|The Cosby Show character|
Clair Huxtable, portrayed by Phylicia Rashad, as she appears in an episode of The Cosby Show.
|First appearance||Pilot (September 20, 1984)|
|Last appearance||And So We Commence (April 30, 1992)|
|Created by||Bill Cosby|
|Portrayed by||Phylicia Rashad|
|Full name||Clair Olivia Huxtable|
|Relatives||Al Hanks (father)
Carrie Hanks (mother)
Sarah Hanks (sister)
Pamela Tucker (cousin)
Ellis Wilson (great-uncle)
Clair Olivia Huxtable (née Hanks) is a fictional character who appears in the American sitcom The Cosby Show. Portrayed by actress Phylicia Rashad, Clair, the wife of Dr. Cliff Huxtable and mother of their five children, is the matriarch of the show's central Huxtable family. Working as a lawyer, Clair values the importance of maintaining a successful career while running a formidable household. The character debuted alongside most of her family in The Cosby Show's pilot, "Theo's Economic Lesson", which premiered on September 20, 1984.
Created by comedian Bill Cosby, Clair is based on Cosby's own wife, Camille. Cosby originally intended for the character to be a plumber, but the producers and Camille ultimately convinced him to rewrite her into a lawyer to reflect a family that closer resembled their own. At one point, Clair had also been envisioned as a Dominican housewife who speaks Spanish when frustrated, inspired by Ricky Ricardo from the sitcom I Love Lucy, but this idea was also abandoned. Rashad, originally credited as Phylicia Allers-Allen, won the role by exhibiting a subtlety in her audition that other candidates lacked. After marrying husband Ahmad Rashad and adopting his surname, Rashad became pregnant with their child during the show's third season, thus requiring her to conceal her pregnancy during tapings.
Typically playing straight woman to Cosby's humorous Cliff, Rashad's character began to adopt more comedic material during the show's second season, although she maintains her disciplinarian status within her own household. Since The Cosby Show's inception, Cosby had always intended for Clair to reflect the ways in which women's roles have evolved in both the home and workplace. Clair is depicted as a hardworking career woman with strong feminist principles, most evident in the character's early confrontations with chauvinistic son-in-law Elvin. One particularly memorable interaction, dubbed Clair's "feminist rant" by the media, has become so popular that the scene continues to be heavily circulated on the Internet and social media, 30 years after its initial appearance.
Both Clair's role and Rashad's performance have garnered significant acclaim; Clair was the series' only main character who avoided criticisms that regularly plagued other aspects of The Cosby Show. Rashad was nominated for two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Despite the actress' continued success, Clair remains the role for which Rashad is best known, credited with establishing her as a television icon. A feminist icon, Clair is revered as one of television's most beloved mothers; as one of television's first working mothers, the character's profound influence on African-American women and female lawyers in television has been dubbed the "Clair Huxtable effect". However, in light of several recent sexual assault allegations made against Cosby, some critics have begun to question the comedian's intentions behind creating Clair.
Role and family
Born Clair Olivia Hanks, Clair is a graduate of the fictional Hillman College located in Georgia, the school at which she first met and fell in love with Dr. Heathcliff "Cliff" Huxtable. Clair is the matriarch of the upper middle class Huxtable family. A lawyer, Clair is the mother of five children, Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy, whom she raises alongside husband Cliff, an obstetrician, in a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York. Clair's home address is 10 Stigwood Avenue, Brooklyn Heights, New York. Episodes typically revolve around Clair and Cliff dealing with everyday situations and problems as they pertain to a standard household during the 1980s. Although both Clair and Cliff counsel, admonish and oftentimes outwit their children together, dividing their parental responsibilities equally, Clair tends to serve as primary disciplinarian to her children – and occasionally to Cliff as well. Of the couple, Clair is typically the parent who offers advice and guidance to her children, in addition to administering suitable punishments for misbehavior.
Clair's family eventually expands to include Sondra and Denise's love interests, husbands Elvin Tibideaux and Martin Kendall, respectively. Sondra and Elvin eventually have children of their own, twins Winnie and Nelson, named after South African activists Winnie and Nelson Mandela, making Clair a grandmother for the first time. Meanwhile, Martin brings with him Olivia, a young daughter from his previous marriage. Denise's stepdaughter, Olivia ultimately becomes Clair's step-granddaughter. Clair's teenage cousin Pam eventually moves in with her family in the show's seventh season. Meanwhile, Clair's in-laws, Russel and Anna Huxtable, make regular appearances throughout the series, as do her own parents Al and Carrie Hanks, albeit to a lesser extent.
