Esther Rolle

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Esther Rolle
Esther Rolle 1974.JPG
Rolle on the set of Good Times, 1974.
Born Esther Elizabeth Rolle[1]
(1920-11-08)November 8, 1920
Pompano Beach, Florida, U.S.
Died November 17, 1998(1998-11-17) (aged 78)
Culver City, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Complications from Diabetes
Resting place
Westview Community Cemetery
(Pompano Beach, Florida)
Monuments 8
Nationality American
Education Blanche Ely High School
Spelman College
Yale University
Hunter College
Occupation Actress
Years active 1964-1998
Spouse(s) Oscar Robinson (m.1955-1975)
Children Sherley Mae Robinson (step-daughter) (b. 1936- )
Parents Jonathan Rolle
Elizabeth Rolle
Relatives Estelle Evans (sister)
Rosanna Carter (sister)
Awards 1979 Primetime Emmy Award: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special
(Summer of My German Soldier)

Esther Elizabeth Rolle (November 8, 1920 – November 17, 1998) was an American actress. She is best known for her role as Florida Evans, a no-nonsense black housekeeper on the CBS television sitcom Maude for two seasons (1972-1974) and its spin-off series Good Times for five seasons (1974-1977, 1978-1979).

Early life[edit]

Esther Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Florida, to Bahamian immigrants Jonathan Rolle (1883-1953),[2] a farmer, and Elizabeth Iris Rolle (née Dames; 1893-1981).[3] Esther's parents were both born and raised in Nassau, New Providence, The Bahamas[4][5][6] and moved to Florida some time after their marriage. Esther was the tenth of 18 children (children who included siblings and fellow actresses Estelle Evans and Rosanna Carter).[7] Rolle attended Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Florida[8] and graduated from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. She initially studied at Spelman College in Atlanta, but she moved to New York City.[8] She attended Hunter College, The New School for Social Research, and Yale University.[citation needed] She was also a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority.[9] For many years, Rolle worked in a traditional day job in New York City's garment district.[10]

Career[edit]

EstherRolle.jpg

Dance and theater[edit]

Rolle was a member of Asadata Dafora's dance troupe, Shogolo Oloba[7] (later renamed the Federal Theater African Dance Troupe). She became the troupe’s director in 1960.[8] Rolle's earliest roles were on the stage; her New York stage debut was in the 1962 play The Blacks. She was often cast in plays produced by Robert Hooks and the Negro Ensemble Company. She also appeared in productions of The Crucible and Blues for Mr. Charlie.[10] Rolle's most prominent early role was as Miss Maybell in the 1973 Melvin Van Peebles play, Don't Play Us Cheap.[11] In 1977, Rolle portrayed Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles' Haitian-influenced version at the Henry Street New Federal Theater in Manhattan.

Television[edit]

Rolle is best known for her television role as Florida Evans, the character she played on two 1970s sitcoms. The character was introduced as Maude Findlay's housekeeper on Maude, and was spun off in the show's second season into Good Times, a show about Florida's family. Rolle was nominated in 1975 for the Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy Golden Globe Award for her role in Good Times. Rolle herself was nineteen years older than her husband on the show John Amos.

Rolle fought for more relevant themes and scripts, and was unhappy that the success of Jimmie Walker's character, J.J. Evans, took the show in what she thought was a frivolous direction. As a result, actor John Amos, who played the role of the father, James Evans, Sr., and agreed with Rolle about Walker's character, left the show after the third season ended. Later on, in a stand-off with Good Times producer Norman Lear, Rolle also quit when her contract ended. Although the series continued without her for the fifth season, she returned for the show's final season. In 1979 she won an Emmy for her role in the TV movie Summer of My German Soldier (TV film).[12]

Among her guest star roles was one on The Incredible Hulk in an episode entitled "Behind the Wheel" where she played a taxicab business owner.[10] In the 1990s, Rolle was a surprise guest on RuPaul's VH-1 talk show. Her Maude co-star Bea Arthur was the guest, and Rolle was brought out to surprise Arthur. The two had not seen each other in years, Arthur said, and embraced warmly. Rolle also appeared in a series of psychic hotline TV commercials in the 1990s. "Tell them Esther sent you," was her trademark line.

