Veteran actor, David Langston Smyrl died earlier this week due to lung cancer at the age of 80. Smyrl, remembered best for his role as Mr. Handford, the loving owner of Hooper's Store on Sesame Street died on Tuesday (March 22) at a Pennsylvania hospital. Smyrl also appeared on a handful of Cosby Show episodes as contractor Sam Lucas.
The Philadelphia native earned his first job in television on Express Yourself, in 1970's New York. By the end of the decade, he appeared in the Broadway musical Working. A little later, Smyrl wrote for the sitcom Benson where he received a People Choice Award. He went on to star in more film and TV roles including The Preacher's Wife.
From 1990-1998, Smyrl starred as Hanford the singing, happy-go-lucky, charming retired firefighter. He was the second character to portray Hanford after actor Leonard Jackson.
Smyrl leaves behind a wife, Cheryl and a stepson. His wife told the Associated Press that he was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
"He was funny," Cheryl Smyrl said. "I could say so many good things about him. He was loved by so many people. He was a mentor to a lot of children. He was a family man, loyal, true and faithful."
Smyrl's funeral is on Monday.
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A lighter side of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is coming to TV. The rapper is working on a resurgence of variety shows with A&E network, a sharp contrast from his thriller drama, Power on Starz. 50 will star and executive produce the show that is a mix of sketch, dance, guest celebrities, stand-up and reality. Think In Living Color meets The Lyricist Lounge Show.
"I grew up watching variety shows and am excited to put my own spin on the format," tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I hope everyone is ready to bring their talent forward; I want to show the world the best of the best.
The show is currently in development with a working title.
Are there going to be "fly girl" auditions or nah?
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Martin blessed the 90's with gut busting comedy and iconic characters over the course of five seasons. After the show ended in 1997, we were left with one of TV's greatest mysteries. What the hell did Martin's best friend, Tommy Strawn do for a living?
You remember the running joke.
Tommy insisted he was gainfully employed.
Martin believed otherwise.
And so did we..until today.
In an episode of the Don’t Be Scared podcast, Tisha Campbell Martin says the audience knew Tommy's occupation in season one.
"But Tommy did really have a job.. I’ll give you a hint. Mrs., always forget her name, the woman I was going to fight, she was Martin’s teacher, Mrs., not Cunningham… okay, but you know who I’m talking about. Beverly Johnson played her. So, it’s in that episode, that’s the first time you hear about Tommy’s job. The second time you see Tommy’s job is in the Christmas episode when he brings us to speak to children and Martin calls the little boy waterhead.
(Trinidad. Miss Trinidad.)
So, Tommy talks about, him being in the Boys and Girls Club and he was a counselor at the Boys and Girls Club. That’s what he Tommy did for a living."
Listen in around 26:19.
The writer's pulled a fast one on us.
(*Exclusive image of me just finding out today that Tommy's last name wasn't "Strong" after all.)
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Shonda Rhimes describes the fulfillment of feminist badassery and living by means of unapologetic fearlessness in her most talked about book, Year of Yes. Before she came to conceptualize her prowess, Shonda's confidence became illuminated on Thursday nights through the fictional lives of her A-team. You know the TGIT crew Meredith, Olivia and Annalise. These powerful characters live because of Shonda's insatiable appetite for lying. Her job is to make stuff up. Yes, this world renowned TV titan in all her greatness admits to recurring doubt. The talent was there, but it took her a little longer to unearth a life of courage. Shonda built her confidence through the authority of one word: yes. She said yes to not only everything that once scared her, but Shonda gave herself permission to live fully.
Her make-believe fixer also arrived at a similar awakening in an episode of Scandal.
NEXT UP: OLIVIA POPE
A custodian of public image in the lives of Washington's elite. The clean up woman of sorts. Olivia Pope's crème de la crème occupation, loosely based on Judy Smith's real-life crisis management, is what we've become addicted to over the last five seasons. Outside of her mind blowing sex life, to-die-for wardrobe and a squad ready to catch a case at a moment's notice, Olivia is pretty normal. She is just like any other woman overwhelmed by her day-to-day job duties, in addition to the unsettling pressures constantly applied by society. The days where you say "I can't even", yeah she has those too.
