Clarice Taylor

From her NY Times Obituary, June 2, 2011

Clarice Taylor Dies at 93; TV’s Cosby Called her Mom

Clarice Taylor, an actress who was best known as the endearing, self-possessed grandmother on “The Cosby Show” and who also won an Obie Award for her Off Broadway portrayal of the vaudeville comedienne Moms Mabley, died on Monday at her home in Englewood, N.J. She was 93.

The cause was congestive heart failure, her spokesman, Ulysses Carter, said.

In a recurring role, Ms. Taylor played Anna Huxtable, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable’s mother, during the nine-year run of the program starting in 1984. Both she and Earle Hyman, who played Dr. Huxtable’s father, Russell, received Emmy nominations in 1986.

“Clarice was a hip mother, fearless,” Bill Cosby said in a statement, adding that she was “perfect” in the role even though “she looked young enough to play my sister.”

When she tried out for the part, Ms. Taylor told The Associated Press in 1987: “I put on a gray wig, a bandana over that, flat-heeled shoes and a long dress with no shape to it. Bill saw through my act. I read five lines, and he said, ‘If you’re going to go through all of this, you’ve got the part.’  ”

Ms. Taylor played another grandmother on television, Harriet, on “Sesame Street,” a farm woman who sometimes visited her grandson, David, in the city. That recurring role, starting in the 1960s, was a big break in her career. It led, in 1971, to her casting as Birdie, the housekeeper who is almost killed in Clint Eastwood’s thriller “Play Misty for Me.” Ms. Taylor’s stage credits include the hit musical “The Wiz,” in which she played Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North.

As a teenager growing up in Harlem, Ms. Taylor sometimes skipped school to see Moms Mabley perform at the Apollo Theater. In the mid-1980s, Ms. Taylor decided to put together a show that paid tribute to a woman renowned for racy sexual humor that relied on innuendo rather than obscenity. The show, “Moms,” written by Alice Childress, wove comedy with the poignant memories of Jackie Mabley, a great-granddaughter of a slave, who was raped twice as a young girl, the second time by the white sheriff of her North Carolina town. Clarice Taylor was born in Buckingham County, Va., on Sept. 20, 1917, to Leon and Shirley Taylor. The family moved to Harlem in the 1920s.

Ms. Taylor is survived by two sons, William and James, and five grandchildren.

She began her acting career with the American Negro Theater in Harlem. In 1967 she was a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company, based in the East Village.

“I certainly know about the oppression and prejudices of being black and a woman and from the South,” Ms. Taylor told The New York Times in 1987.

“I was told I would have to survive in an oppressed land,” she continued. “My family thought it was insanity for me to go into the theater rather than to get an education.”

NFT Credits

Credit Type Production Season
PlaywrightSpermegga 1999-00 Season
Actor Spermegga 1999-00 Season