Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Jackie "Moms" Mabley
Jackie “Mom” Mabley was the Minnie Pearl of the old Chittlin’ Circuit. There’s only one big difference between the two; “Mom” came first by about 20 years. She appears to have hit the circuit sometime in the early 1920’s, arriving in Harlem at the height of the Cotton Club and everything else which came to symbolize a vibrant Black Renaissance; Langston Hughes, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, and the list goes on and on.
Whoopi Goldberg narrates and appears in this lovingly made documentary about the life of one of show businesses arguably most beloved comediennes. Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Billy Mitchell and a host of others, all reminisce about, and add individual bits of knowledge concerning “Moms” and her sometimes not so clear biographical background.
But one thing is sure in all of their minds; this little woman with the big heart was one the most unusual, and outspoken of performers to come down the pike. And to have done this as a woman during the time period in which she lived, made the journey; let alone the actual feat; remarkable to say the least.
Raped twice and forced to give up both children, she never really had another man. She was an un-closeted Lesbian off stage; even dressing as a man and squiring beautiful young women with her wherever she went. Off stage there were no house dresses and funny hats. There were 3 piece suits and gold watch chains, with a fedora to top it off!
I first became aware of “Moms” through the magic of the Merv Griffin Show, which aired after school. She fascinated me with her stories; she told stories more than she told jokes. Her stories always touched on the human condition; as well as politics.
Here again was a woman way ahead of the curve. But armed in that housedress, with no upper teeth in her mouth, speaking from beneath a floppy hat, she could; and did; say whatever she wanted to say. Sometimes the white audiences didn't know if they were being made fun of or not. Black audiences loved her because she could say what they were thinking, and say it on the television!
“Moms” was born in Brevard, North Carolina years before many of the comedians she has influenced, right down to the present day. Arsenio Hall, Kathy Griffin, Joan Rivers, Jerry Stiller and Eddie Murphy all appear in this film to share the influence which she had upon them.
If you have never heard of “Moms” before, then you need to hit You Tube and then get this HBO biopic to catch up with the rest of the world. Here’s something to start you off;