Meet the Brooklyn gal who became “Thelma”

The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s okay if you call Bern Nadette Stanis “Thelma.”

Lots of people do.

The actress and author who brought the influential character of “Thelma Evans” to life on TV’s “Good Times” for six seasons in the 1970s says she has learned to embrace the identification.

“I always think, hmm ... I must have played that part so well that I was that person to people,” Stanis says. “The way they look at me is as a family member - and I don’t stop them from that.”

Stanis was recently in town to accept a special proclamation at Borough Hall from Brooklyn President Marty Markowitz celebrating her acting career and newly published advice book, “Situations 101” ($19.95, Worthingham Group).

On television, Stanis portrayed a sassy African-American teenager living with her family in a Chicago housing project.

In actuality, Stanis grew up right here in Brownsville and attended Erasmus Hall High School before graduating from the Juilliard School.

“I got a 98 in my Drama English class, that’s when I knew this was something I should do,” Stanis remembers.

The artistically-inclined Brooklynite began studying modern interpretive dance and soon attracted the attention of a theatrical agent who thought she would be perfect for the part of “Thelma” after appearing in a local beauty pageant.

“I lived that part,” Stanis says. “I knew her. I think they must have sensed that.”

Smart, sexy and unapologetically ethnic with “afro and big booty,” Stanis’ portrayal of Thelma Evans would have a profound impact on a generation of young and impressionable women.

“It gave them pride in being a curvy black woman with intelligen­ce,” Stanis says. “I made a stand for them. Thelma was one of the characters that changed the way black characters were looked at.”

Today, Stanis hears it all the time - “you made our brown skin girls very proud.”

“I see now what it meant,” Stanis says.

Although she now lives in California, Stanis still has a house here in Brooklyn where she and her mom often spend time together.

For her next book aimed at teens and their parents, Stanis plans on teaming-up with her own 14-year-old daughter.

Growing up in Brooklyn where she says her summers where always filled with trips to the museum, Stanis remembers how she felt after being shunned by a group of popular neighborhood girls, and the piece of advice that her mother gave her at the time.

“I was crying,” Stanis says. “My mom looked me in the eye and said, ‘everybody has their own talent. You can draw, paint and dance. One day, the whole world is going to know your name.’

Stanis laughs.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s “Thelma” and not Bern Nadette.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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