Obituary: Lee Chamberlin / Part of original cast of '70s 'Electric Company'

Feb. 14, 1938 - May 28, 2014

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

Lee Chamberlin, an actress whose career took off when she joined Bill Cosby and Rita Moreno on the funky 1970s children's show "The Electric Company," died Wednesday in Chapel Hill, N.C. She was 76.

The cause was metastatic cancer, her son Matthew said. Ms. Chamberlin, who lived in Paris, was visiting him in Chapel Hill when she died.

Ms. Chamberlin was among the original cast members of "The Electric Company," the hit PBS show that taught basic grammar and diction to elementary school students using parodies, sketches and musical numbers reminiscent of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."

Ms. Chamberlin played diner proprietor Vi and sang educational duets with a little-known actor named Morgan Freeman on the show, which debuted in 1971.

After the second season, she jumped from children's television to Shakespeare (though some of her "Electric Company" skits were replayed until the show went off the air in 1977). Mel Gussow of The New York Times called her an "appealing" Cordelia to James Earl Jones' King Lear in his review of a 1973 production at the Delacorte Theater in New York City's Central Park.

She also appeared in the movies "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974) and "Let's Do It Again" (1975), both directed by Sidney Poitier and starring Mr. Poitier and Mr. Cosby.

Some years later, she and Mr. Jones worked together again, this time as husband and wife in a CBS police drama, "Paris."

"Some of the best scenes are between Jones and Lee Chamberlin as Barbara Paris," the television critic Tom Shales wrote in The Washington Post in 1979. "There's an honest, wholesome sort of sexuality between them, rare for these little TV fictions."

Lee Chamberlin was born Alverta La Pallo on Feb. 14, 1938, in New York City. (She changed her first name for her acting career.)

She grew up there and later graduated from New York University. She married Daniel Edward Chamberlin in 1960.

One of Lee Chamberlin's earliest parts was in a short-lived 1970 off-Broadway production of "Slave Ship," by the poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, then known as LeRoi Jones.

From 1983 to 1995, she was the supportive mother of the character played by Debbi Morgan on the ABC soap opera "All My Children," her longest recurring part.

She also appeared on sitcoms such as "Diff'rent Strokes" and "What's Happening!" and dramas such as "NYPD Blue."

In 2010, Ms. Chamberlin founded the Playwrights' Inn Project in Paris. The project helps African-American playwrights develop their work.



You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here