A Tribute to Alice Ghostley, "Esmeralda" From "Bewitched"

Herbie J Pilato

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[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

[Author's Note: All quotes and commentary that appear in this article were culled from interviews the author conducted with those individuals mentioned.]

"I always wanted to be a movie star like Ruby Keller," Alice Ghostley once admitted. "And I was just seventeen. I thought the big city was the place to begin."

That big city was New York, for the actress, who died in 2007, who was born in Eve, Missouri.

Ghostley had been inspired by a cousin who was a tightrope walker for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Baily Circus. She later teamed with her sister, Gladys, and they did an act called The Ghostley Sisters. As Alice recalled:

"When I first started out, I had this natural ability to sing. That was another reason why I chose New York, with all the musicals that were happening at the time. But I looked so different from everyone else. I was never what you would call an ingenue. I was having difficulty finding jobs. Get your eyes straightened, they would tell me, and maybe we can work with you."

For a while, nothing happened. To pay for acting lessons, Alice worked in a restaurant, a cosmetics factory, a detective agency, and a motion picture theatre.

After some assistance from actor/composer/lyricist G. Wood, Ghostley's big break arrived:

She sang "The Boston Beguine" on Broadway with future Bewitched co-star Paul Lynde in New Faces of 1952.

Ghostley went on to make other appearances on Broadway, and then later the big screen came calling with performances in motion pictures like To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), The Film Flam Man, and The Graduate (both films premiered in 1967). Post-Bewitched, Ghostley would appear in 1978's Grease, the most successful movie musical of all time.

In The Graduate, Ghostley appeared with actress Marion Lorne who, like Lynde, was another Bewitched veteran. But unlike Lynde, Ghostley would not work with Lorne on Bewitched (which originally aired on ABC from 1964 to 1972). Though her character, Esmeralda, an accident-prone witch-maid, would ultimately replace Lorne's character, a bumbling aunt witch Clara.

In addition to Bewitched, Ghostley was best known for regular roles in three other TV classics:

The short-lived Captain Nice (NBC, 1967), Mayberry RFD (CBS, 1968-1971), which was the extended sequel to The Andy Griffith Show (CBS, 1960-1968), and Designing Women (CBS, 1986-1993), the latter on which she would the air-headed Bernice Clifton.

Through the years, Ghostley also made guest appearances on shows like The Jackie Gleason Show, and The Odd Couple.

But it was and remains bewitched with which Ghostley will always be best connected. The show was also special to her, too:

"I loved working on it," she said of the series that starred Elizabeth Montgomery as "witch-twitch" Samantha Stephens, who gave up the magical life to live as a mortal with her human husband Darrin.

Darrin was first played by Dick York, and then Dick Sargent. Ghostley only worked during the Sargent years of the series, from 1969 to 1972.

Whenever Sargent's Darrin would come into the picture, Ghostley's anxiety-ridden Esmeralda would fade out...literally. That became Esmeralda's trademark move on screen; one that will forever remain beloved by Bewitched fans, almost as much as the actress herself.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, writes for the Television Academy and Emmys.com, and is the host of THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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