Zara Cully, who would play the part of Mother Jefferson, George's mother, on "The Jeffersons" spinoff series, first appeared in the role on two Season 5 episodes of "All in the Family.
|Born:||January 26, 1892|
|Birthplace:||Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.|
|Died:||February 28, 1978(aged 86)|
|Deathplace:||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Stage, film, and television actress|
|Also known for:||The Jeffersons as Mother Olivia Jefferson|
|Spouse(s):||James M. Brown, Sr. (1914–1968; his death)|
|Series:||All in the Family|
|Episodes appeared in:||"Lionel's Engagement" and "The Jeffersons Move Up" in Season 5|
|Character played:||Mother Olivia Jefferson|
Zara Frances Cully Brown (January 26, 1892 – February 28, 1978), who adopted the stage name Zara Cully was an American character actress, known for her portrayal of the irascible Mother Olivia Jefferson on the popular long-running CBS-TV sitcom The Jeffersons. As Mother Jefferson, she appeared twice on All in the Family, during the series' 5th season first in the episode "Lionel's Engagement", then in the episode "The Jeffersons Move Up", which would serve as the pilot episode for the spinoff series The Jeffersons that same season.
Early life and career
Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 26, 1892, Cully was one of ten children. She graduated from the Worcester School of Speech and Music, and was one of the oldest performers active in television at the time of her death. In 1940 after a stint in New York City she became known as "one of the world's greatest elocutionists". After moving to Jacksonville, Florida, she began producing, writing, directing, and acting in numerous plays. For 15 years she was a drama teacher at her own studio as well as at Edward Waters College, and had become known as Florida's "Dean of Drama" before numerous experiences with racism in the South directed her decision to leave for Hollywood, where she became a regular performer at the Ebony Showcase Theatre.
By the time she acquired the role of 'Mother' Jefferson, she had accumulated a long list of acting credentials that spanned over 50 years appearing in such movies as The Learning Tree, the Blaxploitation cult film Sugar Hill, The Liberation of L.B. Jones, The Great White Hope, Ghetto Woman, and a starring role in Brother John played opposite Sidney Poitier. Her TV career went back to what critics call 'the golden age of television' including appearances on the highly acclaimed Playhouse 90 series. Besides The Jeffersons her television credits included A Dream For Christmas, the CBS Playhouse production of The People Next Door, the NBC Matinee Theater's Run For Your Life, Cowboy In Africa, Name Of The Game, Mod Squad, Night Gallery, and All In The Family. Though highly respected by many influential people in the film industry as a dedicated craftsman, she had gained no fame until the role of 'Mother' Jefferson quickly endeared her to television audiences throughout the United States and Canada where she became an instant celebrity.
Zara's first appearance as 'Mother' Jefferson was in a guest appearance on an episode of All in the Family entitled "Lionel's Engagement" which aired February 9, 1974. She was 82 years old at the time. All three actors who portrayed Tom (Tom's name was changed from Louis, as it was in the AITF episode Lionel's Engagement), Helen, and Jenny Willis on that episode were replaced with different actors by the time The Jeffersons became a spin-off on January 18, 1975, but Cully was kept on as Mother Jefferson.
During the first 17 episodes of the third season of The Jeffersons Cully was absent due to a severe case of pneumonia caused by a collapsed lung. Upon her recovery she returned to the show. Her last credited performance was an appearance in the ninth episode of the fourth season entitled "The Last Leaf " which aired November 12, 1977, three months before her death. No special episode was created to center on her death, but it was addressed in the second episode of the fifth season entitled "Homecoming (pt 1)" which aired September 27, 1978, some seven months after her actual death.
Cully died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday February 28, 1978, at 1:25 a.m. PST, from lung cancer, aged 86, and services held , on Thursday March 2, 1978 at Church of Christian Fellowship, in Los Angeles, with internment at Forest Lawn Memorial Park of Glendale, CA., in Freedom Mausoleum, Columbarium of Victory. In attendance were all the cast and crew of The Jeffersons, including show producer Norman Lear.
A widow, she was survived by her brother, Wendell Cully; her two surviving children, Mrs. Polly Buggs (wife of John A. Buggs, then-Deputy Director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.) and Emerson Brown, as well as four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, husband James M. Brown, Sr., and two children, James M. Brown, Jr., and a baby daughter (who died in 1919).
She was posthumously awarded an NAACP special Image Award on June 9, 1978, at the 11th Annual NAACP Award ceremony.
- ↑ St. Petersburg Times, March 1, 1978 pg 11B
- ↑ Jet Magazine, March 16, 1978 pg 54
- ↑ Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1956 pg 23
- ↑ Ebony Magazine, January, 1976 pg 115
- ↑ Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 1, 1978 pg 12-A
- ↑ The Milwuakee Journal, February 6, 1977 pg 6
- ↑ Ocala Star-Banner, February 24, 1977 pg 6A
- ↑ Sepia, Volume 27, Issues 7–12, 1978 pg 12
- ↑ The Afro American, March 11, 1978 pg 11
- ↑ Schenectady Gazette, March 1, 1978 pg 26
- ↑ Jet Magazine, June 8, 1978 pg 60