Arts & Entertainment

Joyce Bulifant

Her ups and downs of marriage and career

For those who keep track of Hollywood nuptials, the title of Joyce Bulifant’s 2017 autobiography 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) at boarding school, 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 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.

LornaPattersonJillWhelan Airplane W jpg
Lorna Patterson, Bulifant, and Jill Whelan in a scene in Airplane! (1980)

Career-wise, Bulifant has been successful on stage, film, and television and was a frequent game show panelist in the 70s and 80s. She even appeared in the classic 1980 comedy “Airplane!” as the mother of a sick little girl with an 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 then, 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 significant 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 showed 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 how 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 leading feature role was in the 1967 Disney musical “The Happiest Millionaire,” which was memorable for her “Bye-Yum Pum Pum” song with Lesley Ann Warren. 

It would be the last live-action feature produced by Walt Disney, who died a year before the film’s release.

Joyce Bulifant displaying cover of her book My Four Hollywood Husbands. Provided by publicist E W jpgBulifant’s radiant, cheerful on-screen personality and distinctive youthful voice made her a favorite comedic actress with audiences. She has always remained optimistic despite some missed career opportunities and marital challenges.

“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

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous newspapers and magazines. See

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