Catching Up with 80s TV Icon: Phylicia Rashad
Bio & Background
Phylicia Ayers-Allen was born on June 19, 1948, in Houston, Texas. If you're a member of Generation X, you probably already know that her sister is the famous, actress, director and choreographer, Debbie Allen. But, did you know that their mother, Vivian Ayers, is a Pulitzer Prize nominated writer/poet?
Rashad's father was an orthodontist, Andrew Arthur Allen. Her parents gained a bit of infamy for a while, when her mother fired a gun into the floorboard to show her husband that she wasn't afraid of him.
I suspect Phylicia and Debbie inherited from their mother, that "fire" they both undoubtedly have.
Eventually, Rashad's mother decided to was raise her children in Mexico City for a time, because she was tired of the ignorant atmosphere her family endured in Texas. Because of her time in Mexico, Phylicia Rashad speaks fluent Spanish.
Rashad ended up back in the states, going to college at Howard University, which is a highly respected HBCU in Washington, D.C. At Howard, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA) and she graduated magna cum laude (with great honor).
Phylicia Rashad is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorrority, where she joins a long list of accomplished women, such as Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ella Fitzgerald
An Actress is Born
She credits her acting career to her time at Howard, and her post college lifestyle in New York City. In one particular event in college, Rashad was selected to perform a reading at a local music festival.
When she was finished with the reading, she overheard people saying she was "beautiful." At that time in her life, Rashad reportedly felt self-conscious, because, in her mind, she was average, as compared to an exceptionally beautiful mother, and a sister who was "as cute as a button."
As the story goes, after she overheard the compliments, she made up her mind that she wanted to be an actress, because she imagined the "beauty" the strangers spoke of had less to do with physical appearance, and more to do with the delivery of a "performance" from the heart.
Theatrical Beginnings to 80s TV Stardom
Phylicia Rashad got her early start on Broadway, with roles in Dreamgirls, as an understudy to Sheryl Lee Ralph, and The Wiz, alongside R&B singer, Stephanie Mills.
In the late 1970s, Rashad released an album called Josephine Supestar, a disco themed album that recounts the story of the life of Josephine Baker. The album was partially written by Rashad's second husband, Victor Willis, the original lead singer of the Village People.
Throughout the years, Phylicia Rashad has performed on stage, and on film and television sets, but her most recognizable performance is that of Bill Cosby's fictional wife, Clare Huxtable, on the iconic 80s TV show, The Cosby Show.
Regardless of Phylicia Rashad's successful career as an actress outside of 80's TV, she is most remembered for her role on The Cosby Show.
All the 80s kids can recall Clare Huxtable as the stern disciplinarian, confident feminist, and dedicated attorney with a knack for eating up chauvinistic men, and pompous blow-hards.
Bill Cosby created the character, and modeled her after his wife, Camille Cosby. Originally, Clare was supposed to be Dominican who, when upon becoming agitated, she would lapse into her native Spanish tongue - much like the character, Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) on the I Love Lucy show.
However, Cosby's wife, Camille, and the executive producers of the show convinced Cosby to abandon the Dominican idea, in favor of a strong career-minded, female lead who was also a loving mother.
Clare Huxtable is humorous, stern, highly intelligent, outspoken and powerful, yet graceful and gentle at the same time... except for the time Vanessa (Tempest Bledsoe) sneaked out of the house and crossed the state line to attend a rock concert in the unforgettable "Night of the Wretched" episode...
When Rashad auditioned for the role, Bill Cosby knew she was his "Clair," the instant he saw her interact in a motherly scene with fellow actor, Malcolm Jamal-Warner. Certainly, the similarities between Phylicia and Clare must have been obvious to Cosby, and everyone else who witnessed her audition.
She and Cosby became close friends during her time on the show, and Cosby even gave her hand in marriage to professional football player turned sportscaster, Ahmad Rashad.
History will reflect that Clare Huxtable is the definitive role for Phylicia Rashad, but she went on to further success as an actress in the years following The Cosby Show.
After The Cosby Show & Today
After the Cosby Show ended in 1992, Phylicia Rashad went on to complete the following projects in film and television:
- 1996: Ruth Lucas | Cosby
- Dr. Helen Marsh, Head of Dino Institute | Dinosaur ride @ Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World (Pre-ride Show)
- 2000: Brenda | Little Bill
- 2007: "Kill Moves" mother | Everybody Hates Chris
- 2007: Winnie Guster | Psych
- 2008: Lena Younger | A Raisin in the Sun
- 2010: Gilda | For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf
- 2012: Clairee Belcher | Steel Magnolias (remake)
- 2012: Wilhelmina Deeds | Good Deeds
- 2016: Diana DuBois | Empire
- 2017: Bishop Yvette A. Flunder | When We Rise
Currently, Phylicia Rashad is back on Broadway playing the role of fairy queen Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream for Shakespeare in the Park at Public Theater.
Phylicia Rashad is the first black actress to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play, which she won for her role in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun.
Phylicia Rashad Makes History
The NAACP has dubbed Phylicia Rasahd as being "The Mother" of the black community at the 42nd Annual NAACP Image Awards.
I would agree with that line of thinking, but I would also expand on that thought to say that in the hearts and minds of many of us 80s kids who think of her with warm hearts, she is "The Mother" of Generation X.
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© 2017 Rachelle Williams