Series summary[ edit ] Alice Hyatt Lavin is an unemployed widow after her husband, Donald, is killed in a trucking accident, and with her young son Tommy played by Alfred Lutter in the pilot episode , reprising his role from the film, but played by Philip McKeon thereafter heads from their New Jersey home to Los Angeles so that she can pursue a singing career.
Her car breaks down on the way in Phoenix from a presumed engine fire, as seen in the opening credits , and we meet her soon after she has taken a job as a waitress at Mel's Diner, on the outskirts of Phoenix. The later seasons' exterior shots were of a real diner, named Mel's, still in operation in Phoenix.
Alice works alongside Mel Sharples Vic Tayback , the grouchy, stingy owner and cook of the greasy spoon, and fellow waitresses and friends, sassy, man-hungry Florence Jean "Flo" Castleberry Polly Holliday , and neurotic, scatterbrained Vera Louise Gorman Beth Howland. Each episode invariably started inside the diner, and most if not all subsequent scenes took place there as well. A frequent set for non-diner scenes was Alice's one-bedroom apartment in the Desert Sun apartments.
Tommy used the bedroom and Alice slept on a sleeper sofa in the living room. Vera and Mel's studio apartments and Flo's trailer were occasionally seen. The diner had its share of regular customers through the years, such as Tommy's basketball coach, Earl Hicks Dave Madden , local trucker Chuck Duane R. Campbell , and Henry Beesmeyer Marvin Kaplan , a telephone repairman who always made jokes about Mel's cooking.
Henry's oft-mentioned wife Chloe was seen in one episode, played by Ruth Buzzi. Polly Holliday left the show to star in her own spin-off series, Flo. Flo decides to buy and run a failing roadhouse bar there, which she renames Flo's Yellow Rose. Polly Holliday never made a guest appearance on Alice after beginning Flo, although flashbacks including Flo were shown in the final episode of Alice. Vic Tayback made one guest appearance on Flo.
Diane Ladd , who received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Flo in the film version  joined the cast in as Isabelle "Belle" Dupree, a hard-edged but kind-hearted woman. She had been a waitress of Mel's in the past, and the two had a romantic relationship during that time. In spite of Ladd's Golden Globe - winning performance as Belle,  the character was not retained for the duration of the series and was replaced early in , the character making one last appearance in which she telephones the diner to inform everyone that she had taken a job as a backup singer in Nashville , Tennessee.
It has been said that Ladd clashed with her co-stars, and no flashbacks including Belle were shown during the final episode of the series. Jolene arrives as she and her male driving partner are in the midst of an argument over his unwelcome advances, during which she throws and breaks many of Mel's dishes.
Mel agrees to hire her "temporarily" to work off the cost of the dishes, but she stays until the end of the series. Jolene frequently mentions her grandmother, "Granny Gums", who had only three or four teeth. The latter years of the show focused on some character development, such as the hasty courtship and marriage of Vera and lovable cop Elliot Charles Levin.
Tommy eventually goes to college and is seen less frequently. In the final season, the character of Alice was absent several times due to Lavin's directing a number of episodes and playing the character of Mrs. Walden, Vera's wizened and abrasive landlady of arbitrary foreign origin. The final story arc began in the spring of , when country singer Travis Marsh played by Lavin's real-life husband Kip Niven , discovering that he's falling for Alice, "kidnaps" her to take her to Nashville, telling her it's time to follow her dream there.
Bewildered at the thought of her dreams finally coming true, Alice agrees, but not without extracting a promise from Travis to drive her back to Phoenix so she can get her affairs in order, including ending her current relationship with a writer. In the series finale , which aired March 19, , typical of sitcoms of the era, news of several life-changing events is revealed within a matter of minutes.
Alice, after nine years of trying, finally gets a recording contract and is moving to Nashville with Travis Marsh. Vera announces she is pregnant and decides to be a full-time mother, Elliott having been promoted from officer to detective. Jolene's "Granny Gums" has died and leaves her granddaughter enough money to open her own beauty parlor in her hometown.
Besides all three waitresses suddenly leaving simultaneously, by an amazing coincidence Mel has just sold the diner for a large amount of money to a real estate developer, and must close within days. The remainder of the episode shows flashbacks to humorous and major events, and many of the big stars who had appeared on the show, including Polly Holliday.
Finally, while cleaning out her locker, Alice finds the "Waitress Wanted" sign that first drew her to the diner. The series' regular customers, including Henry, Chuck and Earl say their emotional farewells, followed by Elliot, and finally the principal characters Tommy, Jolene, Vera, and Alice. The last thing we see is Mel putting up the "Closed" sign and locking up. The waitresses at Mel's Diner from left: Ongoing gags and catchphrases[ edit ] Flo's catchphrase , "Kiss my grits!
According to Polly Holliday, the line was originally written as, "Kiss my honeydew! In the original film, Flo, as played by Diane Ladd, tells Mel in one scene to, "Kiss me where the sun don't shine. Belle often used the phrase, "My little voice", who called her "Isabelle", which she usually used when starting to tell others what she thinks is best.
Mel would snipe, "Stow it! He would also bark, "Bag it, Blondie! He eventually gave Vera the nickname "Dinghy" and would occasionally bellow "Stow it, Dinghy" at her. Jolene would sometimes say, "When pigs wear perfume.
Linda Lavin also played the role of Mrs. Walden in the last season, once even playing both Alice and Mrs. Walden in a split-screen dual role. Part of Mel's Diner was often destroyed, such as by Flo's crashing a truck through the front, Mel chopping down a tree which landed in the diner, Mel accidentally having the building targeted for demolition, and the waitresses crashing a hot air balloon through the roof upon which Jolene cries, "We went to the bad place and it looks just like Mel's!
In one episode, a wrecking ball destroyed the front of the diner because someone could not read Mel's handwriting. Mel was a stickler for punctuality. In the fourth season, he installs a time clock, which ends up working to the waitresses' advantage due to significant overtime, and he finally smashes it onto the floor. Mel also had a strict rule against moonlighting , often leading to one or more waitresses getting fired, but he always rehired them before the end of each episode.
Although he had a fairly loyal clientele, Mel's food and cooking were constantly criticized by his waitresses and customers alike—especially Henry, who always blamed it for his indigestion. However, Mel's chili was popular and became a plot point of several episodes. During the first season, a newspaper food critic played by Victor Buono dropped dead while eating Mel's chili, but it turned out that tainted Peking Duck from a Chinese restaurant was to blame.
Guest star Art Carney in one episode was to be the spokesperson for retail distribution of Mel's Chili "Chili con Carney" but backed out when he discovered Vera was a distant relative with part ownership in the venture. The popularity of Mel's Chili also led to an appearance on Dinah Shore 's talk show, which led to some bickering among the waitresses because Mel could take only one person along, but everyone ended up going. Mel refused to reveal his " secret ingredient " to Dinah and her TV audience during the cooking demonstration.
The shot of Vera with the "exploding straws" was the only one used during the opening credits for the entire run of the series, with the exception of the pilot episode, which had no scenes from Mel's Diner in the opening.