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Denise Nicholas

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Information about Denise Nicholas

Profile image of Denise Nicholas

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Actress
Fiction Writer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Green
Favorite Food:
Seafood
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Southern France
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/12/1944
Birth Location:
Detroit, Michigan

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Actress
Fiction Writer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Green
Favorite Food:
Seafood
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Southern France
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/12/1944
Birth Location:
Detroit
See how Denise Nicholas is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Actress and fiction writer Denise Nicholas was born Donna Denise Nicholas on July 12th in Detroit, Michigan to Louise and Otto Nicholas. She grew up in Milan, Michigan, just south of Ann Arbor. After she graduated from Milan High School, she attended the University of Michigan. In 1963, she met Gilbert Moses, then a stage actor. The two married, and in 1964, Nicholas and Moses moved to Jackson, Mississippi.

Nicholas joined Moses’ Free Southern Theater and with a small troupe of actors performed significant plays for rural African-American audiences many of whom had never seen live theater before. They toured Ossie Davis’ Purlie Victorious, Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot as well as an Evening of Poetry and Song. Their production of In White America toured not only in Mississippi and Louisiana, but also in New York City. In 1965, the theater company moved its base of operations to New Orleans, Louisiana. Nicholas separated from Moses and the two were divorced in 1966.

Nicholas then moved to New York City and, in 1967, was one of the first members of the famous Negro Ensemble Company. She studied with dance instructor Louis Johnson and voice instructor Kristin Linklater and performed in a production of German dramatist Peter Weiss’ Song for Lusitanian Bogey. The following year, she acted in a number of plays with the company, including Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Kongi’s Harvest and Daddy Goodness. That same year, Nicholas was cast in her first television role, as a character on the ABC-TV series It Takes a Thief, an action-adventure series that aired until 1970.

In 1969, she was cast as “Liz McIntyre” on the popular television series Room 222, about an American history class at Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles, California. The following year, she was nominated for an Emmy Award and two Golden Globes for her work on Room 222. Nicholas also received four NAACP Image Awards during her career. In 1972, she was cast in Blacula, a blaxploitation horror movie based on Dracula with William Marshall playing the title character. Throughout the 1970s, she continued to take prominent roles in films, including a series of movies with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby that included 1975’s Let’s Do It Again and 1977’s A Piece of the Action.

In 1981, she married Jim Hill, a Los Angeles sportscaster with KCBS-TV. In the early 1980s, she continued working on the stage, and was featured in Voices of Our People: In Celebration of Black Poetry for PBS. In 1987, Nicholas earned her B.A. degree in drama from the University of Southern California, and began teaching at the college that same year. In 1988, she returned to television, starring in In the Heat of the Night as Harriet DeLong, and in 1991 began writing for the program as well. In 1990, Nicholas again starred alongside Bill Cosby in Ghost Dad.

In 2005, Nicholas’ first novel, Freshwater Road, was published to widespread critical acclaim. New York Newsday called it, “perhaps the best work of fiction about the Civil Rights Movement.” In 2006, the novel won the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. That same year, the book won the American Library Association’s Black Caucus Award for Debut Fiction.


Denise Nicholas was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 19, 2007.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Denise Nicholas' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas describes her mother's family background, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas describes her mother's family background, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes her father's family background, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas describes her father's family background, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas describes how her parents met
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas remembers her childhood in Detroit, Michigan
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas describes the sights and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes the sounds of her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas remembers the holidays with her family
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas recalls her parents' discipline
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas remembers her early education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes her early interests
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas recalls her parents' divorce
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas describes her move to Milan, Michigan
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her experiences in Milan, Michigan
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes her involvement in social organizations
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her family's perspective on black hair
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers her father
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas remembers her father's work as a numbers runner
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes her early interest in politics
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas describes her decision to move to New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas remembers meeting her first husband, Gilbert Moses
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her interest in theater
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas recalls her marriage to Gilbert Moses
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Denise Nicholas describes the founding of the Free Southern Theater in Jackson, Mississippi
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas remembers the Free Southern Theater's production of 'In White America'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her experiences of racial discrimination in the South
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas recalls the Free Southern Theater's production of 'Waiting for Godot'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her experiences with the Free Southern Theater
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas recalls the Free Southern Theater's move to New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas remembers the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas describes her separation from Gilbert Moses
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas remembers interacting with the White Citizens' Council
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas describes her return to New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes her start in New York City theater companies
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas recalls her voice lessons with Kristin Linklater
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers the Negro Ensemble Company's first season
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas describes the Negro Ensemble Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas recalls her decision to leave the Negro Ensemble Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas remembers auditioning for 'Room 222'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas recalls her move to Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her experiences on the set of 'Room 222'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas talks about African American television writers
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon the success of 'Room 222'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers African American representation on television
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas remembers her press tours for 'Room 222'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes the business of being a television personality
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas describes her Golden Globe Award nominations
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas remembers the cast and crew of 'Room 222'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her parents' opinion of her acting career
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas remembers starring in 'Blacula'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Denise Nicholas remembers filming 'Let's Do It Again'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Denise Nicholas describes the plot of 'Let's Do It Again'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Denise Nicholas remembers 'Mr. Ricco' and 'A Piece of the Action'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas remembers performing with the Negro Ensemble Company
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas remembers the 'Song of the Lusitanian Bogey'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers Michael A. Schultz and Douglas Turner Ward
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas talks about the success of the Negro Ensemble Company
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes the management of the Negro Ensemble Company
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her transition to screen acting, pt. 1
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her transition to screen acting, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas remembers her audition for 'In the Heat of the Night'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas remembers earning her bachelor's degree
  • Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Denise Nicholas recalls writing for 'In the Heat of the Night'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas remembers Carroll O'Connor
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her role as a writer on 'In the Heat of the Night'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her character's marriage in 'In the Heat of the Night'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas talks about her marriages
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas recalls her marriage to Bill Withers
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas remembers her sister's death
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas talks about her involvement with writing workshops
  • Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas recalls publishing her book, 'Freshwater Road'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her writing career
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes the male characters of her book, 'Freshwater Road'
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas describes her advice for aspiring actors
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas narrates her photographs