Professionally, Clair works as a partner at the Bradly, Greentree & Dexter law firm in New York City, specifically as a Legal Aid attorney. She occasionally represents her own children in legal disputes, for example helping Theo successfully obtain a refund for several unwearable T-shirts purchased from an untrustworthy salesman. Similarly, Clair defends Sondra when a dishonest mechanic attempts to scam her.
Conception and writing
Clair was created for The Cosby Show by series creator, comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby originally pitched a series about a detective who solves crime using his wit and humor; Clair's earliest incarnation resembled his character's girlfriend, who is depicted as "a strong woman with her own career." Networks were not interested in developing the series, so Cosby opted for a somewhat more autobiographical approach instead. Cosby eventually based The Cosby Show on his stand-up comedy film Bill Cosby: Himself (1983), which heavily features jokes about his relationship with his wife and their interactions with their children. Clair is based on Cosby's real-life wife Camille. The role of the parents in the show evolved dramatically from The Cosby Show's initial inception to final production, but the one idea that was retained from Cosby's detective series was the concept of a strong career woman.
When Cosby originally pitched the The Cosby Show to NBC, it revolved around the life of a blue-collar couple; Clair was intended to be a plumber while the character's husband Cliff, portrayed by Cosby himself, was a limousine driver. Eventually, the idea of Clair working as a plumber was discarded and the character briefly became a Dominican housewife instead. Inspired by Ricky Ricardo from the sitcom I Love Lucy, of whom Cosby was a fan, much of the show's humor would have been directly derived from Clair's tendency to revert back to her native language Spanish when upset or agitated. Describing this concept as "the reverse of [I Love] Lucy," Cosby explained that the husband "would be the person that didn’t understand when she spoke Spanish" as opposed to the wife.
Camille and executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner eventually convinced Cosby that the series should feature a family that resembled their own more closely, specifically one headed by a pair of successful parents with white-collar professions. Thus, Cosby relented and re-wrote Clair and Cliff into a lawyer and doctor, respectively. The idea of Clair being Dominican was abandoned before the pilot was filmed. However, the character still speaks some Spanish in the first episode and continues to use the language throughout the series despite not speaking it as frequently as Cosby had originally intended. Cosby borrowed several names from his real-life family and bestowed them upon his fictional one; Clair's maiden name is Hanks, which she shares with Cosby's wife Camille. The second season features each character gaining more responsibility, none more-so than Clair, who is deliberately provided with more storylines and new emotions to experience in terms of her relationship with her children and husband.
Casting and portrayal
Clair is portrayed by American actress Phylicia Rashad, who had been pursuing a professional singing career prior to being cast in the The Cosby Show. In addition to appearing in minor roles on both television and Broadway, Rashad had a recurring role as Courtney Wright on the soap opera One Life to Live before Cosby personally selected her to play his character's wife onscreen. Several actresses auditioned for the role of Clair Huxtable, the majority of whom tended to resort to angrily yelling and moving their heads in a manner similar to that of a bobblehead doll when scolding the child actors playing her children during their auditions. However, Rashad's subtle interpretation was different from those of her competitors; when the actress screen tested for the role opposite actor Malcolm Jamal-Warner, who would ultimately go on to portray only son Theo, Rashad simply paused, stared and silently gave him "a look" instead of immediately scolding the character that, according to Cosby, meant "four or five things ... and none of them were good." At the end of Rashad's audition, Cosby turned to Carsey and announced "That's Clair." Additionally, because Clair was still intended to be of Dominican heritage at the time, Rashad's own bilingualism and fluency in Spanish contributed to her successful casting; the actress herself had spent one year in Mexico before returning to the United States to pursue a career in show business. Cosby told Rashad she won the role because she performed the scenes "with a knowing look in my eye."
Observing similarities between her character and herself, Rashad described Clair as "a warm, loving mother"; the actress is also similar to Camille in both appearance and personality. In addition to being a few years younger than Clair was originally intended to be, Rashad is only 10 years older than actress Sabrina LeBeauf, who portrays eldest child Sondra. Meanwhile, actress Ethel Ayler, who portrays Clair's mother Carrie Hanks, is only 14 years her senior. Originally, actress Clarice Taylor, who plays Clair's mother-in-law Anna, auditioned for the role of Carrie, deliberately making herself over in an attempt to appear young enough to play Rashad's mother before Cosby ultimately cast her as his own character's. Rashad's acting had always been more straight-faced to contrast against Cosby's humorous approach, typically serving as straight woman to Cosby's comedic antics. With the arrival of the second season, Cosby decided to provide Rashad with more comedic material upon learning that the actress is "capable of handling comedy on her own–without Cliff." Jet's Robert E. Johnson observed that Rashad portrays her character using "soft, sophisticated humor". Speaking fondly of his co-star, Cosby said "There's nobody whom I can be more thankful about than Phylicia." In the wake of a highly publicized article originally published in TV Guide before the series premiered that labeled Cosby "one of the most arrogant celebrities", Rashad took on the majority of the show's promotional responsibilities on her own. Rashad also defended Cosby against the accusations, calling him "one of the most intelligent people I have ever known.'' The sixth season episode "Off to See the Wretched", in which Clair scolds Vanessa for traveling to Baltimore to see a rock concert against her parents' orders, features Rashad's most "uncontrolled" performance as her character.
