The Josephine Baker Story
A television, movie and stage actress of African American and Cherokee lineage, Lynn Whitfield first came to fame as a part of the hit stage production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide...When the Rainbow Is Enuf” in 1977, but it took nearly a decade for the talented performer to achieve genuine triumph thanks to her acting in the CBS TV films “Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI” and “The George McKenna Story” (both 1986). She gained additional attention for her work in the Oprah Winfrey produced miniseries “The Women of Brewster Place” (1989) and for starring in the HBO biopic “The Josephine Baker Story” (1991), which earned her international recognition and an Emmy Award. She also picked up an Image Award and a Golden Globe nomination for her work in the film.
Following her massive TV success, however, Whitfield did not return to the spotlight until she appeared in the movies “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” (1996), “Sophie & the Moonhanger” (1996, TV), the Toronto premiered “The Planet of Junior Brown” (1997, won an Image award) and “Eve's Bayou” (1997, earned an Image nomination). Subsequent notable credits include the miniseries “The Wedding” (1998), the television movies “Dangerous Evidence: The Lori Jackson Story” (1999), “Love Songs” (1999) and “The Cheetah Girls” (2003), and the movies “Head of State” (2003) and “Madea's Family Reunion” (2006). Her portrayal of Barbara Becnel in the TV film “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story” (2004) won the actress an Image and Black Reel Award.
Whitfield more recently starred in the films “Kings of the Evening” (2008), “The Women” (2008), “Mama, I Want To Sing” (2008) and “Pure Shooter” (2009).
A two time divorcee, Whitfield was married to playwright, director and actor Van Whitfield from 1974 until the late 1970s. She has a daughter named Grace with her second husband, director Brian Gibson whom she married was to from 1990 to 1992. She was briefly involved with actor Don Johnson in 1976.
Childhood and Family:
Lynn Butler-Smith, who would later be popular as Lynn Whitfield, was born on May 6, 1953, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her father, Valerian Smith (born in 1926, died in 1992), was the founder of the Baton Rouge Playhouse and worked on the musical scores of such movies as 1957's “Band of Angels” and 1967's “Hurry Sundown.” Mr. Smith was also a dentist and moonlighted as a local talent scout. Lynn's mother, Jean Butler, became the president of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency in the mid 1990s. The eldest of four, Lynn has a younger brother named Valerian Butler-Smith II, and two younger sisters, Kimberleigh Butler-Smith and Shawne Langston.
In 1974, Lynn received a BFA in drama from Howard University in Washington, DC. Also that year, she married playwright, director and actor Van Whitfield, who was also one of the co-founders and pioneers of the D.C.-based Black Repertory Company, with which Lynn also performed. The marriage, however, ended in divorce in the late 1970s. Lynn married director Brian Gibson in 1990 and had a daughter named Grace Gibson on August 2, 1991. Lynn and her second husband divorced in 1992.
Lynn Whitfield studied and acted with the Black Repertory Company while living in Washington D.C. and after gaining her drama degree from Howard University, appeared in several off-Broadway productions in New York City, including “The Great Macdaddy” and “Showdown.” The future leading lady, however, did not have her first taste of success until she headed to Los Angeles and landed a costarring role in the L.A. production of the landmark black play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide...When the Rainbow Is Enuf” (1977), opposite Alfre Woodard.
In 1979, Whitfield launched her movie career under a talent development program at Columbia Pictures. After having a recurring role as Jill Thomas in three episodes of the Steven Bochco created series “Hill Street Blues” (1981) and recreating her coveted stage role in the PBS TV version of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” (1982), she appeared on the big screen in the supporting role of Thelma Cleland in the unsuccessful comedy “Doctor Detroit” (1983), which starred Dan Aykroyd. She resurfaced two years later with parts in “The Slugger's Wife” and “Silverado,” which starred Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner and Danny Glover. In between her film projects, Whitfield portrayed recurring roles in “This is the Life” and “Cagney & Lacey” before making guest appearances in “Miami Vice,” Shelley Duvall's “Tall Tales and Legends” and “The Fall Guy.” In 1986, she starred in “Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI,” which was based on the real life story of the first African-American female secret agent for the FBI. She then held her own against actor Denzel Washington in the biopic “The George McKenna Story” and appeared in the ABC miniseries “The Women of Brewster Place” (1989), adapted from the novel by Gloria Naylor and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey (also starred in as Mattie Michael). Whitfield next had supporting roles in the movies “Jaws: The Revenge,” “Dead Aim” (both 1987) and the ABC medical series “HeartBeat” (1988).
