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Debbi Morgan, Unveiled

Actress Talks Life, Love and Healing from Abuse

Shantella Y. Sherman | 9/7/2013, 11:25 a.m.
Famed actress Debbi Morgan's new one-woman production "The Monkey on My Back" offers an intense journey through her legacy of ...
Debbi Morgan

"That's part of the reason I have to tell this. Women have to hear this and they have to get it. Because it is not just about what they are going through, they have children. If I can prevent even one person from going through decades of turmoil – because it took me decades, literally, to get to this point – it is worth it. It doesn’t matter about people saying ‘Oh, my God that happened to her!’ That’s not important. If I can impact one person's life, if I can change anyone's life, it is worth it to me," Morgan added.

Born in Dunn, N.C., Morgan and her family moved to New York City during her childhood, where she would attend, Aquinas, a Catholic school in a working-class Irish neighborhood in the Bronx. Morgan's foray into acting began with the national tour of the Ron Milner play "What the Wine Sellers Buy," and moved swiftly into a guest role on Norman Lear’s "Good Times" as Samantha, a girlfriend of Jimmie Walker's character, J.J.

"I was so young," Morgan said of those early roles. "Now that I am writing the book, if ever I am up late and a re-run of 'What’s Happening' or 'Good Times' comes on television, I look at it through different eyes. I remember what I was going through at that time in my life and how I always wore this mask and people believed that things with me were really wonderful. I also think, wow, I really am a good actress.”

As for the Angela Hubbard role that for three decades has become a sort of alter ego – an ultimate mask – Morgan said the character, along with Darnell Williams' portrayal of Jesse Hubbard, resonates with audiences as the quintessential example of Black love and romance.

"Darnell has this running joke that only the Black folks in Pine Valley stay together," she said. "The fact is, on soaps you always see people hopping in and out of bed with different people and they get married five or six times and marry the same person two or three times. I think that is why we connected so well with audiences because there was that endearing love that no matter what our struggles were, even if they tore us apart, we struggled through them.

"We would always come back to each other," Morgan continued. "It was such a wonderful image and we could be such wonderful role models as an African-American couple. I think that was why the characters have endured. If anything ever happened to break us up on the show, it wouldn’t be permanent. We would always make our way back to each other."

With her mask now confidently tossed aside, Debbi Morgan has come to reveal her true self. She is glowing, smiling and laughing freely about Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," and the happiness she derives from time with her husband, best friend Karol and her aunt Shirley. Perhaps the revelation of removing masks is that, at least in this case, there is far more beauty – and power – lying beneath it.

"The Monkey on My Back" premieres Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Publick Playhouse. Check local listings for additional information.

Shantella Sherman, Assistant Editor for The Washington Informer, is an historian and author of the novel, "Fester." She is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska and studies intersections of race, medicine and gender in the American eugenics movement.