Originally credited as Phylicia Ayers-Allen, Rashad eventually adopted the surname of her third husband, sportscaster Ahmad Rashad, who she famously married during the show's third season. During the wedding ceremony, Rashad was given away to Ahmad by television husband Cosby, by whom the couple had been introduced; Cosby assured Rashad that she would be allowed to remain on the series should she and Ahmad decide to have a baby, joking, "We'll just add another Huxtable". Rashad became pregnant with their child during the third season. To avoid adding an infant to the main cast, extreme tactics were used to conceal the actress' pregnancy onscreen, such as confining the character to bed or having her travel for several episodes at a time. Scooped out, the bed's mattress had been constructed to prevent Rashad's growing stomach from being visible underneath the sheets, but ultimately resulted in the actress suffering a pinched nerve in her back. Rashad would also hide behind props such as kitchen tables, counters and jackets. In the episode "Vanessa's Rich", Rashad uses a large teddy bear to hide her pregnancy while seated on the living room sofa, but the toy's origin and purpose within the episode itself is left unexplained. After finally giving birth to daughter Condola Rashad in 1986, Rashad managed to lose the weight she had gained while pregnant by the time Season 4 premiered. Rashad enjoyed working with both Cosby and the young cast, claiming that the actors very much became like a real family as early as the first episode, although her relationship with the child actors more-so resembled that of friends as opposed to mother. Rashad's real-life sister Debbie Allen, herself an actress and choreographer, appeared in an episode of The Cosby Show as Clair's personal trainer. Rashad said, "I think Bill and I are great role models as far as our TV professions are concerned. Kids learn by example, and I think we're very good ones." Second to Cosby himself, Rashad is the series' most regular cast member, appearing in a total of 212 episodes. At the end of the series finale, The Cosby Show concludes with Rashad and Cosby breaking the fourth wall, dancing into the audience and finally exiting the studio to Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell". In response to television personality Oprah Winfrey quoting a common critique of the series – "How is it realistic to have a doctor and a lawyer in the same house?" – Rashad defended, "I grew up in Houston, Texas, in Third Ward, and it was very realistic. … I guess it just depends on who you know and what you know.”
Characterization and themes
Personality and parenting style
Representing "the exemplary good wife and mother", Clair is portrayed as both composed and maternal. Described as "graceful but assertive, dignified but devoted" by Encyclopædia Britannica, Clair is eloquent, elegant and intelligent, and appears to be as street as she is book smart. A proficient debater who always speaks her mind, she rarely loses an argument. Writing for For Harriet, Tracey Michae'l described the character as "elegantly tough, eloquent, and engaging". Usually depicted as the smartest character in any given room, Clair often uses her skills as a lawyer to uncover the truth when others, including her children, are lying, on one occasion getting Theo to finally admit that he had teased an overweight fast food restaurant employee. Robert E. Johnson of Ebony observed that Clair's legal background "equipped her with rapid, razor-sharp retorts to counter" Cliff's humor. AskMen's Geoffrey Lansdell agreed that the character "rel[ies] on a sly maternal quality that fed off of Bill Cosby’s silly paternal playfulness", while US Weekly described her humor as "sly". Clair is also shown to be a talented singer – in the episode "A Touch of Wonder", she duets with musician Stevie Wonder – dancer and multilinguist, capable of speaking both Spanish and Portuguese in addition to English. Passionate about her African American heritage and culture, Clair wins painter Ellis Wilson's – her "great uncle" in the series – original painting Funeral Procession at an auction, which she purchases for $11, 000 and proudly hangs in her living room for the remainder of the series. According to Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics author Morley Winograd, Clair and Cliff appear to raise their children as though they are Millennials, although they technically belong to Generation X, by choosing to spend much of their spare time with their children despite their demanding careers, in turn resembling friends of their children as opposed to true authority figures. Despite constantly wishing that their children would ultimately grow up and move out of their home, each child returns during different stages of their adult lives; Clair and Cliff ultimately end up helping to raise step-grandchild Olivia, a true millennial.
