Nell Carter
Nell Carter.jpg
Nell Ruth Hardy

(1948-09-13)September 13, 1948
DiedJanuary 23, 2003(2003-01-23) (aged 54)
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesNell Ruth Carter
EducationA. H. Parker High School
  • Singer
  • actress
Years active1970–2003
Known forNell Harper – Gimme a Break!
George Krynicki
(m. 1982; div. 1992)
Roger Larocque
(m. 1992; div. 1993)
PartnerAnn Kaser (?–2003)[3][4]

Nell Carter (born Nell Ruth Hardy;[5][6] September 13, 1948 – January 23, 2003) was an American singer and actress.

Carter began her career in 1970, singing in the theater, and later crossed over to television. She was best known for her role as Nell Harper on the NBC sitcom Gimme a Break! which originally aired from 1981 to 1987. Carter received two Emmy and two Golden Globe award nominations for her work on the series. Prior to Gimme a Break!, Carter won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 1978 for her performance in the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin', as well as a Primetime Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television in 1982.[7]

Early life

Nell Ruth Hardy[8] was born September 13, 1948 in Birmingham, Alabama,[9] one of nine children born to Edna Mae and Horace Hardy. She was born into a Roman Catholic family and raised Presbyterian.[10][11] Carter self-identified as Pentecostal.[12]

When she was only two years old, her father was electrocuted when he stepped on a live power line, in full view of Nell.[13][14]

As a child, she began singing on a local gospel radio show and was also a member of the church choir. At age 15 she began performing at area coffee houses, and later joined the Renaissance Ensemble that played at area coffee houses and gay bars.

On July 5, 1965, 16-year-old Hardy was raped at gunpoint by a man she knew who gave her a ride home from a performance. She became pregnant and gave birth to daughter Tracy the next year; finding raising a baby alone too difficult, she sent her child to live with her older sister Willie. She would later claim that Tracy was the product of a brief marriage, but she revealed the truth in a 1994 interview.[15] [16]


Broadway work

At age 19, Hardy changed her surname to Carter and left Birmingham, moving to New York City with The Renaissance Ensemble. In New York City, Carter sang in coffee shops before landing her first role on Broadway in 1971.[17]

Carter made her Broadway debut in the 1971 rock opera Soon, which closed after three performances. She was the Music Director for the 1974 Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective's production of "What Time of Night It Is". Carter appeared alongside Bette Davis in the 1974 stage musical Miss Moffat, based on Davis' earlier film The Corn Is Green. The show closed before making it to Broadway. She broke into stardom in the musical Ain't Misbehavin, for which she won a Tony Award in 1978. She would later win an Emmy for the same role in a televised performance in 1982.

In 1978, Carter was cast as Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, but departed the production during development to take a television role on the ABC soap opera, Ryan's Hope in New York. (When Dreamgirls premiered in late 1981, Jennifer Holliday had taken over the lead.)

Additional Broadway credits included Dude and Annie.

Film and Television

In 1979, she had a part in the Miloš Forman-directed musical film adaptation of Hair. Her vocal talents are showcased throughout the motion picture soundtrack.[18]

In 1981, Carter took a role on television's The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo,[19] before landing the lead role of Nell Harper on the sitcom Gimme a Break!.

Gimme a Break!

Main article: Gimme a Break!

Nell Carter would become perhaps best known to audiences for her lead role in the NBC television series Gimme a Break!, in which she played the role of a housekeeper for a widowed police chief (Dolph Sweet) and his three daughters. The show was a ratings hit for NBC and earned Carter a Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations. 137 episodes of Gimme a Break! were produced over a run of six seasons, airing from 1981 to 1987.

In August 1987, after the cancellation of Gimme a Break!, Carter returned to the nightclub circuit with a five-month national tour with comedian Joan Rivers.[20]

Further TV work

In 1989, she shot a pilot for NBC entitled Morton's By the Bay, which aired as a one-time special that May; Carter played the assistant to a banquet-hall owner, and the focus was on her and her madcap staff. NBC passed on the series development. That October she performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to Game 4 of the 1989 World Series, played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.[21]

In 1990, Carter starred in the CBS comedy You Take the Kids. The series, which was perceived as being the black answer to Roseanne due to its portrayal of a working-class African-American family, featured Carter as a crass, no-nonsense mother and wife.[22] You Take the Kids faced poor ratings and reviews, and had a month's run from December 1990 to January 1991.[23] During the early 1990s, Carter appeared in low-budget films, TV specials, and on game shows such as Match Game '90 and To Tell the Truth. She co-starred in Hangin' with Mr. Cooper from 1993 to 1995.[24]

In the mid-1990s, Carter appeared on Broadway in a revival of Annie as Miss Hannigan. She was upset when commercials promoting the show used a different actress, white actress Marcia Lewis, as Miss Hannigan. The producers stated that the commercials, which were made during an earlier production, were too costly to reshoot. Carter said racism played a part in the decision. "Maybe they don't want audiences to know Nell Carter is black",[25] she told the New York Post. "It hurts a lot", Carter told the Post, "I've asked them nicely to stop it—it's insulting to me as a black woman."[26] Carter was later replaced by Sally Struthers.[27]

