BEAH RICHARDS - Actress - 


"Having grown up in a racist culture where 2 and 2 are not 5, I have found life to be incredibly theatrical and theater to be profoundly lifeless…"

--Beah Richards

Both class and race survive education, and neither should. What is education then? If it doesn't help a human being to recognize that humanity is humanity, what is it for? So you can make a bigger salary than other people?

Heaven and earth! How is it that bodies join but never meet?

Race, what is that? Race is a competition, somebody winning and somebody losing. . . .Blood doesn't run in races! Come on!

For me life is a challenge. And it will be a challenge if I live to be 100 or if I get to be a trillionaire.

Beah Richards

Film and television actress who avoided stereotyping and specialised in feisty matriarchs

Brian Baxter
Wednesday October 25, 2000
The Guardian


Birthday: July 12, 1926
Birth Place: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Birth Name: Beulah Richardson
Date of death: September 14, 2000
Cause of death: Emphysema

For the daughter of a Mississippi-born Baptist minister, a good education might have led to a secure job and the continuation of a middle-class existence. But for Beah Richards, who has died aged 74, it meant freedom and rejection of life in a town in which she claimed to have suffered racism "every day of my life".
In 1948, Richards graduated from Dillard University, New Orleans, and decided on an acting career. A grounding at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego led to a 50-year career on stage, in movies and television. Her best-known roles include an Oscar-nominated performance in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and Mrs Benton in television's ER.

Her career began at a time when roles for black actors were becoming marginally less stereotypical compared with the pre-war years, when comic characters or minor parts as spear carriers or domestic servants were the norm. Since she was a straight actress, not an entertainer, Richards never achieved star status, and specialised in feisty character roles, usually older than her years, notably indomitable matriarchs.

A move to New York in the early 1950s, to play the role of the grandmother in Take a Giant Step, boosted her career. When the British director Philip Leacock filmed the play in 1959, she reprised the role, thus escaping the typecasting that might have followed her screen debut as a maid in The Mugger (1958). Take a Giant Step was one of the thoughtful dramas about race that proliferated in the 1950s, including A Raisin in the Sun, where she understudied the lead on Broadway and played in later productions.

Theatre work proved easier to obtain. Television was still largely a closed shop to black actors and, apart from repeating the stage role of Viney in The Miracle Worker when it was filmed in 1962, big-screen work also proved elusive in the early years. This was to change as Hollywood timidly began to show a concern for race in entertainment movies, rather than simply those designated as "problem pictures".

Richards enjoyed three character parts, beginning with Rose, the mother to Robert Hooks in Otto Preminger's deep south movie Hurry Sundown (1966). It was hokum, but it cast her alongside Michael Caine and Jane Fonda. In the markedly better social thriller In the Heat of the Night (1967), she shared the screen with Sidney Poitier, Hollywood's leading black actor; later that year she did so again in Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, this time playing Poitier's mother, despite being two years his junior.

Although the film is sometimes criticised as ponderous and simplistic today, its theme of interracial marriage between a young black doctor and the daughter of seemingly liberal white parents provoked controversy and interest in 1967, and Richards' success as the supportive Mrs Prentice gained her considerable attention. Poitier was to be the first of many screen sons: she later mothered James Earl Jones in The Great White Hope (1970), Danny Glover in And the Children Shall Weep (1984) and Eriq La Salle as the irascible Dr Benton in ER.

So, from 1967 onward, Richards was rarely short of acting work. On television she starred for two years in The Bill Cosby Show, and went on to appear in a number of other notable series; Hill Street Blues, Murder She Wrote and the mini-series Roots: The Next Generations (1979). TV movies included Just an Old Sweet Song (1976) and A Christmas Without Snow (1980).

Richards also enjoyed success as a writer with One Is a Crowd, and A Black Woman Speaks and Other Poems. Adapting these for the stage, she went on tour with a show called An Evening With Beah Richards. Further stage roles included James Baldwin's The Amen Corner and a Lincoln Centre revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, directed by Mike Nichols.

Subsequent films included Mahogany (1975), Big Shots (1987), Homer & Eddie (1989) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989). For her last cinema role, in Beloved (1998) as Baby Suggs, she was nominated as outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture. Two years later, at the Los Angeles Pan-African Film Festival, she received a lifetime achievement award.

