Alice Pearce was a talented and hilarious actress who is best remembered for her role as the nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz in the popular sitcom Bewitched. She won a posthumous Emmy Award for her performance, but sadly, she did not live to see it. Pearce died from ovarian cancer in 1966, at the age of 48. Here is a look at her life and legacy, and how she fought bravely against the disease that took her away too soon.
Early Life and Career
Alice Pearce was born in New York City on October 16, 1917, as the only child of Margaret Clark and Robert E. Pearce, a foreign banking specialist. She spent most of her childhood in Europe, where her family moved frequently due to her father’s work. She attended various schools in Brussels, Antwerp, Rome, and Paris. When she was nine years old, she fell off a swing and landed on her chin, which left her with an undeveloped chin.
She returned to the United States as a teenager and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1940, with a degree in drama. She began working as a comedienne in nightclubs and soon made her way to Broadway, where she starred in several musicals and plays. She was especially praised for her role as Lucy Schmeeler, the blind date with a nasal voice, in On the Town (1944-1946).
She caught the attention of Gene Kelly, who was so impressed by her that he brought her to Hollywood to reprise her role in the film version of On the Town (1949). She also had her own television variety show, The Alice Pearce Show, in 1949, but it was short-lived. She continued to appear in comedic supporting roles in films and television shows throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.
Marriage and Diagnosis
Alice Pearce married John Rox, a writer and producer, in 1948. They had a happy marriage until Rox died from a heart attack in 1957. Pearce was devastated by his death and did not remarry until 1964, when she met Paul Davis, a director whom she worked with on Broadway’s Bells Are Ringing.
However, before she married Davis, Pearce received some devastating news. She was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in 1963 and was given only six months to live. She decided not to tell anyone about her condition, except for her husband and a few close friends. She also refused to undergo any treatment or surgery, believing that it would only prolong her suffering.
Bewitched and Death
In 1964, Alice Pearce was cast as Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor who always spied on Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and suspected that she was a witch, in the new sitcom Bewitched. She was initially hired for only a few episodes, but she proved to be so popular and funny that she became a regular on the show.
Pearce played the role with great enthusiasm and humor, despite being in constant pain from her cancer. She never complained or asked for special treatment on the set. She also kept her illness a secret from the producers and most of the cast members of Bewitched. Only Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York (who played Samantha’s husband Darrin) knew about her condition and supported her discreetly.
Pearce continued to work on Bewitched until early 1966 when her health deteriorated rapidly. She died on March 3, 1966, at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.
Legacy and Awards
Alice Pearce left behind a legacy of laughter and joy for millions of fans who loved her as Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. She was posthumously awarded an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for the second season of the show. Her husband accepted the award on her behalf.
She was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005. Her role as Gladys Kravitz was recast with Sandra Gould after her death, but no one could match Pearce’s unique charm and comic timing.
Alice Pearce was a remarkable actress who faced her death with courage and dignity. She never let her illness affect her performance or spirit. She will always be remembered as one of the funniest women in television history.