Skip to main content
Select Source:

Rowell, Victoria 1962(?)–

Victoria Rowell 1962(?)

At a Glance

Grounded through Ballet

Fell into Acting

A Happy Workaholic

Sources

Actress

Although not yet a star, Victoria Rowell is one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood. She plays Drucilla Barber Williams on CBSs daytime drama The Young and the Restless, as well as Dr. Amanda Bently Livingston on CBSs Diagnosis Mu rde r. Add to that several roles in feature films and two children to raise, and the outcome is exhaustingnot to mention the nine months she did it all with a baby on the way. Im a workaholic, she confessed to Soap Opera Magazines Robert Waldron, and there is a reason for it. Rowell did not have it easy growing up as a foster child, but she was raised with the ethic that hard work paid off. And she always had someone who believed in her.

Victoria Rowell was born in Portland, Maine, in the early 1960s. Her mother was Dorothy Rowell, a white woman; Rowells father, a man named Wilson, was black. She never knew him. It is unclear why Dorothy gave Victoria up after 16 days; however, it has been suggested that it was due to pressure from her white family. At first Rowell went to live with a white foster family, but was removed from the home to join a black family when she was two and a half. Robert and Agatha

Armstead, whom Rowell came to consider as her own family, had also taken in Rowells two older sisters, Sheree and Lori. Rowell was unaware of the existence of her three half brothers until she was a teenager. They were the products of two other fathers and had been raised by their dads.

Rowell met her biological mother on three occasions before Dorothy died around 1985. But Agatha Armstead was mom. My foster mother was an amazing woman, she told N. F. Mendoza in the Los Angeles Times. She was a self-sufficient widow who had already raised ten of her own children. When she had the three of us, she was a senior citizen. She also ran a 60-acre farm. Armstead was the person who made Rowell feel love and support as she grew up in little Lebanon, Maine.

Armstead discovered Rowells interest in ballet at a very early age and she encouraged it. By age eight, without any formal training or appropriate clothing, Rowell received the Ford Foundation Scholarship to the Cambridge School of Ballet in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Armstead arranged for Rowell to live with relatives in order to retain her scholarship, but it still meant moving

At a Glance

Born c 1960, in Portland, ME; foster child of Robert and Agatha Armstead; married Tom Fahey, 1989 (divorced, c 1990), Wynton Marsalis, c. 1996; children: Maya (first marriage), Jasper Armstrong (second marriage).Education: Graduated from Shaw Preparatory School, Boston, MA, 1979. Eight years of formal dance training at the Cambridge School of Ballet in Cambridge, MA.

Began dancing professionally with the American Ballet Theatre Company, 1979; retired from dance in 1983; reentered the field shortly thereafter at the Ballet Hispánico of New York and the Twyla Tharp Workshop; began modeling, c 1984; began acting, 1985; appeared in television shows, including The Cosby Show (recurring role),The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Hermans Head, and Deadly Games, with principal roles in The Young and the Restless, and Diagnosis Murder; appeared in short films, including The Last Set, One Red Rose, ano Dr. Hugo; appeared in feature films, including Leonard 6,The Distinguished Gentleman, Dumb and Dumber, and Barb Wire.

Selected awards: An Emmy nomination, three NAACP Image Awards, and a Soap Opera Digest Award for The Young and the Restless; and an NAACP Image Award nomination for Diagnosis Murder.

Addresses: /c/stBaker-Winokur-Ryder Public Relations, 405 S. Beverly Drive, Fifth Floor, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

to four other foster families to pursue her dream.

Times were often terribly hard for Rowell. As she told People, At times I felt unwelcome, but I did whatever I had to do to keep my ballet scholarship. And, as she assured TV Guide about getting through, Sweat, baby, sweat! I was not raised to sit around thinking coulda, woulda, shoulda. Often times dance and family love was all that kept her going. She explained in Soap Opera Update, If you have something that anchors you, if you have a love of art, or a love of science or a love of sports or music, then that is yours and no one can take that away. I moved to various homes Even though they were interconnected families, I still had to uproot and move, which was difficult. But I always had my ballet slippers. They went everywhere that I went.

Grounded through Ballet

Rowell was often teased by other kids in her new inner city environment for taking ballet. And the ballet school insisted that at 57 Rowell keep her weight under 100 pounds. She recalled to Deborah Gregory in Essence, They told me to lose weight, tuck my hips under or stand taller on point. A black womans body was just unacceptable to them. And to People, Youd be surprised how some of us could go all day eating nothing but string beans.

By the age of 16, after eight years of formal training, Rowell received scholarships both to the School of American Ballet and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She graduated from Bostons private Shaw Preparatory School, where she had a scholarship, in 1979. She then moved to New York and began dancing professionally with the American Ballet Theatre II Company. The early 1980s were a time of partying for the fashionable ballet dancers; although Rowell experimented here and there and enjoyed the nightlife at famous clubs like Studio 54, she was a moderate partier. Many times her friends called her square for not joining in.

