“Ain't we lucky we got 'em…Good Times!
Those ending lyrics to the theme song of Good Times, a TV series which aired from 1974 until 1979 are forever etched into the minds of its viewers.
And for most of last week people were taken back to that era as actress Bern Nadette Stanis, visited Fort Stewart saying hello to fans and signing autographs.
Stanis played Thelma in the highly acclaimed TV series that broke a lot of records in its time. The show featured the first two-parent African American family and was the first spin-off born from a spin-off from the creative mind of Norman Lear.
“It was awesome,” Stanis recalled. “We were the first whole Black family on television. I was the first Black female teenager on television.”
Stanis said she was invited to Fort Stewart and jumped at the chance to visit. She said he father had served in the U.S. Army.
Stanis attended the Julliard School of the Arts and as a teen competed in Miss Black America contests becoming Miss Brooklyn and first runner up in the Miss New York state pageant.
But her career on TV as the only daughter of Florida and James Evans was the start of her TV and film career.
“We learned a lot, I learned a lot by being in a show with professionals and that was my first professional job,” she said. “I never had the idea that the show would last so long. It says a lot about the writers and Normal Lear.”
And while her character role as Thelma helped launch her career Stanis said her education at Julliard has allowed her to play many different characters on TV, film and later in theater.
Stanis recalled meeting and working with great actors in Esther Rolle, John Amos, Janet Jackson, Jimmie Walker and Ralph Carter. Walker and Carter played her brothers JJ and Michael Evans on the show. She said to this day they are still like real life brothers to her.
Esther Rolle, who played matriarch Florida Evans taught Stanis many lessons on set.
“She was my Hollywood mother…and I called her mom all the time,” Stanis said. “She was in my corner and she guided me. She showed me things and she talked to me.” She said Rolle often helped her develop her TV role. Rolle died in 1998.
“John Amos was just phenomenal, just a strong (father) figure,” she added. “I was glad he was put on our show to show the world a strong black father.”
After Good Times she said she acted and produced on Broadway, traveled and started her writing her career. The author of three books Stanis’ most recent work pays tribute to her mother and caregivers.
In her book The Last Night: A Caregiver’s Journey through Transition and Beyond, Stanis shares the circumstances of her life with her real family, as well as her Good Times family including her life as caregiver to her mom who suffered from Alzheimer's.
“This disease is a monster of the mind,” she said after sharing a story about watching an episode of Good Times with her mom. Her mom didn’t realize it was Stanis playing the role of Thelma.
“It took my mother’s memory,” she said.
Stanis started a foundation called, Remembering the Good Times, in her mother’s honor.
Stanis was greeted by a steady crowd at Fort Stewart.
“After 40 years and people still want my autograph and still know me, that is so heartwarming to me,” she said.