on YouTube Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Note: Alice does not appear in this documentary, but there are long talking-head segments with both Julie and Kaye.
Her off-Broadway experience included her role in 1957 as Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly in Livin The Life. And also a role in a production "Sand Hog" in an undetermined year. On television she played in "Twelfth Night," with Maurice Evans, and also in "The Show-Off". She appeared on the Jack Parr show in 1958/9 and performed for many years in Greenwich Village's Bon Soi, the Blue Angel, and other New York nighteries. She also did a stint of summer stock in New England. In 1960 she appeared in The Thurber Carnival, a revue based on the humorist's writings. In 1961 she appeared with Art Carney in an NBC "Show of the Week" called "Fads and Foibles". In the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird, she played Stephanie Crawford the fussy aunt of Dill Harris, and later in 1962 she played on-stage in S.J. Perelman's fantasy The Beauty Party, for which she received a Tony nomination. "For three seasons of The Jackie Gleason Show, from 1962 to 1964, Ghostley and Gleason regularly played Agnes and Arthur, two lovelorn residents of a tenement." (The Independent) Watch one episode here on YouTube.
For her role as Mavis Parodus Bryson in the 1965 "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" she received a Tony Award as "Best Featured Actress in a Play".
In 1967 Alice appeared in her first full-time TV series as "Mrs Nash" in NBC's new-series Captain Nice for that one season. Alice and Felice moved to Los Angeles, California in 1968 when she states she didn't work for six months.
She appeared on "Hogan's Heroes" and "What's It All About World". She had a role in the 1969 movie Viva Max, and that same year she again teamed up with Paul Lynde to appear on the Jonathan Winters show.
Alice was a good friend of Maggie Smith and when Smith won an Oscar in 1969 for her starring role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and was unable to attend, Ghostley accepted the Oscar on her behalf.
Later Ghostley's character "Esmerelda" was introduced as a regular on the series in 1969, after the May 1968 death of Marion Lorne, the actress who played the lovable-but-befuddled "Aunt Clara". The studio wanted another comedic-actress to be introduced to the series to replace her, but in a different role. Esmerelda is typically summoned when Samantha needs a babysitter. She is a shy bundle-of-nerves who often fades slowly away when nervous. When she isn't nervous her spell-casting is often very good, but when she is nervous all havoc breaks loose.
She appears again in the very next episode #171 aka Season 6 Episode 3 "Samantha's Caesar Salad", when Samantha asks her to make a Caesar Salad, her spell goes wrong, and she gets the Emperor himself instead. Caesar after discovering that history books called him a "Dictator" is so incensed that he refuses to go back and thus Esmerelda's spell won't work. Jay Robinson plays Caesar. You can watch this Episode here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In Episode 180 aka Season 6, Episode 12 "Sam's Double Mother Trouble", as Esmeralda is reading a Mother Goose rhyme to Tabitha, she sneezes and the real woman appears. Darrin's mother comes over threatening to separate from Mr. Stephens, then Mr. Stephens comes over and falls for Mother Goose. This makes Mrs. Stephens jealous. You can watch this episode here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In Episode 182 aka Season 6, Episode 14 "Santa Comes to Visit and Stays and Stays", Esmeralda brings Santa to the Stephens' home and he can't get back to the North Pole to direct the making of the toys. Samantha rescues Christmas by zapping all the Elves to her house as well. They finish all the toys just in time for Christmas. You can watch this episode here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In Episode 197 aka Season 6, Episode 29 "Turn on the Old Charm", Esmerelda again appears only incidentally. The main story centers around Samantha giving Darrin an amulet which makes Endora be nice to him. Esmerelda filches it thinking it's a love charm. Endora now uncursed, curses Sam and Darrin to constantly bicker. Watch it here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In Episode 198 aka Season 6, Episode 30 "Make Love, Not Hate", Dr. Bombay makes a love-potion to help Esmeralda get the warlock Norton to fall for her. He drinks the potion, but falls in love with Sam instead. In addition some of it is accidentally poured into some clam dip and everyone at the party tastes it and falls for a different person. Esmerelda falls for Darrin, Mr. MichaelJohn falls in love with his wife but she falls in love with Larry. Watch it here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In Episode 204 aka Season 7 Episode 6 "Paul Revere Rides Again", An antique Paul Revere teapot is taken by Esmerelda, who pops in Salem to bring Samantha's souvenirs home. Sam wants Esmerelda to return the Paul Revere teapot, but her spell returns Paul Revere himself. Revere thinks that it is still 1776.
