Esther Rolle was an American actress who was born on the 8th of November 1920. Rolle was best known on a CBS television sitcom “Maude” where she played the role as Florida Evans. She played this role for two seasons and its spin-off series – Good Times – for five seasons. Her professionalism got her nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy in 1976. She also won the award of the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series of the Primetime Emmy in 1979.
Esther Rolle Early Life
Esther Rolle was born in Florida and was the tenth out of eighteen children. The actress graduated from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. Before moving to New York City, she first studied at Spelman College in Atlanta. Upon arrival at New York City, she attended Hunter College there in New York City. From there, she transferred to The New School, and then Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. For several years, Rolle worked in a traditional day job in New York City’s garment district.
Esther Rolle; Career in Dance and Theater
Rolle’s first roles were on the stage and her New York stage debut was in 1962 – a play called The Blacks. She was a member of a dance troupe called Asadata Dafora’s, which was later renamed to the Federal Theater African Dance Troupe. In 1960, she became the troupe’s director.
Very often, she cast in dramas that were produced by Robert Hooks and the Negro Ensemble Company. Rolle also appeared in productions of The Crucible and Blues for Mr. Charlie. One of the actress’ most prominent early role was as Miss Maybell in the 1973 Melvin Van Peebles play. Four years later, she depicted Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles’ Haitian version at the New Federal Theater in Manhattan.
Esther Rolle Appearance on The Television Set
Rolle was popular for her television role as Florida Evans, a character she played on two 1970s sitcoms.
In 1975, Rolle was nominated for the Best Actress in a Musical and Comedy Golden Globe Award for her role in Good Times. In the movie, she was nineteen years older than the actor John Amos, who was her husband. The actor character was added after Esther fought hard for a father figure and husband to be added. Earlier on, she had fought for more relevant themes and scripts. For this reason, she was unhappy when Jimmie Walker took the show in a frivolous direction. However, John Amos agreed with Rolle about Walker’s character and was fired from the show after the third season ended. After some time, she had a disagreement with the producer of Good Times – Norman Lear – and she also quit when her contract ended. Although the show continued without her till the fifth season, she appeared on set in the final season. In 1979, she won an Emmy for her role in Summer of My German Soldier, a movie made for television.
Part of her guest star roles was one on The Incredible Hulk in one episode entitled where she acted the role of a taxicab business owner. Sometime in the 1990s, Esther was a surprise guest on the RuPaul’ talk show. Her co-star in ‘Maude’ – Bea Arthur – was the guest and Rolle was brought out to surprise Arthur. The two had not seen each other in years and they embraced warmly. The star actress also appeared in a series of psychic hotline TV commercials still in the 1990s. She had a logo recognized by many as: “tell them Esther sent you”.
SOME OF HER WORKS ON THE STAGE
Part of her stage works are as thus:
From 1965-1972 she appeared in
Day of Absence
The Amen Corner
Man Better Man
Ride a Black Horse
The Dream on Monkey Mountain
Don’t Play Us Cheap
Esther Rolle Music and Film
Esther Rolle was not only a talented actress but also a musician. She released an album of music in 1975 known as “The Garden of My Mind’. Her first screen appearance was a small, uncredited role in 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird. Later on, in 1969, she appeared in a movie titled ‘The Learning Tree’. Actress Estelle Evans who was her sister appeared in both movies as well. Early in her career, Esther Rolle appeared in the movie ‘Nothing but a Man’, which was released in 1964.
She played a major role in the film titled “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and she stood out amongst other actors. Little wonder she won the first Emmy Award in 1979 as the Outstanding Supporting Actress for her work in the television movie Summer of My German Soldier. After the movie “Good Times” ended, she appeared in a number of television movies and films. Some of these include ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and ‘My Fellow Americans’. An unforgettable role she played was that of Aunt Sarah in a 1997 film titled ‘Rosewood’.
She is also credited for her role in the film, The Mighty Quinn in 1989, starring Denzel Washington and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Her last film, Train Ride was filmed in 1998 and released in 2000.
Esther Rolle Personal Life
Esther’s only marriage was to Oscar Robinson. They were married for twenty years and had no children.
The Death of Esther Rolle
Esther Rolle died from complications of diabetes on the 17th of November 1998 in California. This was nine days after her 78th birthday. After her death, her body was flown back to her hometown of Pompano Beach in Florida. As a devout member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she had requested prior to her death that her funeral is held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was buried at the Westview Community Cemetery in her hometown.
Esther Rolle Legacy
Esther Rolle’s personal collections are currently kept at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Statues of her awards and trophies are available for research, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Eighth Image Award for Best Actress in 1974 and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series Emmy in 1979.
Technically, she filmed from 1964 to 1989 which is a total of 25 years.