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Nell Carter

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Nell Carter
Nell Ruth Hardy

(1948-09-13)September 13, 1948
DiedJanuary 23, 2003(2003-01-23) (aged 54)
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesNell Ruth Carter
EducationA. H. Parker High School
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1970–2003
Known forNell Harper – Gimme a Break!
George Krynicki
(m. 1982; div. 1992)
Roger Larocque
(m. 1992; div. 1993)
PartnerAnn Kaser (?–2003)[3][4]

Nell Carter (born Nell Ruth Hardy;[5][6] September 13, 1948 – January 23, 2003) was an American actress and singer.

Carter began her career in 1970, singing in the theater, and later began work on television. She was best known for her role as Nell Harper on the sitcom Gimme a Break!, which aired from 1981 to 1987. Carter received two Emmy and two Golden Globe award nominations for her work on the series. Prior to Gimme a Break!, Carter won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 1978 for her performance in the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin' as well as a Primetime Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television in 1982.[7]

Early life[edit]

Nell Ruth Hardy[8] was born on September 13, 1948 in Birmingham, Alabama,[9] one of nine children born to Edna Mae and Horace Hardy. She was born into a Catholic family and raised Presbyterian.[10][11] Carter later self-identified as Pentecostal[12] and as Jewish. [10]

At the age of two, Hardy witnessed her father's electrocution when he stepped on a live power line.[13][14]

As a child, she began singing on a local gospel radio show and was also a member of the church choir. At age 15, she began performing at area coffee houses, and later joined the Renaissance Ensemble that played at coffee houses and gay bars.

On July 5, 1965 at the age of 16, Hardy was raped at gunpoint by a man whom she knew. She became pregnant as a result of the rape and gave birth to daughter Tracy the next year. Finding raising a baby alone too difficult, she sent her child to live with her older sister Willie. She later claimed that Tracy was the product of a brief marriage, but she revealed the truth in a 1994 interview.[15][16]


Broadway work[edit]

At age 19, Hardy changed her surname to Carter and left Birmingham, Alabama, moving to New York City with the Renaissance Ensemble, where she sang in coffee shops, nightclubs and bathhouses before landing her first Broadway role in 1971.[17]

Carter made her Broadway debut in the 1971 rock opera Soon, which closed after three performances. She was the music director for the 1974 Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective's production of What Time of Night It Is. Carter appeared with Bette Davis in the 1974 stage musical Miss Moffat, based on Davis' earlier film The Corn Is Green, but the show closed before reaching Broadway. She became a star for her role in the musical Ain't Misbehavin, for which she won a Tony Award in 1978. She later won an Emmy for the same role in a televised performance in 1982.

In 1978, Carter was cast as Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls but departed the production during development to take a television role on Ryan's Hope. When Dreamgirls premiered in late 1981, Jennifer Holliday had taken the lead role.

Carter's additional Broadway credits include Dude and the 20th-anniversary production of Annie, in which she played Miss Hannigan.

Film and television[edit]

In 1979, Carter had a part in the Miloš Forman-directed musical adaptation of Hair. and her voice is heard on the film's soundtrack.[18]

In 1981, she took a role on the NBC action comedy television series The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo[19] before landing the lead role of Nell Harper on the sitcom Gimme a Break!.

Gimme a Break![edit]

Carter became best known to audiences for her lead role in the NBC television series Gimme a Break!, in which she played a housekeeper for a widowed police chief (Dolph Sweet) and his three daughters. The show earned Carter nominations for a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. A total of 137 episodes of Gimme a Break! were produced over a run of six seasons, airing from 1981 to 1987.

In August 1987 after the cancellation of Gimme a Break!, Carter returned to the nightclub circuit with a five-month national tour with comedian Joan Rivers.[20]

Further television work[edit]

In 1989, Carter played the assistant to a banquet-hall owner in an unsuccessful pilot for NBC titled Morton's by the Bay, which aired as a one-time special that May. In October, she performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game 4 of the 1989 World Series in San Francisco.[21]

In 1990, Carter starred in the CBS comedy You Take the Kids. The series, which was perceived as the black answer to Roseanne with its portrayal of a working-class black family, featured Carter as a crass, no-nonsense mother and wife.[22] You Take the Kids faced poor ratings and reviews and only ran from December 1990 to January 1991.[23]

During the early 1990s, Carter appeared in low-budget movies, television specials and game shows such as Match Game '90 and To Tell the Truth. She costarred in Hangin' with Mr. Cooper from 1993 to 1995.[24]

