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      Mary Alice

      Mary Alice

      Highest Rated: 89% To Sleep With Anger (1990)

      Lowest Rated: 17% Sparkle (1976)

      Birthday: Dec 3, 1941

      Birthplace: Indianola, Mississippi, USA

      A stage and TV actress with some feature credits, Mary Alice was known for playing women of quiet dignity and strength and for her eyes which speak a thousand words. TV viewers have known her as Fred Sanford's nemesis sister-in-law on episodes of "Sanford and Son" (NBC, 1975), and as the housemother with a past on "A Different World" (NBC, 1988-89). But anyone who has seen her playing wife of James Earl Jones and mother to Courtney Vance in her Tony-winning role in "Fences" (1987; also on tour) or as the sassy sister in "Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters' First 100 Years" (1995) on Broadway knows that Alice is a resource never properly cultivated by Hollywood. Born Mary Alice Smith, she began her working life as a teacher in her native Chicago. She had a yen to act and began her career on stage in her hometown. Eventually, Alice headed to NYC in the mid-60s where she studied with Lloyd Richards--who would later direct her in August Wilson's "Fences"--before finding roles with the Negro Ensemble Company. She made her Off-Broadway debut in "Trials of Jero" and "The Strong Breed" in 1967 and her Broadway debut as Cora in "No Place to Be Somebody" (1971). It was not until 1974 that Alice made her feature film debut in "The Education of Sonny Carson" as "Moms" to the title character. She was again a suffering ghetto mother, this time to three girls with show business aspirations, in the well-received "Sparkle" (1976). But it was not until 1984 that Alice returned to the big screen in "Beat Street" and "Teachers," both in supporting roles. She had her best screen opportunity in "To Sleep With Anger" (1990), playing wife and mother in the family to which Danny Glover tries his tricks. That same year, Alice was one of the nurses working alongside Robin Williams on his experiments reviving catatonic patients in "Awakenings." She returned to her roots as a schoolteacher, playing one in a cameo in "Malcolm X" (1992). In 1994, Alice was barely used as the grandmother to Larenz Tate in "The Inkwell." In fact, in her meatiest scene, Alice did most of her talking from the background and in soft focus. The actress continued to work steadily in film and telepics, speciazlizing in matriarchs among the ensemble casts of projects featuring African American families. Among her best roles was 1998's "Down in the Delta," directed by renowned poet Maya Angelou, Alice played a strong mother who sends her drug-addicted daughter (Alfre Woodard) and her grandchildren away from the big city to rebuild their lives; Alice reunited with Woodard for "The Wishing Tree" (1999). She also had the lead in "The Life" (2002) playing a new York widow who dies and, thanks to a Heavenly clerical mishap, gets the chance to live a new life in the body of a recently deceased young woman. The actress had another strong supporting turn in writer-director John Sayles' pleasing multi-charactrer "Sunshine State" (2002) as a Floridan mother who faces a thorny reunion with her long estranged daughter (Angela Bassett). She then joined the cast of "The Matrix Revolutions" (2003) when she assumed the role of the digital world's precient soothsayer, The Oracle (originally played by Gloria Foster, who died in the midst of production). Alice's TV career has been highly active. Reportedly, she made her TV debut in "The Sty of the Blind Pig" (PBS, 1974), and later appeared for a time as a secretary on the CBS soap opera "The Edge of Night." Alice's TV work was sporadic in the 70s until a supporting role in the TV-movie "Just and Old Sweet Song" (CBS, 1976). After her year on "A Different World," in which her character didn't seem to click, Alice nevertheless had a broader TV profile, generally in maternal roles. She played mother to Oprah Winfrey in the first act of "The Women of Brewster Place" (ABC, 1989) and won an Emmy for as the parent of a murdered Southern youth in episodes of "I'll Fly Away" (NBC, 1992). That same year, she also appeared in a cycle of "L.A. Law" episodes as the mother of a crack addict and was the matriarch of the family in the HBO drama "Laurel Avenue" (1993). Alice also played the wife of one of the first Civil Rights leaders in "The Vernon Johns Story" (syndicated, 1994) and could be seen on the short-lived 1997 CBS series "Orleans." Following a brief recurring stint in 1999 on Bill Cosby's lesser TV hit "Cosby" on CBS, the actress joined the cast of HBO's hard-edged prison series "Oz" for the 2002 season as Eugenia Hill, playing mother to her future "Matrix Revolutions" co-star Harold Perrineu, Jr. Mary Alice died on July 27, 2022 in New York City, NY at the age of 80.

