For this week’s “Things That Bring Back Memories” post, I am going to pick something in the topic of “TELEVISION” and go with “Alice“. This television show started in 1976, and was over in 1985. Back in the day, we only had so many channels on the TV. Nowadays we have hundreds, and you always hear “there’s nothing on!” I remember watching this show when I was little, and always loved the ladies. Back in the day, most women thought that they had to just take everything from the men and do their job (even if treated badly). This show changed things up! It let women know that when they were being treated poorly, then could just tell it like it was.
“Alice” was one that always cracked us up! Having worked in some restaurants when I was younger and seeing how hungry people treated the hardworking waitresses, I really understood how they could end up acting like these ladies. Well, they wanted to, but ended up talking about it in the break room! 🙂
For those of you, who are either too young, or just don’t remember it, here’s a video of one of the “Alice” shows (with the unforgettable line by Flo):
“Alice” was one of those shows that can still make you laugh, even years after watching it. Back then, humor was just that…humor. You didn’t have to worry about language and innuendos like in the shows today. Granted, we were always told to watch our attitudes, but there were just sometimes you wanted to talk to people like Flo did!
It cracked me up, that just a few years ago, friends of ours that are the band “Neely” came out with a new song called “Kiss My Grits”, it always reminds me of this timeless show…check out their great song here:
So, did you ever watch this show when you were younger? or have you seen it on TV later in life? Let me know what you thought of it, and if you have any memories of it in your life!
More Info on the Television Series:
Alice is an American sitcom television series that ran from August 31, 1976 to March 19, 1985 on CBS. The series is based on the 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The show stars Linda Lavin in the title role, a widow who moves with her young son to start her life over again, and finds a job working at a roadside diner on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the episodes revolve around events at Mel’s Diner.
Alice Hyatt (Linda Lavin) is an unemployed widow after her husband, Donald, is killed in a trucking accident, and with her young son Tommy (played by Alfred Lutter in the pilot episode, reprising his role from the movie, but played by Philip McKeon thereafter) heads from their New Jersey home to Los Angeles so that she can pursue a singing career. Her car breaks down on the way in Phoenix (from a presumed engine fire, as seen in the opening credits), and we meet her soon after she has taken a job as a waitress at Mel’s Diner, on the outskirts of Phoenix. (The later seasons’ exterior shots were of a real diner, named Mel’s, still in operation in Phoenix.) Alice works alongside Mel Sharples (Vic Tayback), the grouchy, stingy owner and cook of the greasy spoon, and fellow waitresses and friends, sassy, man-hungry Florence Jean “Flo” Castleberry (Polly Holliday), and neurotic, scatterbrained Vera Louise Gorman (Beth Howland).
Each episode invariably started inside the diner, and most if not all subsequent scenes took place there as well. A frequent set for non-diner scenes was Alice’s one-bedroom apartment in the Desert Sun apartments. (Tommy used the bedroom and Alice slept on a sleeper sofa in the living room.) Vera and Mel’s studio apartments and Flo’s trailer were occasionally seen. One of the diner’s biggest competitors, Barney’s Burger Barn, was sometimes mentioned.
The diner had its share of regular customers through the years, such as Tommy’s basketball coach, Earl Hicks (Dave Madden), and Henry Beesmeyer (Marvin Kaplan), a telephone repairman who always made jokes about Mel’s cooking. Henry’s oft-mentioned wife Chloe was seen in one episode, played by Ruth Buzzi. Celebrities playing either themselves or other characters (including Martha Raye, George Burns, Robert Goulet, and Desi Arnaz) were a hallmark of the show.
Polly Holliday left the show to star in her own spin-off series, Flo. In the episode airing February 24, 1980, Flo leaves to take a hostess job in Houston. On the way to Houston, Flo stops at her hometown Fort Worth, Texas (which she refers to by its moniker “Cowtown”). Flo decides to buy and run a failing road house bar there, which she renames Flo’s Yellow Rose. Polly Holliday never made a guest appearance on Alice after beginning Flo, although flashbacks including Flo were shown in the final episode of Alice. Vic Tayback made one guest appearance on Flo.
