Skip to main content
Select Source:

Thigpen, Lynne 1948–2003

Lynne Thigpen 19482003

Actress

Began Career as a Teacher

Changed Rotes to Avoid Typecasting

Became Popular Host and Voice Star

Selected works

Sources

Called probably the busiest Black Actress around in a 1992 issue of Essence, Lynne Thigpen maintained an active presence on stage, screen, and television during her more than 25 years in the profession. She is one of the few actresses who is readily recognizable to audiences of all ages, since her work ranges from the childrens television program of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, to Tony award-winning performances in plays such as Wendy Wassersteins An American Daughter, to roles in television dramas such as The District.

Began Career as a Teacher

Thigpen was born in Joliet, Illinois, on December 22, 1948. One of the first roles in Thigpens life occurred during her childhood in Joliet, when she changed her first name. I was born Cherlynne but I kept getting Cheryl Lynne, and in those days nobody was called Cher, she told the Wall Street Journal. I had a hard enough last name to deal with. I got Thige-pen, Fig pen, Pig pen. I didnt want to have to fight for my first name too.

Thigpen grew up with an interest in creative pursuits, but acting was not her first love. I guess I liked drawing, learning to write and recess, she said in an interview with WGBH, the Boston PBS television station, about her childhood pursuits. By the time she was in high school she was very active in various types of performing. I wasnt shy, she added in the interview. I was into everything. Theatre club, debate club, a cappella club; always a singer and always a performer. She also told WGBH that she gained a lot of confidence in her ability to succeed in whatever she did from her English and theater teacher at Joliet Central High School, Carol Brandt. She thought her students could do anything, Thigpen said about Brandt. Nobodys ever done that, she would say. Try it. Try it all.

After graduating high school Thigpen attended the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where she majored in English and speech. She also got her teaching certification and taught high school English for a short stint before her teaching career was sidetracked when she won an acting fellowship to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and she began a masters program. She had barely begun the program, however, before she decided that maybe she should get right into the trenches of her chosen craft. After one semester, she gave up her fellowship, packed it all up, and moved to New York to try a career in acting. Her talent did not take long to be recognized, and after a mere three months of looking for work she landed a role in the popular musical Godspell, which later led to a role in the 1973 film version as well.

Changed Rotes to Avoid Typecasting

Not content with mere success, Thigpen dropped out of the Godspell production after two years while it was still running on Broadway, despite having no other acting offers. I had no idea if Id work again, she told the Wall Street Journal. Nobody had any idea who I

At a Glance

Born on December 22, 1948, in Joliet, IL; died on March 12, 2003, in Los Angeles, CA. Education: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, BA and teaching certificate, c. 1970, MA work, a 1971.

Career: High school English teacher, 1970s; theatrical actor, 19712003; film actor, 19732003; television actor, 19812003.

Awards: Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for Fences, 1986; Obie Awards for Boesman and Lena, 1992, and jar the Floor, 1999; Tony Award for An American Daughter, 1996.

was really, but I knew I couldnt do Godspell for the rest of my life, and if that was what a career was Id go back to teaching.

Thigpen eventually found other work as a musical performer in stage productions such as Tintypes, for which she earned a Tony nomination. Her success in Tintypes actually convinced her to steer her career away from musical venues. As she said in the Wall Street Journal, Id go out for straight acting roles and Id get Oh, shes a singer. It took a while to turn that around. She soon proved that she didnt need songs to make an impact on stage, winning an Obie award for her portrayal of an itinerant South African woman in Athol Fugards Boesman and Lena. Later she was honored with a Los Angeles Critics Award for her role opposite James Earl Jones in August Wilsons Fences.

Throughout her career Thigpen was careful not to allow herself to be typecast. Just as she ventured away from musicals after Tintypes, she began looking for comedies after her heavy dramatic turns in Fences and Boesman and Lena. Especially on television, she seamlessly shifted between sitcoms and serious drama, with recurring roles in the daytime soap opera All My Children as well as frequent appearances in lighter fare such as The Cosby Show, Dear John, and Roseanne. On L.A. Law she appeared frequently in the same role as a tough-minded district attorney, and she also appeared regularly as a judge on Law and Order. Her last television work would be on the CBS show The District, where she played record keeper Ella Mae Farmer, who becomes involved with a team of police officers out to make Washington, D.C. safer. Film work for Thigpen has also run the gamut from drama to comedy, including roles in popular films such as The Warriors, Tootsie, The Paper, Lean on Me, Bob Roberts, and most recently in the 2000 remake of Shaft, and alongside Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in Anger Management.

