Helen Dorothy Martin, Star Of Good Times, And Founding Member Of The American Negro Theater In Harlem, 1909 – 2000

Helen Dorothy Martin, July 23, 1909 – March 25, 2000, was a Harlem actress on stage and television.

Martin’s career spanned over 60 years, appearing first on stage and later in film and television.

Martin is best known for her roles as Wanda on the CBS sitcom Good Times (1974–1979) and as Pearl Shay on the NBC sitcom 227 (1985–1990).

Early life and education 

Martin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of William Martin, a minister, and Amanda Frankie (née Fox).

Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Martin attended public schools, which at the time were segregated.

During her teenage years, Martin led a band and performed with local theater groups. For college, Martin attended Fisk University in Nashville for two years before dropping out.

Career

After leaving college, Martin moved to Chicago, and New York thereafter to study acting with the WPA Theater and the Rose McClendon Players.

She was a founding member of the American Negro Theater in Harlem. Martin became a Broadway character actress for many decades, debuting in ‘Orchids Preferred’ in 1937 and thereafter Orson Welles’ production of Native Son in 1941.

She was a founding member of the American Negro Theater in Harlem. Martin became a Broadway character actress for many decades, debuting in ‘Orchids Preferred’ in 1937 and thereafter Orson Welles’ production of Native Son in 1941.

Martin appeared in a dozen Broadway shows, including Jean Genet’s The Blacks, the musical Raisin from 1973 until 1975, Ossie Davis’ Purlie Victorious (and later the musical version, which was called Purlie), The Amen Corner, and Tennessee Williams’ Period of Adjustment.

Martin became widely known later in life due to her roles in popular television series, which brought her a large audience.



She had a recurring role as Wanda “Weeping Wanda” on the television series Good Times, and later as the neighbor Pearl Shay on the television sitcom 227, which lasted from 1985 until 1990.

Here’s Martin playing Wanda on Good Times:

Martin also had a role on the short-lived sitcoms Baby, I’m Back (as mother-in-law, Luzelle) and That’s My Mama.

Martin portrayed a variety of grandmothers in films: Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), I Got the Hook Up (1998), House Party 2 (1991), and Mama Doll in Bulworth (1998).

While appearing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien to promote Don’t Be a Menace, Martin sent host Conan O’Brien and the audience into a frenzy with her remarks, responding to a question about being cast as a pot-smoking grandmother in the film, “I love the reefer!”, and that she would be a stripper had she not gone into acting, following the statement with a suggestive dance.

Death

Martin died of a heart attack on March 25, 2000 in Monterey, California, aged 90.

Photo credit: 1) Wikipedia. 2) Youtube.

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