This is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Forgotten Stars blogathon. Check out the other entries!
When you type Alice Brady into a Google search, a flood of entries appear—but not for the talented actress who won over My Man Godfrey audiences in her role as the flighty head of the Bullock clan. Instead, the character of Alice (Ann B. Davis) from the Brady Bunch pops up. I enjoy my 70s kitsch as much as the next gal, but I find it troubling that the lasting fame of Brady, an actress who already was granted too few years (she died at 46), should be shortchanged as a result of everyone’s favorite cheesy housekeeper. Here are a few reasons why Alice Brady needs to be remembered:
She Could Outdazzle Ginger Rogers
In The Gay Divorcee Aunt Hortense (Alice Brady) hires her former fiancé Egbert (Edward Everett Horton) to help her niece (Ginger Rogers) attain a divorce. While I am amused by Mimi’s (Rogers’s) attempts to divorce her husband and her suitor’s (Fred Astaire) confusion over the hijinks that ensue, their romance is completely outdone by the duo of Horton and Brady, who vie each other for who can be the most foolish. Hortense interprets any of Egbert’s idiotic actions—agreeing with her that geometrists are synonymous with geologists, wearing a finger puppet while conducting business—as signs of his continued love for her. When leaving his office, Hortense becomes weepy, saying, “You know, divorces make me so sentimental. Don’t you wish it was ours?”
This exchange would have been funny with almost any actress. But this is Alice Brady. A few images should give you the idea of just how fun this moment—and their whole romance—is, and just why from that moment forward, I sought out Brady films. Just check out how expressive she can be in one short scene, and this without the delightfully funny trill of her amazing voice:
As a fervent Astaire-Rogers fan, I’m usually annoyed by the subplots that take away from dance number time. But in this case, I was eager to see Hortense again, even becoming impatient with the dancing. Who wouldn’t smile to see the amazing Horton and Brady together?
She Could Do Everything—Drama, Comedy; Film, Stage
Despite her producer dad’s strong objections, Brady, born in 1892, followed the family business by becoming a Broadway actress, and spent her youth alternating between screen and stage, mainly in dramatic roles, including as Lavinia in the first performance of Mourning Becomes Electra.
While I’ve only tracked down one of her many silents, Betsy Ross (1917), its absurd, overdramatic plot is worth viewing if only for this great line: “Thee is too spicy for a Quakeress, Betsy! I fear for thee.” Does any word suit this wonderful actress more?
Brady left the screen for a decade, focusing on the stage as Hollywood revolutionized its production. She returned in the sound era with perfect comic timing and delivery, no doubt honed in Broadway roles in such comedies as The Pirates of Penzance.
In typical Oscar fashion, the Academy nominated her for the romantic comedy My Man Godfrey, but only granted her the award when she starred in a drama. She played an Irish mother (Molly O’Leary, owner of the famous arsonist cow) beset by her children’s squabbles in In Old Chicago. What’s fascinating about the film is how understated her performance is, even for the stereotypical tough Irish mom she’s playing. For a woman who verged toward the theatrical in her comic roles, it’s interesting to find her often going for a quiet harrumph rather than a shout.
She Could Spar with William Powell
She’s good in the O’Leary role, but it pales in comparison to her comic gems. I’m not even a fan of My Man Godfrey, which feels a bit preachy to me and relies on too many sets of Carole Lombard hysterics. But I could watch her hangover scene with William Powell all day long.
Her near-comatose presence is so funny given her later zaniness, as is her conviction that pixies are haunting her. When her new butler (Powell) tells her the tomato juice he’s serving is pixie remover, her flat delivery is priceless:
“Oh, then you see them too,” she drones.
“They’re old friends,” he responds.
“Yes, but you mustn’t step on them,” she explains calmly. “I don’t like them. But I don’t like to see them stepped on.”
She may not be remembered as much as she should be, but we classic film buffs would be the poorer without this “spicy” actress.
A man claimed her Oscar at the Academy Awards when she was too sick to be present; apparently, no one ever had a clue who he was, including Brady.
Brady tried to get massages as a deduction on her income tax, claiming looks essential to her role as an actress, but, as her New York Times obituary writer wryly noted, “The government remained unmoved.”