Diane Ladd, who received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Flo in the film version joined the cast in 1980 as Isabelle “Belle” Dupree, a hard-edged but kind-hearted woman. She had been a waitress of Mel’s in the past, and the two had had a romantic relationship during that time. In spite of Ladd’s Golden Globe-winning performance as Belle, the character was not retained for the duration of the series and replaced early in 1981, the character making one last appearance in which she telephones the diner to inform everyone that she had taken a job as a backup singer in Nashville, Tennessee. It has been said that Ladd clashed with her co-stars, and no flashbacks including Belle were shown during the final episode of the series.
Theater actress Celia Weston then joined the cast as the good-natured, boisterous truck driver Jolene Hunnicutt, who came from Myrtle Point, South Carolina. Jolene arrives as she and her male driving partner are in the midst of an argument over his unwelcome advances, during which she throws and breaks many of Mel’s dishes. Mel agrees to hire her “temporarily” to work off the cost of the dishes, but she stays until end of the series. Jolene frequently mentions her grandmother, “Granny Gums”, who had only three or four teeth. Jolene also mentions her distant relative Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg, a character from the concurrent CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard. In one episode Sorrell Booke guest stars in this role, along with fellow Dukes character, Enos (Sonny Shroyer).
The latter years of the show focused on some character development, such as the hasty courtship and marriage of Vera and lovable cop Elliot (Charles Levin). Tommy eventually goes to college and is seen less frequently. In the final season, the character of Alice was absent several times due to Lavin’s directing a number of episodes and playing the character of Mrs. Walden. The final story arc began in the summer of 1985, when country singer Travis Marsh (played by Lavin’s real-life husband Kip Niven), discovering that he’s falling for Alice, “kidnaps” her to take her to Nashville, telling her it’s time to follow her dream there. Bewildered at the thought of her dreams finally coming true, Alice agrees, but not without extracting a promise from Travis to drive her back to Phoenix so she can get her affairs in order, including ending her current relationship with a writer.
In the last episode, which aired March 19, 1985, typical of sitcoms of the era, news of several life-changing events is revealed within a matter of minutes. Alice, after nine years of trying, finally gets a recording contract and is moving to Nashville. Vera announces she is pregnant and decides to be a full-time mother, Elliott having been promoted from officer to detective. Jolene’s “Granny Gums” has died and leaves her granddaughter enough money to open her own beauty parlor in her hometown. Besides all three waitresses suddenly leaving simultaneously, by an amazing coincidence Mel has just sold the diner for a large amount of money to a real estate developer, and must close within days. On closing day, he surprisingly gives each waitress a $5,000 farewell bonus. The remainder of the episode shows flashbacks to humorous and major events, and many of the big stars who had appeared on the show, including Polly Holliday. Finally, when cleaning out her locker, Alice finds the “Waitress Wanted” sign that first drew her to the diner. The series’ regular customers, including Henry, say their emotional farewells, followed by Elliot, and finally the principal characters Tommy, Jolene, Vera, and Alice. The last thing we see is Mel putting up the “Closed” sign and locking up.
Some of the Characters:
Linda Lavin (Alice Hyatt) was born in Portland, Maine to a musically-inclined family (her mother was once an opera singer) and on stage from the age of 5. She graduated from The College of William and Mary with a theater degree. Television beckoned in the 1970’s and utilized her singing talents in a small-screen version of Damn Yankees! (1967) starring Phil Silvers and Lee Remick. After a one-season false start as Detective Janice Wentworth on the sitcom Barney Miller (1974), it did not take long for the talented lady to become a household name in another. As the titular waitress/mother in the sitcom Alice (1976), based on the award-winning film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) starring Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, Lavin won deserved stardom. During the nine seasons (1976-1985) the show was on the air, she nabbed two Golden Globe awards and an Emmy nomination. She earned renewed respect, in addition to several critic’s awards, for her diversified Broadway work in “Broadway Bound”, “Death Defying Acts”, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, and “Tales of the Allergist Wife”. More recently, she appeared in Carol Burnett’s autobiographical play “Hollywood Arms” (2002) portraying Burnett’s grandmother. Linda was married and divorced twice to actors — Ron Leibman and Kip Niven — and in 2005 married her third husband, actor Steve Bakunas, who is also an artist and musician. Since her “Alice” heyday, the actress has again found series work, albeit the short-lived Room for Two (1992) and Conrad Bloom (1998). She has also been seen in penetrating guest parts on such established series as “The Sopranos”, “Law & Order” and “The O.C.” (recurring).
