The "Third" Waitress
Submitted by Louis Barcia
When you think of Alice, people think of the ever-practical Alice Hyatt, Alice's son Tommy, the hard-hitting and stingy Mel Sharples, the "dingey" Vera, and of course, the three southern third waitresses.
The thing about Alice is that it shifted for the third waitress. First, there was legendary Polly Holliday in the role of Flo. With phrases like "Kiss my grits!" and "When donkeys fly!", it seemed the show would never be at a loss for comical remarks. When Polly went to star in the spin-off, Flo, many feel that Alice had a big hole that needed to be filled. Also, the spin-off didn't provide much for those suffering of nostalgia for the sassy Flo - it lasted from March 1980 to April 1981, and hasn't aired since.
Executives Producers Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Davis (two of the three I Love Lucy writers - who wrote every episode) knew just where to find the new third waitress. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the movie Alice was based upon, had Diane Ladd in the role of a deeper, brassier Flo (as well as Vic Tayback in the legendary role of Mel). Ladd accepted the part of Belle Dupree. Belle Dupree came from Mississippi, and dreamed to be a songwriter.
Belle may have come on too strong. Though Diane Ladd quickly won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy Award (Polly Holliday won several more awards than Diane Ladd), some fans feel that the character took away from Linda Lavin's firmly established spotlight, as Diane Ladd was an equally successful and accomplished a star as Linda Lavin.
Rumored to be because of disagreements with Linda Lavin, Diane Ladd eventually left the series after covering up for Polly Holliday's absence for the tail end of season four, and being on the series for almost all of it's fifth season.
The third (and final) waitress was Jolene Hunnicutt, played by Celia Weston. Diane Ladd's last episode was also Celia Weston's first (Diane Ladd was credited, Celia Weston was a Special Guest Star). Though several fans feel that Polly Holliday's last episode, "Flo's Farewell", provided enough closure for the series, Diane Ladd's didn't. A phone call from Nashville won't work, will it? Maybe, but when Mel fired Alice once, he did take her name tag... what about Belle's name tag?
Flo was never really mentioned after season four, and the same for Belle when she left. The only exception is that in the series finale, Flo was in several flashbacks. Belle, however, wasn't.
The longest-running third waitress was Jolene (she ran for the end of season 5, and for the rest of the nine-year running series). Jolene didn't have much character development unfortunately. Character development was different for Flo and Belle: Flo didn't need an introduction, and neither did Vera. Vera and Flo had worked with Mel for several years. Alice, as said in the pilot, was there for three weeks: stretching to nine years by the series' close.