Famous for her gruff voice and gap-toothed smile, talented and outspoken African-American actress Esther Rolle made her mark on television as Florida Evans on “Maude” (CBS, 1972-78) and then her own series, “Good Times” (CBS, 1974-79). Like many black actors and actresses of her generation, Rolle often played domestics, but she made the characters more interesting and dignified than was the norm. A staunch advocate for improving the depiction of African-American characters, Rolle demonstrated her convictions by walking off “Good Times” at the height of its popularity when she felt that the series had failed in those regards.
She was also a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company and ranked among its most distinguished alumni. Rolle initially attracted the attention of “Maude” producer Norman Lear via her laudable performances in Broadway productions like “An Evening of One Acts” (1969), “Rosalee Pritchett” (1971) and “Don’t Play Us Cheap” (1972). She also went on to do fine work in movies, though rarely in the sort of intriguing lead roles offered to her on stage and television. Both “Maude” and “Good Times” confirmed that Rolle was a wonderful comedic talent even when working with variable material, but she was also an excellent dramatic actress, as evidenced by her impressive résumé of stage credits and Emmy Award-winning turn in the TV movie “Summer of My German Soldier” (NBC, 1978). An actress of great power and range who did not suffer fools gladly, Rolle was an inspiration to actors of any color or creed. http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/164459%7C49207/Esther-Rolle/
The tenth in an astonishing 18 children family, Esther Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, FL on Nov. 8, 1920 to Bahamian immigrant parents, Jonathan and Elizabeth Rolle. Her father was a dedicated leader of Mount Calvary Baptist Church and a truck farmer. Rolle graduated from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach before heading to Spelman College in Atlanta and then New York City. She passed away in 1998. Services were held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. She is buried at Westview Cemetary. In 1981, NW Third Avenue was renamed Esther Rolle Avenue.
Rolle’s sisters, Estelle Evans and Rosanna Carter, were also successful actors in film and television. Estelle played the important role of Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird. Esther Rolle was in the film as an unnamed character.