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Thelma from ‘Good Times’ shares how she landed the role on the famous 70s sitcom

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 12:50 PM EST
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (WTVM) - An actress from the first African American sitcom is at Fort Benning promoting her three books written about relationships, finances and her mother who died with Alzheimer’s and her father who was murdered in New York.

In the first of two News Leader 9 reports on BernNadette Stanis, she talked about her life after television. In the second report, she reflected on her time on the show and how she landed the role of Thelma at the age of 18.

“We had rehearsed for like eight weeks and my mother looked at me and said, what! you’re going...and I gave her a hard time,” recounted Stanis.

Stage fright was gripping Stanis on the very day she was set to perform in a New York beauty pageant. She even mustered up an asthma attack, she said, hoping that would convince her mother to let her bail out of the pageant.

“I didn’t fake the asthma, I {takes a deep breath} until I caught asthma because I had asthma. Do you know what my mother said, “you’re going to get the Primatene mist, you’re going to take it, get on that stage and stop it. And it was that day, that a manager saw me,” she said.

That manager discovered Stanis on the same day she was trying to avoid performing, telling her mom, “I never win anything,” as a reason for wanting to skip the pageant.

“He told my mom, your daughter could be a girl on ‘Good Times,’ not ‘Good Times,’ they didn’t call it that back then. He said, we’re doing a show about a family and we took the card and went to see Norman Lear and JJ was there. I didn’t give her a hard time, I read the thing and obviously, they liked it,” she said.

And that’s how Stanis says she landed the role as Thelma on Good Times. Right off the bat, she wasn’t satisfied with the lines they gave her to learn.

“Nobody knew who she was. They couldn’t write for her, they wrote for me,” Hi mom, hi dad, goodbye, JJ shut up,” Stanis added.

But Stanis wanted more and she was willing to speak up for herself to accomplish it.

“It was Ester Rolle who I told that I could do more, and she said, ‘let me handle it,’” she said.

Thelma’s TV mom, Florida Evans, arranged a meeting for her TV daughter to speak with the producers and writers of the show to tell them who Thelma was.

“Thelma was a girl who grew up in Brownsville and Brooklyn, New York who grew up in the projects like myself, so I knew who she was. I knew she wanted to be more than she could be. She was a dancer, someone who wanted to be important in life; she had big dreams,” she said.

Big dreams fulfilled on the small screen and in real life as an author, actress and family woman with a husband and two daughters.

BernNadette Stanis says she thanked her mom for always guiding her and not allowing her to miss her big break the day of the pageant. Her mother died in 2011.

Stanis was her mother’s caregiver…the basis for her latest book, The Last Night.

She will be at Fort Benning’s PX signing autographs every day from 10 am – 5pm until Saturday, March 13th.

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