This post is one of a series honoring Black History Month.
I was sad to hear that Chelsea Brown (1942-2017) had passed away pretty recently, was sadder still that I hadn’t even heard, although the reason why I hadn’t heard (see below) made me less sad.
Brown’s greatest claim to fame came via Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (1968-1969). Her niche was that she was the African American version of her colleagues Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne, rail-thin Twiggy-esque dancer/comediennes whose skill set was to Frug and Watusi and then stop on a dime and say as something sassy. Here they are they are all together like three Freakadelic Fates:
She was hot in the late ’60s and early ’70s. She danced in the Monkees’ movie Head (1968) and in Sweet Charity (1969). She had guest spots on shows like The Flying Nun, Ironside and Love American Style. She was in the campy horror film The Thing with Two Heads (1972). This TV Guide was about new directions following Laugh-In. But no one could have predicted HOW different. (Certainly a bigger change was coming than he appearance on the show Matt Lincoln).
In 1973 Brown met an Australian property developer named Kel Hirst. She moved Down Under and married him. So in fact she in fact did not retire or disappear: she merely became a star in AUSTRALIA. Australians avidly watched her on such shows as Number 96 (1977) and E Street (1989) and in such films as Welcome to Woop Woop (1997). Unbeknownst to Americans she was doing great! She was just in a different dimension! After her second husband (fellow E Street actor Vic Rooney) passed away in 2002, she moved back to her home town of Chicago, but by then her American career was pretty defunct. She died of pneumonia at the young age of 74.
To find out more about the history of variety entertainment, including TV variety like Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,