Rosetta Olive Burton
August 8, 1911
New York City, U.S.
|Died||March 17, 2002 (aged 90)|
Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.
|Resting place||Cypress Hills National Cemetery|
(m. 1929; div. 1943)
(m. 1948; died 1974)
|Awards||National Medal of Arts (1999)|
Rosetta LeNoire (born Rosetta Olive Burton; August 8, 1911 – March 17, 2002) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She was known to contemporary audiences for her work in television. She had regular roles on such series as Gimme a Break! and Amen, and is likely best-known for her role as Estelle "Mama" Winslow on Family Matters. In 1999, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
LeNoire was born in Harlem, New York City, as the eldest of 5 children to Harold Burton, who was from Dominica, and Nymarie Edith Jacques Helwig, of Jamaica in the West Indies. As a young girl, LeNoire suffered from rickets, which her godfather Bill "Bojangles" Robinson helped her overcome by teaching her to dance. Stage theater was her first love, and LeNoire performed in the Federal Theater Project's Bassa Moona and was cast as a witch in Orson Welles' 1936 production of Macbeth.
She appeared in a 1939 production of The Hot Mikado, starring Robinson, in which she played "Little Maid From School" Peep-Bo. She also appeared onstage, mostly as a singer and dancer, in I Had a Ball, Bassa Moona, Marching with Jimmy, Janie, Decision, Three's a Family, Destry Rides Again, and the Off Broadway Double Entry (two one-act musicals showcasing LeBoire: "The Bible Salesman," with a pre-SNL Garrett Morris, and "The Oldest Trick in the World" with Jane Connell).
LeNoire championed the cause of racial equity for more than 70 years. Her efforts profoundly influenced the New York theater community. In 1968, using her own savings, LeNoire founded the AMAS Repertory Theatre Company, an interracial theatre dedicated to multi-ethnic productions in New York City.
With this company, LeNoire created an artistic community where members' individual skills were recognized without regard to race, creed, color, religion, or national origin. She became a successful and groundbreaking Broadway producer.
The Actors' Equity Association awarded her the first award for helping contribute to the diversification of theatre casting; in 1988, the award was named the Rosetta LeNoire Award.
Amas Repertory Theatre provided a nurturing atmosphere for actors, and a community performing arts center. Throughout its history, many of the company's productions garnered reviews in The New York Times. The long-running theater's cramped headquarters were originally located at 1 East 104th Street, in the uptown neighborhood known as East Harlem. The theater continues today as Amas Musical Theatre, now located midtown on West 52nd Street above Jersey Boys, and carries on LeNoire's dream of diversity in the creative and theatrical arts. Since its inception, Amas has produced over 60 original musicals. Many of them have gone on to Broadway, including Bubbling Brown Sugar, which received a Tony Award nomination in 1976 for Best Musical.
She was the voice of Big Bertha in Ralph Bakshi's animated feature film Fritz the Cat (1972).
On March 17, 2002, LeNoire died at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey of complications from diabetes, but an article in TV Guide reported that she died of pneumonia. A resident of the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, she was 90 years old at the time of her death. A Catholic, she was funeralized at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in the Bronx.
The Rosie Award, named for Rosetta LeNoire, "is given to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary accomplishment and dedication in the theatrical arts and to corporations that work to promote opportunity and diversity", with past honorees including Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade, Leslie Uggams, Maurice Hines, Phylicia Rashad, Woodie King Jr., Dionne Warwick, and George C. Wolfe.
|1972||Fritz the Cat||Bertha / Additional Female Crows||Voice|
|1975||The Sunshine Boys||Odessa, Willy's nurse|
|1984||Moscow on the Hudson||The Judge|
|The Brother From Another Planet||Mum|
|Lily in Love||Rosanna|
|1985||Brewster's Millions||Judge R. Woods|
|1986||Whatever It Takes||Millie|
|1957||Studio One||Maid / Mary Ellen Bailey||2 episodes|
|The Green Pastures||Noah's Wife||Television film|
|1960||The Play of the Week||Belle||2 episodes|
|1962||Armstrong Circle Theatre||Kathy||Episode: "Journey to Oblivion"|
|1966||ABC Stage 67||Woman||Episode: "The Love Song of Barney Kempinski"|
|1970||A World Apart||Matilda|
|1971||The Coming Asunder of Jimmy Bright||Television film|
|1971–1972||The Guiding Light||Leona Herbert||Episode: "Not with My Cousin You Don't"|
|1972||Another World||Gloria Metcalf||Unknown episodes|
|1973||Calucci's Department||Mizzi Gordon||Episode: "The $80 Heist"|
|1975||Guess Who's Coming to Dinner||Tillie||Television film|
|1976||Thank You, M'am||Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones||Short|
|1977||Ryan's Hope||Miriam George||6 episodes|
|The Royal Family||Della||Television film|
|1978||Fantasy Island||Cool Shade / Darryl||Episode: "Family Reunion/Voodoo"|
|Big Blonde||Nettie||Television film|
|1982||Benny's Place||Television film|
|1984||Great Performances||Rheba||Episode: "You Can't Take It with You"|
|1985||Tales from the Darkside||Miss Gillis||Episode: "Parlour Floor Front"|
|1985–1987||Gimme a Break!||Maybelle 'Mama' Harper||16 episodes|
|1987||The Father Clements Story||Mrs. Clements||Television film|
|1987–1989||Amen||Leola Forbes / Leola Hudson||8 episodes|
|1990||Maverick Square||Mrs. Lewis||Television film|
|1989–1997||Family Matters||Estelle 'Mother' Winslow||Main (seasons 1–7); recurring (seasons 8–9)|
|1998||Cosby||Nurse||Episode: "Playground Scar" (final appearance)|