Became Popular Host and Voice Star

Thigpens longest running stint was on PBS, where for over six seasons she played the chief on the popular television game show for children called Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? (formerly known as Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?). She was nominated four times for Emmys as Outstanding Performer in a Daytime Childrens Television Series for the popular show, which taught children about various places and eras in the world. The role was a natural for Thigpen due to her long-standing interest in geography and cartography. She had many framed maps on walls in her home, and always had maps of the United States and the world on hand when shes out in public so that she could answer questions posed to her by young fans who often spotted her.

Initially, Thigpen was wary of joining the cast of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? because, as she related to WGBH, As an actress, why would I want to do a game show? But my agent kept saying, wait, theres more. Its based on this computer game, which I knew. And I really wanted to see how they would make that computer game into a television show. Thigpen also showed her endurance as an actress for the show, which demanded she tape 50 episodes in just three months.

In 1995 Thigpen was named associate artistic director of the Circle Repertory Company in New York City, along with Austin Pendleton. But a few months later she decided not to take the job, because she felt it would take too much time and effort away from her acting. Her acting reached yet another high point in 1997, when she won a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a play for her role as an African-American Jewish feminist in An American Daughter.

Thigpens voice alone was familiar to audiences thanks to her frequent appearances on The Garrison Keillor Show on the radio, as well as her narration of PBS documentaries such as Americas War on Poverty, The Making of a Doctor, Making a Better Buck, and Black America: Facing the Millennium. She was also often heard narrating famous books on tape. Among others, she narrated Tar Baby, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Paradise all written by Toni Morrison. Black Issues Book Review said her reading of Tar Baby insinuates the subtle conflicts [of] Morrisons novel. And Library Journal wrote of Thigpens reading of Song of Solomon, Lynne Thigpen was born to tell the authors stories, catching every lyrical note and each painful cry. A perfect marriage of author and reader. Thigpen has read books for other authors too, including her rendition of The Trials of Nikki Hill, by Christopher Darden and Dick Lochte, which Library Journal called solid and uniformly first-rate throughout, and Sarney: A Life Remembered, by Gary Paulsen, which Booklist said she read with sensitivity, delineating all the characters so they are recognizable and memorable.

Looking back at what she had accomplished, Thigpen told the Wall Street Journal, I wanted to be a working actor and I think Ive achieved that. I wanted to do what everyone else does with their jobs: make money, put it in the bank, buy a house, pay bills, make a living doing what I love. With a host of successful endeavors in her past and a bunch of plans for her future to exploit a wide range of acting opportunities, Thigpens acting career was brought to an abrupt end. On March 12, 2003, Thigpen unexpectedly had a heart attack and died. Morgan Freeman, who knew Thigpen from their theater days told Entertainment Weekly, Thigpen was just one of those people whose work you really know and admire. The world will miss such a versatile and talented actress.

Selected works

Film

Godspell, 1973.

Tootsie, 1982.

Lean on Me, 1989.

Article 99, 1992.

Bob Roberts, 1992.

Bicentennial Man, 1999.

An American Daughter, 2000.

Shaft, 2000.

Novicaine, 2001.

Anger Management, 2003.

Television series

Gimme A Break, NBC, 1981.

All My Children, ABC, 1983, 19932000.

thirtysomething, ABC, 1987.

The Cosby Show, NBC, 1989.

Law & Order, NBC, 1990.

L.A. Law, NBC, 199192.

Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, PBS, 199198.

The District, CBS, 200003.

Theatrical performances

Godspell, Off-Broadway, 197173.

Working, 46th Street Theater, 1978.

But Never Jam Today, Longacre Theater, 1979.

Tin Types, John Golden Theater, 198081.

Fences, 46th Street Theater, 198788.

A Month of Sundays, Ritz Theater, 1987.

Boesman and Lena, Manhattan Theater Club, Stage I, 1992.

An American Daughter, Cort Theater, 1997.

Jar the Floor, Second Stage Theater, 1999.

Sources

Periodicals

American Theatre, May-June 2003, p. 19.

