Denise Donna Nicholas
July 12, 1944
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Occupation||Actress, author, social activist|
(m. 1964; div. 1965)
(m. 1973; div. 1974)
(m. 1981; div. 1984)
Denise Donna Nicholas (born July 12, 1944) is an American actress, author, and social activist. Nicholas is known primarily for her roles as high-school guidance counselor Liz McIntyre on the ABC comedy-drama series Room 222 and Councilwoman Harriet DeLong on the NBC/CBS drama series In the Heat of the Night. Prior to her acting career, Nicholas was involved in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s.
Nicholas was born in Detroit to Louise Carolyn and Otto Nicholas. Nicholas spent her early years in Detroit. With the remarriage of her mother to Robert Burgen, she moved to Milan, Michigan, a small town south of Ann Arbor. At the age of 16, Nicholas appeared on the August 25, 1960, cover of Jet magazine as a future school teacher prospect at the National High School Institute at Northwestern University. She graduated from Milan High School in 1961. Nicholas is the middle child of three, with an older brother, Otto, and a younger sister, Michele, who was murdered in 1980.
Nicholas entered the University of Michigan as a Pre-Law student. Nicholas then switched her major to Latin-American politics, Spanish, and English before dropping out after her second completed academic year. Nicholas moved to New York City, and worked for the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) advertising firm. She subsequently transferred to Tulane University, where she majored in Fine Arts. Her acting debut was in a Spanish-language play presented by her language class. Nicholas dropped out of Tulane University as well, this time to join the Free Southern Theater (FST), during the Civil Rights Movement. After spending two years touring the deep South with the FST, Nicholas went to New York City and joined the Negro Ensemble Company, working in all productions during the first season of that theatre ensemble. From the stage of the St. Mark's Playhouse in New York, Nicholas was cast as Liz McIntyre, the Guidance Counselor on ABC series Room 222. Nicholas received her Bachelor of Arts in Drama from the University of Southern California Theater Program in 1987, after living in Southern California for a number of years.
Nicholas began her television acting career in 1968, with an episode of It Takes a Thief. Nicholas had three consecutive (1970–1972) Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress in a Drama TV Series, for her role as Liz McIntyre on the ABC comedy-drama series Room 222. Following Room 222 (1969–1974), she won two Image Awards in 1976 for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, for her role as Beth Foster in Let's Do It Again (1975). Nicholas also played Olivia Ellis on Baby... I'm Back!, a sitcom that aired on CBS in 1978
Nicholas wrote the song "Can We Pretend," which her then-husband Bill Withers recorded on his 1974 album +'Justments. Nicholas later appeared as Harriet DeLong in the cast of NBC/CBS' In the Heat of the Night (1989–1995). Nicholas wrote six episodes of the series, beginning her second career as a writer. When that show was cancelled, she enrolled in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, eventually finding her way to the Journeymen's Writing Workshop under the tutelage of author Janet Fitch. She worked with Fitch for five years. Nicholas also attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Workshop, and the Natalie Goldberg Workshop, in Taos, New Mexico.
Nicholas first novel, Freshwater Road, was published by Agate Publishing, in August 2005. it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was selected as one of the best books of 2005 by The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune. The novel won the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award for debut fiction in 2006, as well as the American Library Association's Black Caucus Award for debut fiction the same year. Freshwater Road was reprinted by Pocket Books. Brown University commissioned Nicholas to write a staged adaptation of Freshwater Road, which was presented in May 2008. Nicholas is currently[when?] completing her memoir, and it will be published by Agate Publishing in 2023.
At 19, Nicholas dropped out of the University of Michigan and signed up with the Free Southern Theater in New Orleans, headed by Gilbert Moses, whom she married in May 1964 at the American Theater in New York, and divorced in 1967. Nicholas married soul singer-songwriter Bill Withers on January 17, 1973. Their relationship had been volatile prior to their nuptials. The marriage ended in divorce, filed in April 1974, and finalized in December 1974. In February 1980, Nicholas's younger sister Michele Burgen, a 26-year-old editor for Ebony magazine, was shot to death. Her body was found in a locked rental car at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Nicholas and her older brother Otto searched the country for clues, but no suspect was ever taken to trial.
While coping with the loss of her sister, Nicholas met CBS sports anchor Jim Hill at a Sacramento poetry reading in June 1980. They married on Valentine's Day in 1981. The couple separated in October 1981 and she filed for divorce, before reconciling soon after. Nicholas filed for divorce again in 1984. The divorce was final in 1987.
|1982||Dame Lorraine||Angela Moulineaux||Los Angeles Actors Theatre|
|1968||Song of the Lusitanian Bogey||St. Mark's Playhouse||Revival of earlier production.|
|Daddy Goodness||Lena||St. Mark's Playhouse|
|Kongi's Harvest||Praise Singer||St. Mark's Playhouse|
|Song of the Lusitanian Bogey||St. Mark's Playhouse|
|1967||One Last Look||April Baylor||Old Reliable Theater Tavern|
|1966||Viet Rock||Martinique Theatre|
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