Liv always comes through with the meltdowns.
Type A personalities aren't known to accept defeat.When the chips are down, she always manages to pull out a last minute victory.
Where there's a will, Liv finds a way.
Although, a second of glory usually translates to some intertwined cliffhanger Shonda Rhimes keeps handy to send us into emotional distress.
Olivia's tumultuous father-daughter relationship set the dysfunctional tone for her shattered love life, yet and still she works. Liv keeps busy as a worker bee. You know the person in your life who keeps busying doing everything else except for tending to her private matters? She is Olivia.
Tracking down career assassins and federal wolves in sheep's clothing requires 100% attention. Olivia lives life at the disposal of others.
Fierce on the surface.
Only a split second away from losing it.
She keeps up appearances, rarely admitting to shortcomings. Winning is her only solution. After years of insanity and producing unhealthy results, Olivia Pope uttered three words ultimately catapulting her character into a new arena.
Season 4, Episode 9: "Where the Sun Don't Shine"
Of all her iconic lines, the writers at Scandal sounded a siren in Liv's life using three simple words; "I choose me." Entangled in TV's least promising love triangles, Olivia constantly felt the pressures of having to decide who she'll ride off into the sunset with—killer boyfriend #1 (Jake) or married boyfriend #2 (Fitz). Decisions, decisions. Not to mention her other sexual rendezvous, Liv managed to duck and dodge this inevitable decision. Besides the threat of war in West Angola, Cyrus' quickie wedding crisis and Olivia pulling the trigger of an unloaded gun at Daddy Pope, it's just another day for Pope & Associates. In this climactic episode, Shonda Rhimes and company toy with our hearts in an usual fashion. Liv's decision isn't one that is expected.
Olivia: I want Vermont with Fitz.
Jake: Oh, okay.
Olivia: I also want the sun with you.
Olivia: I'm not choosing. I'm not choosing Jake. I'm not choosing Fitz. I choose me. I'm choosing Olivia. And right now, Olivia is dancing. I'm dancing, Jake. I'm free. Now, you can dance with me or you can get off my dance floor. I'm fine dancing alone.
Olivia is ultimately snatched by unknown kidnappers in the moments to follow, because Shonda Rhimes' writing team plays too much, but you get the gist.
Women are often conditioned to believe their needs are to be shelved, taking a backseat to everyone else's problems. In many areas in life, women have a full-time job as fixers. Often, we place our feelings at number two or three, and never where it belongs; in first place. Family, children, relationships and even spirituality, tend to trump our emotions. While we are a species designed for nurturing, we cannot fix our environment if our own house is not in order. In this episode, Olivia promoted herself to number one. For once, the job and the men took a backseat to her happiness. While she caved a few times in the episodes to follow, allowing her sex drive to steer her into unsafe emotional territory, verbalizing self-love is one of Olivia's most notable deeds.
If you're everything to everybody but yourself, then there will be nothing left of you to go around. When is the last time you chose you?
If you have a chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
*Purchase your Black Girl Badassery tees here
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Wholesome entertainment..what's that? Pop culture pushes the envelope with each passing generation, proving our eyes tend to be most attracted to gaudy sights. Elvis Presley caused an uproar in the 1950's by thrusting his hips on television, which was once considered a lewd public act. In 2016, Rihanna is cultural icon for riding the waves with her hips in motion, to the beat of Work with Drake's eyes glued to her rear end. We're beyond the point of buying into sex. Sex is both the supply and demand. Everywhere you look, be it social media or television, self-expression comes with bare flesh. We're becoming desensitized to nudity. Amber Rose is an advocate for women having the right to display skin to their own discretion without fear of harassment or bodily harm. Your body. Your choice. In a way, she's right.
But who is around telling young girls to keep their sexuality on reserve? Plenty of African American role models, past and present.
