Before her breakthrough on television Nell was a very accomplished Broadway performer. She would always bring down the house in her stage performances in Hair and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Little known fact, Nell was the person originally offered the role of Effie White in Dreamgirls. Before the Dreamgirls cast would start production Nell was also offered the starring role in Gimme A Break and she decided to make the break from stage and move into television. Imagine how different things would be for Nell and for Jennifer Holiday if that had happened.
I remember rushing home every evening from school to watch “Gimme A Break.” Her success in TV still amazes me. Nell was not your typical Hollywood starlet. Nell was black. Nell was female. Nell was short. And Nell was a person that struggled controlling her weight. Others may have seen these as obstacles but not Nell. With her dynamic personality and her tremendous talent she was a force to be reckoned with. Today there are still not that many roles for African-Americans, but Nell’s success will stand in time as a symbol of the phenomenal person she was.
Nell was not out during the height of her celebrity. This was one of those unfortunate circumstances where the fact that she was a member of the LGBT community did not become common knowledge until after she died. Upon her death family and friends discovered that she had been living a closeted lesbian life when custody of her children was left with her partner.
I cannot fault Nell for being closeted. She was successful in spite of being black and gay and weight challenged. I imagine she did not want to add the stigma of being same gender loving. Or maybe she did not embrace this part of herself until later in her life. Whatever the case, I am proud to be able to list Nell Carter to the list of LGBT African-Americans I adore.
This performance with Andy Gibbs is one of my favorites by her . . .