Sweet Oddball – The Story of Alice Pearce (paperback)
Best Book of the Year - Classic Images
"Sweet Oddball: The Story of Alice Pearce by Fredrick Tucker is an amazing look at a beloved comedienne. I laughed, I cried, I envied Tucker’s research and writing ability. "
Alice Pearce, once called “the adenoidal lass with the most beautiful, homely face on Broadway,” carved a unique career playing wallflowers, nitwits, nags, and other oddball characters, all of whom contrasted sharply with their portrayer. As the shy daughter of an international banker, she experienced a privileged upbringing, attending exclusive schools in both Europe and the United States. Against her parents’ wishes, she pursued acting, eventually enlivening thirteen Broadway productions and winning acclaim for her smash act at New York’s chicest nightclub, the Blue Angel. Although Alice’s Hollywood career was comparatively fleeting, the Emmy-winning actress was featured in fourteen films and in dozens of top television series. She achieved her greatest fame—ironically, at the very end of her brief life—for playing Gladys Kravitz, the snoopy neighbor on the TV sitcom Bewitched. Sweet Oddball, exhaustively researched and illustrated with 225 rare photos, chronicles the public and private lives of a lady much beloved by her fellow actors and fans.
Fredrick Tucker is a retired educator who enjoys studying character actors of stage and screen. Sweet Oddball, the culmination of research begun in 1975, is his second book for BearManor Media. His biography Verna Felton was published in 2010.
"Many of us fondly recall actress Alice Pearce (1917-1966) as the nasal oddball Lucy Shmeeler in the MGM musical ON THE TOWN (1949) and as the often hysterical nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on TV’s BEWITCHED during its first two seasons (1964-1966). But there was far more to character star Pearce who came from a privileged background including a fine college education. During her impressive career Alice—who was not conventionally pretty—performed in NYC clubs, on Broadway, on road tours, in summer stock, and on radio, TV, and the movies.
"In a true labor of love accomplished over several decades, author Fredrick Tucker has done a remarkable job of researching his subject to the nth degree. During this lengthy period of digging into the world of Alice Pearce he gained the assistance of several of her show business coworkers, perceptions from many of her friends, and personal recollections from her extended family that encompassed two marriages. And seemingly Tucker has documented most every media mention of this offbeat talent who typically played wallflowers, spinsters, and eccentric individuals in a long list of memorable performances. As a result he has produced a marvelous, dimensional, well-written biography of Pearce. Equally of interest Tucker has provided in his book an informative background of the times in which Alice worked in various media. Thus SWEET ODDBALL: THE STORY OF ALICE PEARCE is not only a richly textured narrative but it provides a cultural history of bygone decades of various arenas of American show business. Completing this outstanding chronicle are over 200 photos documenting the professional and private lives of gifted Alice Pearce whose time with us was sadly cut short by cancer. This book is a highly recommended read!"
- James Robert Parish
Review from Classic Images:
From the feisty Mayo Methot to the sublimely
funny Alice Pearce. She was known
for her role as the nosy Gladys Kravitz on
TV’s Bewitched (1964-66) (which earned
her a posthumous Emmy) and for her supporting
performance in the Broadway and
film versions of On the Town. Pearce was
only 48 when she died of ovarian cancer in
1966. As endearing and as talented as she
was (and is), she has been pretty much overlooked
in the years since. Not any longer!
Fredrick Tucker has written an exceptionally
fine biography: Sweet Oddball: The
Story of Alice Pearce (BearManor Media
softcover $42). This 400-plus-page volume
is a remarkable look at Alice’s life and career,
never stinting on the details. Tucker
started collecting and researching Pearce
in the early 1970s, so he got to interview or
receive letters from an impressive array of
her colleagues and friends. His acknowledgments
cover three and a half pages.
Tucker is quite a writer, painting a portrait
of Alice at variance with her famous
role as Gladys Kravitz. She was loved by
all, born into affluent surroundings, traveling
as a child, and graduating from Sarah
Lawrence College in 1940 with a degree in
drama. From there, she went into nightclub
and stage work. This is all detailed alongside
a marvelous selection of rare photos, many
from the collection of her friend, actor-
photographer Cris Alexander (who was on
Broadway with her in On the Town). The
images of her as a young girl are treasures
and there are many glamour shots of her.
She might be called the “chinless wonder,”
and some might deem her homely, but as
evidenced by several photos in this book,
Pearce was beautiful. Of the photos later in
her career, I ADORE the one of her and Phil
Silvers (in drag) from The New Phil Silvers
Show in 1964. And then there’s the one with
Laird Cregar from a 1944 Connecticut stage
production of The Man Who Came to Dinner!
Pearce played the part of Miss Preen,
the character created on Broadway and in
the 1942 movie by Mary Wickes. An intriguing
section deals with Wickes and her
reaction to Pearce, and the idea that some
find them similar.
A true testament to Tucker’s skill as a biographer
is how he deals with Pearce’s illness
and her brave determination to keep
working. I will admit to getting a lump in
my throat reading these passages. And then
to see the pictures of her ravaged by sickness—
poor Alice! Pearce’s personal character
is so gentle and sweet, but with a streak
of eccentricity (and that adenoidal voice!)
that you can’t help but love her. The story
of actor Wendell Corey confronting a nightclub
patron who insulted Alice during one
of her acts was one of my favorite parts of
Sweet Oddball is given deluxe treatment
by BearManor with a larger format (8 x 0.95
x 10 inches). It also has one of the cleanest
texts, with no errors. Fredrick Tucker needs
to write more books. His approach, his research
and his writing talent demand it.