Life as a ballerina was a disillusionment to Rowell. As a biracial women, many classical dance roles were denied her, and she was usually segregated to the ethnic roles. Although a series of cross-country tours and an exchange program with the Julliard School of Music gave Rowell the opportunity to explore the United States, the lack of appropriate guidance and the frustration of being overlooked for classical roles inspired her to quit the ABT in 1983, just three years after joining.

After some travel throughout Europe, Rowell decided to return to dance with the Ballet Hispánico of New York and the Twyla Tharp Workshop. During this time a modeling career suddenly opened up for Rowell. Spotted by an agent during a performance, she soon began gracing the pages of Seventeen. I was their stock black model, she told People, Mademoiselle, and several other publications. But in time she chose to accept some guest artist performing arts teaching posts in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Fell into Acting

In 1985 Rowell returned to New York to try her hand at acting; although this had not been a planned career

goal, it seemed to develop naturally out of modeling. She began a lucrative commercial career and appeared in campaigns for Burger King, McDonalds, AT&T, and most recently, Oil of Olay. But the big break came when she auditioned to be one of Bill Cosbys daughters on The Cosby Show.Although she did not get the role, Cosby liked her so much he put her in his feature film Leonard 6. The movie was a flop but Cosby eventually found a spot for the young actress on his, by then, incredibly successful show. Rowell played the mother of Cosbys step-grandaughter played by Raven Symone.

Meanwhile, in 1989, Rowell married Tom Fahey, an airline pilot. Shortly before the birth of their daughter, Maya, Rowell and Fahey divorced. Their blonde, blue-eyed daughterFahey is whitehas caused many an uncomfortable moment when strangers insist she cannot be Rowells daughter. The nurse in the hospital infuriated Rowell by not giving her the baby until she had checked and rechecked the wrist band identification. Being the daughter of a mixed couple herself, Rowell is careful to teach Maya about all of her heritage. When asked her color, Maya responds, black and white. Thats another problem with the foster care system, according to Rowell. At two and a half she was uprooted from the care of a white family because the system felt it would be better for her to grow up in a black family, even though she was just as much white as black.

Mayas birth coincided with Rowells TV success. While she and Maya were visiting Fahey in Los Angeles, Rowells wonderful range on The Cosby Show got her an audition for The Young and the Restless.She got the job and relocated to Los Angeles. At first African American audience members were angry at the negative stereotype that Rowell was putting across as Druci-11a, but she was not bothered. I knew there was going to be a transformation, she explained to Gregory in Essence. It was scripted that Drucilla would turn her life around. She would learn to read and write, get a joband study ballet.

In 1990 Rowell was finally able to give back to the foster care system that had made her so strong. She formed the Rowell Foster Childrens Positive Plan, which sponsors foster children specifically studying ballet, basket-ball, or tennis. Each year eight to ten children receive full scholarships including classes, wardrobe, and excursions. My message to children is to try to find a focal point, an interest in their lives, she explained to Beth Haiken in Soap Opera Update. By offering the children the [program], were offering what hopefully worked for me, which isthis is yours, love it.

In addition, Rowell is a chairperson of the Los Angeles-based Foster Youth Connection, a haven for former foster children who have reached 18, thereby aging out of the system. She also lobbies in Washington, D.C., for the Welfare League of America, actively works for the United Way, the Departments of Social Services in various states, and the Womens Physical Abuse Center in Bermuda.

A Happy Workaholic

As if all that work were not enough, since 1993 Rowell has played pathologist Dr. Amanda Bently Livingston on Diagnosis Murder who, with the shows star Dick Van Dyke and actor Scott Baio, loves to perform detective work on the side.Diagnosis Murder gives Rowell the chance to show off her funny side. I love my night job, she said in her Baker-Winokur-Ryder press materials, I get to hold my own amongst a cast of men. And to Elinor Tatum of the New York Amsterdam News, I really covet that role, being a black actress playing a professional role such as a pathologist.

Rowell has also appeared in movies opposite Eddie Murphy as his lobbyist girlfriend in the Distinguished Gentleman, as an undercover cop in the blockbuster comedy Dumb and Dumber, and as freedom fighter Cora D. in 1996s Barb Wire a film adaptation of the comic book by the same name, which she filmed while pregnant with her second child Jasper. But Rowell likes life this way. In her press material she surmised, Im certain if I stopped working as hard as I do, Id get a fever.

Rowell also has no intention of giving up her day job. Im very happy at Young and the Restless, she assured Mendoza in the Los Angeles Times. I dont see the soap as a vehicle or a step into stardom or features. To me, its all one process. Work is work. The producers at both of her shows have been extremely helpful coordinating her schedule. After several hours in the early morning at Y& R, she troops on over to Diagnosis Murder for another few hours.