MeTV described Clair's parenting style as "firm, yet loving." Writing for NPR, Eric Deggans observed that Clair uses a "loving-yet-sardonic" approach to parenting, demonstrated by her line "I was a beautiful woman once, before the children came". Considered to be the stricter of the two parents, Clair is humorous and sarcastic about the frustrations of parenting, often joking about killing or abandoning her children, at the same time making sure they do not take her exaggerations too seriously by demonstrating "obvious loving indulgences". In the pilot, Clair responds to Theo's last minute request for scrambled eggs after she had already prepared and served him sunny side up eggs by using her spatula to break them. According to The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women author Susan Douglas, Clair sometimes makes the mistake of switching between stern and overindulgent too abruptly. Equally successful in their respective professions, Clair's relationship with Cliff deliberately mirrors the real-life relationship of Cosby and his wife Camille. With Clair and Cliff, Cosby wanted to teach audiences that "though these people have their careers, their lives, and they’re comfortable ... the wheels can come off with the behavior of your children, and you have to deal with that. But you also have a lot of fun." Creating Clair and Cliff to serve as positive role models to the show's regular viewers, Cosby used the couple "to maintain realism" and provide viewers with an example of a healthy alternative to anger; the parents make mistakes just like their own children, but love remains the underlying lesson to be learned. Clair occasionally raises her voice but seldom yells or loses her temper, demonstrating calmness and a sense of humor as a "remedy for the trials and tribulations of motherhood."
In comparison to Cliff, Clair is usually the tougher and more sensible parent, providing her children with legitimate advice that they can actually apply to their everyday lives, and it is clear to audiences that she runs the household. However, there are occasionally times when Clair does resort to the "wait till your father gets home" disciplinary method. Clair generally supports her children's decisions and ever-changing ambitions, specifically in regards to schooling, marriage and careers. Both Clair and Cliff value the importance of proper education in their children's lives, and tend to deliver the most serious punishments when they underachieve academically. At the same time, they appear proudest when their children succeed in school. On one occasion, Theo rebels against his parents' high expectations of him, arguing, "Because of what you two have achieved, the whole world expects a lot more from us than other kids. Let’s face it, there’s nowhere else left for us to go but down," a statement Clair immediately reprimands him for making. When it comes to parenting, Clair usually maintains "an allure of cool, calm confidence ... exhibit[ing] a strong but gentle parenting stance, one that wasn’t seen on television by a woman of color" at the time, according to Global Grind's Desire Thompson. Clair practices disciplining her children without ever punishing them physically, often delivering punishments "with a calm charm", and raises her four daughters to love and respect themselves. However, she is also known for ranting at her children when she loses her temper, one of her most recognizable of which is the one she gives Vanessa when she attempts to attend a concert in Baltimore against her parents' wishes. In the Season 3 episode "The Shower", Denise hosts a wedding shower for a close friend who gets pregnant on purpose to blackmail her parents into letting her marry her fiancé as soon as possible. When Denise broaches the subject of how she would handle a similar situation, Clair sternly – but rather comically – insists that she will never find herself in a similar situation. Despite her seriousness and disciplinarian status, Clair seldom shies away from laughing and participating in fun activities alongside her family as opposed to simply observing them from the sidelines. The character is also fond of relaxing and taking time to herself away from her children whenever necessary.
Beliefs, feminism and career
The Cosby Show is famous for rarely addressing political or controversial subjects, spending comparatively more time openly discussing Clair's role as "a woman who 'has it all'", maintaining a successful career while raising a family, than it does the race of its main characters. The series seldom shies away from discussing gender equality. As a character, Clair proudly embodies several feminist themes and beliefs, remaining, according to The Daily Dot's Nico Lang, "an outspoken advocate for equality in her household, fighting sexism while setting an example for her daughters." However, Clair never refers to herself as feminist within the show. From the sitcom's earliest stages, Cosby had always intended for Clair to reflect the ever-changing work and dynamic, explaining, "If this was 1964 ... my wife could do the cooking and I could be the guy on the sofa who just says, ‘Let your mother handle this.’ But today a lot of things have changed and I want the show to reflect those changes." According to Rotten Tomatoes' Alex Vo, Clair represents "the rapidly changing gender and household roles from the 1980s and onward." MeTV agreed that Clair is "the '80s response to the '50s housewife." Although feminism was hardly a new concept to sitcoms by the time The Cosby Show aired, feminist television characters remained scare during the early 1980s. The Huffington Post's Dr. Mlsee Harris observed that, during that time, "The stereotypical role of the black woman on television ... had been that of a financially struggling, single woman with dysfunctional relationships, trying to get her life together with no distinct direction", stereotypes Clair defied. Sarah Galo of Mic observed that, in television, "being a mother and having a career, are [usually] juxtaposed as separate entities"; Clair demonstrates quite the opposite. According to Vox writer Lauren Williams, the character reinforces "that pursuing such a demanding career and having a family were not mutually exclusive", and does not hesitate to challenge anyone who doubts her ability to maintain both. For example, in the season one episode "How Ugly Is He?", Clair responds to a sexist statement made by Denise's then-boyfriend David about why Clair chooses to work instead of remaining home with her children with "That is a sexist statement, young man. Why don’t you ask Dr. Huxtable that question?” This interaction would serve as a preface to Clair's future, more prominent confrontations with Sondra's chauvinistic boyfriend Elvin, who is introduced in the following season in the episode "Cliff in Love", during which Elvin wrongly perceives Clair offering to bring him and Cliff a cup of coffee as an act of servitude. Clair promptly corrects Elvin in the form of a rant that explains the equal roles of a married husband and wife; Jason Bailey of Slate compared Clair's speech to Gloria Stivic arguing about feminist politics with her father Archie Bunker in All in the Family.