Back Stage, February 10, 1995, p. 3; July 14, 1995, p. 3.

Black Issues Book Review, May-June 2002, p. 26.

Booklist, February 15, 1999, p. 1084; January 1, 2000, p. 948; November 15, 2000, p. 657; June 1, 2001, p. 1908.

Boston Globe, September 26,1993, Section BGM, p. 5.

Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1992, Section 5, p. 3.

Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 1992, p. 12.

Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 2003, p. 12.

Essence, June 1992, p. 48.

Hollywood Reporter, March 14, 2003, p. 8.

Library Journal, November 1, 1999, p. 144; February 15, 2000, p. 216.

New York, June 16, 1997, p. 15.

Variety, June 12, 2000, p. 13.

Wall Street Journal, May 30, 1997, p. A16.

On-line

Lynne Thigpen, WGBH Television, www.wgbh.org (September 18, 2003).

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials provided by the Michael Thomas Agency, 305 Madison Ave., Suite 4419, New York, N.Y. 10165.

Ed Decker and Catherine V. Donaldson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Thigpen, Lynne 1948–2003." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Thigpen, Lynne 1948–2003." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thigpen-lynne-1948-2003

"Thigpen, Lynne 1948–2003." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thigpen-lynne-1948-2003

Thigpen, Lynne 19(?)(?)–

Lynne Thigpen 19(?)(?)

Actress

At a Glance

Avoided Typecasting

Became Popular PBS Star

Sources

Called probably the busiest Black Actress around in a 1992 issue of Essence, Lynne Thigpen has maintained an active presence on stage, screen, and television during her more than 25 years in the profession. She is one of the few actresses who is readily recognizable to audiences of all ages, since her work ranges from the childrens television program of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, to Tony award-winning performances in plays such as Wendy Wasser-steins An American Daughter, to recurring roles in television dramas such as Law and Order.

One of the first roles in Thigpens life occurred during her childhood in Joliet, Illinois, when she changed her first name. I was born Cherlynne but I kept getting Cheryl Lynne, and in those days nobody was called Cher, she told the Wall Street Journal. I had a hard enough last name to deal with. I got Thige-pen, Fig pen, Pig pen. I didnt want to have to fight for my first name too.

Thigpen grew up with an interest in creative pursuits, but acting was not her first love. I guess I liked drawing, learning to write and recess, she said in an interview with WGBH, the Boston PBS television station, about her childhood pursuits. By the time she was in high school she was very active in various types of performing. I wasnt shy, she added in the interview. I was into everything. Theatre club, debate club, a cappella club.; always a singer and always a performer. She also told WGBH that she gained a lot of confidence in her ability to succeed in whatever she did from her English and theatre teacher at Joliet Central High School, Carol Brandt. She thought her students could do anything, Thigpen said about Brandt. Nobodys ever done that, she would say. Try it. Try it all.

After graduating high school Thigpen attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, where she majored in English and speech. Her teaching career was sidetracked when she won an acting fellowship to the University, and she began a masters program before deciding that maybe she get right into the trenches of her chosen craft. After one semester, she gave up her fellowship and went to New York City in search of acting jobs. Her talent did not take long to be recognized, and after a mere three months of looking for work she landed a role in the popular musical Godspell, which

At a Glance

Born December 22 in Joliet, IL; one of three daugh ters. Education: University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

Briefly taught high school English; gave up acting fellow-ship for masters degree to pursue acting full-time in New York City; landed first stage role in Godspell; received Tony Award nomination for role in Tintypes, 1980; appeared in recurring roles on television in All My Children, thirtysomething, L.A. Law, and Law and Or-der; has performed on radio in The Garrison Keillor Show; has narrated numerous PBS documentaries; earned four Emmy Award nominations as popular cast member of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (later changed to Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?) on PBS television, 1990s.

Awards: Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, Fences, 1988; Obie Award, Boesman and Lena, 1992; Tony Award, An American Daughter, 1996.

Addresses: Home New York, New York; ProfessionalMichael Thomas Agency, 305 Madison Avenue, Suite 4419, New York, New York 10165, (212) 867-0303.

later led to a role in the 1973 film version as well.

Avoided Typecasting

Not content with mere success, Thigpen dropped out of the Godspell production after two years while it was still running on Broadway, despite having no other acting offers. I had no idea if Id work again, she told the Wall Street Journal. Nobody had any idea who I was really, but I knew I couldnt do Godspell for the rest of my life, and if that was what a career was Id go back to teaching.