She also believes very strongly in family, having that instilled in her by her foster mom. Luckily, Rowells ex-

husband and she have a relationship that allows them to spend time together for Mayas sake. He has been a great father according to Rowell and remains very much a part of their lives. Maya got a stepdad and two stepbrothers when her mother married jazz great Wynton Marsalis. Baby brother Jasper was born just after Christmas in 1996.

Because her foster family experience was such a positive one, Rowell told Tatum that she would like to go back to school andget more involved in the politics and become more knowledgeable in terms of social work. I want to make a difference in foster care Legislatively, I need to get more involved, and I do have a voice as a result of this wonderful gift of being able to act.

Rowell would also like to write a book or a screenplay. And she probably will because someone taught her well. Her foster mother was such a magnificent woman, so full of lifeand so enterprising, Rowell told Gregory. She taught me and my sisters that hard work and being independent are very important in life. Its a motto by which Victoria Rowell lives quite well.

Sources

Periodicals

Amsterdam News (New York), May 25, 1996.

Black Elegance, November/December 1992, p. 42.

Ebony, August 1995.

Essence, September 1995.

Los Angeles Times, February 1,1994, p. F1; September 10, 1995, p. 21.

Maine Sunday Telegram, February 24, 1991.

People, February 1, 1993, pp. 94-95.

Soap Opera Digest, August 16, 1994, p. 29.

Soap Opera Magazine, January 2, 1996.

Soap Opera Update, June 11, 1996.

Total TV, May 18, 1996.

TV Guide, December 10, 1994.

Venice (CA), November/December 1992, pp. 36-37.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from press materials from Baker-Winokur-Ryder Public Relations, 1996.

Joanna Rubiner

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rowell, Victoria 1962(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rowell, Victoria 1962(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rowell-victoria-1962

"Rowell, Victoria 1962(?)–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rowell-victoria-1962

Rowell, Victoria

Victoria Rowell

1960—

Actress, foster care advocate

Victoria Rowell is best known as the actress behind the feisty Drucilla Winters on the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless. But she is so much more than a soap star. Besides her work on television and in movies—not to mention her real-life role as the mother of two children—Rowell has emerged as a leading voice for the needs of children in foster care. To most people, this would seem like a lot of roles for one individual to juggle. For Rowell, it's just the way she has always been. "I'm a workaholic," she confessed to Soap Opera Magazine's Robert Waldron. Judging by her body of work, it's hard to argue with that self-assessment.

Victoria Rowell was born in Portland, Maine, in 1960. Her mother, Dorothy Rowell, was a white woman; her father, a man named Wilson, was black. Rowell never knew him. It is unclear why Dorothy gave Victoria up after sixteen days. According to some sources, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic; others suggest that it was due to pressure from her white family. At first, Rowell went to live with a white foster family, but she was removed from the home to join a black family at age two. Robert and Agatha Armstead, whom Rowell came to consider as her own family, had also taken in Rowell's two older sisters, Sheree and Lori. Rowell was unaware of the existence of her three half-brothers until she was a teenager. They were the products of two other fathers and had been raised by their dads.

Before Dorothy died around 1985, Rowell had the chance to meet her biological mother on three occasions. But she always considered Agatha Armstead her mom. "My foster mother was an amazing woman," she told N. F. Mendoza of the Los Angeles Times. "She was a self-sufficient widow who had already raised ten of her own children. When she had the three of us, she was a senior citizen. She also ran a 60-acre farm." Armstead was the person who made Rowell feel love and support as she grew up in little Lebanon, Maine.

Loved Ballet

At a very early age, Armstead discovered Rowell's interest in ballet, and she encouraged the girl to work hard at it. By age eight, without any formal training or appropriate clothing, Rowell received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to the Cambridge School of Ballet in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Armstead arranged for Rowell to live with relatives to retain her scholarship, but it still meant moving to four other foster families to pursue her dream.

That time was often hard for Rowell. As she told People, "At times I felt unwelcome, but … I did whatever I had to do to keep my ballet scholarship." Often, dance and a supportive family were all that kept her going. She said in a Soap Opera Update interview, "If you have something that anchors you, if you have a love of art, or a love of science or a love of sports or music, then that is yours and no one can take that away. I moved to various homes…. Even though they were interconnected families, I still had to uproot and move, which was difficult. But I always had my ballet slippers. They went everywhere that I went."

Rowell was often teased by other kids in her new inner city environment for taking ballet. And the ballet school insisted that at five feet, seven inches, Rowell had to keep her weight under one hundred pounds. She recalled to Deborah Gregory in Essence, "They told me to lose weight, tuck my hips under or stand taller on point. A Black woman's body was just unacceptable to them."