However, when Cliff voices his preference for Daryl, a progressive young man competing for Sondra's affection, over Elvin due to the former's more progressive views on women, Clair defends Elvin, explaining, "you [Cliff] started out an Elvin and changed to a Daryl. Now honey, if you can change, anybody can change”, revealing that Cliff once shared the same ideas as Elvin before Clair ultimately changed him for the better. When Elvin finally proposes to Sondra, Clair decides to prank Cliff by pretending to be strongly opposed to their engagement, declaring, "I do not want Sondra to go through what I went through with you!” Despite their differences, Clair is willing to accept Elvin with confidence that his primitive opinions about women will eventually change, and is never shown to be treating him poorly. Bailey concluded, "If The Cosby Show’s racial politics were merely implied, its gender politics were clear, pointed, and decidedly progressive." Clair's beliefs and endeavors as a working mother are wholeheartedly supported by her family. Additionally, when Clair is at work, Cliff willingly assumes traditionally female household responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and caring for their children.
Both Clair's professional and personal lives operate alongside each other rather smoothly with little conflict. According to Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum, Clair reigns as "Brooklyn’s calmest attorney." However, despite being a full-time lawyer, Clair is seldom seen at work in the courtroom, and audiences see her most at home. According to Women Watching Television: Gender, Class, and Generation in the American Television Experience author Andrea L. Press, Clair's role demonstrates "the hegemonic view that families need not change to accommodate working wives and mothers", believing that the show depicts Clair mostly at home in order to avoid portraying the everyday conflicts that working women endure in their daily lives. One of the series' more political moments, Clair refuses to be exploited as "the token black woman" on a morning talk show called Retrospective discussing the Great Depression in the episode "Mrs. Huxtable Goes to Kindergarten", a position she originally accepts under the impression that she would be appreciated for her experience as a lawyer. When Clair learns she only wants to be heard for opinions as a black woman, Clair delivers a speech to her white co-panelists that reads, "I am also a human being, who is an attorney, a mother of five, and somewhat knowledgeable about history, which is why I thought I was invited here. But when you look at me, this is all you see in me, a black woman?"
The show's only main character to have been spared harsh criticism, Clair has garnered very positive reviews from critics, by whom she continues to be venerated often. Blake Green of The Baltimore Sun described the character as "the perfect wife and mother of five who also practiced law and dressed to the nines." Jezebel's Hillary Crosley Coker hailed Clair as a "career-driven matriarch that kicked ass at home and at work." Writing for Complex, Nikeita Hoyte described Clair as "A hard-ass mom who radiates the beauty of a goddess", while the Chicago Tribune wrote that "Clair was one big beacon of gorgeous in the Huxtable household." Daisy Dumas of the Daily Mail dubbed Clair an "Indomitable matriarch". In a retrospective review of The Cosby Show in 2014, Daily Life writer Ruby Hamad, who remembers having quite enjoyed the show growing up but feels that the sitcom has not aged to be quite as funny as she once thought it was, hailed Clair as the "one thing about the show that is as good now as it was then". In terms of the character's best episodes, Joe Reid of The Atlantic cited Clair's unimpressed reaction to her husband allegedly confusing a memory of her with that of an old love interest in the sixth season episode "Isn't It Romantic?" as a personal favorite, specifically lauding Rashad's pronunciation of the phrase "tacky barrette" and "her hairpin turn when Cliff's real gift is revealed that shows that next dimension that always pushed Clair to the top of the heap." Meanwhile, Kevin O'Keefe of the same publication selected Clair's angry monologue to Vanessa in Season 6's "Off to See the Wretched", followed by the character's dismay upon learning that Sondra has decided not to return to law school, as his favorites, enjoying the way in which Clair adopts an "attack mode" underneath both circumstances. Reviewing the character's conversation about pregnancy and marriage with Denise in Season 3's "The Shower", Slate's Aisha Harris wrote "written realistically and delivered beautifully by Rashad, the moment attains a level of artistry that spot-on TV lessons rarely reach." When the show aired, both middle and upper-class working women responded well to Clair. However, some few reviewers have accused the character of being too perfect and one-dimensional, while others found her too aggressive, outspoken, not maternal enough and controlling towards both her children and husband.
