One of these days, I will definitely codify the lists of Standard Movie Career by decade. It’s something that will take a fair amount of work, because I’ll have to go through a lot of people’s careers. However, you don’t have to put that much work into it to recognize certain shows, especially if you lived through the era in question. Take the ‘80s. You expect at least one nighttime soap—your Knots Landing or your Falcon Crest. At least one Thursday night NBC show—perhaps Family Ties. Likely Hill Street Blues; cop shows go through a lot of characters, after all. Likewise L.A. Law. Maybe even something prestige, like thirtysomething or China Beach. A couple of made-for-TV movies, perhaps. And if you’ve guessed that I’ve just described nothing but things on Rosalind Cash’s IMDb page, well, good job.
Don’t get me wrong; Cash had a career well before the ‘80s, and her career actually outlived her, with her final movie being released—on TV—a year after her death on Halloween of 1995. Her first movie was Klute and her second was The Omega Man. Before that, she was on the stage—she was Goneril to James Earl Jones as Lear, for example. She’s definitely one of those people who deserves to be known far, far better than she was. On the other hand, when you spot a pattern, you call out the pattern.
Actually, I’ve seen the Lear. Not in a long time, and I don’t remember it terribly well, but you have the chance to watch King Lear with James Earl Jones and Raul Julia, you take it. It’s an amazing production, and the thing about productions like that is they do not work if one person is amazing, or even two, and the rest of them are substandard. At that point, what you’re left with is wishing the amazing person were somewhere else. So when I tell you that I remember the entire production’s holding up, that means Cash was holding her own.
Much of her career included art aimed specifically at black audiences. A Moms Mabley movie here; a comedy starring Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier there. She was a member of the Negro Ensemble Company, a theatrical company founded in 1968 to combat the overwhelmingly white nature of theatre. You also don’t have to know a lot about TV aimed at black audiences, or making white audiences accept black performers, to recognize that she did that, too. She did both The Cosby Show and A Different World, and that’s just for starters.
Possibly the weirdest byway of her career, however, is a little-known moment in Sesame Street history. For a while, Roosevelt Franklin was a Muppet who was intended to represent a black child. He lasted for five years; there was initially a problem with how white the Muppets were perceived as being. However, there was a problem with how stereotypical Roosevelt Franklin appeared, and there was a concern that it was teaching white children that black people were Just Like That. It was an issue. However, in those few short years, an album was released. It was initially called The Year of Roosevelt Franklin, Gordon’s Friend From Sesame Street, and then the much better title My Name Is Roosevelt Franklin. While on the show, his mother was voiced by Loretta Long, she was Rosalind Cash on the album.