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Esther Rolle
Born November 8, 1920(1920-11-08)
Pompano Beach, Florida, U.S.
Died November 17, 1998 (aged 78)
Culver City, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1964—1998
Spouse(s) Oscar Robinson (1955-1960)

Esther Rolle (November 8, 1920 – November 17, 1998) was an American actress of stage and television. She was perhaps best known for her portrayal of Florida Evans in two 1970s television sitcoms, Maude and Good Times.

Contents

Biography

Esther Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Florida to Jonathan and Elizabeth Rolle, Bahamian immigrants. Esther was the tenth child in a family that produced a total of 18 children.

After graduation from Blanche Ely High school, Rolle moved to New York City and attended Hunter College, Spelman College and The New School for Social Research. She was also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.[1]. For many years, Rolle worked in a traditional "day job" in New York City's garment district.[2]

Career

Theater

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.[2]

Rolle's most prominent early role was as Miss Maybell in the 1973 Melvin Van Peebles play, Don't Play Us Cheap.[3]

Television

Rolle is perhaps best known for her television role as Florida Evans, the character she played on two 1970s sitcoms: Maude and its spin-off, Good Times.

The character was initially 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 fought for more relevant themes and scripts, and was unhappy when the success of Jimmie Walker's character J.J. 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, ultimately left the show. Later on, in a stand-off with Good Times producer Norman Lear, Rolle also quit when her contract concluded. Although the series continued without her for a time, she returned for the show's final season.

She also guest starred on The Incredible Hulk series in an episode entitled "Behind the Wheel" where she played a taxicab business owner.[2]

In the 1990s, Rolle was a surprise guest on Ru Paul's VH-1 talk show. Her Maude co-star Bea Arthur was the guest and Rolle was brought out to surprise Arthur. The two hadn't seen each other in years, Arthur said, and embraced warmly.

Rolle also appeared in a series of psychic hotline commercials in the 1990s. "Tell them Esther sent you," was her trademark line.

Film

After Good Times, she performed in a number of made-for-television movies and feature films, including Driving Miss Daisy and My Fellow Americans.

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. Another memorable role was that of Aunt Sarah in the 1997 film Rosewood. Her last film, Train Ride was released in 2000.

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Death

Rolle died November 17, 1998 in Culver City, California from diabetes complications.

Work

Filmography

Stage

References

External links


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