Article first published as http://beenetworknews.com/2013/02/15/they-called-her-moms-comedic-icon-remembered/ on beenetworknews.com
Before there was Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and a parade of other great comics, there was “Loretta Mary Aiken, better known as Mom’s Mabley.” And, with 20 comedic albums to her credit, she was considered one of the top female performers of her era. Moms reportedly influenced numerous greats like Bing Crosby, Phyllis Diller, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernie Mac, Richard Pryor, and Wanda Sykes.
Frank Badami, CEO of Badami Productions, acquired the rights to the Jackie Aiken a.k.a. “Moms” Mabley recordings, as well as, exclusive rights to the family stories. Badami has directed, produced and co-produced for ABC, CBS, 20th Century Fox, and Lorimar. His Vice President and Co-producer, Katie Jones Badami, the former producer of the popular long running “Soul Train” television series, are focused intently on creating a superb and unique film.
Frank Badami has worked closely with Moms’ cousin, Rosa Bronson, and others to assure a human and accurate portrayal is brought forth. Known as one of the leading producers and syndicators of African-American short films, Badami cast accomplished actress and comedic talent “Karen Malina White” as Jackie “Moms” Mabley.
Actress, Activist and World Peace Advocate, White, a Howard University Alum has appeared in numerous television, film and stage productions such as: In Our Lives, Lean on Me, A Man Called Hawk, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Roc, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Living Single, Once Upon A Time … When We Were Colored, The Shield, Boston Public, The Proud Family Movie (Disney) and the short film The Ties That Bind.
In an interview Badami told me that White’s portrayal of the comedic legend is “striking and somewhat eerie.” An audiotape impression of Moms recorded by White even convinced Bronson it was her cousin. Badami further believes his project captures the “essence” of Jackie Moms Mabley’s spirit and career.
Whoopi Goldberg is also scheduled to release a documentary on Moms Mabley that highlights the impact she made on the entertainment industry. Goldberg shared her thoughts on the project during a recent appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She received much exposure and support for her film and raised funds for the “I Got Somethin’ to Tell You” documentary via Kickstarter. No release date has been given for either Badami’s or Goldberg’s films, but both are anticipated to be in the near future.
Born March 19, 1894 in Brevard, North Carolina, Mabley was one of twelve children born to James P. and Mary Aiken. She encountered numerous hardships throughout her early life. Her father James passed away in an accident when she was eleven, and Mabley was raped twice by the time she was fifteen, resulting in the birth of two children that she had to give up for adoption.
In a 1970’s interview with Ebony magazine, Mabley stated she took her stage name from a boyfriend, who in her words, “had taken so much from her, it was the least she could do to take his name.” Mabley’s performances where full of sexual innuendo and stories of relationships with younger men.
Her performance roots began after her stepfather insisted she wed an older man. Encouraged by her grandmother, she struck out on her own and ran away to Cleveland, Ohio, where she joined a minstrel show and began singing and dancing.
Mabley appeared in the 1933 film version of Emperor Jones with Paul Roberson. At the age of twenty-seven she announced to the world that she was a lesbian, performed several lesbian standup routines, which garnered her the title of one of the first triple X-rated comedians on the comedic circuit.
In her later stage appearances she typically looked like an old toothless, frumpy woman dressed in a housecoat and floppy hat. The moniker “Moms” stuck to her because of the compassion she showed many comedians on the circuit in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
At the height of her career, she was one of the top earners on the Chitlin circuit and was being paid $10,000 per week at the Apollo Theater. Her New York debut was at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In 1962, white audiences got a taste of her brand of comedy when she played Carnegie Hall. This was followed by multiple mainstream appearances on the number one rated CBS television program, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."
Some of “Moms” memorable comedy routines included “Moms Mabley at the UN, On Stage (Funniest Woman in the World), Moms Mabley at the Geneva Conference.” She was one of the oldest people to have a hit on Billboard’s Top 40 list when she released the hit song “Abraham, Martin and John at age 75. Her career took her from a small town to the White House, to visiting the Queen of England. Jackie Moms Mabley died from heart failure on the 23rd of May 1975.