Danielle Spencer (American actress)
Spencer in 1977
June 24, 1965|
Trenton, New Jersey, United States
Danielle Spencer (born June 24, 1965) is an American actress and former child star best known for her role as Dee Thomas on the ABC sitcom What's Happening!!, which ran from 1976 to 1979. She would later reprise the role on the series' sequel, What's Happening Now!!
She is often regarded as the first black female child star.[by whom?]
Life and career
Spencer was born in Trenton, New Jersey, to writer Cheryl Pelt. Spencer's parents separated when she was very young. Her mother eventually married actor Tim Pelt, whom Spencer considered to be her father. Soon after the family relocated to the Bronx, New York. Spencer became an actor around the age of 8 and began taking acting classes. In 1976, Spencer was chosen to co-star as younger sister "Dee Thomas" in the show What's Happening!! which was loosely based on the film Cooley High. The show was a summer mid-season replacement, but performed so well in its time slot that a full second season was ordered.
On September 7, 1977, during the second season of the show, Spencer and Tim Pelt were in a severe car accident that left Spencer in a coma for three weeks and killed her stepfather. Tim Pelt's injuries were caused by trying to protect Spencer during the crash. Spencer has no memories of the accident and spent six months recuperating in arm and leg casts.
After the cancellation of the show in 1979, Spencer and her mother relocated to Africa for a time. Upon her return she attended the University of California-Davis to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine, a pursuit that was encouraged by her late stepfather. During this time What's Happening!! had been in syndication for a number of years. Repeats of the show's 65 episodes did reasonably well in syndication and in some markets the show actually had higher ratings in syndication than during the network run. In 1985, a sequel to the show was created called What's Happening Now!!. Spencer went on to participate in the revival of her character, Dee, for three seasons while still attending college. While matriculating her sophomore year, Danielle pledged and became a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. After the show was canceled in 1988 Spencer attended Tuskegee University Veterinary School, in Tuskegee, Alabama. She became a veterinarian in 1996.
Dr. Spencer considers herself to be in semi-retirement from show business, but still acts occasionally. In 1997, she portrayed a veterinarian in the hit film As Good as It Gets as well as appearing in Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix in 2001. She continues to act in small roles in film and television when it does not conflict with her veterinary practice.
The cast of What's Happening!! were honored at the 2006 TV Land Awards where Danielle Spencer tied with Little House on the Prairie actress Alison Arngrim as the recipient for the "Character Most In Need Of A Time-Out" award.
Dr. Spencer released a book about her life as a child star entitled: Through the Fire: Journal of a Child Star. The publication of her book led to renewed interest in her life and career and over the course of the next few years Dr. Spencer appeared on numerous television programs such as Wendy Williams Show, TV One's hit series Life After and Unsung Hollywood with her former cast members.
Spencer married Garry Fields, a marketing manager, at the Marina Marriott in Marina Del Rey, California in 1999. Her husband also works as publicist and manager for his wife.
She had been working as a veterinarian for more than ten years when in 2004 after experiencing balance and chronic pain issues she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis due to the injuries she received in the car accident in 1977. A surgery to correct the problem left her partially paralyzed for eight months. Spencer left Los Angeles to receive treatment at The Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey, (the same facility that treated actor Christopher Reeve). She credits the institute for giving her her life back.
Dr. Spencer has been working as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in California for more than 25 years. In an interview with People Magazine, Spencer credited her battle with spinal injury and paralysis with changing her perspective on the treatment of animals from simply alleviating their pain to finding the underlying cause of their problems.
2014 was a year filled with ups and downs for Dr. Spencer. She was inducted by the Smithsonian Museum as part of the permanent exhibition of the African-American cultural museum. She is the only child actor who holds this honor.
She also channeled her lifelong passion for clothing and fashion and became involved in fashion design. She debuted her creation "The Dani Collection" patterned after her own style of dress.
Spencer revealed on September 26, 2014, that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Speaking out for Breast Cancer Awareness month, Spencer told BlackAmericaWeb that her diagnosis took her by surprise. "With everything that I've been through with the spinal cord injury, I said I know God is not going to give me another affliction," she said, "so I was completely shocked when the doctors told me." Though the news came as a surprise, Spencer said the disease runs in her family. "I have a lot of help and support around me," she said. As of the interview's publish date in October 2014, Spencer stated she was considering her treatment options, with surgery at the top of the list. "I'm trying to get as many opinions as possible but it does look like that is what I’m going to do," she said. "Hopefully after that there won’t be any chemotherapy or radiation involved."
Although Dr. Spencer laments that due to her accident she and her husband were not able to have any children of their own, she loves her life. She still acts occasionally and she makes appearances as a motivational speaker. She told Ebony Magazine in 2012, "I’ve made peace with the fact that surgeries, back pain and walking with crutches will be part of my life forever. Some days are good, somedays are difficult. Yet despite the challenges, there are reasons to celebrate. My life includes volunteering with a charity that feeds the homeless; providing care for animals through my work as a vet; and relishing a wonderful 13-year marriage to the man who has been my rock. I’m fulfilled in ways I never imagined."
|1997||As Good as It Gets||Veterinarian|
|2001||Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix||Veterinarian||Short film|
|1976–1979||What's Happening!!||Dee Thomas||64 episodes|
|1977||The Brady Bunch Hour||Dee||Episode: "Episode #1.7"|
|1978||Special Treat||Emma Sheridan||Episode: "The Tap Dancing Kid"|
|1985–1988||What's Happening Now!!||Dee Thomas||11 episodes|
|2001||Days of Our Lives||Salem Place Vender||Episode: "Episode #1.9023"|
- "What's Happening!!: ABC's popular teen-age sitcom succeeds in spite of itself". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 33 (8): 76. June 1978. ISSN 0012-9011.
- Its KEY (2012-07-10). "Garry Fields | Qui Entertainment Magazine". Quiwho.com. Retrieved 2017-02-07.
- Actress and Author Danielle Spencer: Overcoming Adversity to Beat the Odds[permanent dead link] By Tanisha Pettiford Sun, Oct 28, 2012. Accessed online January 26th 2014.
- "What`s Happening!!" Star Danielle Spencer: Overcoming Chronic Back Pain by Jamie Arnold Retrieved via the internet from www.backpainrelief.net on January 25, 2014
- Saugus Animal Hospital - Danielle Spencer DVM, 27737 Bouquet Canyon Rd, Ste 130, Saugus, CA 91350 Retrieved from Superpages business directory December 16, 2013 via the internet. UPDATE: As of December 19, 2015, She is no longer listed as being employed at the Saugus Animal Hospital, 3 other veterenarians are listed but not her.
- What's Happening!! Star Danielle Spencer: Paralysis Changed My View of Animals By MARISA LAUDADIO published 06/05/2012 at 02:30 PM EDT. Accessed online January 26, 2014.
- Fisher, Luchina (October 23, 2014). "'What's Happening!' Star Danielle Spencer Diagnosed with Breast Cancer". ABCnews. Yahoo!-ABC News Network. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
- Former Child Star Danielle Spencer Talks Smithsonian Honor And Breast Cancer Diagnosis published Oct 20, 2014 By Tonya Pendleton, via BlackAmericaWeb.com and accessed online December 19, 2015