TINSELTOWN TALKS: Joyce Bulifant recounts her life and career in “My Four Hollywood Husbands.”
For those who keep track of Hollywood nuptials, the title of Joyce Bulifant’s autobiography released last fall isn’t a record, but it’s certainly impressive. The actress, who co-starred in TV series such as “Flo,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” and “The Bill Cosby Show,” recounts her life and career in “My Four Hollywood Husbands.”
Bulifant says all the men wrestled with alcohol issues: “Hawaii Five-O” star James (‘Danno’) MacArthur; TV/film producer, director, and screenwriter William Asher; “Days of Our Lives” actor Edward Mallory; and her current husband of 16 years actor Roger Perry.
“It was never my intention to marry famous Hollywood men, it just happened that way,” said Bulifant from Los Angeles. “In fact, I was 14 when I first met Jimmy (MacArthur) while we were at boarding school together and we started dating a couple of years later but only after I told him he had to join the drama club because I spent all my time there!”
Her marriage to MacArthur lasted a decade.
“When I look back, I remember them as unhappy men especially Jimmy. When he wasn’t working he would drink more and it became a terrible situation. With each of them, I thought if I just loved them enough they wouldn’t need to drink and would become happy, but it just didn’t work that way.”
Career-wise, Bulifant has been successful on stage as well as in film and television, including a frequent game show panelist in the 70s and 80s (see www.joycebulifant.com). But one big TV role did slip by.
“I was all signed, sealed, and delivered to play Mrs. Brady on ‘The Brady Bunch,'” she recalled. “One Friday, I was showing the director and producer (and writer, Sherwood Schwartz) my wardrobe but they were acting very strange. When I asked what was wrong they sat me down and said the executives at ABC in New York wanted Florence Henderson for the role.”
Because of Bulifant’s comedic reputation, she says she would have played the role with more humor, while the part of the housekeeper would have been more straight. Schwartz called that evening confirming the bad news.
“That’s the way it goes in this business. Florence was a wonderful actress and a lovely lady.”
Concentrating on TV work, Bulifant only appeared in about a dozen films. Her first main feature role was the 1967 Disney musical “The Happiest Millionaire,” memorable for her ‘Bye-Yum Pum Pum’ song with Lesley Ann Warren. She remembers bumping into Disney while walking to the recording studio to record the song for the audio track.
“I was really nervous about making it and Walt Disney actually came down from his office while I was walking over. He put his arm around me and said, ‘I have big plans for you little lady!'”
But it would be the last live-action feature produced by Disney who died a year before the film’s release.
Despite some missed career opportunities and the marital problems throughout her life, Bulifant has always remained optimistic. Her radiant cheerful on-screen personality and distinctive youthful voice made her a favorite comedic actress with audiences.
She even appeared briefly in the classic 1980 comedy “Airplane!” as the mother of the sick little girl with the intravenous drip.
“I didn’t want to do that dadgum movie, I thought it was so silly,” she recalled. “I was married to William Asher at the time and he told me ‘You’re an actress – you act!’ Now it’s been called one of the 100 funniest movies ever made.”
Today, the author still enjoys hearing from readers helped by her personal experiences outlined in her book. She remains happily married to Roger Perry although he too experienced some early rough patches.
“He’s been sober for 21 years because he wanted to get better, so that’s why this marriage has worked. When you’re in the entertainment business, you have to deal with disappointment and rejection so if you don’t feel strong and confident about yourself it can be very disheartening. That’s true for anyone with self-doubt which is why my book resonates with people from all walks of life. So I’m very pleased when I hear from people it has helped.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala, and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 650 newspapers and magazines. See www.tinseltowntalks.com