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Fri, 07.23.1909

Helen Martin, Actress born

Helen Martin

*Helen Martin was born on this date in 1909.  She was a Black actress of stage and television.  

Helen Dorothy Martin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of William Martin, a minister, and Amanda Frankie Fox. Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Martin attended segregated public schools.  During her teenage years, Martin led a band and performed with local theater groups. For college, Martin attended Fisk University in Nashville for two years before dropping out. 

After leaving college, Martin moved to Chicago, and New York thereafter to study acting with the WPA Theater and the Rose McClendon Players. She was a founding member of the American Negro Theater in Harlem. Martin became a Broadway character actress for many decades, debuting in 'Orchids Preferred' in 1937 and thereafter Orson Welles' production of Native Son in 1941.   Martin appeared in a dozen Broadway shows, including Jean Genet's The Blacks, the musical Raisin from 1973 until 1975, Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious (and later the musical version, which was called Purlie), The Amen Corner and Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment

Martin became widely known later in life due to her roles in popular television series, which brought her a large audience. She had a recurring role as Wanda "Weeping Wanda" on the television series Good Times, and later as the neighbor Pearl Shay on the television sitcom 227, which lasted from 1985 until 1990. Martin also had a role on the short-lived sitcoms Baby, I'm Back (as mother in-law, Luzelle) and That's My Mama. Martin portrayed a variety of grandmothers in films: Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), I Got the Hook Up (1998), House Party 2 (1991), and Mama Doll in Bulworth (1998). 

While appearing on Late Night with Conan O'Brien to promote Don't Be a Menace, Martin sent host Conan O'Brien and the audience into a frenzy with her remarks, responding to a question about being cast as a pot-smoking grandmother in the film, "I love the reefer!", and that she would be a stripper had she not gone into acting, following the statement with a suggestive dance.  She never married or had children. Her career spanned over 60 years, appearing first on stage and later in film and television. Helen Martin died of a heart attack on March 25, 2000 in Monterey, California, aged 90.

To become an Actor or Actress


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