"The Little Fruitcake"
Bernice Clifton is the addled best friend of Suzanne and Julia's mother, Perky Sugarbaker. After Perky moves to Japan, the ladies look after the widow Mrs. Clifton at their mother's request. But keeping up with Bernice can be extremely difficult since she has an arterial flow problem above the neck that causes her to behave rather outrageously. Bernice sends the group health tips and enters everyone in contests. She's been known to phone Suzanne to say, "if you're not going to eat all the food in your refrigerator, why don't you just put it in a cab and send it over to me?" Bernice lives in a retirement community called Hillcrest Leisure Land, and, since she is easily bored there, makes frequent visits to Sugarbakers for the afternoon. After a while, the ladies become used to Bernice's eccentricities --- often delegating the responsibility of entertaining her to Anthony.
Bernice's late husband, Louis Clifton, came from a circus family where he was billed as a "dancing fool." One of Louis' uncles was a fire-eater, a talent he taught to Bernice. She has a charm-free niece named Phyllis McGuire and twin great-nephews, Nick and Dick --- though Bernice thinks both boys are named Dick. Her father was a Southern Baptist minister and when "all her circuits are burning," Bernice is a scripture authority.
Having never had any children, Bernice thinks of Anthony and the ladies of Sugarbakers as if they were her own. Her odd behavior drives Suzanne absolutely crazy, and she often refers to Bernice as a "little fruitcake." Anthony is the subject of her motherly attention --- and alternately her uninhibited lust. Actually, Bernice often implies that Anthony is hot for her --- along with many others with whom she claims to have had wild encounters. However, she has been known to claim Anthony as her illegitimate son and frequently breaks into a song of her own invention when Anthony is near --- "Black Man, Black Man." She also does not look favorably on any of his girlfriends --- commonly referring to them as she-beasts.
Bernice is very active, participating in senior citizen beauty contests and dance contests, but she has been known to loudly question the concept that growing old gives you a talent for arts and crafts. Therefore, Anthony ends up spending many afternoons shuttling Bernice around town as she tries to turn each trip away from the retirement village into a roller coaster of an event.
The most frequent guest star of the series, Alice Ghostley appears as Bernice in 45 episodes over the course of seven seasons, including two 2-part episodes. Though she is never a credited member of the cast, her frequent appearances outnumber those of series regulars Allison, B.J., and even the longer running Carlene. By Season Seven, Bernice appears in almost every episode.
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