Nell Carter

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Nell Carter
Nell Carter.jpg
Nell Ruth Hardy [1]

(1948-09-13)September 13, 1948
DiedJanuary 23, 2003(2003-01-23) (aged 54) [3] [4]
Resting place Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery [5] [6] (Culver City, California)
Nationality American
Other namesNell Ruth Carter
Education A. H. Parker High School
OccupationActress, singer
Years active1970–2002
Known forNell Harper – Gimme a Break!
George Krynicki
(m. 1982;div. 1992)
[7] [8]
Roger Larocque
(m. 1992;div. 1993)
Partner(s)Ann Kaser (?–2003) [9] [10]

Nell Carter (born Nell Ruth Hardy; [11] [12] September 13, 1948 – January 23, 2003) was an American singer and actress.


Beginning her career in 1970, Carter started in theater; singing and later crossed over to television. Carter was perhaps best known for her role as Nell Harper on the NBC sitcom Gimme a Break! which originally aired from 1981 to 1987. Carter received two Emmy and two Golden Globe award nominations for her work on the series. Prior to Gimme a Break!, Carter won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 1978 for her performance in the Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin' , as well as an Primetime Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television in 1982.[ citation needed ]

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

<i>Gimme a Break!</i> television series

Gimme a Break! is an American sitcom that aired on NBC for six seasons from October 29, 1981, until May 12, 1987. The series starred Nell Carter as the housekeeper for a widowed police chief and his three daughters.

Tony Award awards for live Broadway theatre

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in Manhattan. The awards are given for Broadway productions and performances, and an award is given for regional theatre. Several discretionary non-competitive awards are also given, including a Special Tony Award, the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre, and the Isabelle Stevenson Award. The awards are named after Antoinette "Tony" Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing.

Early life

Born Nell Ruth Hardy in Birmingham, Alabama, she was one of nine children born to Horace and Edna Mae Hardy. When she was two years old, her father was electrocuted when he stepped on a live power line. [13] [14]

Birmingham, Alabama Most populous city in Alabama, United States

Birmingham is a city in the north central region of the U.S. state of Alabama. With an estimated 2018 population of 209,880, it is the most populous city in Alabama. Birmingham is the seat of Jefferson County, Alabama's most populous and fifth largest county. As of 2018, the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 1,151,801, making it the most populous in Alabama and 49th-most populous in the United States. Birmingham serves as an important regional hub and is associated with the Deep South, Piedmont, and Appalachian regions of the nation.

As a child, she began singing on a local gospel radio show and was also a member of the church choir. At the age of 15, she began performing with the Renaissance Ensemble that played at area coffee houses and gay bars. On July 5, 1965, Hardy, then 16 years old, was raped at gunpoint by a man she knew who gave her a ride home from a performance with the Renaissance Ensemble. Hardy became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Tracey, the following year. Hardy attempted to raise Tracey alone, but found it too difficult. She sent Tracey to live with her elder sister Willie (Carter would later claim Tracey was the product of a short lived marriage, but revealed the truth in an interview in 1994). [15]

Gospel music is a genre of Christian music. The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of gospel music varies according to culture and social context. Gospel music is composed and performed for many purposes, including aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, and as an entertainment product for the marketplace. Gospel music usually has dominant vocals with Christian lyrics. Gospel music can be traced to the early 17th century, with roots in the black oral tradition. Hymns and sacred songs were often repeated in a call and response fashion. Most of the churches relied on hand clapping and foot stomping as rhythmic accompaniment. Most of the singing was done a cappella. The first published use of the term "gospel song" probably appeared in 1874. The original gospel songs were written and composed by authors such as George F. Root, Philip Bliss, Charles H. Gabriel, William Howard Doane, and Fanny Crosby. Gospel music publishing houses emerged. The advent of radio in the 1920s greatly increased the audience for gospel music. Following World War II, gospel music moved into major auditoriums, and gospel music concerts became quite elaborate.

At the age of 19, Hardy left Birmingham and moved to New York City with The Renaissance Ensemble, changing her surname to Carter. While living in New York City, Carter sang in coffee shops before landing her first role on Broadway in 1971. [16]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.


