On this day in comedy on November 4, 1949 Actress, Berlinda Tolbert was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Tolbert counts her acting experiences as positives in her life. In the early 1970’s she was plucked out of acting class by famed director, Martin Scorsese to work in a film with Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel. Norman Lear was also a supportive element to her success on television as Jennie Willis as he was to the entire cast of The Jeffersons.
Admittedly The Jeffersons changed Tolbert’s life, but also the culture. The CBS sitcom about an upwardly mobile black man (Sherman Hemsley) who owns a chain of dry cleaners was groundbreaking. It was the first sitcom to show a married black and white interracial couple (Roxie Roker and Frank Cover). It was the first to feature the child (Tolbert) of that coupling. And of course it was the first to feature the title black character as a bigot. There were also standard sitcom staples, such as the long suffering wife (Isabel Sanford), the smart-aleck maid (Marla Gibbs) and the neighbor (Paul Benedict) who always drops by unannounced.
After 11 seasons on the multi-award winning spin-off of Lear’s previous hit, All in the Family, Tolbert found work in films. She played a femme fatale in Eddie Murphy’s Harlem Nights. Old acquaintance, Martin Scorsese remembered Tolbert from decades earlier when he’d cast her and following a chance meeting he contacted her again for the role of Samuel L. Jackson’s girlfriend in Goodfellas. Then in 1992 she appeared in the Harrison Ford box office hit, Patriot Games.
In her later years Tolbert took a voluntary break from show business to care for her ailing mother with no immediate plans to return.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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