The phrase "kiss my grits" invoked a lot of thoughts in people's minds in the early days of the sitcom Alice, yet despite it's odd expressiveness, the catchy phrase thrust Polly Holliday into a realm of fame previously unknown to her. Polly, born in Jasper, Alabama, on July 2, 1937, is an accomplished stage actress. Her acting career began as a member of the Asolo State Theatre, a classical repertory theater in Sarasota, Florida, and she is still seen in stage performances today. Yet it was her role in the late 1970's as Flo on the television series Alice and her catchy phrase "kiss my grits" that people best remember her, and she accepts the fact that Flo will always be her claim to fame. For her role, she twice received the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Television Series.
In the beginning, producers of Alice were not out to make waves with her trademark phrase. They were simply trying to invent a phrase that would best suit this bold, man-hungry waitress, without going too far for a television audience. As Polly relates in an interview, "If you remember the movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Flo was pretty blue in that. But she couldn't use the same kind of language on TV and they were looking for something that would sound naughty but not be naughty." When presented with the "grits" phrase, Polly was initially skeptical and complained that it sounded odd. But, she goes on, "I did it and it turned out to be very funny. Then, of course, they wanted to use it in every show."
In time, she gained notoriety but found she was immensely popular among waitresses. To this day, she still receives lots of fan mail from all over the world, due in large part to her bond with the working class. Says Polly, "there are a lot of people who relate to waitresses, because, well, they're just regular people, working away every day at making a living and dreaming of one day getting ahead. Anybody can relate to that."
Holliday and the trademark wig
However, she also admits the "Flo" phenomenon has even influenced her own family to a small degree. Polly's mother, who has since passed away, was once on a seniors bus tour to the Grand Canyon, and everywhere she went, everyone pointed to her said, "she's Flo's mother!" All the waitresses in the various restaurants would get excited and say, "Oh, I want to send her something. Here, take my pencil." All they had handy were pencils, and Polly's mother arrived home with a bag full of pencils from restaurants all over the country as a testament to her immense popularity.
After leaving Alice, and after a brief period playing Flo in a spin-off series of the same name, Polly went on to perform in numerous stage productions, films and television roles. She was nominated for a Tony award for her starring role on Broadway as Big Mama in "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" in 1990. She also co-starred in a revival of William Inge's "Picnic" on Broadway in 1994 and most recently starred in the Horton Foote play "Death of Papa" . Other Broadway credits include "All Over Town" in 1975 and a revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace" in 1986. Her film and television credits include All the President's Men, Gremlins, Mrs. Doubtfire, Mr. Wrong, The Client, and regular appearances on Home Improvement. In addition to performing, Polly also finds herself making regular rounds to colleges and universities, speaking at acting seminars and instructing graduate students.
Holliday with "Kiss My Grits" sign on door
She admits, though, that she hasn't uttered her trademark "kiss my grits" since Alice ceased production. "People ask me to say it, but the way I get out of it is by suggesting that they should say it to me," she said. "They can probably say it pretty well themselves."
Will the popularity of Alice live on? Polly seems to think so. When she gets an opportunity, she watches reruns of the show. "And they are still funny," she says. "I've watched a few of them. I can't remember the plots, so they're new to me. And I just die laughing."
Polly in 2008.
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