Here was Esther Rolle's advice to young actors in 1977
Image credit: The Everett Collection
Esther Rolle was a seasoned veteran when it came to performing. She said what she meant, and she meant what she said. And if Esther Rolle was giving you advice in the '70s, it would have been in your best interest to take it. She knew a thing or two about the business.
Rolle played the role of Florida Evans for the first four seasons of Good Times (1974). She was the mother of the house and usually knew best. Her general, no-nonsense attitude was balanced with her nurturing and spiritual side.
In 1977, Rolle spoke to a group of high school students at Castlemont High School in Oakland, CA, and painted a startling yet realistic picture of the acting profession.
"So many people interested in the arts have misconceptions about the glamour of my business. They think glamour is cute," Rolle said. "But glamour isn't lasting, and when glamour disappears — so does your success."
According to the interview, the students at Castlemont High School watched Rolle speak with envy and enchantment. Maybe it was because she was a celebrity, or maybe it was because they knew this advice would someday be important.
With television, in general, being one of the most popular mediums for entertainment, being a star had to be on at least a few students' minds.
"You should all strive for two things: perfection in whatever you do and discerning what you are talented in — you might discover that in the arts, it isn't in front of the cameras but backstage," Rolle said. "If it were not for the people backstage, there would be no people in front of the cameras or onstage."
Rolle added that the most rewarding jobs are often the most technical ones. Good Times was a great example of a talented backstage group packed with incredible writers, producers and of course, Norman Lear. All of them helped make Good Times work, and with the help of the main cast, the series excelled in the ratings over time.
"All of you might want to be a star, and you might be pretty, but you also might starve to death," Rolle said.
According to the interview, Rolle's honesty seemed to strike a chord with the students. Most of the students were part of the Performing Arts department, and many had hopes and dreams of becoming a good actress. But first, Rolle had to define what made a good actor.
"The difference between a good actor and a mediocre actor is being the role instead of playing the role," Rolle said. "If you can't feel the role your audience will know it."
Good Times fans knew just how much Rolle loved being Florida Evans. Besides promoting her projects, Rolle said she enjoyed talking to high school students because she was fully committed to providing black youth with a positive role model.
According to the article, Rolle left the students with this message:
"I want to show you a model that you can emulate," Rolle said. "Other kids have models, but 'my kids' do not have the opportunity to meet their models and to strive to become like them."
"I'm going to be an old lady in this world soon and you are the future leaders," Rolle continued. "I want you to be able to take care of your elders in the future. These are the years you will need me, but I will need you tomorrow."
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