Nell Ruth Hardy
September 13, 1948
|Died||January 23, 2003 (aged 54)|
|Resting place||Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery (Culver City, California)|
|Other names||Nell Ruth Carter|
|Education||A. H. Parker High School|
|Known for||Nell Harper – Gimme a Break!|
(m. 1982; div. 1992)
(m. 1992; div. 1993)
|Partner(s)||Ann Kaser (?–2003)|
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 a Primetime Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television in 1982.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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, 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. 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.
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. You Take the Kids faced poor ratings and reviews, and had a month's run from December 1990 to January 1991. 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.
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", 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." Carter was later replaced by Sally Struthers.
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.
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.
Carter self-identified as Pentecostal. 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. 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).
Carter filed for divorce from Krynicki in 1989; it was finalized in 1992. Carter had three children: daughter Tracy and sons Joshua and 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. She divorced Larocque the next year. Carter declared bankruptcy in 1995 and again in 2002. She also endured three miscarriages.
On January 23, 2003, Carter collapsed and died at her home in Beverly Hills. Her body was discovered that night by her son, Joshua. 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." She was survived by her three children. Carter is buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles.
- Soon (1971) (Broadway)
- The Wedding of Iphigenia (1971) (Off-Broadway)
- Dude (1972) (Broadway)
- Miss Moffat (1974) (closed on the road)
- Be Kind to People Week (1975) (Off-Broadway)
- Tom Eyen's Dirtiest Musical (1975) (Off-Broadway)
- Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope (1976) (San Francisco)
- Ain't Misbehavin' (1978) (Manhattan Theatre Club, Broadway and US national tour)
- One Night Only (1979) (workshop)
- Black Broadway (1979) (Avery Fisher Hall)
- Black Broadway (1980) (The Town Hall)
- Ain't Misbehavin' (1988) (Broadway)
- Hello, Dolly! (1991) (Long Beach Civic Light Opera)
- Annie (1997) (Broadway and US national tour)
- South Pacific (2001) (Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera)
- The Vagina Monologues (2001) (Madison Square Garden)
|1979||Hair||Ain't Got No/White Boys|
|1992||Bébé's Kids||Vivian||Voice role|
|1995||The Crazysitter||The Warden|
|1995||The Grass Harp||Catherine Creek|
|1996||The Proprietor||Millie Jackson|
|1997||Fakin' da Funk||Claire|
|1999||Follow Your Heart||Bus Driver|
|2001||Perfect Fit||Mrs. Gordy|
|2005||Back by Midnight||Waitress||Released posthumously|
|1978–1979||Ryan's Hope||Ethel Green||11 episodes|
|1980–1981||The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo||Sgt. Hildy Jones||15 episodes|
|1981–1987||Gimme a Break!||Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper||137 episodes|
|1982||The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour||Episode: #1.3|
|1986||Amen||Bess Richards||Episode: "The Courtship of Bess Richards"|
|1989||227||Beverly Morris||Episode: "Take My Diva... Please!"|
|1990||Shalom Sesame||Olive Tree (voice)||Episode: "Chanukah"|
|1990–1991||You Take the Kids||Nell Kirkland||6 episodes|
|1992||Maid for Each Other||Jasmine Jones||Television movie|
|1992||Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story||Lucille Gathers||Television movie|
|1992||Jake and the Fatman||Ethel Mae Haven||Episode: "Ain't Misbehavin'"|
|1993–1995||Hangin' with Mr. Cooper||P.J. Moore||42 episodes|
|1995–1997||Spider-Man the Animated Series||Glory Grant (voice)||2 episodes|
|1996||Can't Hurry Love||Mrs. Bradstock||Episode: "The Rent Strike"|
|1997||Brotherly Love||Nell Bascombe||Episode: "Paging Nell"|
|1997||Sparks||Barbara Rogers||Episode: "Hoop Schemes"|
|1997||Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child||Mary (voice)||Episode: "Mother Goose"|
|1997||The Blues Brothers Animated Series||Betty Smythe (voice)||Episode: "Strange Death of Betty Smythe"|
|1999||Sealed with a Kiss||Mrs. Wheatley||Television movie|
|2001||Blue's Clues||Mother Nature (voice)||Episode: "Environments"|
|2001||Touched by an Angel||Cynthia Winslow||2 episodes|
|2001||Seven Days||Lucy||Episode: "Live: From Death Row"|
|2001||Reba||Dr. Susan Peters||3 episodes|
|2002||Ally McBeal||Harriet Pumple||2 episodes|
|Year||Award||Category||Title 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 Class||Ain't Misbehavin'|
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