Alice Pearce was born in New York City to Robert and Margaret (Clark) Pearce on October 16th, 1917. It has been reported elsewhere that Alice was christened "Alicia" at birth, but this is incorrect. Her birth certificate and baby book clearly show that her parents named her Alice when she was born. Her father was the vice-president of The National City Bank of New York and his career led the family to Europe when Alice was only eighteen months old. An only child, and often lonely, Alice developed an interest in acting at an early age. In a December 25th, 1965 TV Guide interview, Alice reflected on her childhood by saying, "I never had much contact with other children, so I lived most of the time in a fantasy world." She appeared in her first play, a school production of Le Malade Imaginaire, while living in Brussels when she was eight years old. During her time overseas, Alice attended schools in Brussels, Antwerp, Rome, and Paris. In her interview with TV Guide, Alice recalled,"It's not good to go to Europe when you're young. When I was there, I wanted most of all to go to the drug store and have a soda, and I couldn't." With her parents permission, Alice decided to move back to New York by herself when she was fifteen. Her mother and father remained in Europe for an additional twenty years, last residing in Britain before they returned to the United States in the early 1950s. After she returned to America in 1932, Alice attended boarding school and then enrolled in Sarah Lawrence College, where she graduated with a degree in drama in 1940. She then spent a season performing summer stock in Maine, after which she returned to New York where she briefly worked as a salesgirl in the ladies underwear department at Macy's. Her wealthy parents strongly disapproved of her theatrical aspirations, but Alice was determined to become an actress. She subsequently appeared in numerous shows on the nightclub circuit, quickly becoming a popular comedienne at "in spots" like The Blue Angel in Manhattan. Alice co-wrote all of her material with her accompaniest Mark Lawrence, who appeared with her in all of her nightclub revues.
Alice Studied Acting in the 1930s
During this period, Alice met and married her first husband, songwriter John Rox. Note: It has been frequently reported that Alice's first husband's name was either "John Box" or "Jon Cox", but this is incorrect. His actual name was John Rox. Rox's song writing credits include the 1940 Broadway revue "All in Fun," and the songs "It's A Big Wide Wonderful World,""Are My Ears On Straight?," and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," which was recorded by Gayla Peevey in 1953 and became a huge hit across America. The song was based on the children's book "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," which John Rox also wrote in 1950.
John Rox Wrote "Are My Ears on Straight?"
Alice's first professional stage appearance was in New Faces of 1943, a musical-comedy revue which opened at the Ritz Theatre on December 22nd, 1942 and ran for 94 performances. Her next role as "Lucy Schmeeler" in the Broadway musical On the Town proved to be her big break, and the play ran for 462 performances at three different theatres from December 8th, 1944 to February 2nd, 1946. In 1947, Alice toured in the Noel Coward play Private Lives starring Tallulah Bankhead. Following this, Alice appeared in two Broadway plays, Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'! and Small Wonder, both in 1948. Alice's next job brought her to Hollywood, where she reprised her role as Lucy Schmeeler in MGM's 1949 film adaptation of On the Town, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Due to her unique talents, Alice was the only member of the original Broadway cast to be invited by MGM to appear in the movie. Following this, Alice starred in a TV series for ABC called The Alice Pearce Show, which was a 15-minute mix of comedy and songs presented by Alice and her piano accompaniest Mark Lawrence. The series ran on Friday nights for two months at the beginning of 1949. Returning to the stage, Alice was cast in a supporting role in the original Broadway production of Anita Loo's Gentleman Prefer Blondes. This play launched the career of Carol Channing, who originated the role of Lorelei Lee, and it ran at the Ziegfeld Theatre for 740 performances from December 8th, 1949 to September 15th, 1951.
During the 1950s, Alice made guest appearances on many early TV shows, including Toast of the Town, The Goodyear Television Playhouse, Mr. Peepers and The Hallmark Hall of Fame. She returned to Hollywood in 1952, where she played a supporting role in the movie The Belle of New York, which starred Fred Astaire. In June of 1953, Alice worked with Debbie Reynolds in a regional theatre production of Best Foot Forward in Dallas, Texas. She was also a regular on two brief television series, Jamie and The Jean Carroll Show, both in 1953. Her Broadway roles during this period included co-starring parts in the plays The Grass Harp (1952), John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953-1954), Dear Charles (1954-1955), and Noel Coward's Fallen Angels (1956). Alice also appeared in an obscure art documentary in 1956 entitled, Alice Pearce Reads From Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll And James Thurber, co-starring Rex Everhart, Archie Smith, Dorothy Sands and Tommy White. The documentary is described as "dramatic readings from the works of Lear, Carroll and Thurber with some biographical information on each". Alice was also cast in the films How To Be Very, Very Popular in 1955 and The Opposite Sex, a musical re-make of The Women, in 1956, the latter of which featured her in a pivotal role as a gossipy manicurist whose loose lips inadvertently instigate the entire plot of the movie.
In 1957, Alice's husband John Rox passed away suddenly, leaving her a widow at the age of 39.Grief-stricken, Alice sought counselling at the Reich Clinic in New York, which she later recommended to her friend Paul Lynde. Though bereaved, she soon found work in the play Copper and Brass (1957), later commenting: "If I hadn't been working, I would have lost my sanity." Alice next appeared in the hit Judy Holliday play Bells are Ringing, replacing Jean Stapleton in the role of Sue when the play moved from the Shubert Theatre (where it had played for two years) to the Alvin Theatre in December of 1958. It was during the run of this play that Alice met Paul Davis, who was employed as the stage manager for this production. The two quickly became friends, and romance blossomed soon after.
