Tichina Arnold stars in the top-rated, critically acclaimed television sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, portraying a 1980s version of comedian Chris Rock's real-life mother. The no-nonsense, working-class New York City household depicted on the show is not very different from Arnold's own background as a kid in South Ozone Park, Queens. "The TV family just clicked," Arnold said of her first days on the job in an interview with New York Times journalist Felicia R. Lee. "It was like we had the same memories."
Arnold was born in 1971 as the first of two daughters in that Queens household. Her father was a New York City police officer, and her mother worked for the municipal department of sanitation. The Arnolds shared more than a few similarities with the fictional one the actress would later head on television, especially their income level. "My parents made just enough for me not to get free lunch," she told Sherri McGee McCovey in Essence. Her mother also chose to have her bused to a predominantly white school in Flushing, another part of Queens, where most of her classmates came from the predominantly Jewish surrounding neighborhood.
Arnold's mother enrolled her in dance school before she started kindergarten, at the age of four. "I was a child with a lot of energy and my mom said, ‘We've got to channel this energy. You're getting on my nerves,’" she recalled in an interview with Jet contributor Aldore D. Collier. Singing and acting came naturally to Arnold, and she flourished at her school's music and drama departments. She began auditioning for professional jobs, and won her first acting role in a 1983 made-for-television movie about clinical depression, The Brass Ring.
Arnold's breakout role came in 1986 when she was cast in the film version of a popular off-Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors, which was an updated version of a campy 1950s horror movie about a menacing talking plant that grows enormous thanks to a steady diet of human blood. The stage remake added a trio of young female singers who provided narration and commentary, with New York Times critic Janet Maslin noting that the trio of pre-teens "sashay through the film as…one of the only known Greek choruses to perform doo-wop material."
Despite that auspicious start, Arnold struggled to move forward with her career as she progressed from her teens into young adulthood. She appeared on two ABC daytime dramas, Ryan's Hope and All My Children, and appeared in a few little-seen films or briefly in more successful projects, such as a ticket seller in the 1991 Bette Midler-Woody Allen comedy Scenes from a Mall. She finally landed a much more visible part in 1992 when she began appearing as Pam James on the hit Fox television sitcom Martin alongside comic Martin Lawrence. When the show ended in 1997, she once again found herself searching for meaningful roles. Her credits for the year 2000 provide a glimpse into her working life: she appeared in the box-office hit Big Momma's House as well as a critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated HBO film, Dancing in September, which starred Nicole Ari Parker as a beleaguered Hollywood studio executive. A year later, Arnold won a recurring role on the UPN sitcom One on One as Nicole Barnes.
Arnold was invited to audition for the role of Rochelle Rock, the television version of comedian Chris Rock's real-life mother Rose, for a planned new series on UPN, Everybody Hates Chris. She was only half-interested in the job, and was hoping to land another role in a more blockbuster television project. When she arrived at the audition, she was surprised to find Rock there himself—somewhat of a rarity in television, where celebrity producers are often attached to projects but uninvolved in the gritty business of casting. "I found out later he had already made up his mind to use me for the part," Arnold told McCovey in the Essence article.
Everybody Hates Chris debuted on UPN for its fall 2005 line-up to excellent reviews. Its storylines take place in the early 1980s just as Rock's television family moves from public housing to an apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn—a dynamic, predominantly African-American community best known as the setting for some of Spike Lee's earlier films. Arnold played mother to the 13-year-old television version of Chris Rock (Tyler James Williams), with former professional football player Terry Crews as her husband Julius. Like Arnold herself, the television Chris has a long daily bus trip to and from a middle school in mostly white—in this case, Italian-American—neighborhood elsewhere. And as with her own upbringing, the hardworking Julius and Rochelle's struggle to provide a stable home for their children is at the forefront of most household battles between parents and offspring. "I pull from my mom for the character—a woman doing her best to keep her family together," Arnold told Lee, the New York Times writer. "Our show takes place during a time when there were no time-outs, there were spankings."
Arnold's character was singled out by some reviewers, nearly all of whom heaped praise on the sitcom and heralded it as a newer, more realistic version of The Cosby Show. "The most touching aspect of ‘Chris’ is its depiction of the parents," noted the New Yorker's television critic, Nancy Franklin. "Chris's mother is a piece of work: a fount of colorful expressions describing what she'll do to her kids if they don't behave, and openly proud of her family's relative prosperity." Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen called Everybody Hates Chris "poignant, pointed, and raucous," and "the best sitcom ever…to air on UPN."
That network home changed in 2006 with the show's second season, when UPN merged with the WB (Warner Brothers) network to become a new broadcast entity, CW. The show's Thursday-night slot was changed to Sunday then finally Monday nights, and ratings took a hit as a consequence. Arnold could be assured of at least a few more seasons on the show thanks to its early success, however, and her higher profile had already brought some new acting jobs, such as a role as Martin Lawrence's wife in the 2007 comedy Wild Hogs. In her leaner years, she had started her own Web-based business, China Moon Rags, which made hair accessories. The extra income helped provide for her daughter Alijah, born in 2004, whose father was songwriter and music producer Carvin Haggins. Arnold and Haggins had had an on-again, off-again relationship that began when Arnold recorded some demo tracks years before, and though they were no longer romantically involved they remained cordial and committed co-parents. Arnold is still close to Tisha Campbell, her fellow Little Shop of Horrors castmate, who is now Tisha Campbell-Martin and another Fox/UPN/CW sitcom veteran. "When we'd see each other at auditions, I would say, ‘If I don't get it, I hope you do.’ And she would say the same to me," Arnold told Collier in the Jet interview about their decades-long friendship. "That's where it started…. You see people come and go, but she is not one of them."