Last September she was awarded an Emmy for work in the TV series The Practice, but because of emphysema she had left Los Angeles for her home town. It was presented to her there in Vicksburg shortly before her death.

Her marriage to artist Hugh Harrell ended in divorce.

• Beulah Richardson (Beah Richards), actress, born July 12 1926, died September 14 2000.

Distinguished black actress Beah Richards spent most of her career on-stage and only appeared in a few films. Her most famous role was that of Sidney Poitier's mother in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), the part that won her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Before becoming a professional, Richards attended college and then studied acting in San Diego. In 1951 she moved to New York, but she did not get a professional acting job until 1954 when she worked in an off-Broadway production of Take a Giant Step. Over the rest of the decade, her stage appearances were spotty and she did not get much of a break until she joined a national touring company for a production of A Raisin in the Sun in the early '60s. In 1959, she made her film debut with a small part in Take a Giant Step. She had a smaller role in The Miracle Worker (1962) and then one other film. It was director Otto Preminger who provided Richards with her biggest role today when he co-starred her in Hurry Sundown (1967) after seeing her impressive starring performance in the play The Amen Corner. Her next big part was in Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. But though she had earned an Academy Award nomination, Richards' film career never took flight and her appearances became sporadic. She did, however, continue working on-stage and in television films and series. ~ Sandra Brennan, All

(1990s) (1980s) (1970s) (1960s) (1950s)

1. Beloved (1998) .... Baby Suggs, aka Grandma Baby
... alternativ: Menschenkind (1999) (Germany) [de]
2. "ER" (1994) TV Series .... Mae Benton (1994-1995)
... alternativ: "ER" (1994) (Germany) [de]
... alternativ: "Emergency Room - Die Notaufnahme" (1995) (Germany: new title) [de]
... alternativ: "Emergency Room - Helden im O.P." (1995) (Germany) [de]
3. Out of Darkness (1994) (TV) .... Mrs. Cooper
... alternativ: Lange Weg aus der Nacht, Der (1994) (TV) (Germany) [de]
4. "Hearts Afire" (1992) TV Series .... Miss Lula (1992)
... alternativ: "Küß' mich, John" (1992) (Germany) [de]
5. One Special Victory (1991) (TV) .... Cora Simms
6. Capital News (1990) (TV)

7. Drugstore Cowboy (1989) .... Drug Counselor
... alternativ: Drugstore Cowboy (1989) (Austria) (West Germany) [de]
8. Homer & Eddie (1989) .... Linda Cervi
9. Big Shots (1987) .... Miss Hanks
... alternativ: Big Shots - Zwei Kids gegen die Unterwelt (1987) (West Germany) [de]
10. "Capitol" (1982) TV Series .... Therese (1986)
11. Inside Out (1986) .... Verna
... alternativ: Angst und Einsamkeit (1986) (West Germany) [de]
12. As Summers Die (1986) (TV) .... Elvira Backus
13. Acceptable Risks (1986) (TV) .... Sally Framm
... alternativ: Restrisiko (1986) (TV) (West Germany) [de]
14. And the Children Shall Lead (1985) (TV) .... Miss Annie
... alternativ: Wonderworks: And the Children Shall Lead (1985) (TV) (USA: series title)
15. Generation (1985) (TV)
16. Banjo the Woodpile Cat (1982) (TV) (voice) .... Zazu
... alternativ: Banjo, das Katzenkind (1998) (TV) (Germany: video title) [de]
17. Sophisticated Gents, The (1981) (TV) .... Mae Porter
18. Christmas Without Snow, A (1980) (TV) .... Wendell's Grandma
... alternativ: Wunder in San Francisco (1980) (TV) (West Germany) [de]

