Chairpotato Presents : Alice Ghostley

Actress was Esmerelda on "Bewitched"; Bernice Clifton on "Designing Women"

Biography of American actress Alice Ghostley, born 1926, died 2007. Best known as "Esmerelda" on Bewitched and as "Bernice Clifton" on Designing Women


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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.  You can also view my original article at "Alice Ghostley" at CountyHistorian.  An earlier version of the article here has been cited in this article " 'Aunt Esmerelda' spent childhood in Siloam Springs", by Gary Burton 24 Jun 2009 for the "The Herald-Leader" (Siloam Springs, AR) as posted on the website, cited below as "Aunt Esmerelda".

Alice Ghostley

Early Life

Alice Ghostley was born 14 Aug 1926 in a train station in a place called "Eve" in Vernon County, Missouri as the second and last child of Harry F Ghostley and his wife Edna M Rooney.  (Her sister, still living states that Alice was born on a train, but I believe I have a source somewhere where Alice herself states that she was born in the station.)  Her father was at that time, a telegrapher at this "whistle stop", and shared quarters in the building.  Wikipedia reports Alice's 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 at Oak Hill Cemetery in having died at a hospital in Missouri 23 Oct 1933.  Alice's mother Edna never remarried, dying in 1965, 32 years later, in Oklahoma as "Edna Ghostley".  Alice attended school in Siloam Springs through the sixth grade, and "often returned to visit" ("Aunt Esmerelda", op.cit.)  The family moved to Henryetta, Okmulgee County, Oklahoma where Alice finished growing up and graduated from high school. 

Gladys said that she and her sister began getting serious about becoming actresses while they were teenagers in Oklahoma.

"We would find copies of all sorts of plays and memorize them," Gladys said. "Mother was very supportive of us, but never pushed us hard in that direction. She left that to us."("Aunt Esmerelda")

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.

Early Career

One source states that it was Imogene who told Leonard Sillman about Ghostley, while another credits Murray Grand.  Whoever did it, Leonard put Ghostley in his annual revue New Faces of 1952 where she had a hit with her rendition of the song "The Boston Beguine".  New Faces played Broadway for a year, and then toured to a 28-week engagement in Chicago, followed up by stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Four of the other aspiring members of the revue that year were Paul Lynde, Ronny Graham, Robert Clary and Eartha Kitt, and one of the writers, in his first work for the Broadway theater, Mel Brooks.  The tour was so successful, that New Faces was made into a Cinemascope production released in 1954, and Alice again was a co-star as was Eartha Kitt, but Paul Lynde's name does not appear in the advertisement.  As amateurs, she and her sister Gladys once did an act together and were given the eerie-sounding billing of The Ghostley Sisters.

Her act in New Faces, 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." You can watch it on YouTube here.

At the Fireside Inn in New York City, where she was singing, Alice met Italian-born actor Felice Antonio Orlandi in 1951.  He had been born in 1924 in Avezzano, Italy.  She stated in one interview that she proposed to him and he accepted after several months.  They married in the Autumn of 1951.  In their first few years of marriage, Alice went on-the-road in New Faces and was gone for six months. (Note: Sources do not agree exactly on how many months she was gone, six to nine certainly.)
Felice Orlandi

Some sources in error will state that Alice and Felice married in 1953.  This is probably based on a bad reading on one of several early interviews which Alice gave.  However, the clear indication of their marriage year, is the interview in 1988 stating "the couple will this Autumn celebrate their thirty-seventh anniversary".

Alice and Felice appeared together in a show called All In One in 1955,  although in different bits.  She got to sing opera in one bit, and Felice played in Tennessee William's one-actor "27 Wagons Full of Cotton" in another bit in the same show.

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 television show "Cinderella", as one of the ugly stepsisters with Kaye Ballard playing the other one, and with Julie Andrews as Cinderella.  Watch the documentary "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.

"Alice was a wonderful person and so full of life," Ballard said. "She was the funniest person who ever lived."  Ballard said Alice didn't get a driver's license until much later in life, and called to tell her the news.  "I reminded her that she didn't drive and she told me, 'True, but now I can cash checks.'"("Aunt Esmerelda")

Alice's 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 Part with Bert Lahr, 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 of "Agnes and Arthur"  here on YouTube.

Middle Career

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".

She first appeared on the TV-series ''Bewitched'' as Samantha's maid "Naomi Hogan" on 6 Jan 1966 in "Maid to Order".  This was episode 53 also called episode 17 in Season 2.  Note the '''fascinating''' bit where Louise Tate's '''prior''' maid is named... yes ... Esmerelda !

Alice had a small role as one of the greeters at the wedding in 1967's film ''The Graduate''.  In her longest scene she stands next-to fellow-actress Marion Lorne who she would later replace, as a comedic foil, on the TV-series ''Bewitched'', after Marion's death.  Some have seen that as a bit...ghostley.  You can watch the entire 48 second clip here.
Alice Ghostley and Marion Lorne
in 1967's ''The Graduate''
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.


Ghostley's character "Esmerelda" was later 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.

