Anyone old enough to remember TV from the late 1980s and early ‘90s knows the name Harriet Winslow; the glue that held the Winslow family together on “Family Matters.”
The show was originally a spin-off of another one called “Perfect Strangers,” centered around Harriet’s character. In “Perfect Strangers,” she was an elevator operator with quick-witted quips and sidelines to add character to the show. Yet Payton’s character was so well-loved with audience members that the producers of ABC decided to give her a show based on her home life.
That show, “Family Matters,” became a hit family series. A little-known fact about Payton is that she was an Opa-locka resident at an early age, currently lives in South Florida (she does not want to disclose the city), and enjoys the local arts.
After witnessing the abuse of family members and friends throughout her life, Payton was drawn to Cookie Wiggins’ U Got Me Bent and Twisted, a hit gospel play about urban domestic abuse.
“(U Got Me Bent and Twisted) speaks to the cycle of domestic violence and some of the challenges that we have,” said Payton, 56, who holds an honorary doctorate in Humanities from Vincennes University in Indianapolis, In. “Domestic violence isn’t just physical abuse, it’s mental and spiritual, as well.”
Payton will appear in the play, which opens for one night Oct. 10 at the Miramar Cultural Center. She will play Connie Johnson, an administrative director of a rehabilitation facility called Harvest House.
Payton, who has had roles on “227” and “Silver Spoons,” is well known for not only playing Harriet Winslow on “Family Matters” and “Perfect Strangers,” but also as the character Suga Mama on “Proud Family.”
Since leaving “Family Matters” mid-way through the final season, Payton has appeared in “Desperate Housewives,” “Reba,” “Girlfriends,” “Wanda at Large,” “Judging Amy,” “The Parkers,” “Will & Grace,” “The Hughleys,” “7th Heaven,” “Moesha” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.”
Most recently, she played Shirley on Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns,” a TV spinoff of the 2008 movie by the same name. The TV show airs on TBS.
“Tyler Perry makes you want to be associated with him because he’s so darn nice and professional. It has nothing to do with his success; it’s how he is personally,” Payton said during a phone interview last weekend with the South Florida Times.
Payton said she looks forward to working with Perry, who reminds her of her favorite department store, and is grateful for the experience of working with him.
“He has a Nordstrom’s operation: Every one of his actors is very well trained on how they should treat people and (the set is) a very well-run, tight operation,” she said.
Payton has enjoyed a long career in the entertainment industry. In 1999, she released a jazz album titled Southern Shadows, which rated 7 out of 10 in Jazz Times Magazine. Today, while compiling songs and generating ideas for her next album, Payton said she still feels the family atmosphere that permeated “Family Matters” over a decade ago.
After the loss of her mother in December 2007, Payton took a hiatus from her entertainment career to meditate on family and to re-group. Now the grandmother of one, thanks to her daughter, Chantale, Payton said she feels ready to get back into the industry. She has been steadily working the play circuit.
Her last play, Love in the Nick of Time, starred Morris Chestnut, and opened to great reviews around the country. She’s also working on a situation comedy about retirees living in Florida.
Now starring in U Got Me Bent and Twisted, Payton said she hopes to tour with the theater company, whose cast comprises residents of Detroit and Miami. There is no touring schedule in place at the moment, but Payton said the play’s writer, Cookie Wiggins, and its director, Norris Wiggins, plan to take their hit gospel play to as many venues as possible.
“I have a new found energy after the sorrow and loss of my mother,” said Payton, founder of the Frankie Payton scholarship in honor of her mother, whose recipients attend Albany State College. “I now feel energized and more ready than ever to use the gift that God gave me. I believe I am called to do this.”
Photo by Mychal McDonald. JoMarie Payton
IF YOU GO
WHAT: U Got Me Bent and Twisted play
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10
WHERE: Miramar Cultural Center, 2400 Civic Center Place, Miramar
CONTACT: 954-462-0222 or MiramarCulturalCenter.org