19. "Roots: The Next Generations" (1979) (mini) TV Series .... Cynthia Palmer
... alternativ: "Roots - Die nächsten Generationen" (1982) (mini) (West Germany) [de]
20. Ring of Passion (1978) (TV) .... Lilly Brooks
... alternativ: Countdown to the Big One (1978) (TV)
21. Just an Old Sweet Song (1976) (TV) .... Grandma
... alternativ: Down Home (1976) (TV)
22. Mahogany (1975) .... Florence
23. Dream for Christmas, A (1973) (TV) .... Grandma Bessie
24. Outrage (1973) (TV) .... Thelma
25. "Sanford and Son" (1972) TV Series .... Aunt Esther (1972)
26. Biscuit Eater, The (1972) .... Charity Tomlin
... alternativ: Promenadenmischung, Die (1972) (West Germany) [de]
27. Footsteps (1972) (TV) .... Jessie Blake
... alternativ: Foosteps: Nice Guys Finish Last (1972) (TV) (USA)
... alternativ: Nice Guys Finish Last (1972) (TV)
28. "Bill Cosby Show, The" (1969) TV Series .... Rose Kincaid (1970-1971)
... alternativ: "Bill Cosby Show, Die" (1969) (West Germany) [de]
29. To Confuse the Angel (1970) (TV)
30. Great White Hope, The (1970) .... Mama Tiny
... alternativ: Große, weiße Hoffnung, Die (1970) (West Germany) [de]

31. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) .... Mrs. Prentice
... alternativ: Rat mal, wer zum Essen kommt (1968) (Austria) [de]
... alternativ: Rate mal, wer zum Essen kommt (1968) (West Germany) [de]
32. In the Heat of the Night (1967) .... Mama Caleba, aka Mrs. Bellamy
... alternativ: In der Hitze der Nacht (1968) (Austria) (East Germany) (West Germany) [de]
33. Hurry Sundown (1967) .... Rose Scott
... alternativ: Morgen ist ein neuer Tag (1967) (West Germany) [de]
34. Gone Are the Days! (1963) .... Idella Landy
... alternativ: Man from C.O.T.T.O.N., The (1966) (USA: reissue title)
... alternativ: Purlie Victorious (1963)
35. Miracle Worker, The (1962) (uncredited) .... Viney, Keller Maid
... alternativ: Licht im Dunkel (1963) (Austria) (West Germany) [de]
... alternativ: Unter anderer Sonne (1963) (West Germany) [de]

36. Take a Giant Step (1959) .... May Scott
37. Mugger, The (1959) .... Maid

Filmography as: Actress, Herself, Archive Footage, Notable TV Guest Appearances

Herself - filmography

1. Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (2003) .... Herself

Filmography as: Actress, Herself, Archive Footage, Notable TV Guest Appearances

Archive Footage

1. 73rd Annual Academy Awards, The (2001) (TV) .... Herself (Memorial Tribute)

