Esther Rolle played the part of Evans family matriarch Floria, in four of the five seasons of the series.
|Birth name:||Esther Elizabeth Rolle|
|Born:||November 8, 1920|
|Birthplace:||Pembroke Pines, Florida, U.S.|
|Died||November 17, 1998(aged 78)|
|Deathplace:||Culver City, California, U.S.|
|Spouse(s):||Oscar Robinson (m.1955-1975)|
|Children:||Sherley Mae Robinson (step-daughter) (b. 1936- )|
|Appeared on:||Good Times from Season 1-4 and 6|
|Character played:||Florida Evans|
Esther Elizabeth Rolle (November 8, 1920 – November 17, 1998) played the role as Florida Evans on the CBS-TV sitcom series Maude for two seasons (1972-1974) before reprising the role on Good Times, its spinoff, for five seasons in Seasons 1-4 and Season 6 (1974-1977, 1978-1979).
Born in Pembroke Pines, Florida, she was the tenth of 18 children to Bahamian-American parents, Jonathan and Elizabeth Rolle. Young Esther attended Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Florida and graduated from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. She initially studied at Spelman College in Atlanta, but she moved to New York City. She attended Hunter College, The New School]] for Social Research, and Yale University. She was also a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. For many years, Rolle worked in a traditional day job in New York City's garment district.
Dance and theater
Rolle's earliest roles were on the stage; her New York stage debut was in the 1962 play The Blacks. She was often cast in plays produced by Robert Hooks and the Negro Ensemble Company. She also appeared in productions of The Crucible and Blues for Mr. Charlie.
Esther's most prominent early role was as Miss Maybell in the 1973 Melvin Van Peebles play, Don't Play Us Cheap. In 1977, Rolle portrayed Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles' Haitian-influenced version at the Henry Street New Federal Theater in Manhattan.
TV: Good Times and other appearances
Rolle, along with co-star John Amos, who played the part of James Evans Sr., Florida's husband, fought for more relevant themes and scripts, and was unhappy that the success of co-star Jimmie Walker's character, J.J. Evans, took the show in what she thought was a frivolous direction.
As a result, Amos, who agreed with Rolle about Walker's character, left the show after the third season ended. Later on, in a stand-off with Good Times producer Norman Lear, Rolle also quit when her contract ended. Although the series continued without her for the fifth season, she returned for the show's final season. In 1979, Esther won an Emmy for her role in the TV movie Summer of My German Soldier (TV film).
Among her guest star roles was one on The Incredible Hulk in an episode entitled "Behind the Wheel" where she played a taxicab business owner. In the 1990s, Rolle was a surprise guest on RuPaul's VH-1 talk show. Her Maude co-star Bea Arthur was the guest, and Rolle was brought out to surprise Arthur. The two had not seen each other in years, Arthur said, and embraced warmly. Rolle also appeared in a series of psychic hotline TV commercials in the 1990s. "Tell them Esther sent you," was her trademark line.
Personal life, death and legacy
Esther was married to Oscar Robinson from 1955-1975. Esther did not have any children of her own but her husband had a daughter, Sherley Mae Robinson, (born 1936), with his first wife, the former Elizabeth Mae Robinson. After residing in Los Angeles, CA for many years, Esther died in Culver City, CA, from complications of diabetes, 9 days after her 78th birthday. Her body was flown back to her hometown in Pompano Beach, Florida. A devout Methodist, Rolle requested her funeral be held at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The family requested that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to such organizations as the African American Chapter of the American Diabetes Association, The Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, The Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas, Texas, The Jenesse Center in Los Angeles, and Marcus Garvey Elementary and Junior High School in Los Angeles.
- Esther Rolle at the African American Registry
- Notable Zetas at Zeta Phi Beta's official website
- Esther Rolle Biography, by Hal Erickson for The New York Times, accessed 2007-04-28.
- Esther Rolle's Obituary From CNN at sitcomsonline.com
- Geni - Elizabeth Mae Robinson
- Geni - Oscar Robinson
- Geni - Sherley Mae Robinson
- Esther Rolle Memorial Set for Saturday, Los Angeles Times article, November 25, 1998.