“Moms Mabley has been a huge inspiration to me and so many others, but not a lot of folks outside of the comedy world know about her legacy,” Goldberg said when the network announced the deal. “There are a lot of us who wouldn’t be working today without pioneers like her. HBO gave me my first break on TV, so it’s only fitting that Moms has a home there now.”
Featuring recently unearthed photographs, rediscovered performance footage and the words of entertainers and historians, the film includes interviews with Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Sidney Poitier, Kathy Griffin, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Arsenio Hall, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, who emphasize how Mabley paved the way for female comedians and performers everywhere in provocative stand-up routines that challenged racism, sexism and ageism.
In addition, archival footage showcases Mabley in performance at the Playboy Mansion with Sammy Davis, Jr., and on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”
Born Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard, NC on March 19, 1894, Jackie “Moms” Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers to perform on the black vaudeville stage, also known as the “chitlin’ circuit.” Mabley’s monologues touched on traditional topics such as family, as well as more controversial subjects that were typically avoided by comedians of the era, regardless of race, including infidelity, poverty, welfare and alcohol.
Mabley’s successful career spanned five decades (though white audiences generally did not learn of her until the early 1960s). In 1939, she became the first female comedian to play the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she earned $10,000 a week at the peak of her career. Mabley performed at Carnegie Hall in 1962, and appeared on such mainstream TV programs as “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” (1967), “The Ed Sullivan Show” (1969) and “The Bill Cosby Show” (1970).
Jackie “Moms” Mabley passed away from heart failure at age 81 on May 23, 1975 in White Plains, NY. She was survived by her children, Bonnie, Christine, Charles and Yvonne Ailey.
“What could be better than Whoopi bringing Moms to HBO?” said HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins. “We’ve always known how special Moms was, and I can’t think of a better marriage.”
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley isscheduled to premiere on Monday, November 18, 9pm ET.