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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Tony Award-winning comedic actor and singer Alice Ghostley is best remembered as portraying the good witch/housekeeper Esmeralda in the television sitcom Bewitched and as Bernice Clifton in the television series Designing Women. She was born on August 14, 1923, in Eve, Missouri, where her father, Harry Francis Ghostley, worked as a telegraph operator. He died in 1933 in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. After his death the family of three, Edna Rooney Ghostley and her two daughters Gladys and Alice, moved to Henryetta, Oklahoma. In 1941 Alice Ghostley graduated from Henryetta High School. Encouraged by one of her teachers, Ghostley attended the University of Oklahoma, where she pursued courses in English and drama. She left college when she and her sister Gladys teamed up as the "Ghostley Sisters" to establish their careers in theater in New York City.

Eventually, the sisters went their separate ways. Alice Ghostley made her Broadway debut in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952 at the Royale Theatre in New York City. In that musical revue she sang "The Boston Beguine," which became her signature song. She also appeared in the 1960 revue A Thunder Carnival and in The Beauty Part in 1962. In 1965 Ghostley won a Tony Award for best featured actress for her dramatic role as Mavis Parodus Bryson in The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, written by African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry.

In 1957 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's musical Cinderella aired on television. Julie Andrews starred in the title role, and Ghostley appeared as one of the ugly stepsisters. She appeared in several television series before being cast as Esmeralda in Bewitched. She appeared in fifteen episodes of that show from 1969 and 1972. Ghostley portrayed Cousin Alice in Mayberry R.F.D., starring Andy Griffith. Between 1972 and 1973 she appeared on The Julie Andrews Hour, a variety show on ABC. During the 1970s and 1980s Ghostley made guest appearances in other television series such as Hogan's Heroes, Maude, Good Times, One Day at a Time, and The Odd Couple. She had supporting or cameo roles in movies that include New Faces of 1952 (1954), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), The Graduate (1967), The Flim-Flam Man (1967), and Grease (1978). On May 15, 1992, her home town of Henryetta proclaimed "Alice Ghostley Day" and named the high school auditorium in her honor.

Ghostley died on September 21, 2007, at her home in Studio City, California. At the time of her death she was battling colon cancer and the effects of several strokes. She is buried with her parents in Oak Hill Cemetery, Siloam Springs, Arkansas. She was married to Italian-born actor Felice Orlandi, who died of lung cancer on May 21, 2003, in Burbank, California. They had no children.

Linda D. Wilson


Alice Ghostley Materials (MC 1846), Special Collections Department, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

"Alice Ghostley," Vertical File, Oklahoma Room, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, Oklahoma City.

New York Times, 22 September 2007.

Larry O'Dell, comp., Oklahoma @ the Movies (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2012).

The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 23 September 2007.

Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 15 May 1992 and 23 September 2007.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda D. Wilson, “Ghostley, Alice Margaret,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=GH003.

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