Thigpen eventually found other work as a musical performer in stage productions such as Tintypes, for which she earned a Tony nomination. Her success in Tintypes actually convinced her to steer her career away from musical venues. As she said in the Wall Street Journal. Id go out for straight acting roles and Id get Oh, shes a singer. It took a while to turn that around. She soon proved that she did not need songs to make an impact on stage, winning an Obie award for her portrayal of an itinerant South African woman in Athol Fugards Bozeman and Lena. Later she was honored with a Los Angeles Critics Award for her role opposite James Earl Jones in August Wilsons Fences.

Throughout her career Thigpen has been careful not to allow herself to be typecast. Just as she ventured away from musicals after Tintypes, she began looking for comedies after her heavy dramatic turns in Fences and Bozeman and Lena. Especially on television, she has seamlessly shifted between sitcoms and serious drama, with recurring roles in the daytime soap opera All My Children as well as frequent appearances in lighter fare such as The Cosby Show, Dear John, and Roseanne. On L.A. Law she appeared frequently in the same role as a tough-minded district attorney, and she has also appeared regularly as a judge on Law and Order. Film work for Thigpen has also run the gamut from drama to comedy, including roles in popular films such as The Warriors, Tootsie, The Paper, Lean on Me, and Bob Roberts.

Became Popular PBS Star

Thigpens longest running stint has been on PBS, where for over six seasons she has played the chief on the popular television game show for children called Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? (formerly known as Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?). She has been nominated four times for Emmys as Outstanding Performer in a Daytime Childrens Television Series for this popular show, which teaches children about various places and eras in the world. The role was a natural for Thigpen due to her long-standing interest in geography and cartography. She currently has many framed maps on walls in her home, and always has maps of the United States and the world on hand when shes out in public so that she can answers questions posed to her by young fans who often spot her.

Initially, Thigpen was wary of joining the cast of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?. As an actress, why would I want to do a game show?, she related to WGBH. But my agent kept saying, wait, theres more. Its based on this computer game, which I knew. And I really wanted to see how they would make that computer game into a television show. Thigpen has also shown her endurance as an actress for the show, which demands her to tape 50 episodes in just three months.

In 1995 Thigpen was named associate artistic director of the Circle Repertory Company in New York City, along with Austin Pendleton. But a few months later she decided not totake the job, because she felt it would take too much time and effort away from her acting. Her acting reached yet another high point in 1996, when she won a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a play for her role as an African-American Jewish feminist in An American Daughter.

Thigpens voice alone is familiar to audiences thanks to her frequent appearances on The Garrison Keillor Show on radio, as well as her narration of PBS documentaries such as Americas War on Poverty, The Making of a Doctor, Making a Better Buck, and Black America: Facing the Millennium. Her plans for the future remain as always; to exploit a wide range of acting opportunities. I wanted to be a working actor and I think Ive achieved that, she told the Wall Street Journal. I wanted to do what everyone else does with their jobs: make money, put it in the bank, buy a house, pay bills, make a living doing what I love.

Selected plays/musicals

The Magic Show, 1976.

Tintypes, 1980-81.

Fences, 1988.

Boesman and Lena, 1992.

An American Daughter, 1996.

Selected films

Godspell, 1973.

Tootsie, 1982.

Lean on Me, 1989.

Article 99, 1992.

Bob Roberts, 1992.

Selected television series

The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd

The Cosby Show

L.A. Law

All My Children

thirtysomething

Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?

Law and Order

Sources

Periodicals

Back Stage, February 10, 1995, p. 3; July 14, 1995, p.3.

Boston Globe, September 26, 1993, Section BGM, p. 5.

Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1992, Section 5, p. 3.

Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 1992, p. 12.

Essence, June 1992, p. 48.

New York, June 16, 1997, p. 15.

Wall Street Journal, May 30, 1997, p. A16.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the WGBH television Web site on the Internet, as well as publicity materials of the Michael Thomas Agency, 305 Madison Ave., Suite 4419, New York, N.Y. 10165.

Ed Decker

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Thigpen, Lynne 19(?)(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Thigpen, Lynne 19(?)(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thigpen-lynne-19

"Thigpen, Lynne 19(?)(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/thigpen-lynne-19