If awards were bestowed for versatility, the graceful and congenial African-American actress Debbi Morgan would take first place. A veritable decades-long mainstay in the casts of A-list dramatic features, soap operas, acclaimed prime-time series dramas, big-screen exploitationers, sitcoms, and telemovies, Morgan has proven herself equally adept at each, while the number of roles she tackles each year suggests a die-hard craftswoman with no signs of slowing down.
Born September 20, 1956, in Dunn, NC, Morgan moved with her family to New York City at the age of three. Despite the family's residence in a South Bronx housing project, they managed without difficulty. Five years into the move, Morgan's father died, which forced her mother, Lora, to support the two children (Debbi and younger sister Terry) as a secretary; she funded the girls' parochial educations through the end of high school. The photogenic Debbi sought out an entertainment career in her teens -- initially against the wishes of her mother. Lora issued stringent objections, terrified that Debbi -- a high-honors student -- would drift in with a bad element and engage in aberrant behavior. This never occurred; Debbi rapidly launched herself as an actress -- first in a series of commercials, then onto the Broadway stage (in the 1975 play What the Wine Sellers Buy) and in feature films (with a role in, regrettably, the Richard Fleischer-directed debacle Mandingo).
After moving to L.A. in her early '20s, Morgan commenced series television work, with guest appearances on such ethnically oriented sitcoms as What's Happening!!, Good Times, and Sanford. Morgan's crowning network achievement arrived at the tail end of the '70s, with her acclaimed portrayal of Elizabeth (Alex Haley's aunt) in the smash miniseries Roots: The Next Generations. After a stint on the CBS series Trapper John, M.D. during the early '80s, Morgan discovered, through her agent, that the producers of the wildly popular daytime soap All My Children needed a young African-American actress to portray the romantic interest of the character Jesse (Darnell Williams). Morgan auditioned for the role and signed instantly, recurring on the series, intermittently, for 14 years. During the early to mid-'80s, Morgan also memorably essayed the part of Ruth Owens, the love interest of track star Jesse Owens (Dorian Harewood), in the critically praised epic telemovie The Jesse Owens Story (1984); in fact, Morgan's plaintive, emotionally charged protests regarding Owens' discriminatory treatment gave the film several of its most memorable scenes and images.
Morgan continued her TV work throughout the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s, with guest appearances on a myriad of series programs -- everything from The Cosby Show to Boston Public and Charmed. During the late '90s, however, Morgan broke from the small screen and made two enduring contributions to A-list features. She played Aunt Mozelle in Eve's Bayou, actress-cum-director Kasi Lemmons' acclaimed, finely wrought gothic drama of Southern life, and Mae Thelma Carter, the wife of wrongfully accused and incriminated boxer Rubin Carter (Denzel Washington), in Norman Jewison's Oscar-nominated biopic The Hurricane (1999). More recently, Morgan portrayed Twana in director Michael Schultz's cinematization of T.D. Jakes' play, Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004). ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi