The first time I ever saw actress Helen Martin, she was portraying Wanda on Good Times. Wanda was the town crier, literally. Every time there was a funeral, Wanda was on the scene, wailing like a banshee. She could turn the water on and off at will.
Martin, was a character actress whose career included television, film, and Broadway. She died at age 90, on March 25th 2000 of a heart attack. Helen Martin had the distinction, of being one of the founding member of the American Negro Theater in Harlem.
Helen Martin joined fellow Negro Theater colleagues, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, in Davis’s play “Purlie Victorious”. She was also among the first African-American actresses to perform on Broadway, making her debut as the sister of Canada Lee in Orson Welles’s production of ”Native Son”, in 1941.
s Martin continued her career in her senior years, playing 4 different roles on Sanford and son. She also was nosy neighbor Pearl Shay on 227. Pearl was sassy and witty, always having a quick answer. Ms. Martin was also on Baby I’m back with Demond Wilson, and That’s my Mama with Clifton Davis.
Martin also had grandmotherly roles in the movies, Don’t, while drinking your juice in the be a menace in South Central, while drinking your juice in the hood, and Hollywood shuffle. She portrayed the character Mama doll, in Bullworth, in 1998, at age 88. This was just two years prior to her death.
Helen Martin was an actress who you knew would bring comedy to any role she played. She did not get what would be called meaty roles, and some of her characters may be considered stereotypical, but Helen Martin played each part with dignity and class. She also did something that have escaped many in Hollywood. She continued working into her golden years, without race or gender stopping her.