Joyce Bulifant: Her Ups and Downs
In marriage and career
For those who keep track of Hollywood nuptials, the title of the 2017 autobiography of Joyce Bulifant may not represent a marital world record, but it’s certainly an attention grabber. The actress, who co-starred in TV series such as “Flo” and “Mary Tyler Moore,” recounted her life and career in “My Four Hollywood Husbands.”
Bulifant describes how alcohol influenced her four hubbies: “Hawaii Five-O” star James (“Danno”) MacArthur; TV/film producer, director, and screenwriter William Asher; “Days of Our Lives” actor Edward Mallory; and her last husband actor, Roger Perry, who died in 2018.
“It was never my intention to marry famous Hollywood men, it just happened that way,” said Bulifant from Los Angeles. “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.”
She remembers her spouses as unhappy men, especially MacArthur in their decade-long marriage.
“When he wasn’t working, he would drink more, and it became a terrible situation,” she said. “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.”
She remained happily married to her last husband Roger Perry, although he too experienced some early rough patches. “He wanted to get better, so that’s why this marriage worked,” she said.
Career-wise, Joyce Bulifant has been successful on stage as well as in film and television, and was a frequent game show panelist in the ’70s and ’80s. 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.”
But one major TV role did slip past.
“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.”
Schwartz called that evening confirming the bad news. “That’s the way it goes in this business,” said Bulifant. “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 in the 1967 Disney musical “The Happiest Millionaire,” memorable for her “Bye-Yum Pum Pum” song with Lesley Ann Warren. It would be the last live-action feature produced by Disney, who died a year before the film’s release.
Joyce Bulifant’s radiant cheerful on-screen personality and distinctive youthful voice made her a favorite comedic actress with audiences. Despite some missed career opportunities and the marital challenges, she has always remained optimistic.
“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,” she says. “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 numerous magazines and newspapers, including many in the Boomer nostalgia and humor departments. See www.getnickt.org
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