Music and film[edit]

Rolle released an album of music titled The Garden of My Mind in 1975.[13] Rolle's first screen appearance is a small, uncredited role in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), and she later appeared in Gordon Parks' The Learning Tree (1969).[14] Her sister, actress Estelle Evans, appeared in both films as well.[14] Esther Rolle appeared early in her career in the 1964 film, Nothing But a Man. After Good Times ended, she appeared in a number of made-for-television movies and films, including Driving Miss Daisy and My Fellow Americans. A memorable role was that of Aunt Sarah in the 1997 film Rosewood. She had a major role in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings based on Maya Angelou's memoir of the same name, and has the distinction of having won the first Emmy Award for the category Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, in 1979, for her work in the television movie Summer of My German Soldier. Her last film, Train Ride was released in 2000 despite being filmed in 1998.

Personal life and death[edit]

Rolle's only marriage was to Oscar Robinson. The two were married from 1955-1975. Esther did not have any children of her own but her husband had a daughter, Sherley Mae Robinson, (born 1936), with his first wife, the former Elizabeth Mae Robinson.[15][16][17] After residing in Los Angeles, California, Rolle died on November 17, 1998 in Culver City, California,[7] from complications of diabetes, 9 days after her 78th birthday. Her body was flown back to her hometown in Pompano Beach, Florida. A devout Methodist, Rolle requested her funeral be held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The family requested that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to such organizations as the African American Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, The Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas, The Jenesse Center in Los Angeles, and Marcus Garvey Elementary and Junior High School in Los Angeles.[18]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1964 Nothing But a Man Church woman
1967 Up the Down Staircase Teacher Uncredited
1971 The Bold Ones: The Senator Black Woman Episode: "A Single Blow of a Sword"
1972–1974 Maude Florida Evans 30 episodes
1973 Cleopatra Jones Mrs. Johnson
1974–1977, 1978–1979 Good Times Florida Evans 109 episodes
Nominated-Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Musical or Comedy
1978 Summer of My German Soldier Ruth Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1979 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Momma Television film
1981 Darkroom Grandmother/Old Woman Episode: "Needlepoint"
1982 Flamingo Road Julia 3 episodes
1983 Fantasy Island Mama Episode: "Edward/The Extraordinary Miss Jones"
1984 Finder of Lost Loves Nellie Episode: "Goodbye, Sara"
1985 Murder, She Wrote Margaret Episode: "Reflections of the Mind"
1987 P.K. and the Kid Mim
1989 The Mighty Quinn Ubu Pearl
1989 Driving Miss Daisy Idella
1993 House of Cards Adelle
1995 How to Make an American Quilt Aunt Pauline
1996 My Fellow Americans Rita
1997 Rosewood Aunt Sarah Nominated-Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
1998 Poltergeist: The Legacy Grandma Rose Episode: "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
1998 Down in the Delta Annie Sinclair

Stage work[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Esther Rolle Profile at www.geni.com
  2. ^ Jonathan Rolle (1883-1953) Find A Grave Memorial
  3. ^ Geni - Elizabeth Rolle
  4. ^ Geni - Elizabeth Rolle
  5. ^ Jonathan Rolle (1883-1953) Find A Grave Memorial
  6. ^ Geni - Jonathan Rolle
  7. ^ a b c Sterngold, James "Esther Rolle, 78, Who Played Feisty Maid and Matriarch", The New York Times, 19 November 1998.
  8. ^ a b c Esther Rolle at the African American Registry
  9. ^ Notable Zetas at Zeta Phi Beta's official website
  10. ^ a b c Erickson, Hal. "Esther Rolle Biography". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-04-28. 
  11. ^ Associated Press. "'Good Times' matriarch Esther Rolle dies at 78". CNN. Retrieved 2007-04-28. [dead link] Reprinted as Esther Rolle's Obituary From CNN at sitcomsonline.com
  12. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 1431. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  13. ^ http://www.wfmu.org/365/2003/024.shtml
  14. ^ a b Esther Rolle at the TCM Movie Database
  15. ^ Geni - Elizabeth Mae Robinson
  16. ^ Geni - Oscar Robinson
  17. ^ Geni - Sherley Mae Robinson
  18. ^ "Esther Rolle Memorial Set for Saturday". Los Angeles Times. November 25, 1998. 

External links[edit]