Alice Ghostley

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Alice Ghostley
Publicity Photo of Alice Ghostley
Alice Margaret Ghostley

(1923-08-14)August 14, 1923
DiedSeptember 21, 2007(2007-09-21) (aged 84)
Occupation(s)Actress, singer[1]
Years active1953–2007
(m. 1953; died 2003)

Alice Margaret Ghostley (August 14, 1923 – September 21, 2007) was an American actress and singer on stage, film and television. She was best known for her roles as bumbling witch 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. She was a regular on Nichols (1971–72) and The Julie Andrews Hour (1972–73).[2]

Early life[edit]

Ghostley was born on August 14, 1923 at a train station in Eve, Missouri, to Edna Muriel (née Rooney) and Harry Francis Ghostley, who worked as a telegraph operator.[3] Ghostley grew up in Henryetta, Oklahoma. She attended the University of Oklahoma, but dropped out to pursue a career in theater.[4]



Ghostley first came to Broadway in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952 and in the film version released in 1954.[1] She appeared in the 1960 revue A Thurber Carnival and in The Beauty Part (1962), playing several distinct roles in each. She also performed in several musical comedies, including Shangri-La (1956). In 1978, she succeeded Dorothy Loudon, who had created the role of Miss Hannigan in the original Broadway run of the musical Annie.[citation needed]


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 Ballard's comedy series, The Mothers-in-Law.[5] Ghostley guest-starred on the NBC police comedy, Car 54, Where Are You?, with Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne and in two 1961 episodes of The Tom Ewell Show starring Tom Ewell. She was also a favorite of Jackie Gleason, who featured her in his "American Scene Magazine" variety hours of the 1960s. In the recurring sketch "Arthur and Agnes", Gleason played a loudmouthed, inconsiderate braggart talking to Ghostley on her front stoop. Gleason's character treated her thoughtlessly for several minutes before walking away, leaving Ghostley alone to confide to the audience, "I'm the luckiest girl in the world!"

She portrayed recurring characters on several situation comedies, beginning with Bewitched in 1966 in "Maid To Order", in which Ghostley played an inept maid named Naomi, who was hired by Darrin Stephens (played by Dick York) to assist his wife Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) during her pregnancy. Towards the end of the 1965–66 season, actress-comedian Alice Pearce, who was featured as nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched, died. The producers of the series immediately offered the role of Gladys to Ghostley, who refused it. As a result, in the fall of 1966, character actress Sandra Gould assumed the role of Gladys. In September 1969, after the death of actress Marion Lorne, who played Aunt Clara, Ghostley joined Bewitched as a semiregular in the role of Esmeralda, a shy witch who served as a maid and babysitter to the Stephens' household.[2] Ghostley's character of Esmeralda was created to replace Aunt Clara's role as a bumbler of magic. (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.)[6]

Ghostley's Esmeralda appeared in 15 episodes of Bewitched between 1969 and 1972.[7] During her two years on Bewitched, Ghostley also joined the cast of Mayberry R.F.D., playing Cousin Alice after Frances Bavier's character, Aunt Bee, was written out of the series. She appeared in 14 episodes.[6]

On February 22, 1969, she appeared as Aggie on The Ghost & Mrs Muir (starring Edward Mulhare and Hope Lange). The episode was entitled "Make Me A Match". The captain and Mrs. Muir matched her with Claymore Gregg (Charles Nelson Reilly). On March 6, 1970, she appeared on another episode of The Ghost & Mrs Muir, "Curious Cousin". She played nosey Cousin Harriet. She interferes with Mrs Muir's private life. To divert her excessive attention, Claymore, posing as Captain Gregg, comes to court her.[6]

After eight years, Bewitched was cancelled by ABC in the spring of 1972. Later that year in September, Ghostley was hired as a semiregular 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 cancelled by ABC in the spring of 1973 after 24 episodes. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Ghostley appeared in episodes of situation comedies such as Hogan's Heroes (alternating with Kathleen Freeman playing Gertrude Linkmaier, General Burkhalter's sister), Good Times, Maude, One Day at a Time, The Odd Couple, and What's Happening!!.[6]

Between 1986 and 1993, Ghostley portrayed Bernice Clifton, the slightly off-kilter, eccentric friend of Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker's mother, Perky, on Designing Women.[8] 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.[6]


Among her roles in motion pictures, Ghostley appeared in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962),[2] playing Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood gossip. She starred in Gator as Gator's partner in crime who brings her cats along on a burglary. She appeared in the film version of Grease as shop teacher Mrs. Murdock. In 1985, she had a supporting role in the Nancy Allen comedy Not for Publication.[6] Alice played Grandmama in the direct-to-video movie Addams Family Reunion.[citation needed]


Ghostley received a Tony nomination in 1963 for different roles she played in the Broadway comedy The Beauty Part. She also received a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress for her role in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window.[4] In 1992, she earned an Emmy nomination for her role in Designing Women.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Ghostley was married to Felice Orlandi, an Italian-American actor, from 1953 until his death in 2003.[4]

Ghostley died at her home in Studio City, California, on September 21, 2007, of colon cancer and a series of strokes.[9][10]

Selected filmography[edit]

Select television credits[edit]


  1. ^ a b Arnold, Gary (October 18, 2007). "Familiar New Faces: Spoofs Endure For Cast, Films". The Washington Times. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Lavietes, Stuart (September 22, 2007). "Alice Ghostley, Comic TV and Stage Actress, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  3. ^ "Honoring Alice Ghostley's life, career for what would have been her 100th birthday ". Tulsa World. August 14, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d "Bewitched Actress Alice Ghostley Dies". Sunday Gazette-Mail. September 23, 2007. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  5. ^ Foster, Catherine (December 5, 2004). "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Musical Cinderella Story Returns". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on March 12, 2016. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Alice Ghostley". TV Guide. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  7. ^ Paul. "When Esmeralda Sneezed". Archived from the original on June 10, 2007. Retrieved April 27, 2007.
  8. ^ Bornfeld, Steve (July 3, 1990). "Quality-Television Group Picks Nominees For Its Own Awards". Albany Times. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  9. ^ Stuart Lavietes (September 22, 2007). "Alice Ghostley, Comic TV and Stage Actress, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  10. ^ "Alice Ghostley obituary". The Advocate. November 6, 2007. Archived from the original on February 28, 2011. Retrieved November 27, 2012.

External links[edit]