Mabel King

Mabel Elizabeth King (née Washington; December 25, 1932[4][5][6][7] – November 9, 1999) was an American film, stage, and television actress, and singer. She is best known for her role as Mabel "Mama" Thomas on the ABC sitcom What's Happening!! from its premiere in 1976 until the end of its second season in 1978. King's next most remembered role is that of Evillene the Witch, a role she originated in the stage musical The Wiz and reprised in Sidney Lumet's 1978 film adaptation. She recorded on the Rama Records and Amy Records labels.

Mabel King
Mabel King.jpg
Mabel Elizabeth Washington

(1932-12-25)December 25, 1932
DiedNovember 9, 1999(1999-11-09) (aged 66)[1][2][3]
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1964–1990
Known forMabel "Mama" Thomas – What's Happening!!
EvilleneThe Wiz
Melvin King
(m. 1967; div. 1989)

Early lifeEdit

King was born Mabel Elizabeth Washington in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Rosalie Washington and Joseph Washington.[8] She was raised in Harlem, New York where she eventually became a gospel and nightclub singer.


Stage workEdit

She did not start acting until her mid thirties, in 1966, when she played the role of Maria in the national touring play of Porgy and Bess. The following year she played the role of Ernestina in the Broadway musical/comedy Hello, Dolly!. Then in 1972, she appeared in the Broadway musical Don't Play Us Cheap. The following year, she appeared in the film version of the play. That same year, she played the Queen of Myrthia in the horror film Ganja & Hess. In January 1975, she played the role of Evilene, the Wicked Witch of the West in the all-African-American cast of the Broadway musical The Wiz. The role earned her a Drama Desk Award nomination for outstanding featured actress in a musical. Her performance in The Wiz brought her much attention and soon after she received roles in the films The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, with Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones, and Scott Joplin, with Billy Dee Williams and Clifton Davis. In June 1980, King returned to stage work, starring in the Broadway musical It's So Nice to Be Civilized. However, the show did poorly and closed after eight performances.

Television and filmEdit

In 1976, she was offered the role of Mabel Thomas on the sitcom What's Happening!!, a role she played from 1976 to 1978. Due to disagreements with the direction the creators wanted to take the series, King left What's Happening!! in 1978 after two seasons. That same year, she reprised the role of Evillene for the 1978 film version of The Wiz. It was the second time in her career that she appeared in a movie after being in the stage version, the first being Don't Play Us Cheap. The following year, she appeared in the film The Jerk as the mother to Steve Martin's character. King received mostly guest spots on television series including Fantasy Island, The Jeffersons, Amazing Stories and Tales from the Darkside. In between, she signed on with then Hollywood agent Ruben Malaret, who negotiated her reprised role of Mama Johnson in the made-for-TV movie The Jerk, Too (1984). Her last two movie roles were Scrooged (1988) starring Bill Murray and Dead Men Don't Die (1990) starring Elliott Gould.

Personal lifeEdit

King was married to Melvin King from June 1967 until September 1989. They had one child, a son named Larry King. King was a staunch conservative Republican who strongly supported the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

Later years and deathEdit

King was diabetic and in 1986 one of her toes was amputated as a result of the disease. In 1990, King suffered a stroke and entered the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. In 1991, King's diabetes resulted in the amputation of her left leg. In 1994, her right leg was also amputated. King would also lose one of her arms to diabetes. Her son, Larry, died in 1996.[9] King died on November 9, 1999 at age 66.


Year Title Role Notes
1973 Don't Play Us Cheap House guest at the party
1973 Ganja & Hess Queen of Myrthia
1976 The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings Bertha Dewitt
1976–1978 What's Happening!! Mabel "Mama" Thomas 37 episodes
1977 Scott Joplin Madam Amy
1978 The Wiz Evillene Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1978–1981 Fantasy Island Various roles 3 episodes
1979 Barney Miller Mother Zilla Episode: "Computer Crime"
1979 The Jerk Mother
1980 The Gong Show Movie Mabel
1981 Palmerstown, U.S.A. Aunt Toog Episode: "Future City"
1981 Getting Over Mabel Queen
1983 ABC Weekend Special Mrs. Trussker Episode: "All the Money in the World"
1983 Lottery! Mabel Episode: "Los Angeles: Bigger Volume"
1983 Whiz Kids Episode: "Fatal Error"
1984 The Jerk, Too Mama Johnson Television movie
1984 The Master Willie Episode: "Fat Tuesday"
1984 The Jeffersons Mother Tobin Episode: "Some Enchanted Evening"
1986 Amazing Stories Jennifer Mowbray Episode: "The Sitter"
1986 The Colbys Fortune Teller Episode: "The Honeymoon"
1986 Tales from the Darkside Ruby Cuzzins Episode: "Baker's Dozen"
1988 Black Vampire
1988 Wiseguy Mae Nina Episode: "Blood Dance"
1988 Scrooged Gramma
1990 Dead Men Don't Die Chafuka


  • "Alabama Rock'n'Roll" (RAMA Records, 1956)[10]
  • "Mabel King With The Royal Sita Chorus – Symbol Of Love / Second Hand Love" (RAMA Records, 1956)[10]
  • "Go Back Home Young Fella/Lefty" (Amy Records, 1962)[10]
  • "When We Get The Word / Love" (Amy Records, 1962)[10]


  1. ^ Ravo, Nick (November 18, 1999). "Mabel King, 66, Who Played The Wicked Witch in 'The Wiz'". The New York Times.
  2. ^ DeCaro, Frank (October 3, 2011). "The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen". Health Communications, Inc. ISBN 978-0757315961. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  3. ^ Lenz III, Harris M. (October 24, 2008). "King, Mabel (1932-1999)". Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 1999: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre. McFarland. p. 121. ISBN 978-0786452040. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  4. ^ NNDB - Mabel King
  5. ^ Nussbaum, Ben (October 21, 2014). Wizard of Oz: An Over-the-Rainbow Celebration of the World's Favorite Movie. Google Books. I-5 Publishing. ISBN 978-1620081815. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  6. ^ Bowler, Gerry (October 23, 2012). The World Encyclopedia of Christmas. Google Books. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 978-1551996073. Retrieved June 8, 2019.
  7. ^ Craddock, Jim, ed. (August 1, 2001). Video Hounds Golden Movie Retrievee: The Complete Guide to Movies on Videocassette, DVD and Laserdisc. Google Books. Gale Group. ISBN 978-1578591206. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  8. ^ "Mabel King Biography".
  9. ^ "TV, Movie and Stage Actress Mabel King, Dies in L.A." Jet. 96 (26): 56. November 29, 1999. ISSN 0021-5996.
  10. ^ a b c d Benjamin, Franklin V. (May 30, 2016). An Encyclopedia of South Carolina Jazz and Blues Musicians. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1611176223.

External linksEdit