Esther Rolle
Date of Birth
Nov 08, 1933
Birth Place:
Pompano Beach, FL


The ninth in a family of 18 children, Esther Rolle left her family's Florida home for New York once she came of age. She worked her way through Hunter College, Spellman College and the New School for Social Research. Even after her 1962 New York stage debut in The Blacks, Esther was compelled to hold down a day job in the city's garment district. She appeared in such Broadway productions as The Crucible and Blues for Mr. Charlie, and toured extensively with Robert Hooks' Negro Ensemble Company. Her breakthrough role was Florida the maid in the 1972 Norman Lear sitcom Maude. Though she balked at playing a domestic, Rolle was impressed by Florida's independence and pugnaciousness. In February of 1973, the Florida character was spun off into her own series, Good Times, the saga of a tightly-knit black family surviving in the Chicago projects. Rolle welcomed the series as an opportunity to depict a poor but proud African-American family with a strong father figure (played by John Amos) at the center. But when Amos, upset that co-star Jimmie "J.J." Walker was dominating the series, left Good Times in 1974, Rolle echoed the words of such groups as the National Black Media Coalition in chastising the renovated series, wherein an irresponsible, wisecracking teenaged cut-up was now "head" of the household. When her contract ran out in 1977, Esther joined John Amos in bolting Good Times. After a year of pursuing other projects -- one of which, the made-for-TV film Summer of My German Soldier, won Rolle an Emmy -- she was back on Good Times, having been assured that she would be given full script approval and that the J.J. character had matured. But by this time, audiences had wearied of Good Times, and the series was cancelled in 1979. Since that time, Rolle has hardly wanted for work: her most recent credits include the strong role of Idella in the 1989 Oscar-winner Driving Miss Daisy, the starring part of the black owner of a Jewish deli in the 1990 sitcom Singer and Son, and a guest appearance as the dying Mammy in the 1994 Gone with the Wind sequel Scarlet. In addition, Esther Rolle has been nominated honorary chairperson of the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, and has been honored with several Image Awards from the NAACP. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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