At a Glance …
Born June 28, 1971, in Queens, NY; daughter of a police officer and a municipal employee; married once; children: daughter Alijah Kai Haggins (with Carvin Haggins, a songwriter and music producer).
Career: Actor, 1983-; China Moon Rags, a hair-accessories company, founder.
Addresses: Office—c/o Chris Rock Entertainment, 5555 Melrose Ave., Bldg. 213, Rm. 320, Hollywood, CA 90038. Web—www.chinamoonrag.com.
Little Shop of Horrors, 1986.
Starlight: A Musical Movie, 1988.
How I Got Into College, 1989.
Scenes from a Mall, 1991.
Fakin' Da Funk, 1997.
A Luv Tale, 1999.
Big Momma's House, 2000.
Dancing in September, 2000.
Yo Alien, 2002.
Getting Played, 2005.
Wild Hogs, 2007.
The Brass Ring (movie), 1983.
House of Dies Drear (movie), 1984.
One on One, 2001-05.
Everybody Hates Chris, 2005.
Daily Variety, June 8, 2006, p. A4.
Entertainment Weekly, September 9, 2005, p. 94.
Essence, March 2006, p. 70.
Jet, January 30, 2006, p. 52.
New Yorker, November 7, 2005, p. 146.
New York Times, December 19, 1986; October 30, 2006.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), September 21, 2005, p. 35.
USA Today, September 22, 2005, p. 1D.
"Arnold, Tichina." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/arnold-tichina
"Arnold, Tichina." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/arnold-tichina
Arnold, Tichina 1971–
ARNOLD, Tichina 1971–
(Tichina R. Arnold)
Born June 28, 1971, in New York, NY; married Tajuan Brewster (an Olympic boxer). Education: Attended High School of Music and Art, New York, NY.
Contact—York & Harper, 7364 1/2 Melrose, Los Angeles, CA 90046.
Actress and singer.
Emmy Award nomination, outstanding ingenue in a daytime drama series, 1988, Soap Opera Digest Award nomination, outstanding female newcomer: daytime, 1989, for Ryan's Hope; Image Award, best supporting actress in a comedy series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1996, for Martin.
Television Appearances; Series:
Zena Brown, Ryan's Hope, ABC, 1987–89.
Sharla Valentine, All My Children, ABC, 1988–89.
Pamela "Pam" James, Martin, Fox, 1992–97.
Nicole Barnes, a recurring role, One on One, UPN, 2001–2003.
Rochelle, Everybody Hates Chris, UPN, 2005.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
(As Tichina R. Arnold) Delores, "Theo's Women," The Cosby Show, NBC, 1989.
Leona, "Out of the Half–Light," Law & Order, NBC, 1990.
Host, Soul Train, 1994.
Carla, "Soul Mate to Cellmate," The Jamie Foxx Show, The WB, 1998.
"Ghost Town," Pacific Blue, USA Network, 1999.
Mrs. Murphy, "Norm vs. the Boxer," The Norm Show, ABC, 1999.
"He's All Crass, She's All Class!," Rendez–View, 2001.
Adina, "Past Imperfect," Soul Food, Showtime, 2002.
"Martin Lawrence: Comic Trip," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
"Martin Lawrence," E! True Hollywood Story, 2003.
Nicole, "Hi Mom," Eve, 2003.
Punk'd, MTV, 2004.
Kiara, "Thanksgiving," Listen Up, CBS, 2004.
Nicole Barnes, "Cap and Frown," One on One, UPN, 2005.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Mary, The Brass Ring, 1983.
Pesty, The House of Dies Drear, PBS, 1984.
Susie, Perfect Prey (also known as When the Bough Breaks II), HBO, 1998.
Television Appearances; Specials:
GED—Get It!, PBS, 1993.
Circus of the Stars Goes to Disneyland, CBS, 1994.
Competitor, Superstar American Gladiators, ABC, 1995.
Interviewee, Intimate Portrait: Tisha Campbell–Martin (documentary), Lifetime, 2003.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
The 14th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, ABC, 1987.
Song performer, The 17th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, ABC, 1990.
Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, syndicated, 1996.
The 10th Annual Soul Train Music Awards, WB, 1996.
Crystal, Little Shop of Horrors, Warner Bros., 1986.
Evelyn Ruth, Starlight: A Musical Movie, 1988.
Vera Cook, How I Got into College, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1989.
Ticket seller, Scenes from a Mall, Buena Vista, 1991.
Tracy, Fakin' Da Funk, 1997.
A Luv Tale, 1999.
Robber, Dancing in September, Warner Home Video, 2000.
Ritha, Big Momma's House (also known as Big Mamas Haus), Twentieth Century–Fox, 2000.
Aisha, Civil Brand, Lions Gate Films, 2002.
Ray Goods, Yo Alien, Daughters 2 Feed, 2002.
Desiree, On the One, Cataland, 2004.
Getting Played, 2005.
Also appeared in Cuttin' Da' Mustard.
(New York City stage debut) The Me Nobody Knows, Billie Holiday Theatre, New York City, 1982.
Appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, New York City; The Haggadah, Joseph Papp Theatre, New York City; Topsy Turvy, New York City; Really Rosie, Music Hall, Detroit, MI.
Appeared in The Buddy Holly Story, U.S. cities.
"Arnold, Tichina 1971–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/arnold-tichina-1971
"Arnold, Tichina 1971–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved April 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/arnold-tichina-1971