Alice Ghostley, the Tony Award-winning comedic actress and singer who specialized in playing ditsy ladies and was best known on television...

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LOS ANGELES — Alice Ghostley, the Tony Award-winning comedic actress and singer who specialized in playing ditsy ladies and was best known on television for her supporting roles as Esmeralda on “Bewitched” and Bernice on “Designing Women,” died Friday. She was 81.

Miss Ghostley died at her home in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles after a long battle with colon cancer and a series of strokes, said Jim Pinkston, a longtime friend.

Miss Ghostley made her Broadway debut in “Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952,” the hit revue in which she received critical acclaim for singing the satirical sendup “The Boston Beguine,” which became her signature song.

“She was just so wonderful,” said Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical.

“There was nothing glamorous about her,” he said. “She was rather plain and had a splendid singing voice, and the combination of the well-trained, splendid singing voice and this kind of dowdy homemaker character was so incongruous and so charming.”

Miss Ghostley won the Tony Award for best featured actress in a play in 1965 for “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.”

She also received a Tony nomination for various characterizations in the 1962-63 Broadway comedy “The Beauty Part” with Bert Lahr.

“She was an exceptional actress,” Kaye Ballard, a longtime friend who appeared with Miss Ghostley as the wicked stepsisters in a 1957 television production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” starring Julie Andrews.

Although Miss Ghostley was often compared to Paul Lynde, one of her “New Faces” co-stars, Ballard said Miss Ghostley “was completely original. If anyone was influenced, it was Paul who was influenced by Alice.”

Miss Ghostley last appeared on Broadway in “Annie,” taking over the role of Miss Hannigan, the wicked orphanage supervisor, in 1978 and playing the part until 1983.

But during her long career, she regularly moved between the stage, cabaret, movies and television.

On “Bewitched,” she played the timid good witch Esmeralda, the housekeeper, from 1969-72. And from 1987-93, she played Bernice Clifton on “Designing Women,” a role that earned her a supporting-actress Emmy nomination in 1992.

Among her film credits are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Graduate.”

She was born Aug. 14, 1926, in the train station in Eve, Mo., where her father worked as a telegraph operator, and she grew up in Henryetta, Okla.

After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Oklahoma but quit to move to New York with her sister Gladys.

Miss Ghostley, whose husband, actor Felice Orlandi, died in 2003, is survived by her sister.