Monday, November 08, 2010

In Memoriam: Esther Rolle

Best known for her portrayal of Florida Evans - first on Maude, then later on Good Times - Esther Rolle was as ill-suited to the shallow vocation of the sitcom as CBS seemingly was to giving that sitcom the challenging story lines it deserved...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1920, the 10th of 18 children (strangely enough, in Florida) Rolle moved to New York City to attend school - first Hunter College, then Spelman College, and finally the New School for Social Research.

She made her acting debut onstage in 1962's The Blacks, and thereafter acted with Negro Ensemble Company. In 1972 she was cast in Maude, and after one season her character - slightly reworked - was spun off into her own show, Good Times.

Good Times was a trail-blazer for network TV; set in a black household in the Cabrini-Green projects of Chicago, the show costarred John Amos as Rolle's TV husband, Jimmie Walker as J. J., Bern Nadette Stanis as Thelma, and Ralph Carter as Michael. For comic effect, Florida's best friend and neighbour Willona Woods was played by Ja'net Du Bois. Both Rolle and Amos absented themselves from later seasons when it became clear that the network was prepared to squander the opportunity it created to be socially relevant, preferring to exploit the popularity of Jimmie Walker. It would be a rare lapse in judgement for the show's pioneering producer, Norman Lear...

Rolle took occasional roles through the 1980s and 1990s, both on stage and screen; she died in November 1998, nine days after her 78th birthday.
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