Most people remember her as Thelma, the daughter in the mid- to-late '70s show Good Times who played off her onscreen brother J.J. (actor Jimmie Walker ) and his dy-no-mite phrases. But when Bernadette Stanis comes to Houston at the end of the month, it will be to play a wife and mother in a gospel stageplay at Bayou Music Center.
"It expresses what goes on behind the pulpit. It's this pastor who's trying to save his church, " says Stanis (who has, over time, also spelled her first name as Bern Nadette and BernNadette and discarded and resumed her last name.)
Stanis says the play speaks not only to black audiences but to anyone involved in church, particularly in these difficult economic times. "When members aren't paying like they used to and the church is suffering a little."
The actress, who also sings but not in this production, grew up Roman Catholic and later became a Baptist after her brother became a minister in that denomination.
Her character in this play, the pastor's wife Deborah, has been pouring her own money into his church, Stanis says. "Her husband is not noticing her or the family and is really breaking that whole unit down," she says.
Stanis says she began acting in community productions when she was about 12 years old. "I was in a beauty pageant when I was a young teenager and a manager came over to my mother and said, 'We're looking for a teenage girl." She ended up auditioning for Norman Lear and won the spot that 1,500 teenagers across the country vied for.
Five years after Good Times closed in 1979, Stanis says, she went to Juilliard and went on and did off-Broadway plays.
Stanis, who paints and writes poetry as well as books on relationships, says the one thing she'd like to get back to is dancing -- specifically a turn on Dancing with the Stars.
So in memory of former times and present-day dreams, here's a YouTube video still in much demand today: