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Remembering Ann B. Davis

Ann B. Davis and Eve Plumb (and Tiger) in The Brady Bunch

Like a lot of boomers, The Brady Bunch (ABC, 1969-1974) was a beloved television show of my early youth. It was easy to envy the Bradys. They lived in a large, airy house with a big kitchen, a magnificent open staircase, and, especially, a yard made out of artificial turf. Occasionally a celebrity like Joe Namath or Davy Jones would drop by. The kids had a record deal! (And yes, they also had Maureen McCormick as eldest daughter Marcia Brady, a fact of particular interest to a million boys like me.)

But they also had housekeeper Alice Nelson, memorably portrayed by Ann B. Davis. Davis passed away last Sunday at the age of 88. My mother was (and remains) an exemplary role model, but I dearly wished for an Alice in our house, someone who was always ready with an after school snack, to shoot hoops, and to share a joke or confidence. I also thought that sky blue uniform she always wore was pretty cool too.

Davis was a successful actress before The Brady Bunch, however. Her breakthrough came in 1955 when she starred as Charmaine “Schultzy” Schultz on The Bob Cummings Show, a program which in its nearly five year run alternated between NBC and CBS, then later was syndicated to ABC. Schultzy established the template for a lot of characters Davis tended to play: awkward yet funny, more lovable than loved. Just as Alice pined for butcher Sam Melvin, Schultzy had unrequited feelings for Cummings’ Bob Collins, a photographer and ladies man. Davis twice won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on the show.

Davis’ passing got me wondering what we hold in our collections on The Bob Cummings Show and The Brady Bunch. Turns out, not a lot. Of the 173 Bob Cummings episodes, we have one—count ‘em, one—16mm print and it’s not much better for The Brady Bunch: 26 out of 117, although we do have the complete DVD release of the show.

The Bob Cummings Show (c) description for “Schultzy’s Dream World” — script, 38 pp

Now, all 173 episodes of The Bob Cummings Show were registered for copyright, usually as 16mm prints and accompanied by a script. So why just one copy in the collection today? Frankly, television wasn’t considered a priority by the Library’s acquisitions specialists until the mid-1960s; as Sarah Rouse puts it in the introduction to 3 Decades of Television: A Catalog of Television Programs Acquired by the Library of Congress, 1949-1979, “the Library simply underestimated the social and historical significance of the full range of television programming.” Practice then was to select entertainment shows for permanent retention sparingly and news programs much more comprehensively, so while we can be grateful for excellent runs of CBS Reports, NBC White Paper, and ABC Scope, it really is too bad we only have two episodes of, for example, the television version of Our Miss Brooks (we have a few more examples of its earlier radio incarnation).

These days we devote a lot of acquisition emphasis to filling in the gaps in our television collection, something I’ll dwell on in future posts. And maybe we’ll be lucky enough to scoop up more Ann B. Davis performances. In the meanwhile, I don’t think she’s in any danger of being forgotten, not so long as The Brady Bunch remains a popular show for syndication.

One Comment

  1. Jill Grobelny
    June 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    MY NAME IS JILL GROBELNY & I’VE GROWN UP WITH THE BRADY BUNCH & WAS SAD TO HEAR OF ANN B. DAVIS’S PASSING, THE WORLD WILL NOT BE THE SAME WITHOUT HER BUT AT LEAST ANN LIVED A GREAT & FULFILLING LIFE.

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