LOS ANGELES -- Maidie Norman, an actress who fought black stereotypes all her professional life, has died at age 85.
Norman, who created and taught a UCLA course in black theatre history, made her film debut in Burning Cross in 1947 and her stage debut as Honey in Deep Are the Roots at Los Angeles' Mayan Theatre in 1949.
Her stage work included A Raisin in the Sun, Medea, Purlie Victorious and Andromache. Among her films were Susan Slept Here and Airport '77.
Born on a Georgia plantation to the engineer son of slave owners and the daughter of one of their slaves, Norman was raised in Ohio and educated in Greensboro, NC and New York City.
As the maid to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the 1962 Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Norman refused to speak in the "yessum" dialect expected and changed some of the lines. "I'd say, 'You know, this is not the way we talk these days. This is old slavery-time talk,'" she told the San Jose Mercury News in a 1995 interview.
Norman also believed that television offered more opportunity for black performers and appeared frequently in TV movies, series and miniseries into the 1980s.
In her honor, UCLA gives an annual Maidie Norman Rsearch Award to the UCLA theatre arts student who writes the best research paper on the history of blacks in theatre.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent