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'The Jeffersons' Star Berlinda Tolbert's Acting Career Challenged Her Marriage with Bob Reid

Junie Sihlangu
Jul 22, 2021
03:50 P.M.
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Berlinda Tolbert retired from her acting career very early on in her life for personal reasons. However, she has fond memories of her days as an actor. Here's what she's up to now.

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On November 4, 1949, Berlinda Tolbert was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her birth came one day after fellow actor Mike Evans was also welcomed into the world in North Carolina.

Evans would later star beside Tolbert as her boyfriend and husband in 1975's groundbreaking sitcom, "The Jeffersons." The actress then starred in movies like 1990's "Goodfellas" and 1992's "Patriot Games."

Berlinda Tolbert (as Jenny Willis Jefferson) in the CBS television comedy, "The Jefferson." The show's premier episode aired on January 18, 1975. | Photo: Getty Images

Berlinda Tolbert (as Jenny Willis Jefferson) in the CBS television comedy, "The Jefferson." The show's premier episode aired on January 18, 1975. | Photo: Getty Images

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BERLINDA'S BACKGROUND

Tolbert's passion for acting became quite evident from a very young age. She starred in a school play when she was 13 and was so good that her proud father confessed that she made a great actress.

Besides acting, the future star also learned that she loved telling stories. During a 2013 Jet Magazine interview, the actress described herself as a natural storyteller who loved human behavior.

Berlinda Tolbert in an episode of "The Love Boat" which aired on January 5, 1985. | Photo: Getty Images

Berlinda Tolbert in an episode of "The Love Boat" which aired on January 5, 1985. | Photo: Getty Images

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HER SCHOOLING YEARS

After receiving a scholarship to study drama at the North Carolina School of Arts, the future star pursued her acting abilities. She also worked odd jobs in between to save money for a summer internship.

The internship would allow her to tour with a company in Houston or New York. Before she graduated, her school chose her to intern at one of the companies, but she didn't have the funds for the trip.

Berlinda Tolbert on Walt Disney TV's "Fantasy Island" aired on January 14, 1984. | Photo: Getty Images

Berlinda Tolbert on Walt Disney TV's "Fantasy Island" aired on January 14, 1984. | Photo: Getty Images

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HER "GUARDIAN ANGEL'S" WORK

Luckily, one day she found an envelope in her mailbox that had a Houston plane ticket. Not bothering to question the gift, Tolbert flew to Houston for her internship, but that wasn't the only time her "guardian angel" surprised her.

After her graduation, a stranger called her to ask if she wanted to audition for a repertory company in Washington D.C. Tolbert took the offer and landed the role that led to her being noticed by significant agencies.

Berlinda Tolbert on Walt Disney TV's "Fantasy Island" aired on January 14, 1984. | Photo: Getty Images

Berlinda Tolbert on Walt Disney TV's "Fantasy Island" aired on January 14, 1984. | Photo: Getty Images

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The audition opened doors for her to get roles in series like "That's My Mama" and "Sanford and Son." The actress didn't know who her guardian angel was but shared her desire to meet and thank the person.

STARRING ON "THE JEFFERSONS"

"The Jeffersons" was one of the greatest television shows in American history. The CBS sitcom ran from 1975 to 1985 and featured many stars who enjoyed remarkable career success afterward.

A black-and-white promotional portrait of Berlinda Tolbert in 1975 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A black-and-white promotional portrait of Berlinda Tolbert in 1975 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Tolbert joined the show in 1975 and played the role of Jenny Willis Jefferson, Tom and Helen Willis' daughter. During her time on the series, her position on it evolved immensely.

After a while, she got to appear as Evans' character, Lionel Jefferson's girlfriend. She then became his wife and then a mother to their daughter Jessica before divorcing in the last season of the sitcom.

Berlinda Tolbert (as Jenny Willis Jefferson) in the CBS television comedy, "The Jeffersons." The premier episode aired on January 18, 1975 | Photo: Getty Images

Berlinda Tolbert (as Jenny Willis Jefferson) in the CBS television comedy, "The Jeffersons." The premier episode aired on January 18, 1975 | Photo: Getty Images

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RECALLING HER TIME ON THE SHOW

During her Jet Magazine interview, Tolbert recalled her time on "The Jeffersons" with fond memories. She praised its producer, Norman Lear, for adding the right people to create the show's success.

Tolbert said the show was classical and iconic because of its subject matter. She explained how it was the first time in TV history that the children of a Black and White couple were portrayed.

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It also showed the first "integrated married couple" on national television. For the first time ever, the series also broke ground by focusing on a successful Black man with prejudices.

BERLINDA'S MARRIAGE

After the show ended, Tolbert enjoyed acting success and became a wife when she married Bob Reid. Reid was a journalist she met in 1979 while in Atlanta.

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She was in the city filming a television show while Reid worked for NBC. A snowstorm started as fate would have it, forcing Tolbert to remain in Atlanta for a few days longer.

She and Reid had an instant connection when they met and started dating. Eleven days after they met, the couple decided to tie the knot on Valentine's Day in Rhode Island.

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LIVING SEPARATE LIVES

Soon after the wedding, the actress had to return to Los Angeles while her husband stayed away for weeks at a time. Even though he'd gotten a transfer after their marriage, he was unable to stay in LA for long periods.

It took two years before the couple decided to relocate to New York to be together. Sadly, the move left Tolbert's acting pool dry, and she struggled to find financially worthy work.

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REUNITING

Eventually, Tolbert decided to move back to Los Angeles, and for the next four years of their marriage, the couple had to commute between the East and West Coast. In 1986, Reid and his wife decided they'd had enough.

The pair concluded that they didn't want to have a long-distance relationship and chose to live together in New York. This change made the couple realize how much they wanted to spend time together.

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TOLBERT'S OTHER ACTING ROLES

By then, the actress had featured in many other films and television series after "The Jeffersons" concluded. She starred in "The Teenage Watch," "ER," "Sabrina," and "The Army Show."

Then in 2007, she appeared in "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which is her last known television role. A few years later, in 2011, Tolbert starred in the indie film "Last Ride on the Midwest Pacific."

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BERLINDA'S RETIREMENT

But by 2013, she was ready to take a break. Tolbert told Jet Magazine that she was taking a temporary break from acting to care for her parents. She commended them as her support system and the reason for her success.

Sadly, her father became ill and passed away, and then in 2018, Tolbert took another break from acting because her mother needed medical and physical attention. She later revealed that being away from acting was difficult for her.

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She confessed that she loved and always would love acting but had no regrets. She revealed that she chose to take a break because she only had one mother and one father and wanted to take care of them.

FIGHTING FOR HER NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL

Tolbert has not returned to screens but has remained active in her community. In September 2021, WBTV revealed that some of Charlotte's oldest communities were fighting to keep an old school in the neighborhood open after the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District school board wanted to close it.

The Cherry Neighborhood was concerned that the board wanted to sell the Morgan School, which they'd asked to own for over three decades! The school was built in 1925 for Black students.

The school was designated as a local historical landmark. Tolbert was one of the people fighting the sale as she had grown up in the neighborhood.

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