moms mabley

Moms Mabley (Photo by Getty Images, courtesy of HBO)

*HARLEM, NEW YORK — It’s been a long time since iconic comedienne Jackie “Moms” Mabley played the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York and it took another comedic trailblazer to bring her back home.

On Thursday, November 7, 2013, Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley was screened at the Apollo for VIP guests with a celebration party immediately following at the legendary Sylvia’s soul food restaurant also in Harlem.

“Moms” was undoubtedly “the funniest woman in the world,” a title she earned as standup comedienne Jackie “Moms” Mabley while breaking racial and sexual boundaries.  She was one of Goldberg’s mentors and to this day inspires Goldberg as well as other comedians.

“`Moms’” Mabley has been a huge inspiration to me and so many others, but not a lot of folks outside of the comedy world know about her legacy,” says Goldberg.  “There are a lot of us who wouldn’t be working today without pioneers like her.  HBO gave me my first break on TV, so it’s only fitting that Moms has a home there now.”

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley marks the directorial film debut of Goldberg and the perfect project for this favorable modern-day comedian to pay homage to the pioneering talent of “Moms.”   The documentary premiered Nov. 18 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.  Other HBO playdates: Nov. 18 (4:45 a.m.), 21 (1:45 p.m.), 24 (5:45 p.m.), 26 (11:15 a.m.) and 30 (1:30 p.m.)  HBO2 playdates: Nov. 20 (8:00 p.m.) and 28 (3:00 p.m.), and Dec. 24 (4:45 p.m.).  Don’t miss this laugh out loud experience and taste the essence of a true funny woman.

Prior to the film, the Apollo’s dynamic President & CEO Jonelle Procope addressed the crowd sharing with them some golden gems about what “Moms” meant to the Apollo and how happy she was that Goldberg selected the Apollo to screen the movie because “Moms had a very special relationship with the Apollo audience.”  HBO’s powerful president of HBO documentary division, Sheila Nevins, added, “If ‘Moms’ had to be remembered, there just ain’t a better person than Whoopi Goldberg to remember her.”

“I wanted her to come home,” Goldberg told the packed house.  “This is one great story but there are other magical stories yet to be told,” added.  Goldberg who also executive produces the documentary, along with Tom Leonardis and legendary producer and director George Schlatter, creator of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

Then the Whoopster told the audience to put down their phones and stop texting so as not to miss the incredible story of the influential woman they were about to meet on the big screen.  And, like obedient children, they listened and there was not a beep to be heard during the entire screening.  At the end of the film, folks were so glad they listened because they learned about a very inspirational and funtastic performer that garnered a raucous standing ovation.

Sara Bernstein (vice president, HBO Documentary Films), Sheila Nevins (president, HBO Documentary Films, Whoopi Goldberg (producer), Tom Leonardis (producer)

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley special screening red carpet arrivals (left to right) Sara Bernstein (vice president, HBO Documentary Films), Sheila Nevins (president, HBO Documentary Films, Whoopi Goldberg (producer), Tom Leonardis (producer) (Photo courtesy Marion Curtis, Starpix for HBO)

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley contains recently unearthed photographs, rediscovered performance footage and the words of entertainers and historians, and interviews with Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Sidney Poitier, Kathy Griffin, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Arsenio Hall, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, who emphasize how Mabley paved the way for female comedians and performers everywhere in provocative stand-up routines that challenged racism, sexism and ageism.   In addition, archival footage showcases Mabley in performance at the Playboy Mansion with Sammy Davis, Jr., and on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

In an interview with HBO, Goldberg was asked what she remembered about Moms:

HBO:  Moms Mabley isn’t a widely remembered comedian.  Do you think she was forgotten?  Was that part of your reason for making this documentary?  Goldberg was asked about what she remembered about Moms Mabley and the fact that she wasn’t a widely remembered comedian.  Do you think she was forgotten?  Was that part of your reason for making this documentary?

Whoopi Goldberg:  The real impetus came from the fact that I had planned to do Moms on Broadway as a one-woman show.  I kept putting it off and putting it off and the next thing I knew, 25 years had gone by.  So when I started to talk to people about her, they’d say, “I don’t really know who she is.”  I thought, I’ll make a documentary ’cause that’ll be a great way to get the information out there.  Little did I know what goes into making a documentary.

I tried to find all kinds of great stuff; I’d always heard that she was gay, but there were lots of things that I couldn’t prove.  But then along comes this card that says, “Season’s Greetings from Mr. Mom,” with her dressed as a man.  Then I discovered other people saying, “Yeah, she was the first woman I ever saw dressed as a man.”  To hear, “On stage she was always after [fellow comedian] Cab Calloway, but in real life, she always had women on her arm,” was kind of great.  Nobody talked about it — it’s just what it was

Born Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard, NC on March 19, 1894, Jackie “Moms” Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers to perform on the Black vaudeville stage, also known as the “chitlin’ circuit.”  Mabley’s monologues touched on traditional topics such as family, as well as more controversial subjects that were typically avoided by comedians of the era, regardless of race, including infidelity, poverty, welfare and alcohol.  Mabley’s successful career spanned five decades (though white audiences generally did not learn of her until the early 1960s).  In 1939, she became the first female comedian to play the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she earned $10,000 a week at the peak of her career.  Mabley performed at Carnegie Hall in 1962, and appeared on such mainstream TV programs as “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” (1967), “The Ed Sullivan Show” (1969) and “The Bill Cosby Show” (1970).  Jackie “Moms” Mabley passed away from heart failure at age 81 on May 23, 1975 in White Plains, NY.  She was survived by her children, Bonnie, Christine, Charles and Yvonne Ailey

The Apollo is a national treasure that has had significant impact on the development of American culture and its popularity around the world.  Since introducing the first Amateur Night contests in 1934, the Apollo Theater has played a major role in cultivating artists and in the emergence of innovative musical genres including jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues, soul, and hip-hop. Ella Fitzgerald; Sarah Vaughan; Billie Holiday; Sammy Davis, Jr.; James Brown; Michael Jackson; Bill Cosby; Gladys Knight; Luther Vandross; D’Angelo; Lauryn Hill; and countless others began their road to stardom on the Apollo’s stage.  The Apollo Theater’s new artistic vision builds on its legacy.  New Apollo programming has music as its core, driving large scale and more intimate music, dance, and theater presentations.  The non-profit Theater will continue to present historically relevant presentations, as well as more forward-looking, contemporary work.  Based on its cultural significance and architecture, the Apollo Theater received state and city landmark designation in 1983 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  For more information, visit

New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets.  Contact her via: [email protected]

audrey bernard

Audrey J. Bernard