Next Up: Zaria Peterson
Music videos in the 1990's began to evolve from its predecessors. The visuals told great stories in short form, and women were front and center, dawning scantily clad attire serving as an ornament to song. Think prehistoric twerking and more along the lines of passe "rump shaker." In an episode of The Parent 'Hood, Zaria (Reagan Gomez-Preston) wanted in on the music video glory. The second oldest to the Peterson children quartet had her fair share of teen drama and took it all in stride with her overprotective father blocking at every possible occasion. The show ran for five seasons, from 1995 to 1999. This strong, Black family unit was a hip response to every other household running at that time. The Banks were wealthy in Bel-Air. The Winslows gave us middle class high jinks in Chicago. In Harlem, the Petersons had more of an edge, led by Robert Peterson's (Robert Townsend) ultra imaginative dream sequences to solve everyday family issues. Even with his urban Father Knows Best vibes, Zaria was as normal as it gets.
It seems as though every fictional girl had Usher at their party back in the day.
Dealing with peer pressure, Zaria thrusts herself under the bright lights for one episode just to get a taste of fame and desirability.
Season 2, Episode 19: "We Don't Need Another Hero"
Robert makes no qualms about his disdain for cheap music videos, forbidding Zaria from appearing in one even if it meant sharing fame with her favorite superstar, Sashay. Big brother Michael gives her a pass by signing the parental consent form against the wishes of Robert and mom, Jerri (Suzzanne Douglas). Zaria and her girlfriends are eager at just the thought of being in a video, with their minds stuck on looking sexy enough for the camera. Things are quite the opposite from their girlish fantasies upon arriving on the set. The director is a male chauvinist, hell bent on the exploitation of "booty." The flimsy dresses are just the tip of the iceberg, yet despite Zaria's protest, she ends up caving to the pressure.
This episode detailed the sharp contrast of celebrity public image versus their individual ideals. What you see from them, isn't always what you'll get. Over time, you realize they're flawed humans just like any commoner. An image is just that, an image..what meets the eyes. Try telling that to a kid. Young people have their minds fixated on celebrities' likability, often let down by egos and power trips.
Sashay was everything Zaria hadn't hoped her idol would be.
Sashay: Look honey, men want to look at women's figures.
Zaria: What about what women want?
Sashay: Well, if we give them what they want then we get what we want. You've got to use what you've got.
Zaria: I've got a brain and I'm gonna use it right now, I'm outta here.
Zaria's morals, saved the day and her dignity.
Zaria manages to get by Robert without him ever knowing she defied his orders. In the end, when she is walking up the stairs we learn Zaria chooses not to dedicate her time to Sashay but instead to feed her brain with the literary works of Maya Angelou. Parents are there to mold their children to a certain image, but they, the children, ultimately decide how their lives will be modeled. Here, The Parent 'Hood demonstrates what's popular isn't always stylish.
Twenty years ago I remember looking up to Zaria's outgoing nature and go-getter attitude (also because her boyfriend TK was a hottie). Now that I am an adult, Reagan still positively influences my entertainment ambitions with her tweets and encouraging messages. This is the kind of former child star worth keeping up with. Take a listen to her podcast, Reaganomics.
*Purchase your #BlackGirlBadassery tee here
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Mo'Nique campaigned against "skinny bitches" and equal representation of plus-sized women during her reign on The Parkers. Monumental for TV, indeed. Promoting a healthy body image is a relevant factor for every age group, especially adolescent girls. Teen dramas in the 1990's and early 2000's hit home with sensitive topics like drugs, premarital sex, rape and sometimes homosexuality. The vanity of life as a teen girl became a recurring theme. We saw a number of scenes with young women unhappy with their looks.
Laura Winslow wanted bigger breasts on Family Matters. Lisa Turtle obsessed over having the latest designer threads to keep up appearances on Saved by the Bell. And, little Rudy just wanted to look old enough to get into a club to see her favorite rapper, JT Freeze on The Cosby Show. Very seldom did audiences hear or see the plight of an overweight, Black girl. Kimberly Parker (Countess Vaughn) was inadvertently regarded as the overweight sidekick on Moesha, but her high school experience was more or less portrayed as delusional and boy crazy. If you're anything like me, your body resembled Kim's and not Moesha. Raven-Symoné brought an unconventional look for main characters to the Disney Channel.