Bewitched Episode 170 (aka Season 6, Episode 2) "Samantha's Yoo-Hoo Maid" which first aired 25 Sep 1969, is where Esmerelda first appears.  In this episode, Endora wants Samantha to hire a maid, and suggests Esmerelda who is losing her self-confidence and with it her powers.  She fades away when she is nervous, and when she sneezes either something appears for a short while, or somebody is levitated briefly.

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.

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.

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.

In Episode 184 (aka Season 6, Episode 16) "Samantha's Lost Weekend", Tabitha won't eat so Esmerelda hexes a glass of milk that will make the drinker -- eat. Samantha drinks it instead, and goes on an eating frenzy.  A hilarious side-story occurs when Esmerelda has to get an antidote from the witches' Apothecary while avoiding his randy advances.   Instead Dr. Bombay shows up and cures her, but gives her a side-effect of narcolepsy.

In Episode 193 (aka Season 6, Episode 25) "Okay, Who's the Wise Witch?", Samantha, Darrin, Endora and Dr. Bombay are all caught in a magical vapor lock around the house due to Samantha's non-use of powers.  Esmerelda only appears incidentally.

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.

In Episode 204 (aka Season 7 Episode 6) "Paul Revere Rides Again", An antique Paul Revere teapot is taken by Esmerelda, who pops into 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 Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

In Episode 224 (aka Season 7 Episode 26) "Samantha's Magic Mirror", Sam gives Esmerelda a make-over and then enchants all the mirrors to make her look more fabulous.

In Episode 230 (aka Season 8 Episode 4) "Samantha's Not-So-Leaning Tower of Pisa", the Stephens take a vacation to Italy.  Esmerelda pops in to straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Read my write-up on "Every episode of Bewitched" on Knol, where you can buy or watch most of the 254 episodes.

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 as Patty Duke's kleptomaniac mother in the movie ''Two on a Bench'', you can watch an excerpt here.  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'').

She played shop-teacher Mrs. Murdock in the 1978 movie ''Grease'' starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.  You can see her here on YouTube.  She was also in the 1978 movie ''Rabbit Test'' with Paul Lynde which was very bad.

In 1986/7 she became a regular on the TV-series ''Designing Women'' as the eccentric "Bernice Clifton", for which she received an Emmy nomination in 1992.  She appeared sporadically on that show until the show was canceled in 1993.  Watch one of her most memorable episodes here on YouTube, and another one here.

Her husband Felice died 21 May 2003 from lung cancer, and Alice died at her home in Studio City, California on 21 Sep 2007 after a battle with colon cancer a series of strokes. When Felice died, he was cremated and his ashes scattered under an orange tree behind their Studio City home.  When Alice died, she was also cremated and her ashes scattered there as well. ("Aunt Esmerelda")

A box with memorabilia from Alice's career was donated to the Siloam Springs Museum after her death and contains photographs she took while visiting her former hometown and correspondence with people she met while touring downtown. ("Aunt Esmerelda")

Primary Sources

  • ''The Galveston News'', 26 Oct 1952, "Comedienne Ghostley Off Map -- But Makes Grade Now", by Phyllis Battelle (INS)
  • ''The Lawton Constitution'', 28 Jul 1959, page 4 "The Billboard", by Bill Crawford
  • ''The Lawton Constitution-Morning Press'', 22 Jan 1967, "Alice Ghostley Says : Prove Yourself: Do Everything..."
  • ''The Bridgeport Post'', 27 Feb 1969, " 'New Faces' Stars Help Jonathan As Supporting Members of His Cast"
  • ''The Press Courier'' (Oxnard, California), 18 Feb 1973
  • Social Security Death Index showing : "Felice Orlandi born 18 Sep 1924, died 21 May 2003 last residence Studio City, Los Angeles County, California; SSN issued by Ohio"
  • Social Security Death Index showing : "Alice Ghostley born 14 Aug 1923, SSN issued by Oklahoma, died 21 Sep 2007, last residence Studio City, Los Angeles County, California"
  • ''The Chronicle Telegram'' (Elyria, Ohio), 20 Aug 1988, "Alice Ghostley : Broadway to TV and Elsewhere", by Richard Christiansen, Chicago Tribune
  • ''The Independent'' (London), 27 Sep 2007, "Alice Ghostley" (obit)
  • "Bewitched" episode guide

Secondary Sources

  • Genealogue Challenge #39 where several details of her parents are listed
  • "Alice Ghostley" on Wikipedia
  • "Alice Ghostley", obituary in the Times Online
  • "Felice Orlandi" at IMDb
  • The ''Biography and Genealogy Master Index'' shows for Felice Orlandi:
    • ''Who's Who in Hollywood. The largest cast of international film personalities ever assembled''. Two volumes. By David Ragan. New York: Facts on File, 1992. (WhoHol 1992)
    • ''Who's Who in Hollywood, 1900-1976''. By David Ragan. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1976. The 'Living Players' section begins on page 11. (WhoHol A)
  • BGMI shows for Alice Ghostley however:
  • "Alice Ghostley" on

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