Carter made her Broadway debut in the 1971 rock opera Soon , which closed after three performances. She was the Music Director for the 1974 Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective's production of "What Time of Night It Is". Carter appeared alongside Bette Davis in the 1974 stage musical Miss Moffat, based on Davis' earlier film The Corn Is Green . The show closed before making it to Broadway. She broke into stardom in the musical Ain't Misbehavin , for which she won a Tony Award in 1978. She won an Emmy for the same role in a televised performance in 1982.

Soon is a rock opera with a music by Joseph M. Kookolis and Scott Fagan, lyrics by Fagan, and a book by Martin Duberman and Robert Greenwald. It is based on a story by Fagan and Kookolis.

Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective

The Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective was a group of professional women playwrights in New York active from 1971 to 1975. They wrote and produced feminist plays and were one of the first feminist theatre groups in the United States to do so. The members' individual works had been produced at the Public Theater, La Mama, Joe Chaikin’s Open Theater, Caffe Cino, Circle Repertory Company, Mark Taper Forum, Lincoln Center, and New York Theater Ensemble.

Bette Davis American film, television and stage actress

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress of film, television, and theater. With a career spanning 60 years, she is regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.

Additional Broadway credits included Dude and Annie . In 1979, she had a part in the Miloš Forman-directed musical film adaptation of Hair . Her vocal talents are showcased throughout the motion picture soundtrack.[ citation needed ]

In 1978, Carter was cast as Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, but departed the production during development to take a television role on the ABC soap opera, Ryan's Hope in New York. When Dreamgirls premiered in late 1981, Jennifer Holliday had taken over the lead. In 1981, Carter also took a role on television's The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, [17] before landing the lead role of Nell Harper on the sitcom Gimme a Break! .

The series was a ratings hit for NBC and earned Carter a Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations. Gimme a Break! aired from 1981 to 1987. In August 1987, after the cancellation of Gimme a Break!, Carter returned to the nightclub circuit with a five-month national tour with comedian Joan Rivers. [18] In 1989, she shot a pilot for NBC entitled Morton's By the Bay, which aired as a one-time special in May of that year. In this, Carter played the assistant to the owner of a banquet hall, and the focus was on her and her mad-cap staff. Alan Ruck and Jann Karam co-starred. NBC passed on the series development. In October of that same year, she performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to Game 4 of the 1989 World Series, played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.[ citation needed ]

The following year, Carter starred in the CBS comedy You Take the Kids . The series, which was perceived as being the black answer to Roseanne due to its portrayal of a working-class African-American family, featured Carter as a crass, no-nonsense mother and wife. [19] You Take the Kids faced poor ratings and reviews, and had a month's run from December 1990 to January 1991. [20] During the early 1990s, Carter appeared in low-budget films, TV specials, and on game shows such as Match Game '90 and To Tell the Truth . She co-starred in Hangin' with Mr. Cooper from 1993 to 1995. [21]

In the mid-1990s, Carter appeared on Broadway in a revival of Annie as Miss Hannigan. She was upset when commercials promoting the show used a different actress, Marcia Lewis, a white actress, as Miss Hannigan. The producers stated that the commercials, which were made during an earlier production, were too costly to reshoot. Carter said racism played a part in the decision. "Maybe they don't want audiences to know Nell Carter is black", [22] she told the New York Post . "It hurts a lot", Carter told the Post, "I've asked them nicely to stop it—it's insulting to me as a black woman." [23] Carter was later replaced by Sally Struthers. [24]

In 2001, she appeared as a special guest star on the pilot episode of the new WB show Reba and continued with the show, making three appearances in season one. The following year, Carter made two appearances on Ally McBeal . [21]

The following year had her rehearsing for a production of Raisin , a stage musical of A Raisin in the Sun in Long Beach, California, and filming a movie, Swing . Carter's final onscreen appearance was in the comedy film Back by Midnight . It was released in 2005, two years after her death. [21]