Filmography as: Actress, Herself, Archive Footage, Notable TV Guest Appearances

Notable TV Guest Appearances

1. "Practice, The" (1997) als "Gertrude Turner" in episode: "Till Death Do Us Part" (Folge # 4.19) 30 April 2000
2. "John Larroquette Show, The" (1993) als "Gene's Momma" in episode: "Amends" (Folge # 1.10) 23 November 1993
3. "Matlock" (1986) als "Martha Jordan" in episode: "The Diner" (Folge # 8.3) 14 October 1993
4. "Designing Women" (1986) als "Mrs. Bouvier" in episode: "Wedding Redux" (Folge # 7.14) 5 February 1993
5. "Murder, She Wrote" (1984) als "Emma Coop" in episode: "Judge Not" (Folge # 8.6) 10 November 1991
6. "Family Matters" (1989) als "Helen" in episode: "I Should Have Done Something" (Folge # 2.25) 25 April 1991
7. "227" (1985) als "Carolyn" in episode: "The Class of 90" (Folge # 5.23) 25 April 1990
8. "L.A. Law" (1986) als "Alberta Williams" in episode: "Blood, Sweat and Fears" (Folge # 4.15) 15 March 1990
9. "Designing Women" (1986) als "Minnie" in episode: "The Twentieth Century: Part 2" (Folge # 4.14) 1 January 1990
10. "Designing Women" (1986) als "Minnie" in episode: "The Twentieth Century: Part 1" (Folge # 4.13) 1 January 1990
11. "L.A. Law" (1986) als "Alberta Williams" in episode: "Placenta Claus Is Coming to Town" (Folge # 4.7) 14 December 1989
12. "Beauty and the Beast" (1987) als "Narcissa" in episode: "Ceremony of Innocence" (Folge # 2.21) 19 May 1989
13. "Beauty and the Beast" (1987) als "Narcissa" in episode: "When the Blue Bird Sings" (Folge # 2.14) 31 March 1989
14. "Beauty and the Beast" (1987) als "Narcissa" in episode: "Dead of Winter" (Folge # 2.4) 9 December 1988
15. "Beauty and the Beast" (1987) als "Narcissa" in episode: "To Reign in Hell" (Folge # 1.20) 18 March 1988
16. "Facts of Life, The" (1979) als "Grandmother" in episode: "Present Imperfect" (Folge # 9.20) 5 March 1988
17. "Murder, She Wrote" (1984) als "Ola Mae" in episode: "Mourning Among the Wisterias" (Folge # 4.15) 14 February 1988
18. "Beauty and the Beast" (1987) als "Narcissa" in episode: "Dark Spirit" (Folge # 1.9) 27 November 1987
19. "Frank's Place" (1987) als "Olive Varden" in episode: "The Bridge" (Folge # 1.4) 5 October 1987
20. "Hunter" (1984) als "Pockets/Ella Mae Fuller" in episode: "Not Just Another John Doe" (Folge # 4.1) 24 September 1987
21. "227" (1985) als "Carolyn" in episode: "Happy Twentieth" (Folge # 2.18) 7 March 1987
22. "Hunter" (1984) als "Pockets/Ella Mae Fuller" in episode: "Saturday Night Special" (Folge # 2.23) 20 May 1986
23. "Hitchhiker, The" (1983) als "Serita" in episode: "The Curse" (Folge # 2.10) 25 February 1986
24. "227" (1985) als "Carolyn, Mary's Mother" in episode: "Fifty Big Ones" (Folge # 1.19) 15 February 1986
25. "Hill Street Blues" (1981) als "Aunt Feeney" in episode: "Scales of Justice" (Folge # 6.14) 30 January 1986
26. "Hill Street Blues" (1981) als "Aunt Feeney" in episode: "Das Blues" (Folge # 6.13) 23 January 1986
27. "Punky Brewster" (1984) als "Mrs. Carney" in episode: "I Love You, Brandon" (Folge # 1.18) 17 February 1985
28. "Highway to Heaven" (1984) als "Mrs. Baldwin" in episode: "As Difficult as ABC" (Folge # 1.17) 31 January 1985
29. "Benson" (1979) als "Mrs. DuBois" in episode: "Home for Christmas" (Folge # 6.13) 21 December 1984
30. "St. Elsewhere" (1982) als "Regina" in episode: "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (Folge # 3.10) 28 November 1984
31. "Benson" (1979) als "Benson's Mother" in episode: "No Sad Songs" (Folge # 2.15) 6 March 1981
32. "Palmerstown, U.S.A." (1980) in episode: "The Old Sister" (Folge # 1.3) 1 May 1980
33. "Vega$" (1978) als "Mom" in episode: "The Hunter Hunted" (Folge # 2.18) 5 March 1980
34. "Apple's Way" (1974) als "Mrs. Thaxter" in episode: "The Witness" (Folge # 1.7) 31 March 1974
35. "It Takes a Thief" (1968) als "Sister Martha Gowen" in episode: "To Sing a Song of Murder" (Folge # 3.20) 23 February 1970
36. "Room 222" (1969) als "Mrs. Moore" in episode: "Arizona State Loves You" (Folge # 1.16) 31 December 1969
37. "Hawaii Five-O" (1968) als "Mama" in episode: "Once Upon a Time: Part 2" (Folge # 1.20) 26 February 1969
38. "I Spy" (1965) als "Mrs. Scott" in episode: "Cops and Robbers" (Folge # 2.28) 12 April 1967
39. "Big Valley, The" (1965) als "Hannah James" in episode: "Lost Treasure" (Folge # 2.1) 12 September 1966
40. "Dr. Kildare" (1961) als "Alice" in episode: "Adrift in a Sea of Confusion" (Folge # 5.40) 31 January 1966
41. "Dr. Kildare" (1961) als "Alice" in episode: "Gratitude Won't Pay the Bills" (Folge # 5.39) 25 January 1966
42. "Big Valley, The" (1965) als "Hannah James" in episode: "Boots with My Father's Name" (Folge # 1.3) 29 September 1965


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