As a power couple, Clair and Cliff dominated television for much of the 1980s. In 1986, Ebony writer Robert E. Johnson declared that Clair and Cliff had already been established as "TV's top mom and dad" with the arrival of the show's second season. Johnson went on to write that the couple "are loving, intelligent and caring people who are devoted to their children and committed to their own careers ...with the family as top priority", praising them as positive role models who eliminated the need for their children to idolize celebrities. Impressed with Rashad and Cosby's chemistry, marriage expert Dr. Anthony Pietropinto stated, "The Cosby TV marriage is a model for the way everyone hopes their marriage will turn out", and strongly believes that their marriage would succeed in real life. However, critics often complained that Cliff nor Clair rarely experience race-related complications within the workplace despite having occupations dominated by white Americans at the time. Similarly, some feminist critics did not appreciate the fact that Clair rarely experiences everyday struggles that working mothers typically encounter in real life. In the book The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women, author Susan Douglas observed that Clair was seldom "the [parent] trying to lie down on the couch because she was exhausted."
Rashad has also garnered critical acclaim for her performance as Clair. Writing for AARP, Allan Fallow scribed that Rashad charmed audiences "with her wholesome brand of comedy." Robert Weintraub of The New York Times hailed Rashad as "America’s mom, dispensing tough love with a straight face opposite Cosby’s comic mugging". Jason Bailey of Slate wrote that Rashad portrayed her character "majestically", while The Huffington Post's Mlsee Harris praised the actress for portraying Clair "with class and poise from 1984 through 1992." Writing for the same publication, Jennifer Armstrong called Rashad "a great ranter". Nick Hartel of DVD Talk reviewed that Rashad "perfectly ... captures some of his best caricatures of [Cosby's] own wife, Camille." Rashad's performance earned her two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Although she never won, Randee Dawn of Today felt that Rashad's performances during the series' first and last seasons were most deserving of an Emmy Award. Dawn wrote, "While it seems hard to imagine today, in 1984, finding a tough-minded, super smart, middle-class black woman on TV was all but unheard of, much less finding one who could contend with and occasionally upstage a legendary comedian." Following her 1986 nomination, Rashad would remain the last African American actress to be nominated for an Emmy Award in that particular category for 30 years, until 2016. At the 15th People's Choice Awards in 1989, Rashad won in the category of Favorite Female TV Performer, beating both newcomer Rosanne Barr and veteran Cybil Shepherd. Rashad won two NAACP Image Awards for her performance. Former South African President Nelson Mandela once personally thanked Rashad for her heartwarming contributions to the series, which he claimed to have watched while imprisoned on Robben Island.
Impact and legacy
Clair is widely considered to be one of the greatest mothers in television history by several media publications. Time dubbed Clair "America's favorite TV mom", while People's Jane Hall hailed the character as America's "No. 1 wife and mom" in a 1987 article that also crowned Rashad "TV's Reigning Mom". Hayley Krischer of Salon agreed that Clair is "everyone’s favorite" television mom; however, Krischer acknowledged that "Though undoubtedly the best TV mom, she was too calm, too gorgeous, too successful" to be realistic. The Sydney Morning Herald's Natalie Reilly concurred that audiences "never really believed [Clair] had a life outside of the family, much less a job." Praising the character for transcending both racial and generational barriers, Patrice Evans of Jezebel described Clair as "the perfect professional mom". The author went on to claim that while famous television mothers such as June Cleaver, Carol Brady and Edith Bunker have gradually suffered a loss in "potency" over time, Clair remains a relevant maternal figure who every television mother since can only aspire to be. As a mother, Clair's influence on The Cosby Show's viewers as a "family-balancing professional African American woman" has been profound. According to Susan Douglas, author of The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women, Clair was "the first African American mother on television ... with whom white women identified and wanted to emulate." US Weekly declared Clair "one of TV's first working mothers", while NewNowNext's Brian Juergens holds the character responsible for making the 1980s a "boom time for great sitcom moms." SheKnows contributor Cynthia Boris recognized Clair as a mother television audiences had "never seen before -- a beautiful, successful, working mom who was an African American" and "a positive role model in a sea of dysfunctional TV families" whom "every young woman could aspire to." In 2015, The Huffington Post's Emille Bahr published an article entitled "What Clair Huxtable Taught My Single Dad About Parenting". African-American men dreamed about marrying their own versions of Clair, "us[ing] her as a guiding light in his quest for the perfect partner."