Personal life

Carter self-identified as Pentecostal. [25] After Gimme a Break! began, Carter's life took a turbulent turn. She attempted suicide in the early 1980s and entered a drug detoxification facility around 1985 to break a long-standing cocaine addiction. Her brother, Bernard, died of complications due to AIDS in 1989. [15] Carter married mathematician and lumber executive George Krynicki, and converted to Judaism in 1982 (she had been born into a Roman Catholic family and raised Presbyterian). [26] [27]

Carter filed for divorce from Krynicki in 1989; it was finalized in 1992. Carter had three children: daughters Tracey and Tiffany and son Daniel. She adopted both Joshua and Daniel as newborns over a four-month period. She attempted to adopt twice more but both adoptions failed. In her first attempt, she allowed a young pregnant woman to move into her home with the plan that she would adopt the child, but the mother decided to keep her baby. In 1992, Carter had surgery to repair two aneurysms and married Roger Larocque in June. [28] She divorced Larocque the next year. Carter declared bankruptcy in 1995 and again in 2002. She also endured three miscarriages. [15]


On January 23, 2003, Carter collapsed and died at her home in Beverly Hills. Her body was discovered that night by her son, Joshua. [26] [29] Per a provision in Carter's will, no autopsy was performed. Using blood tests, X-rays, and a cursory physical examination, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office ruled that Carter's death was the likely result of "probable arteriosclerotic heart disease, with diabetes a contributing condition." [30] She is survived by her three children. [26] [31] Carter is buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles. [32]

Stage credits


1978CindyOliveTelevision movie
1979 Ryan's Hope Ethel Green11 episodes
1979 Hair Ain't Got No/White Boys
1980–1981 The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo Sgt. Hildy Jones15 episodes
1981 Back Roads WaitressAlternative title: Love with a Sinner
1981 Modern Problems Dorita
1981–1987 Gimme a Break! Nellie Ruth 'Nell' Harper137 episodes
1982The Billy Crystal Comedy HourEpisode #1.3
1982 Tex Mrs. Peters
1986 Amen Bess RichardsEpisode: "The Courtship of Bess Richards"
1989 227 Beverly MorrisEpisode: "Take My Diva... Please"
1990–1991 You Take the Kids Nell Kirkland6 episodes
1992 Maid for Each Other Jasmine JonesTelevision movie
1992 Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story Lucille GathersTelevision movie
1992 Jake and the Fatman Ethel Mae HavenEpisode: "Ain't Misbehavin'"
1992 Bébé's Kids VivianVoice role
1993–1995 Hangin' with Mr. Cooper P.J. Moore42 episodes
1995The CrazysitterThe Warden
1995 The Grass Harp Catherine Creek
1995–1997 Spider-Man: The Animated Series Glory Grant2 episodes
1996 Can't Hurry Love Mrs. BradstockEpisode: "The Rent Strike"
1996 The Proprietor Millie Jackson
1997The Blues Brothers Animated SeriesBetty Smythe (Voice)Episode: "Strange Death of Betty Smythe"
1997 Brotherly Love Nell BascombeEpisode: "Paging Nell"
1997 Sparks Barbara RogersEpisode: "Hoop Schemes"
1997 Fakin' da Funk Claire
1991, 1998–1999 Match Game Herself, regular panelist
1999Special Delivery
1999We Wish You a Merry Christmas Mrs. Claus (Voice)Video game
1999Follow Your HeartBus driver
1999Sealed with a KissMrs. WheatleyTelevision movie
2001 Blue's Clues Mother NatureEpisode: "Environments"
2001 Touched by an Angel Cynthia Winslow2 episodes
2001 Seven Days LucyEpisode: "Live: From Death Row"
2001Perfect FitMrs. Gordy
2001 Reba Dr. Susan Peters3 episodes
2002 Ally McBeal Harriet Pumple2 episodes
2003 Swing Juan Gallardo
2005 Back by Midnight WaitressReleased posthumously


YearAwardCategoryTitle of work
1978 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actress in a Musical Ain't Misbehavin'
1978 Theatre World Award Ain't Misbehavin'
1978 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Musical Ain't Misbehavin'
1982 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Individual Achievement – Special ClassAin't Misbehavin'

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