In the mid-1990s, Carter appeared on Broadway in a revival of Annie as Miss Hannigan. She was upset when commercials promoting the show used white actress Marcia Lewis as Miss Hannigan. The producers stated that the commercials, which were created during an earlier production, were too costly to reshoot. However, Carter felt that racism played a part in the decision. She told the New York Post: "Maybe they don't want audiences to know Nell Carter is black. ... It hurts a lot. I've asked them nicely to stop it—it's insulting to me as a black woman."[25][26] Carter was later replaced by Sally Struthers.[27]

Later years[edit]

In 2001, Carter appeared as a special guest star on the pilot episode of Reba and continued with the show, making three appearances in Season 1. The following year, Carter made two appearances on Ally McBeal.[24]

In 2002, she rehearsed for a production of Raisin, a stage musical based on A Raisin in the Sun in Long Beach, California. She appeared in the 2003 film Swing. Her final onscreen appearance was in the comedy film Back by Midnight, released in 2005, two years after her death.[24] Nell's final recording project was a duet with Jay Levy, produced by Jay Levy for the 1998 Warner/Rhino Album To Life!: Songs of Chanukah and Other Jewish Celebrations.https://www.allmusic.com/album/to-life%21-songs-of-chanukah-and-other-jewish-celebrations-mw0000043504


On January 23, 2003 at the age of 54, Carter collapsed and died at her home in Beverly Hills.[28][29] Her son Joshua discovered her body that night.[10][30] Per a provision in Carter's will, no autopsy was performed. Using blood tests, X-rays and a cursory physical examination, the Los Angeles County coroner's office ruled that Carter's death was the likely result of "probable arteriosclerotic heart disease, with diabetes a contributing condition."[31]

Carter's friend Ann Kaser inherited her property and custody of her two sons.[10][32][9] Carter is interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[33][34][35]

Personal life[edit]

Carter attempted suicide in the early 1980s, and around 1985 she entered a drug-detoxification facility to break a longstanding cocaine addiction. Her brother Bernard died of complications from AIDS in 1989.[15]

Carter married mathematician and lumber executive George Krynicki, and she converted to Judaism in 1982.[10][11] She filed for divorce from Krynicki in 1989 and the divorce was finalized in 1992.

Carter had three children: daughter Tracy and sons Joshua and Daniel. She adopted both Joshua and Daniel as newborns over a four-month period. She attempted to adopt twice more, but both adoptions failed. In her first attempt, she allowed a young pregnant woman to move into her home with the plan that she would adopt the child, but the mother decided to keep the baby. Carter also had three miscarriages.[15]

In 1992, Carter had surgery to repair two aneurysms. She married Roger Larocque in June 1992[36] but divorced him the next year. Carter declared bankruptcy in 1995 and again in 2002.[15]

Stage credits[edit]



Year Title Role Notes
1979 Hair Central Park Singer
1981 Back Roads Waitress
1981 Modern Problems Dorita
1982 Tex Mrs. Peters
1992 Bébé's Kids Vivian Voice
1995 The Crazysitter The Warden
1995 The Grass Harp Catherine Creek
1995 The Misery Brothers Courtroom Singer
1996 The Proprietor Millie Jackson
1997 Fakin' da Funk Claire
1999 Follow Your Heart Bus Driver
1999 Special Delivery
2001 Perfect Fit Mrs. Gordy
2003 Swing Juan Gallardo released posthumously
2005 Back by Midnight Waitress released posthumously


Year Title Role Notes
1978 Cindy Olive TV movie
1978–1979 Ryan's Hope Ethel Green 11 episodes
1980–1981 The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo Sergeant Hildy Jones 15 episodes
1981–1987 Gimme a Break! Nellie Ruth 'Nell' Harper 137 episodes
1982 The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour Episode: #1.3
1986 Nell Carter: Never Too Old to Dream Host Television Special
1985 Santa Barbara Herself Episode 240
1986 Amen Bess Richards Episode: "The Courtship of Bess Richards"
1986 Rosie Mrs. Downey Episode: "I Dream of Natalie"
1989 227 Beverly Morris Episode: "Take My Diva...Please!"
1990 Shalom Sesame Olive Tree (voice) Episode: "Chanukah"
1990–1991 You Take the Kids Nell Kirkland 6 episodes
1992 Maid for Each Other Jasmine Jones TV movie
1992 Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story Lucille Gathers TV movie
1992 Jake and the Fatman Ethel Mae Haven Episode: "Ain't Misbehavin'"
1993–1995 Hangin' with Mr. Cooper P.J. Moore 42 episodes
1995–1997 Spider-Man: The Animated Series Glory Grant (voice) 2 episodes
1996 Can't Hurry Love Mrs. Bradstock Episode: "The Rent Strike"
1997 Brotherly Love Nell Bascombe Episode: "Paging Nell"
1997 Sparks Barbara Rogers Episode: "Hoop Schemes"
1997 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Mary (voice) Episode: "Mother Goose"
1997 The Blues Brothers Animated Series Betty Smythe (voice) Episode: "Strange Death of Betty Smythe"
1999 Sealed with a Kiss Mrs. Wheatley TV movie
2001 Blue's Clues Mother Nature (voice) Episode: "Environments"
2001 Touched by an Angel Cynthia Winslow 2 episodes
2001 Seven Days Lucy Episode: "Live: From Death Row"
2001 Reba Dr. Susan Peters 3 episodes
2002 Ally McBeal Harriet Pumple 2 episodes