Access Hollywood selected Clair as the second greatest television mom "Of All Time", praising her pioneering role as a "family-balancing professional". Parents ranked the character third out of their "15 Best TV Moms". As "the chic '80s mom who taught us we can have it all", Entertainment Weekly included Clair at number four on their "20 TV Moms We Love" ranking in honor of Mother's Day 2016; MeTV also ranked the character fourth. According to SheKnows, Clair is the sixth best television mother of the past 60 years, as of 2008. She was voted as television's "Favorite TV Mom" in a poll conducted by the Opinion Research Company in 2004. In 2009, she was included in the Top 5 Classic TV Moms by Film.com. In May 2012, Clair was one of the 12 moms chosen by users of iVillage on their list of "Mommy Dearest: The TV Moms You Love". Unranked, the New York Daily News included Clair among the publication's "coolest small-screen moms". Similarly, Paste recognized Clair as one of "The Best TV Moms of the Last 20 Years" in 2009. According to Paste, Clair is the second "Funniest TV Mom"; recognizing her "flawless" insults, author Anita George described her famous rants as "the stuff of comedy legend", explaining, "it’s not just because the words themselves are elegant and witty. No, Phylicia Rashad had this lyrical, rapid-fire delivery, that made anything that came out of Clair’s mouth sound like a particularly saucy Aaron Sorkin-monologue." AskMen included Clair among the website's "Top 10: Hot Sitcom Moms", ranking her fourth and praising her "sultry" gaze. Additionally, Clair is regarded as a fashion icon. In 2011, a blog on the microblogging website Tumblr entitled Clair Huxtable: Mom Style Icon devoted to the character's outfits garnered significant media attention, as did another Clair's Closet; the former is run by blogger Chloe Wepper.
|“||As in serve your man? Let me tell you something, Elvin, you see, I am not serving Dr. Huxtable, okay? That's the kind of thing that goes on in a restaurant. Now I'm going to bring him a cup of coffee, just like he did this morning, and that, young man, is what marriage is made of: give and take, fifty-fifty. And if you don't get it together, and drop these macho attitudes, you are never going to have anyone bring you anything, anywhere, anytime, anyplace ever.||”|
|— Clair's famous "feminist rant" to Sondra's boyfriend Elvin about gender roles in marriage as it appears in "Cliff in Love", Season 2, Episode 4.|
Clair has since been established as a feminist icon. Vox's Lauren Williams credits the character with teaching "me about feminism before I knew what it was". Writing for Jezebel, Hilary Crosley Coker crowned Clair "a Trojan Horse for black feminism, and feminism in general." Dubbing the character "a bonafide feminist warrior", Daily Life Ruby Hamad praised Clair for teaching her "that a woman is no less of a woman, a mother and a wife for working." Slate critic Jason Bailey observed that, during The Cosby Show's initial run, critics and audiences were too busy commenting on the race of the sitcom's main characters to notice that Cosby had imbued his series with "proud and vocal feminism" in the form of Clair. According to Bailey, The Cosby Show was not only successful because Clair "was a strong, liberated woman with a career"; she also "had a husband and family who supported and valued her endeavors." Dubbing Clair's influence on pop culture as "one of TV’s great feminists" the "Other Huxtable Effect", Bailey concluded that the character's impact remains indisputable despite Cosby's recent sexual assault allegations, and thus maintains that The Cosby Show's legacy as a feminist series should not be discredited.
Conversely, in recent times Cosby's controversial history with women has caused some contemporary critics to question his intentions behind creating a character like Clair in the wake of a series of sexual assault allegations made against the comedian. In 2014, The Crunk Feminist Collective famously published an article entitled "Clair Huxtable is Dead: On Slaying the Cosbys" in which the author dismissed the character's progressive gender politics as "a sham", arguing that Clair must forgotten to allow for a new generation of television heroines. Nico Lang of The Daily Dot defended the character against such critics, writing that the show's legacy remains significant "to the Clair Huxtables of the world, both the real women she inspired and a generation of characters who owe a debt to her." Writing for Paste, in 2014 Shannon M. Houston maintains that Clair remains beloved as a "feminist hero" by the same people who now try to disassociate themselves from both Cosby and The Cosby Show. Kirthana Ramisetti of the New York Daily News agreed that Cosby "can’t detract from Clair’s enduring legacy."
