If your a fan of A Different World, you may remember the episode where while working for an art buyer, Whitley goes behind her bosses back and bids on an art piece. What you may not know is that the boss in the episode is played by Josephine Premice, who also guess stared on The Cosby Show and The Jeffersons.
Josephine’s career spans further than her featured roles on influential black shows as she is noted as one of the largest Calypso performers during the 40s and 50s, as well as a Broadway performer.
The Haitian born singer, actress, and dancer received a degree from Columbia University, but changed her plans to have a career in Anthropology to instead pursue her career in entertainment.
She performed in a Calypso musical Caribbean Carnival and performed in productions such as A Hand Is On The Gate and on Broadway in Jamaica, both of which lead to Tony Award nominations. In her performance in Jamaica, which also stared Lena Horne and one of my personal all time favorites Ossie Davis, her performance was quoted as being ”a razzle-dazzle lead performer who was hot flame to Horne’s cool fire”.
During one of Josephine’s performances of Jamaica, a friend of Lena Horne, Timothy Fales, the white son of a Wall Street Banker and descended of Mayflower settlers, fell for and married Josephine. The wedding was tabloid news with headlines such as”Negro Singer Married to Socialite Ship Exec“.
The couple moved to Rome for a 6 year hiatus before returning to the states where they lived in a large apartment on the Upper West Side of New York that they turned into a salon for entertainers and socialites. Despite living a posh life filled with dinner parties with Jackie Onassis and Harry Belafonte, Josephine’s time in Europe left her almost forgotten in the shadows of other stars at the time, like Diahann Carroll and her Jamaica co-star, Lena Horne.
It wasn’t until her daughter, socialite Susan Fales-Hill released her memoire, Always Wear Joy, that her Mother, the elegant but forgotten Broadway star that would primp just to go to the grocery store was honored.
In her book, Susan describes life growing up with “grand divas” and describes women like her Mother as empowering because “they had jewels, they had furs. They bought the things themselves. If a man did buy them for them, it was because the women were objects of total adulation.”
What’s most interesting to me about Josephine’s story is how although she was so glamorous, she was often yet rejected by casting agents for her dark skin and “unconventional looks”. I just started reading Always Wear Joy so I’ll be interested to read more on her struggles as a black entertainer.
There isn’t a lot of information available on Josephine, who passed away at 74 in 2001 online, so for more on Susan Fales-Hill, click here.
Also here is a clip from the A Different World episode I mentioned with Josephine.