Year Award Category Title Result
1978 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Ain't Misbehavin' Won
Theatre World Award Won
Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Musical Won
1982 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Individual Achievement – Special Class Won
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Gimme a Break! Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated


  1. ^ "Nell Carter Marries Man Who Rescued Her From Emotional Crisis". Jet: 59. May 31, 1982. Retrieved July 5, 2023 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "Nell Carter Takes Charge of Life, Love and Career". Jet: 59. September 25, 1989 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Snauffer, Douglas (March 10, 2015). The Show Must Go On: How the Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series. McFarland. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-7864-5504-1 – via Google Books.
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  8. ^ "Venus". Venus Magazine. February 25, 2019 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b Wilson, Claire M. (March 27, 2023). "Nell Carter". Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  10. ^ a b c d e Pfefferman, Naomi (January 31, 2009). "'Pop-soul belter' Nell Carter, 54, devoted convert to Judaism, dies". J. The Jewish News of Northern California. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Actress Nell Carter Dies at 54". Fox News. January 23, 2003.
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  13. ^ McCann, Bob (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-786-43790-0.
  14. ^ Crowther, Linnea (January 23, 2012). "The Highs and Lows of Nell Carter". legacy.com. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d Gold, Todd (February 28, 1994). "Oh, the Troubles She's Seen". People. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  16. ^ Vallance, Tom (February 7, 2003). "Nell Carter, Actress of startling contradictions". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on June 18, 2022. Retrieved February 15, 2022.
  17. ^ "Stage, Television Star Nell Carter Dies at 54". Jet. 103 (7): 49. February 10, 2003. ISSN 0021-5996.
  18. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (2008). The Oxford Companion to the American Musical. Oxford University Press. p. 871. ISBN 978-0-19-533533-0.
  19. ^ "Nell Carter Joins 'Lobo' Series, And Ratings Go Up". Jet. 60 (10): 54. May 21, 1981. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  20. ^ "Nell Carter Returns To Nightclubs After TV Show". Jet. 72 (21): 29. August 17, 1987. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  21. ^ "Baseball Season: Rite of Spring on Our Field of Dreams". Los Angeles Times. April 13, 1992. Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  22. ^ Tucker, Ken (December 14, 1990). "You Take The Kids". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  23. ^ "'You Take The Kids' Put On Hiatus By CBS". Jet. 79 (15): 62. January 28, 1991. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  24. ^ a b c Nell Carter at IMDb
  25. ^ Jones, Kenneth (January 23, 2003). "Nell Carter, Ain't Misbehavin' Star, Dead at 54". Playbill. Archived from the original on January 26, 2009.
  26. ^ "Nell Carter Speaks Out on Annie Commercials". Playbill. May 22, 1997. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  27. ^ "Sally Struthers Takes Over as Miss Hannigan in Annie Tour Jan. 5". Playbill. January 5, 1998. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  28. ^ Dartis, Michelle (March 6, 2015). "Nell Hardy Carter (1948-2003)". BlackPast.
  29. ^ "Actress-singer Nell Carter dies". CNN. January 23, 2003.
  30. ^ Holden, Stephen (January 23, 2003). "Sitcom star collapses at home, dies at 54 – Gimme a Break!, Ain't Misbehavin – brought her fame". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  31. ^ Boehm, Mike (March 5, 2003). "Ruling In Nell Carter's Death". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 7, 2017.
  32. ^ "Actress Nell Carter Died Naturally". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. May 5, 2003. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  33. ^ Wilson, Scott; Mank, Gregory William (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons (3rd ed.). McFarland. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-476-62599-7.
  34. ^ Roman, James (March 1, 2015). Chronicles of Old Los Angeles: Exploring the Devilish History of the City of the Angels. Museyon. ISBN 978-1-9408-4200-4 – via Google Books.
  35. ^ Fleming, E. J. (September 18, 2015). Hollywood Death and Scandal Sites: Seventeen Driving Tours with Directions and the Full Story (2d ed.). McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-1850-0 – via Google Books.
  36. ^ "Nell Carter's Wedding". Jet. 82 (9): 34. June 22, 1992 – via Google Books.

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