In 2013, Mic's Sarah Galo compiled a list of "5 Reasons Claire Huxatable (sic) is the Ultimate Feminist Mom", and Jennifer Armstrong of The Huffington Post crowned The Cosby Show "One of the Most Feminist Shows of All Time" due to contributions from both Clair and Cliff. Dubbed the "feminist rant" by media publications, Clair's speech to future son-in-law Elvin about gender roles in marriage during the episode "Cliff in Love" is often lauded as one of the character's greatest moments, to which the studio audience responded with enthusiastic applause. CNN ranked the rant their seventh favorite Cosby Show moment. Observing that the character's "righteousness always had a sense of humor to it", Joe Reid of The Atlantic praised Clair for being "able to reduce [Elvin] to ashes". Slate's Jason Bailey hailed the scene as "Rashad’s finest moment on the show." The rant has proven so popular that it continues to be frequently quoted, referenced and rotated on the Internet and social media. Paste's Shannon M. Houston believes that "If you’re a woman, and you work, and you identify as a feminist, there’s a 90 percent chance you or someone you know has posted that clip". Additionally, Houston believes that the scene remains so popular because the discussion about women in the workplace has hardly changed since the episode first aired 30 years prior. According to Nico Lang of The Daily Dot, the character taught an entire generation "what a strong, successful woman looked like". Former United States First Lady Michelle Obama has been constantly compared to Clair, by which Obama admitted she is flattered because the character is an "American icon". Patrice Evans of Jezebel wrote although "Michelle Obama might be taking the baton as the quintessential symbol of the professional black woman/doting mother ... she'll still need Barack to win a second term before she can approach the status of Clair Huxtable." However, Rashad herself has discredited the Clair-Obama comparisons. LGBT rights activist Janet Mock cites Clair as one of her biggest influences: "I wanted to be her; I wanted to be beautiful, be successful, and maybe have a great family and a brownstone in Brooklyn.”
Several critics have cited Clair's influence on female African American lawyers Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating from the television dramas Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, respectively, both brainchildren of television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes. Clair's influence on female lawyers in television, particularly Alicia Florrick's dual role as both mother and lawyer in The Good Wife, has been dubbed "the Clair Huxtable effect" by the media. Much like Clair, Alicia is often forced to defend her decision to work while raising her family. Paste's Shannon M. Houston concluded, "because someone like Clair Huxtable shared her feminism in the home, someone like Alicia Florrick can now share it in the courtrooms". Crediting Clair with pioneering "the feminist, TV lawyer", the character's impact has been extended to include Diane Lockhart from The Good Wife and Abby Whelan from Scandal. Rainbow Johnson from the sitcom Black-ish is often compared to Clair. In 2015, Elle crowned Rainbow "the next Clair Huxtable"; the character often asks herself "What Would Clair Huxtable Do?" Conversely, in 2014 Dr. Mlsee Harris of The Huffington Post published an article asking "Where Is This Generation’s Clair Huxtable?", believing that characters like Clair remain severely lacking in modern-day television despite the character's success and popularity; The Daily Dot's Nico Lang concurred that it is television's responsibility to "create 100 more women like [Clair], ones that won’t have to answer for their creator's sins." Rotten Tomatoes placed Clair at number 15 on the website's ranking of their "25 Favorite TV Lawyers". TCNJ Journal ranked Clair first on its list of "5 Feminist TV Characters — Old and New — You Should Be Watching". For Harriet touted Clair "undoubtedly one of the most influential Black women characters in television history"; the same website placed the character fifth on its list of "The 18 Best Black Female TV Characters of All Time". Similarly, Global Grind ranked Clair first on their collection of "The Top 20 Most Influential African-American Women Television Has Ever Seen" for contributing to the overall success of The Cosby Show. AOL named Clair the ninth "Most Memorable Female TV Character".
Having portrayed the character for eight years, Rashad remains best known for her role as Clair; the actress established herself as a television icon during the 1980s for portraying "the working mom who had it all". In 1993, Blake Green of The Baltimore Sun wrote that Rashad and her character "appear to be inextricably entwined: Just as no one remembers Clair, the super-woman of The Cosby Show without thinking of the actress who played her, few think of Ms. Rashad without flashing on Clair". At the 42nd NAACP Image Awards in 2010, the organization dubbed Rashad "mother" of the African-American community. Rashad and Cosby's professional relationship continued beyond The Cosby Show: Camille suggested that Cosby hire Rashad to sing as the opening act for his stand up routine at Harrah's Marina in 1985. After The Cosby Show's conclusion, Rashad would similarly portray Cosby's wife, Ruth Lucas, on his sitcom Cosby for four years. Cosby would again recruit Rashad to voice Little Bill Glover's mother, Brenda Glover, in Cosby's animated series Little Bill.
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