During the early 1960s, Alice appeared on the TV shows The Twilight Zone, General Electric Theater, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Shirley Temple's Storybook Theater, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. She also co-starred in the Broadway plays Midgie Purvis in 1961 and Sail Away, starring Elaine Stritch, in 1961-1962. Alice's friendship with actor/photographer Cris Alexander led to her involvement in the 1961 camp classic novel Little Me by Patrick Dennis (the author of Auntie Mame.) Written as a parody about the life of a fictional star, Little Me also featured photographs by Cris Alexander who cast Alice, Dody Goodman, and ballet dancer Shaun O'Brien as characters from the book by superimposing their faces on to stock and vintage photographs. Rosalind Russell and Patrick Dennis also made "surprise" appearances within the book's pages. Alice portrayed a character named Winnie, a reform school friend of Little Me's main character, Belle Poitrine. The book was dedicated to a long list of legendary divas of the stage and screen, the first of whom was "Agnes," an actress Alice would soon work with on Bewitched. Alice also appeared in a second Patrick Dennis-Cris Alexander book entitled First Lady: My Thirty Days Upstairs In the White House. The format was the same as Little Me, with Alice featured in photographs as the daughter of Peggy Cass, who portrayed the First Lady. This book was first published in 1964.
Alice's film work during this period included roles in Lad A Dog (1962), My Six Loves and Tammy and the Doctor (both 1963), as well as The Thrill of It All, Dear Heart, The Disorderly Orderly, and Kiss Me, Stupid (all in 1964). After her many achievements in the entertainment industry, Alice's parents were still unimpressed by her career and maintained their strong disapproval of her work as an actress. In her 1965 TV Guide interview, Alice wryly remarked,"My mother still hopes I will give up my idea of going into the theater."
In May of 1964, surgery revealed that Alice was suffering from ovarian cancer. Her condition was considered terminal, and her doctors informed her that she didn't have long to live. Her boyfriend Paul Davis, who had followed her to Los Angeles, remained steadfastly loyal during the recovery period following her operation. Paul owned and operated Pesha's Framing Studio and Art Gallery, where Alice sometimes helped out (the gallery's name was a reference to Paul's real name: Pesha Darshefsky), and he also managed Lucille Ball's Little Theatre for acting students on the Desilu lot. Alice didn't want anyone to know that she was dying, and the only person she confided in was Paul. After a five-year courtship, Alice Pearce and Paul Davis were married by a justice of the peace in Santa Monica on September 20th, 1964. "We had a marvelous life together, as long as it lasted," Paul later said in an interview with Movieland and TV Time magazine in 1968.
While on their honeymoon at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, Alice's agent George Morris called and told her that Elizabeth Montgomery and William Asher wanted her to play Gladys Kravitz on their new hit series Bewitched. Cutting their honeymoon short, Alice and Paul returned to Hollywood where she immediately started work on the series. Paul drove her to the set every day (Alice never learned how to drive), and though she occasionally seemed tired, no one knew that she was ill. Paul remained on the Bewitched set with Alice during the entire time she worked on the show. He later commented,"I made a pact with Alice---and with myself---that I would never leave her. We didn't know if it would be three months or three years. We knew it was terminal, but we had no way of knowing how long we would be together. So I just stayed with her all the time...I went on the set with her, and administered medication when necessary. I got to know everyone on the show very well. They were marvelous. They treated me like a member of the company." Alice and Elizabeth Montgomery developed a close rapport, and the couples socialized in their free time. As her illness progressed, Alice kept a daily journal, which she asked Paul to give to her doctors after her death in the hope that her experiences would help others facing a similar battle with cancer. Paul later shared some of what Alice wrote in her journal with Movieland And TV Time magazine,"I feel the progress of the disease in my case is unusual because of my mental attitude," she wrote. "I am a supremely happy woman. I have never been beautiful, but I have been blessed with a rich career and the love of two fine men. The strength I have found in the devotion of my dear Paul is beyond measure."
Pearce Personified the Nosey Neighbor as Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched
In 1965, Alice appeared in the film Dear Brigitte, and then opposite Ann-Margret in Bus Riley's Back In Town. Her final film role was in the Doris Day movie The Glass Bottom Boat in 1966. Alice was cast with her Bewitched husband George Tobias in this film, and they played Norman and Mabel Fenimore, a couple not unlike Abner and Gladys Kravitz. By this point, Alice had lost a great deal of weight and her cancer was spreading rapidly, but she refused to give in or admit defeat. Though obviously unwell, Alice continued working right up to the end, despite the fact she was often in tremendous pain. She finally succumbed to the disease on March 3rd, 1966 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, and ABC interrupted a primetime broadcast of Bewitched to announce her passing. She was only 48 years old, and she weighed 70 pounds at the time of her death. There was no funeral at Alice's request, and her remains were cremated and scattered at sea. Paul Davis and Alice's parents, who both outlived her, asked that donations be made to the Nat King Cole Cancer Research Fund in Alice's memory.
Pearce and Tobias on Bewitched
Alice's final appearance as Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched was in the episode "Prodigy," which was broadcast on June 9th, 1966. A few months after her death, Alice was posthumously awarded the Best Supporting Actress Emmy for her work on the series. Although she's been gone for four decades, Alice Pearce is remembered as a gifted comedienne and a truly great and courageous lady. Her work is still enjoyed today, and her legacy of fine performances will be appreciated for many years to come.