Next Up: Raven Baxter
Witty. Edgy. And at times a bit hood for Disney, That's So Raven presented a quintessential urban teen who just so happened to have psychic abilities. Audacious enough to make a caricature of herself, yet never too timid for shady one-liners, Raven served up comedy for the nonstop misfortune that is accompanied with awkward teenage years.
A diverse squad, two loving parents plus a pesky brother, all the makings of a family sitcom. That's so Raven aired from early 2003 to the fall of 2007. You may remember, this is the age of belly rings, popped collars, jersey dresses and all things denim.
Raven's style kept with the times, always capitalizing on her own added flair.
The story just so happened to be told by a curvaceous teen.
The real life actress, struggled with her weight off-screen admitting to tipping the scales at 180 pounds by the time the show ended. Although Raven was a full figured adult playing a teenager, she represented plenty of girls grappling with the pressures of society to be thin. Skinny is often associated with beauty. The show addressed the effects of fast food and poor eating habits, which continuously plague the American teen diet. One episode in particular discussed the discrimination of voluptuous models in the fashion industry, and the modifications of photos to suit unrealistic glamour standards.
Season 2, Episode 8: "That's Not So Raven"
In this episode, Raven submits an original design to a magazine's young fashion designer contest and becoming an unexpected finalist. Like always, her vision of the future didn't exactly play out as planned. Raven's talent was meant only to be seen on another body and not her own.
The image printed inside the magazine was far from Raven's reality.
Raven confronts the editor about her photoshopped image and her question is met with the ultimate insult.
"My dear we love your design. We just don't love you wearing it." The rationale behind the decision to alter Raven's body is an outdated idea that cover models, particularly for teen magazines are reserved for petite white girls. At one time, this held true. Full figured Black teens weren't hailed as the model standard. One shallow opinion not only crushed Raven's fashion aspirations, but she began to second guess her size, even exploring weight loss options. Luckily, her side kick Chelsea warned against extreme measures just to slim down.
A short scene, but a subtle educational moment. Eating disorders be it bulimia or anorexia are common dangers teens experience each and every day. Even with the most wholesome characters, Disney gets kudos here for highlighting weight issues and self-image.
In the end, Raven stuck to her guns and modeled her dress, her way.
Today, audiences see a variety of beautiful Black girls on television that come in all shapes and sizes from Zendaya to Amber Riley. Magazine covers have evolved and so has the fashion industry. There are bloggers and online communities geared toward curvy girls, dismantling rigid ideology of beauty. Society once excluded women, size 12+ from the spotlight. Those days are over. Raven is one of the first to prove that young women, even with a little extra baggage lead happy and fulfilled lives just like others half their size. Although her real life gets a lot of side-eyes these days, Raven's time at Disney did not go in vain.
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Life and responsibility are the hallmark of a strong family unit. You can choose to make a life for a family, or run from the responsibility. And that sentiment holds whether that family is by blood or by choosing. Take Good Times, for example.
Next Up: Willona Woods
Let it be known, Good Times matriarch Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) sits on the throne of television's Black Girl Badassery. Evolving from a Maude spin off, she held down the family unit in a system unintended for her benefit with and without Mr. Evans. But, it takes a village to get through the good and bad times. When husband, James Evans (John Amos) met his unfortunate demise, Willona (Ja'net Dubois) showed up and showed out to serve as a best friend should.
Foxy, vibrant and downright vivacious, Willona was the life of her own nonstop party. (Just listen to her sing the theme song for 'The Jeffersons', mother stayed LIT!) The secret sauce of any great sitcom contains pop up visits from neighbors who never knock. Willona, barged right in on every occasion to bring an eclectic vibe to a family just trying to keep their heads above water. Unmarried and childless women were rarely presented on television in the 1960's and 1970's. Society, even today, seems to cast judgement on women who haven't begun a family past a certain age. While today, being single with other ambitions outside of marriage and a baby is more acceptable, earlier generations found this kind of woman to be damaged goods. The writers and producers at Good Times made it acceptable for a woman, Willona, to live the single life and shop around for options. Despite her solitude, Willona was far from unlovable. She hired and fired "jive turkeys" at the speed of a raging locomotive. You see, Willona's character is proof that you don't have to settle. She kissed many frogs, but ultimately it would be Penny who would forever have her heart.
