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Melvin Emory Sharples (commonly known as Mel) is a fictional character in the 1974 film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and the television sitcom series, Alice. The character was played by Vic Tayback, who reprised his movie role for the television show.
The man with the Spatula
Melvin Emory Sharples was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. After a stint in the United States Navy, where he served primarily as a cook, he opened a diner at 1130 Bush Highway in Phoenix, Arizona, and called it Mel's Diner. (In a first season episode, it was stated to have been on 4th Street in Phoenix, but in later seasons it was generally accepted to have been located at 1130 Bush Highway.) He was known for wearing a grease spattered T-shirt and a sailor cap beanie when he was cooking, and he often also wielded a spatula.
The diner was best known for its 14 oz. cup of coffee (as its sign showed), and "Mel's Famous Chili". Although the diner established a loyal clientele, most notably Henry Beesmeyer, the running joke was that his food was awful. Also, at some points Mel could be incredibly stupid and somewhat ignorant.
Mel's frequent and numerous rivals in the restaurant business included Barney's Burger Barn and Benny's Beanery, where the food usually was better.
Mel has always had three waitresses working at the diner - his longest-employed waitress was rambunctious Florence Jean Castleberry, better known as Flo; Vera Louise Gorman-Novak, was a shy, nervous woman from Boston; and Alice Hyatt who was born in New Jersey.
After Flo moved back to Cowtown, Belle Dupree, a waitress he knew from when he first worked in restaurants, came to help out. Mel favored Belle for a couple episodes, but the favoritism was short lived; After Belle left for Nashville to embark on a music career, a former trucker from South Carolina, Jolene Hunnicutt came to work at the diner.
Though he was tough on his waitresses, often dismissed them as "broads" and did not pay them well, he loved them dearly, considering them part of his family.
Mel took on a fatherly role to Alice's son, Tommy, since he had lost his real father in a truck accident, which necessitated Alice's move from New Jersey to Phoenix. When Tommy became popular with the ladies, Mel was quite proud, but this really distressed Alice, as she didn't want Tommy to become like her chauvinistic boss.
He even trained Tommy to become a fry cook like he was (Tommy also wearing the requisite T-shirt and beanie). This initially met with stringent resistance from Alice, but she eventually relented when Tommy showed a genuine talent. Often, whenever he was out of the diner for one reason or another, he would entrust the waitresses to do some of the cooking, and, as was common with Mel's lack of cooking prowess, the diner was usually full.
Most often, it was Alice herself who would do the cooking, (given that she cooked for Tommy as he grew up and was rather good at it) although Vera and the other waitresses had their turns at the stove periodically. However, Alice did this most often, as she had Mel's trust.
Mel could be very harsh and tough to deal with, especially with his long-suffering, on-again, off-again girlfriend, Marie Massey, whom he called "Puppy Toes". After Flo's departure, Marie even worked at Mel's as a temporary waitress in the episode that Belle came to the diner.
Mel had a strict rule in the diner that no checks were to be cashed there (obviously because of a lack of money); although this rule was broken by Vera when she cashed a check for an old friend, only to have it bounce and Mel tried to swindle them out of the amount of the check; $50, when he convinced them to clean his often messy apartment; Alice, Jolene and Vera utilized blackmail to grab his black book; he gave them the $50 in exchange for his precious little black book; and he hated it when anyone moonlighted (which all of the waitresses had done at one time or other, as Mel paid them very little). Though he had fired his waitresses on more than one occasion, and sometimes for very petty reasons, he realized that he couldn't run his business without them, and he needed them more than they needed him.
At one point (in the episode, Alice Beats the Clock) he even installed a time clock, in the hopes that he could force them to come to work on time. He, however, failed to realize that the time clock also allowed for double overtime, when they came in to clean the diner on Sunday. He eventually was forced to pay them for the ten hours of work they did and threw out the time clock, but not without making a fuss about it.
Sometimes, physical damage occurred to the diner itself. For example, Flo driving a semi right through the front of the diner, out of misplaced jealousy; Mel cutting down a century old tree to expand his parking lot, the result being the tree crashing right through the diner; the diner being misaimed for demolition, and was nearly demolished; and while in a hot air balloon, Mel pulled the descent string on the balloon, crashing them through the diner's ceiling. All four times, Mel, who sees his diner as his entire life, went into an absolute rage.
Mel's mother, Carrie Sharples, was a recurring supporting character. Whenever she took over the cooking from her son, business skyrocketed. However, Mel would often cut down his mother's efforts, and on one occasion, drove her to the competition.
Mel called Vera "Dingy"; Jolene "Blondie"; and would often tell everyone else to "stow it!" or later on, in the case of Jolene and Belle, "Bag it!" His greatest adversary, however, was Flo.
Flo usually gave to Mel as good as she got, flooring him with phrases like "Kiss my grits!" (Flo's trademark line) or "When donkeys fly!" On the spin-off series, Flo, Mel, on a trip back from New Orleans for Mardi Gras, visited Cowtown, to see Flo and to meet her friends and family and to see her new business, Flo's Yellow Rose.
Mel rarely ever got mad at Alice, since she was often the voice of reason, and she would often smooth over the waters whenever Mel would muck things up. He did get angry with her on occasion, but he would always take her back, since he really was fond of her and also had a lot of trust in her. It was Alice, disguised as a mobster named "Sam Butler", who often came to Mel's rescue.
Mel's Diner closed in 1985, and despite his cheapness over the years, he gave his beloved waitresses a $5,000 farewell bonus, along with the famous cow creamers on the tables. Also, Mel was touched when Tommy stated that had it not been for Alice working there, he would have never had a second father, which Mel had become to him. Mel reciprocated the sentiments by stating "and I would have never had a kid to raise."