In Episode 206 aka Season 7 Episode 8 "Samantha's Old Salem Trip", Sam and Darrin return from the Witches' Convention and Esmerelda's spell sends Samantha back to Salem circa 1600. But she arrives without her powers and without her memory. Endora zaps Darrin back there as well to rescue her. Watch it here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
In Episode 224 aka Season 7 Episode 26 "Samantha's Magic Mirror"
Later Career and Death
In it's third season in 1970, Alice became cousin "Alice" on the TV-series Mayberry, R.F.D. starring Andy Griffith, after the "Aunt Bea" character was written out of the script. She played in this role for one year. Alice and Felice in 1970 moved into their first house in the Hollywood Hills, previously having rented, mostly living in apartments in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood. In 1971 she appeared with Patty Duke in the movie Two on a Bench, you can watch an excerpt here, as the kleptomaniac mother. Very funny.
In 1973 she again teamed up with Julie Andrews, playing her roommate and foil, in the ABC "The Julie Andrews Hour". Watch it here on YouTube. (Note: Alice appears only for the few few minutes, the rest is Julie dancing and singing.) Alice appeared in 1976's film Gator starring Bert Reynolds. She appeared in an episode of the TV-series Good Times (with J.J. Walker), playing an adoption agent. You can watch her in this role here, she begins speaking at time 7:50. It's just a tiny bit saccharin so you've been warned!
In 1978 she took over the role of Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic matron of the orphanage, in the long-running Broadway play Annie. Alice appears here on YouTube in an undated "children's" show with Charles Nelson Reilly and Jonathan Harris (that guy who played the evil Dr. Smith on the TV-series Lost In Space).
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Harry F Ghostley
Harry F Ghostley (AFN 21FQ-2V7) was born 10 May 1884 in Minnesota to Harry Ghostley and his wife Margaret Anna Walker. Harry is living with his widowed mother in the Special 1905 Minnesota State Census.
By 1910 Harry has moved to Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon where he is listed as single and a boarder. By 1920 he is in the US Panama Canal Zone evidently in the armed forces. That year or the next, he married Edna Rooney. The family lived in both Oklahoma and Missouri before locating to Siloam Springs, Benton County, Arkansas by 1930.
Harry Ghostley died in 23 Oct 1933 in a Kansas City, Missouri hospital, and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Siloam Springs, Benton County, Arkansas.
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Edna M Rooney
Edna M Rooney was born in 16 Sep 1890 in Oklahoma, daughter of Ed Roony and Alice. In 1920 or 1921 she married Harry F Ghostley. They had two children by the time they were enumerated in Siloam Springs, Benton County, Arkansas in the 1930 US Census. Harry developed Carcinoma of the Liver and died in a hospital in Kansas City, Missouri in 1933.
Edna outlived him by 32 years, dying in May 1965, having last resided in Oklahoma. They are buried side-by-side in Oak Hills Cemetery (aka Siloam Springs Cemetery) in Benton County, Arkansas.
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Harry Ghostley (AFN 21FQ-2QD) was born 28 Jan 1844 in Berkeley, England. He married Margaret Anna Walker on 28 Jan 1874 in Minnesota.
Harry and Margaret had four children: Edith who died age 1 on 12 Aug 1875, Edith born 2 Nov 1875, Ella born 2 Sep 1877, Harry born 10 May 1884 and Gladys born May 1888.
Harry Ghostley died Sep 1887 in Minnesota.
Margaret Anna Walker
Margaret Anna Walker (AFN 21FQ-263) was born 26 Aug 1851 in Hanover Neck, Morris County, New Jersey to Richard Westbrook Walker and his wife Eleanor Shields. She married Harry Ghostley on 28 Jan 1874 in Minnesota.
She outlived her husband Harry by almost 58 years, dying on 30 Jun 1945.
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