Helen Martin

Helen Dorothy Martin (July 23, 1909 – March 25, 2000) was an American actress of stage and television. She is best known for her roles as Wanda on the CBS sitcom Good Times (1974–79) and as Pearl Shay on the NBC sitcom 227 (1985–90).[1]

Helen Martin
Helen Dorothy Martin

(1909-07-23)July 23, 1909
DiedMarch 25, 2000(2000-03-25) (aged 90)
EducationFisk University
Years active1937-2000

Early life and education

Martin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of William Martin, a minister, and Amanda Frankie (née Fox).[1] She attended public schools, which at the time were segregated.


Martin moved to New York to pursue a career in acting. She was a Broadway character actress for many decades, debuting in Orson Welles' production of Native Son in 1941. She appeared in at least a dozen Broadway shows, including Jean Genet's The Blacks, the musical Raisin from 1973 to 1975, Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious (and later the musical version, which was called Purlie), The Amen Corner and Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment. She was an original member of the American Negro Theater.

Martin became widely known later in life due to her roles in popular television series, which brought her a large audience. She had a recurring role as Wanda on the television series Good Times, and later as the neighbor Pearl Shay on the television sitcom 227, which lasted from 1985 until 1990. She also played on the short-lived sitcoms Baby, I'm Back (as mother in-law, Luzelle) and That's My Mama.

She played a variety of grandmothers in films: Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996), I Got the Hook Up (1998), House Party 2 (1991), and Mama Doll in Bulworth (1998).


Helen Martin died at the age of 90 from a heart attack on March 25, 2000 in Monterey, California.


Stage work

  • 1937: Orchids Preferred .... Evy
  • 1941: Native Son .... Vera Thomas
  • 1945: Deep Are the Roots .... Honey Turner
  • 1953: Take a Giant Step .... Poppy
  • 1960: The Long Dream .... Maude Carter
  • 1960: Period of Adjustment .... Susie
  • 1961: Purlie Victorious .... Missy Judson
  • 1963: My Mother, My Father and Me .... Hannah
  • 1965: The Amen Corner .... Sister Douglas
  • 1967: Something Different .... Sarah Goldfine
  • 1970: Purlie .... Idelia
  • 1973: Raisin .... Mrs. Johnson


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