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|Born||Mabel Elizabeth Washington
December 25, 1932
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||November 9, 1999
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Complications from Diabetes|
|Known for||Mabel "Mama" Thomas : What's Happening!!|
|Spouse(s)||Melvin King (m. 1967–89)|
Mabel King (born Mabel Elizabeth Washington; December 25, 1932 – November 9, 1999) was an American film, stage television actress and singer. She was best known for her role as Mabel "Mama" Thomas on the ABC sitcom What's Happening!! from its premiere on August 5, 1976 until the end of its second season on May 11, 1978.
King was born Mabel Elizabeth Washington in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Rosalie Washington and Joseph Washington. She was raised in Harlem, New York where she eventually became a gospel and nightclub singer.
She did not start acting until her mid thirties, in 1966, when she played the role of Maria in the national touring play of Porgy and Bess. The following year she played the role of Ernestina in the Broadway musical/comedy Hello, Dolly!. Then in 1972, she appeared in the Broadway musical Don't Play Us Cheap. The following year, 1973, she appeared in the film version of the play. That same year she played the Queen of Myrthia in the horror film Ganja & Hess. In January 1975, she played the role of Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West in the all-African American cast of the Broadway musical The Wiz. The role earned her a Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding featured actress in a musical. Her performance in The Wiz brought her much attention and soon after she received roles in the films The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, with Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones and the movie Scott Joplin also with Billy Dee Williams and Clifton Davis. In June 1980, King returned to stage work, starring in the Broadway musical It's So Nice To Be Civilized. However the show did not do well and was cancelled after eight performances.
Television and film
In 1976, she was offered the role of Mabel Thomas on the sitcom What's Happening!!, a role she played from 1976 to 1978. Due to disagreements with the direction the creators wanted to take the show, King left What's Happening!! in 1978 after two seasons. That same year, she reprised the role of Evillene for the 1978 film version of The Wiz. It was the second time in her career that she appeared in a movie after being in the stage version, the first time being the play/movie Don't Play Us Cheap. The following year she appeared in The Jerk as the mother to Steve Martin's character. King received mostly guest spots on TV shows including Fantasy Island, The Jeffersons, Amazing Stories and Tales from the Darkside among others. In between, she signed on with then Hollywood agent Ruben Malaret, who negotiated the reprised role of Mama Johnson in the 1984 made-for-TV movie The Jerk, Too. Her last two movie roles were 1988's Scrooged starring Bill Murray and 1990's Dead Men Don't Die starring Elliott Gould.
Later years and death
In 1989, King suffered a stroke and entered the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She also battled diabetes, and eventually lost both of her legs and an arm to the disease. In 1999, she died from complications of diabetes. She was cremated. Her only child, a son, Larry (from her marriage to Melvin King) preceded her in death three years earlier. King was a staunch conservative Republican who strongly supported the presidency of Ronald Reagan.
|1973||Don't Play Us Cheap||House guest at the party|
|1973||Ganja & Hess||Queen of Myrthia|
|1976||The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings||Bertha Dewitt|
|1976 to 1978||What's Happening!||Mabel "Mama" Thomas||37 episodes|
|1977||Scott Joplin||Madam Amy|
|1978 to 1981||Fantasy Island||Various roles||3 episodes|
|1979||Barney Miller||Mother Zilla||Episode: "Computer Crime"|
|1980||The Gong Show Movie||Mabel|
|1981||Palmerstown, U.S.A.||Aunt Toog||Episode: "Future City"|
|1981||Getting Over||Mabel Queen|
|1983||ABC Weekend Special||Mrs. Trussker||Episode: "All the Money in the World"|
|1983||Lottery!||Mabel||Episode: "Los Angeles: Bigger Volume"|
|1984||The Jerk, Too||Mama Johnson||Television movie|
|1984||The Master||Willie||Episode: "Fat Tuesday"|
|1984||The Jeffersons||Mother Tobin||Episode: "Some Enchanted Evening"|
|1986||Amazing Stories||Jennifer Mowbray||Episode: "The Sitter"|
|1986||The Colbys||Fortune Teller||Episode: "The Honeymoon"|
|1986||Tales from the Darkside||Ruby Cuzzins||Episode: "Baker's Dozen"|
|1983||Whiz Kids||Episode: "Fatal Error"|
|1988||Wiseguy||Mae Nina||Episode: "Blood Dance"|
|1990||Dead Men Don't Die||Chafuka|
- "Mabel King Biography". filmreference.com.
- "TV, Movie and Stage Actress Mabel King, 66, Dies In L.A.". Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 96 (26): 56. 1999-11-29. ISSN 0021-5996.
- Mabel King at the Internet Movie Database
- Mabel King at the Internet Broadway Database
- Mabel King at Find a Grave