Later years

In 2001, she appeared as a special guest-star on the pilot episode of the new WB show Reba and continued with the show, making three appearances in season one. The following year, Carter made two appearances on Ally McBeal.[24]

The next year had her rehearsing for a production of Raisin, a stage musical of A Raisin in the Sun in Long Beach, California, and filming a movie, Swing. Carter's final onscreen appearance was in the comedy film Back by Midnight. It was released in 2005, two years after her death.[24]


On January 23, 2003, Carter, aged 54, collapsed and died at her home in Beverly Hills;[28][29] her son Joshua discovered her body that night.[10][30] Per a provision in Carter's will, no autopsy was performed. Using blood tests, X-rays, and a cursory physical examination, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office ruled that Carter's death was the likely result of "probable arteriosclerotic heart disease, with diabetes a contributing condition".[31]

Carter was survived by her partner, Ann Kaser, who inherited her property and custody of her two sons.[10][32][33] She is buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[34][35][36]

Personal life

Carter attempted suicide in the early 1980s, and around 1985 she entered a drug detoxification facility to break a long-standing cocaine addiction. Her brother Bernard died of complications due to AIDS in 1989.[15]

Carter married mathematician and lumber executive George Krynicki, and she converted to Judaism in 1982.[10][11] She filed for divorce from Krynicki in 1989; the divorce was finalized in 1992.

Carter had three children: daughter Tracy and sons Joshua and Daniel. She adopted both Joshua and Daniel as newborns over a four-month period. She attempted to adopt twice more but both adoptions failed. In her first attempt, she allowed a young pregnant woman to move into her home with the plan that she would adopt the child, but the mother decided to keep her baby. In 1992, Carter had surgery to repair two aneurysms and married Roger Larocque in June.[37] She divorced Larocque the next year. Carter declared bankruptcy in 1995 and again in 2002. She also had three miscarriages.[15]

Stage credits



Year Title Role Notes
1979 Hair Central Park Singer
1981 Back Roads Waitress
1981 Modern Problems Dorita
1982 Tex Mrs. Peters
1992 Bébé's Kids Vivian Voice
1995 The Crazysitter The Warden
1995 The Grass Harp Catherine Creek
1995 The Misery Brothers Courtroom Singer
1996 The Proprietor Millie Jackson
1997 Fakin' da Funk Claire
1999 Follow Your Heart Bus Driver
1999 Special Delivery
2001 Perfect Fit Mrs. Gordy
2003 Swing Juan Gallardo Released posthumously
2005 Back by Midnight Waitress Released posthumously (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1978 Cindy Olive Television movie
1978–1979 Ryan's Hope Ethel Green 11 episodes
1980–1981 The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo Sergeant Hildy Jones 15 episodes
1981–1987 Gimme a Break! Nellie Ruth 'Nell' Harper 137 episodes
1982 The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour Episode: #1.3
1986 Nell Carter: Never Too Old to Dream Host Television Special
1985 Santa Barbara As herself Episode 240
1986 Amen Bess Richards Episode: "The Courtship of Bess Richards"
1986 Rosie Mrs. Downey Episode: "I Dream of Natalie"
1989 227 Beverly Morris Episode: "Take My Diva... Please!"
1990 Shalom Sesame Olive Tree (voice) Episode: "Chanukah"
1990–1991 You Take the Kids Nell Kirkland 6 episodes
1992 Maid for Each Other Jasmine Jones Television movie
1992 Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story Lucille Gathers Television movie
1992 Jake and the Fatman Ethel Mae Haven Episode: "Ain't Misbehavin'"
1993–1995 Hangin' with Mr. Cooper P.J. Moore 42 episodes
1995–1997 Spider-Man: The Animated Series Glory Grant (voice) 2 episodes
1996 Can't Hurry Love Mrs. Bradstock Episode: "The Rent Strike"
1997 Brotherly Love Nell Bascombe Episode: "Paging Nell"
1997 Sparks Barbara Rogers Episode: "Hoop Schemes"
1997 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Mary (voice) Episode: "Mother Goose"
1997 The Blues Brothers Animated Series Betty Smythe (voice) Episode: "Strange Death of Betty Smythe"
1999 Sealed with a Kiss Mrs. Wheatley Television movie
2001 Blue's Clues Mother Nature (voice) Episode: "Environments"
2001 Touched by an Angel Cynthia Winslow 2 episodes
2001 Seven Days Lucy Episode: "Live: From Death Row"
2001 Reba Dr. Susan Peters 3 episodes
2002 Ally McBeal Harriet Pumple 2 episodes


Year Award Category Title Result
1978 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Ain't Misbehavin' Won
Theatre World Award Won
Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Musical Won
1982 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Individual Achievement – Special Class Won
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Gimme a Break! Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated
1983 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1984 Golden Globe Award Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy Nominated


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