      Highest rated movies

      To Sleep With Anger
      Sunshine State
      Down in the Delta
      Teachers
      Beat Street
      Catfish in Black Bean Sauce
      The Matrix Revolutions
      The Inkwell

      Photos

      THE INKWELL, top row: Morris Chestnut (left), A.J. Johnson (second from left), Mary Alice (second from right), Glynn Turman (right), middle row: Joe Morton, Suzzane Douglass, Larenz Tate, Perry Moore, Jada Pinkett, Vanessa Bell Calloway, bottom row: Markus DOWN IN THE DELTA, Mary Alice, Kulani Hassin, Mpho Koaho, Alfre Woodard, 1998 SUNSHINE STATE, Mary Alice, 2002, (c) Sony Pictures Classics BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, John Hancock, Mary Alice, Patrick Malone, 1990. ©Warner Bros THE INKWELL, Suzzanne Douglas, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Larenz Tate, Mary Alice, 1994, (c)Buena Vista Pictures THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, Mary Alice, Keanu Reeves, 2003, (c) Warner Brothers AWAKENINGS, Robin Williams (lab coat), Tobert De Niro (plaid shirt), Mary Alice (nurse), Ruth Nelson (green suit), Julie Kavner (nurse), 1990, (c) Columbia SPARKLE, Mary Alice, Beatrice Winde, 1976

      Filmography

      Movies

      Credit
      34% 60% The Matrix Revolutions The Oracle (Character) $139.3M 2003
      80% 58% Sunshine State Eunice Stokes (Character) $3.1M 2002
      No Score Yet 68% The Last Brickmaker in America Dorothy Cobb (Character) - 2001
      No Score Yet 68% The Wishing Tree Mattie (Character) - 2000
      No Score Yet 57% The Photographer Violet (Character) - 2000
      47% 64% Catfish in Black Bean Sauce Dolores Williams (Character) $1.3M 1999
      76% 71% Down in the Delta Rosa Lynn Sinclair (Character) $5.7M 1998
      19% 67% Bed of Roses Alice (Character) $19.0M 1996
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Heading Home Unknown (Character) - 1995
      No Score Yet 83% The Vernon Johns Story Altona (Character) - 1994
      22% 83% The Inkwell Evelyn (Character) $8.9M 1994
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Laurel Avenue Unknown (Character) - 1993
      89% 80% To Sleep With Anger Suzie (Character) $1.2M 1990
      No Score Yet 94% The Women of Brewster Place Unknown (Character) - 1989
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Charlotte Forten's Mission Blind Lily (Character) - 1984
      61% 46% Teachers Linda Ganz (Character) - 1984
      57% 83% Beat Street Cora (Character) - 1984
      No Score Yet No Score Yet A House Divided: Denmark Vessey's Rebellion Beck (Character) - 1982
      No Score Yet No Score Yet This Man Stands Alone Minnie Hayward (Character) - 1979
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Lawman Without a Gun Minnie Hayward (Character) - 1978
      17% 90% Sparkle Effie (Character) - 1976
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Just an Old Sweet Song Helen Mayfield (Character) - 1976

      TV

      Credit
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Ace of Cakes Self 2009
      No Score Yet No Score Yet The Jury Unknown (Guest Star) 2004
      60% No Score Yet Line of Fire Unknown (Guest Star) 2004
      93% 96% Oz Eugenia Hill (Guest Star) 2002
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Soul Food Unknown (Guest Star) 2001
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Touched by an Angel Unknown (Guest Star) 2000
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Cosby Unknown (Guest Star) 1999
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Laurel Avenue Unknown (Character) 1993
      No Score Yet 83% Law & Order Unknown (Guest Star) 1993
      No Score Yet No Score Yet The Women of Brewster Place Unknown (Character) 1989
      No Score Yet No Score Yet A Different World Unknown (Guest Star) 1988-1989
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Good Times Loretta Simpson (Guest Star) 1975
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Sanford and Son Unknown (Guest Star) 1975
      No Score Yet No Score Yet Police Woman Marnie (Guest Star) 1975