Entertainment

5

Nov 2013

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO… BERLINDA TOLBERT?

Extended interview with the co-star of the '70s sitcom "The Jeffersons" ...
By Deanna Martin-Osuagwu

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO… BERLINDA TOLBERT?


In 1975, a 22-year-old Hollywood newbie named Berlinda Tolbert joined the cast of the groundbreaking sitcom The Jeffersons to play Jenny Willis. She was most recently seen in the 2011 indie flick Last Ride on the Midwest Pacific. Today, she remembers her sitcom days fondly and shares what has been her most rewarding role to date.

JET: How have roles for Black women changed since you first came to Hollywood in the ’70s?

BERLINDA TOLBERT: There are more roles and a greater variety of choices. This wonderful blend of cultures and terrific non-traditional casting wasn’t done back then. There’s also more of a willingness to explore African-American experiences. That’s what’s exciting to me. There is much more room for diversity. Before it was an exception, now it’s more of a staple.

JET: What do you most enjoy about acting?

BT: After seeing me in a play when I was 13, my dad said, “You know, you’re awfully good at this.” I discovered I love telling stories and I still do. I’m a natural storyteller. I love human behavior: the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve had some wonderful people to work with. Actors are my favorite people in the world. The roles that I take are connected to whether the project is something I haven’t done before, and whether it speaks to me and will allow me to stretch.

JET: What was one of your favorite memories from The Jeffersons?

BT: The entire experience is memorable. It changed my life. There is no one component that stands out for me. Every life experience is colored by the people you work with. Norman Lear had a wonderful knack of putting the right people together. There was great regard to individual contribution to the final product. For someone who was just beginning a career at that time, what a learning environment for me to be in. It was that experience that really taught me what I know about television. From the producers to the writers to the crew to the actors— I worked with exciting, creative people. It colored my impressions of the industry in an extremely positive way.

JET: Why is The Jeffersons considered a classic sitcom?

BT: What makes the show so iconic is the subject matter it dealt with. It was the first time in TV history that a show portrayed the offspring of a Black and White union, the first time an integrated married couple was portrayed on national television, and the first time a show centered on a successful Black man with his own set of prejudices.

JET: What’s another career highlight for you?

BT: In the early ’70s, when I was in acting school, Martin Scorsese gave me my first film part in one of Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro’s early works. Scorsese is a magnificent director and I have always admired him for his risk-taking. More than a decade later, in 1989, I ran into him when he was receiving the Courage in Filmmaking award. I didn’t think he would remember me, some school kid from years ago. But he didn’t forget; he remembered my name. He spoke to me about the day and night we shot my scenes. Two weeks after that meeting, he reached out to me and said he was working on another movie and wanted me to play Sam Jackson’s girlfriend inGoodFellas. Once I got on the set, I felt like I was at home.

JET: Are you working on any projects now?

BT: I’m taking a temporary break. I don’t have any disenchantment with Hollywood. I wanted to turn my attention to my parents, who’ve been so wonderful to me, at a time in their lives when it’s important to have their daughter there for them. We are a close family. My parents have and still are supportive of me and my work. They continue on the journey with me. They would often visit me during the time I was doing The Jeffersons. Recently, my father became ill and was hospitalized. He did not recover and passed away. My mother is now in her mid-80s and requires medical and physical attention. I make sure all her needs are met.

JET: Has taking a personal hiatus been tough for you?

BT: I’ve only had one job in my entire life… professional actress. I don’t miss acting right now. I have noticed that I get a lot of respect from people because I have chosen to be here to help my parents. And this respect from others is something I never expected would happen. I have come to realize that others are making decisions such as these as well. I love my work and always will and, surprisingly, I also have no regrets. I have only one mom and one dad. I don’t feel that I am missing out on anything.

JET: What are you planning for your comeback?

BT: I haven’t thought about a comeback. I don’t have any anticipation for anything. My focus at the moment is the medical needs and physical concerns of my parents and now, more recently, my mother. While I have been in some discussions about a project over the past three months, I’m not thinking about tomorrow. It’s more about the service I can do today. I’m not 22 anymore. I wouldn’t want to be 22 again. I’m just enjoying the opportunity to service my mother.

JET: Would you like to say anything directly to your fans?

BT: I’d like to thank everyone for supporting The Jeffersons and me for all these years, and showing an interest in what we were trying to do.

11 Comments »

  1. Willie December 5, 2013 at 5:27 am - Reply

    She's still so sexy!

  2. Kevin Butler December 27, 2013 at 5:23 am - Reply

    With all due respect to Ms.Tolbert's recollections..the character of "George Jefferson"(played by Mr.Hemsley)was not the first black bigoted character on a tv sit com.

    Mr.Redd Foxx was the first black gentleman to play a black bigot on"Sandford & Son".

    • Frank Frazier June 1, 2014 at 6:59 am - Reply

      With all due respect to you Mr. Butler, Ms. Tolbert said, " the first time a show centered on a SUCCESSFUL Black man with his own set of prejudices".

      I don't think Redd Foxx's character falls into that catagory.

      • High Crimes October 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm - Reply

        I agree with you Frank, I was going to post the same response. I have a feeling that Kevin Butler is just "trolling"

  3. Linda February 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    I remember watching The Jeffersons when it was originally on CBS. The show ran from the time I was in the first grade and ended production when I was a senior in high school. Norman Lear was truly a master of his craft. The Jeffersons had a terrific cast was well written. Berlinda is a beautiful lady inside and out. Caring for her elderly parents just shows her love, devotion and respect for those who brought her into this world. I have the greatest respect for her! Berlinda is truly an earth angel!!

  4. Janice Evans Davis February 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    It is good to see that Berlinda remains true to her roots in taking care of her parents. We were old high school classmates in Mrs Caples drama class. We remain proud of her from Second Ward High School in Charlotte, N. C.

  5. Kandi April 19, 2014 at 7:38 am - Reply

    I was watching the episode where George goes to birthing classes with Jenny and I thought about Ms. Tolbert. It is great to hear that she is well. She sounds like a loving person for putting her parents' needs first. Her beauty radiates.

  6. JJ Raines June 22, 2014 at 6:24 am - Reply

    Great job, Ms. Tolbert. I still watch the Jefferson. For me it was great to an African American female in role that brought you through college to marriage and then single mom. This was typical of a lot of us of the 70's. You played it with such grace and style. Blessings upon your future.

  7. Dianne Whitfield August 1, 2014 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    I still watch The Jefferson's and I have always loved your character!

  8. anita August 14, 2014 at 1:28 am - Reply

    To mrs. berlind I think you are so beautiful .you did a wonderful job on the Jefferson's .you inspired me so much. I hope you will be acting again soon looking out for you god bles.

  9. Erica October 24, 2014 at 8:34 am - Reply

    There will never be another sitcom that could compare to the Jeffersons. I watch it at least once a week on DVD. I am waiting until the release of the complete series due on the stand if i am not mistaken in Nov./Dec. I love the Jeffersons 4 Ever.

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