Elizabeth “Beth” Howland (Vera Louise Gorman) was born May 28, 1941, and is an American actress. She has worked on stage and television. Howland is best known for playing Vera on the sitcom Alice, inspired by the Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Howland also originated the role of Amy in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, in which she introduced the patter song “Getting Married Today.” Howland is an only child born to Roman Catholic parents. She attended a Catholic school as a young girl and became interested in acting and dancing with encouragement from one of the nuns. At the age of 16, she left home and followed a dancer friend to New York City. From November 6, 1961, to 1969, she was married to character actor Michael J. Pollard, with whom she has a daughter named Holly. She is currently married to actor Charles Kimbrough, an actor of Broadway and Murphy Brown fame. Kimbrough and Howland appeared together in Company. She remained on Alice throughout its nine seasons. After the show ended in 1985, Howland went into semi-retirement. She made occasional guest appearances (including Murder, She Wrote, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and The Tick) and starred in the telefilm Terrible Things My Mother Told Me.
Polly Holliday (Flo Castleberry) was born on July 2, 1937 in Jasper, Alabama. The normally erudite, soft-spoken and well-mannered Alabama-born actress Polly Holliday had accumulated quite an extensive theater background by the time she hit it big on 70’s TV as the brash, uninhibited, gum-cracking waitress Florence Jean Castleberry (Flo for short) on the popular sitcom Alice (1976). As a long and respected member of the Asolo Repertory Company in Sarasota, Florida, Polly had toiled long and hard to disguise her Southern twang while building up a sturdy classical reputation. At the same time, she taught music in the city’s elementary schools. When she won the role of Flo in 1976, however, she let all four burners out as the scene-stealing Southern-baked hash-slinger who delightfully redefined trailer park trash. The two-time Golden Globe winner and Emmy-nominated actress hit it so big with fans (she introduced the catch phrase, “Kiss mah grits!” to the American vernacular) that she earned her own spin-off, aptly titled Flo (1980). The show barely lasted one season despite another Emmy-nomination for her. Polly lost major clout after the show’s cancellation and, to avoid typecasting, she stayed out of the television limelight while appearing in regional theater. She won renewed respect and critical notice for her Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie, her Tony-nominated turn as Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and for her part as the lonely small-town schoolteacher in Picnic in 1994. From time to time she has taken on flashy roles in both comic and dramatic films, such as the old crank who meets a freakish end in Gremlins (1984), and on TV wherein she briefly replaced Eileen Brennan in the series Private Benjamin (1981) after Ms. Brennan’s near-fatal car accident in 1982. Though Polly never recaptured the dazzling success of her Alice (1976) years, she has continued at a healthy pace — primarily in guest spots where she plays wise and opinionated mothers and grandmothers.
Vic Tayback (Mel Sharples) was born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, the son of Helen and Najeeb James Tayback. His parents were immigrants from Aleppo, Syria. Tayback moved with his family to Burbank, California, during his teenage years and attended Burbank High School. He ended up living in the area for the rest of his life, eventually moving to nearby Glendale, California, where he resided until his death. A life member of The Actors Studio, Tayback was a familiar face on television in the 1960’s and 70’s, appearing on numerous shows as a character actor. Two notable appearances were in the “Et tu, Archie?” fourth season episode of All in the Family as Archie’s old friend, Joe Tucker, and as the 1930’s style gangster-boss ‘Jojo Krako’ in the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action”. Tayback’s most famous role was diner owner Mel Sharples in both the 1974 movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and in the television series, Alice, which ran from 1976 to 1985. He was the only actor of the original film to reprise his role in the series.
Did You Know?
The shot of the station wagon during the show’s opening credits is from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974).
The actual restaurant building, that this show is based on is located in Phoenix, Arizona, at 1747 NW Grand Ave. It is currently called Pat’s Family Restaurant. It was known as “Mel’s Diner”, from 1976 to 1985.
The shot of Vera with the “exploding straws” was the only one used during the opening credits for the entire run of the series, with the exception of the pilot episode, which had no scenes from Mel’s Diner in the opening.
There was an agreement among the writers of this show that if they found themselves in a joke that they couldn’t get out of they would just give one of the characters a funny costume or a funny hat.
The favorite dish at Mel’s Diner was chili. Art Carney appeared in an episode, where Mel tries to market his chili commercially.
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