A 1942 graduate of Atlanta’s Spelman College, Emmy Award winning actress Esther Rolle came from a family of performers, and worked for more than three decades in television and film before her death in 1998 at age 78. Rolle’s film career found her in a variety of supporting and co-starring roles in films such as Nothing But a Man, Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow?, Cleopatra Jones, P.K. and the Kid, The Mighty Quinn, House of Cards, How to Make an American Quilt, My Fellow Americans and Down in the Delta.
Her most prominent films roles were as Idella in 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, and as Aunt Sarah in Rosewood, a performance that earned her an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in 1998.
While a success on film, it was on television that Rolle achieved her greatest fame. She was a regular in the cast of the daytime drama One Life to Live. In 1972, her Good Times character Florida Evans debuted on the hit TV series Maude. Following the successful spin-off of Good Times, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, Rolle went on to appear as a regular in the series Singer & Sons, and in the 1994 miniseries, Scarlett.
As a gust star, Rolle was seen in series such as The Incredible Hulk, Darkroom, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote, and Touched by an Angel. Her tele-film credits include Summer of My German Soldier (for which she won an Emmy Award in 1979), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, See China and Die, A Raisin in the Sun, The Kid Who Loved Christmas, and Message from Nam. In 1999, Rolle was honored in a memorial tribute as part of the 51st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
One of the original members of the famed Negro Ensemble Company in New York, she performed in many Ensemble productions, including The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, God is a (Guess What?), Day of Absence, Rosalee Pritchet, and The Dream on Monkey Mountain. On Broadway, Rolle appeared in The Amen Corner, Blues for Mister Charlie, and Don’t Play Us Cheap. She appeared in several off Broadway productions; toured Scandinavia with The Skin of Our Teeth; Australia and New Zealand with Black Nativity; and the US in Purlie. She also starred in a New York stage production of Macbeth.
Rolle served as Honorary Chairperson for the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and in 1976 was named “Woman of the Year” by the Third World Sisterhood.