Whitfield scored a huge victory in 1991 when she was cast in the title role in the HBO biopic “The Josephine Baker Story.” Under the direction of Brian Gibson, she was handed a 1991 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special and a 1993 Image for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. Also in 1991, she could be seen playing the recurring role of TV news anchorwoman Maggie Mayfield on the prime time series “Equal Justice” (ABC).
After starring as Esther in the CBS miniseries “Stompin' at the Savoy” (1992) and in a role in the Pauly Shore vehicle “In the Army Now” (1994), she returned to series TV in the NBC short lived “The Cosby Mysteries” (1994). Thanks to her appearances in Martin Lawrence's “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” (1996) and Christopher Cain's comedy “Gone Fishin'” (1997), she gained exposure for her starring role in the Lifetime film “Sophie & the Moonhanger” (1996). She then costarred in “Eve's Bayou” (1997), a drama film written and directed by Kasi Lemmons, and earned an Image award as Mrs. Brown in the Toronto Film Festival screened “The Planet of Junior Brown” (1997). The following year, she was reunited with Oprah Winfrey for the Winfrey-executive produced miniseries “The Wedding” (1998) and took home an Image nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie or Mini-Series for her work in the film. She won a 1998 Image for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Dr. Serena Hall in the series “Touched by an Angel” (1997).
The rest of the decade saw roles in the drama “Stepmom” (1998), which starred Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris, Lee Rose's “The Color of Courage” (1999, TV), costarring Linda Hamilton, and “Deep in My Heart” (1999, TV), opposite Anne Bancroft. She also starred as civil rights activist Lori Jackson in the based-on-book television movie “Dangerous Evidence: The Lori Jackson Story” (1999), for which she netted an Image nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie/Miniseries/Dramatic Special, and played Jean Simpson in “Love Songs” (1999), where she received a Black Reel nomination for Network/Cable - Best Actress.
In the new millennium, Whitfield took smaller roles in Peter Gilbert's “A Time for Dancing” (2000) and “A Girl Thing” (2001, TV) and recurring roles in the David E. Kelley created “Boston Public” (2001) and the CBS series “Without a Trace,” where she played Paula Van Doran from 2002 to 2006. She teamed up with Chris Rock and Bernie Mac in the box office hit comedy “Head of State” (2003), where she was nominated for a BET Comedy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Box Office Movie, portrayed Dorthea Garibaldi in the musical TV film “The Cheetah Girls” (2003), a role she reprised for the 2006 sequel “The Cheetah Girls 2,” and costarred with Jamie Foxx in the TV film “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story” (2004). Her performance in the latter production won an Image for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special and a Black Reel for Best Actress, Network/Cable Television.
In 2006, Whitfield picked up a Black Movie nomination for her scene-stealing turn as Victoria in the independent comedy “Madea's Family Reunion” (2006), which was directed, written by and starred Tyler Perry. She also portrayed Dr. Page on Lawrence Page's “Confessions” and appeared as Anita Astin in the pilot episode of the crime series starring James Woods, “Shark” (2006).
Recently costarring with Tyson Beckford in the drama “Kings of the Evening” (2008), Whitfield has completed filming “The Women” (2008), which was directed and scripted by Diane English. She was also cast as Ciara's mother, Lillian Winter, in the musical “Mama, I Want To Sing” (2008) and stars as Artelia 'Art' Jones in the drama “Pure Shooter” (2009).
Black Reel: Best Actress, Network/Cable Television, “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story,” 2005
Image: Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special, “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story,” 2005
Image: Outstanding Performance in a Youth or Children's Series/Special, “The Planet of Junior Brown,” 2000
Image: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, “Touched by an Angel,” 1998
Image: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie, “I'll Fly Away,” 1994
Image: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Mini-Series or Television Movie, “The Josephine Baker Story,” 1993
Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special, “The Josephine Baker Story,” 1991