Enter Penny Gordon.
Willona served as the Evans family support system ultimately moving up in the ranks from neighbor to matriarch due to James' death and Florida's second marriage to Carl Dixon (Moses Gunn), which sent her character to Arizona. While things appeared copacetic on-screen, Amos and Rolle had walked from the show. Rolle to reappear in the sixth and final season. By the start of season five, the show moved into a new direction, introducing bubbly soon-to-be orphan, Penny Gordon (Janet Jackson). Willona's immediate compassion and concern for Penny's well-being makes her a true bad ass.
Season 5, "The Evans Get Involved: Part 1-4"
All the signs were there. Bruises and excuses. Even with a big bandage on her forehead, Penny's child abuse went unnoticed or at least, untreated. Thanks to her curiosity and instant attraction to J.J., Penny waltzed into the Evans' lives in an emotional, four part event that would begin a series of real-life discussions about neglect and child abuse. Even when Willona took Penny to see a doctor about her broken arm and bruises, he wouldn't intervene. So, Willona took matters into her own hands. Ms. Gordon (Chip Fields), resenting her daughter Penny for life as a single mother and the countless men that have walked out, refused to admit she had a problem. Her mother's misplaced anger put poor Penny into a boxing ring where she would be no match. Viewers to this day cringe at the classic iron scene. A young Janet pulled off such desperate dialogue pleading, "Oh no, mama. Please!" as she backed into a corner. The scene fades to black leaving your imagination to ponder the worst. A child intentionally burned by an iron.
Willona's powerful response to Ms. Gordon's justification for harming Penny is one to remember.
With folded arms and an emphatic tone, Willona says, "Big deal, I was raised without a father. My mother didn't go upside my head...Honey you don't own the rights or the patent on scuffling. I've been on my own since I was 16 years old." As the scene plays out to a point where Ms. Gordon appears to be coming to her senses, she enters an elevator as the doors closed, leaving Penny behind. And it was Willona who stepped up to the plate to be a mother to a child who was now rightfully hers for the nurturing.
While this wouldn't be the last appearance of Ms. Parks, Willona continued throughout the series to remain true to herself and her new responsibility as a mother. With the outside conflict and contract disputes for the Good Times family unit, these moving episodes might have saved a few young lives in real-life. Hollywood and Willona sent a message that child abuse is never okay.
Willona is the hero every abused child deserves.
"Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother." - Oprah
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When considering the history of Black television, it's important to never forget about the queens that blessed all of our retinas with their presence. The queen that's getting her recognition in this post is Sheneneh Jenkins of Martin. There is no doubt in my mind that Sheneneh was the best character on Martin. She consistently came through with her hilarious jokes and crazy hairstyles and clothing, and she deserves to be in the history books along with every historical figure. Below are eight reasons as to why Sheneneh Jenkins was flawless and deserves our praise.
1. She consistently kept it real.
2. And stayed clowning on all of Martin's guests.
3. If it came down to it, she was always ready to square up and fight.
4. Confidence? Our queen serves it up.
5. She did not deal with foolishness.
6. And was a true hard worker.
7. Like a true queen, she did not like to be kept waiting.
8. And finally, she was a bomb-ass performer.
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One thing that I valued more than anything while growing up was being able to sit down on my couch, turn on the television and see someone that had a skin color similar to mine. It was so soothing to be able to watch Blacks thrive in a realm where they're often left out. Even to this day we continue to have problems with diverse casts for television shows and movies. To give you a dose of melanin and a big whiff of nostalgia, below is a list of Black television shows you more than likely had your eyes glued to as a kid.
3. Cousin Skeeter
4. Gullah Gullah Island
5. That's So Raven
6. The Parkers
7. The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
8. A Different World
9. The Cosby Show
10. Smart Guy
11. Kenan & Kel
12. Sister, Sister
13. Living Single
14. Everybody Hates Chris
15. Family Matters
Are there any other television shows that you were obsessed with while growing up? Tell us some of your favorites in the comment section below!
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