By the age of sixteen, after eight years of formal training, Rowell was offered scholarships to both the School of American Ballet and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. With the help of yet another scholarship, she graduated from Boston's private Shaw Preparatory School in 1979. She then moved to New York and began dancing professionally with the American Ballet Theatre II Company. During the early 1980s, Rowell engaged in the party life that was common among the fashionable ballet dancers, including outings to famous clubs such as Studio 54. But unlike some of her peers, she did so in moderation; many times her friends called her "square" for not joining in.

Rowell eventually became disillusioned by the ballet life. As a biracial woman, she was denied many classical dance roles, and she was usually cast in ethnic parts. Even though a series of cross-country tours and an exchange program with the Julliard School of Music gave Rowell the opportunity to explore the United States, she became frustrated with constantly being overlooked for major roles. Fed up, she quit the American Ballet Theatre II Company in 1983, just four years after joining.

Launched Acting Career with Cosby Audition

After some travel throughout Europe, Rowell decided to return to dance with the Ballet Hispanico of New York and the Twyla Tharp Workshop. During this time a modeling career suddenly opened up for Rowell. Spotted by an agent during a performance, she soon began gracing the pages of Seventeen. "I was their stock black model," she told People, Mademoiselle, and several other publications. But in time she chose to accept some guest artist teaching posts in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

At a Glance …

Born Victoria Lynn Rowell on May 10, 1960, in Portland, ME; raised by various foster parents; married Tom Fahey, 1989 (divorced, c. 1990); children: Maya (with Fahey); Jasper Armstrong (with Wynton Marsalis). Education: Graduated from Shaw Preparatory School, Boston, MA, 1979; eight years of formal dance training at the Cambridge School of Ballet in Cambridge, MA.

Career: American Ballet Theatre II Company, 1979-83; Ballet Hispanico of New York and the Twyla Tharp Workshop, 1983; model, 1984; actor, 1985—; Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan, founder and president, 1990—.

Memberships: Casey Family Services (national spokesperson, 1998—); Child Welfare League of America (spokesperson, 1992—); Foster Youth Connection (chair).

Awards: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Awards, Outstanding Actress in a Daytime Drama Series, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006; Soap Opera Digest Award, Outstanding Scene Stealer, 1994; Outstanding Book by a Debut Author, 2008; three Daytime Emmy nominations.

Addresses: Office—c/o Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan, 5850 W. Third St., Suite 178, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

In 1985 Rowell returned to New York to try her hand at acting. She began a lucrative career in commercials, appearing in campaigns for Burger King, McDonalds, AT&T, and Oil of Olay. Her first big break came when she auditioned to be one of Bill Cosby's daughters on The Cosby Show. Even though she did not get the role, Cosby liked her so much he put her in his feature film Leonard Part 6. The movie was a flop, but Cosby eventually found a spot for the young actress on his incredibly successful sitcom. Rowell played the mother of Cosby's step-granddaughter, played by Raven Symone.

In 1989 Rowell married Tom Fahey, an airline pilot. Shortly before the birth of their daughter, Maya, Rowell and Fahey divorced. Their blonde, blue-eyed daughter—Fahey is white—caused a few uncomfortable moments when strangers suggested that she could not be Rowell's natural daughter. The nurse in the hospital infuriated Rowell by not giving her the baby until she had checked and rechecked her wristband identification. Being the daughter of a mixed couple herself, Rowell was careful to teach Maya about all of her heritage.

Gained Fame as Soap's Drucilla

Maya's birth coincided with the blossoming of Rowell's TV career. While she and Maya were visiting Fahey in Los Angeles, Rowell's work on the Cosby Show earned her an audition for The Young and the Restless. She got the job and relocated to Los Angeles. At first, African-American audience members were angry at the negative stereotype that Rowell was putting across as the feisty Drucilla, but she was not bothered. "I knew there was going to be a transformation," she explained to Gregory. "It was scripted that Drucilla would turn her life around. She would learn to read and write, get a job—and study ballet."

In 1990 Rowell began giving back to the foster care system that had served her well as a child. She formed the Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan, which sponsors foster children interested in studying the arts or training for sports at a high level. Each year, a number of foster children receive full scholarships, including classes, wardrobe, and excursions. "My message to children is to try to find a focal point, an interest in their lives," she explained to Beth Haiken of the Soap Opera Update. "By offering the children the [program], we're offering what hopefully worked for me, which is—this is yours, love it."

Rowell also became active as the chair of the Los Angeles-based Foster Youth Connection, a haven for former foster children who have reached eighteen, thereby aging out of the system. She also lobbies in Washington, D.C., for the Child Welfare League of America, and works for the United Way, several state social service agencies, and the Women's Physical Abuse Center in Bermuda.

Hit Prime Time with Diagnosis Murder

In 1993 Rowell added to her television resume the role of pathologist Dr. Amanda Bently Livingston on Diagnosis Murder, which starred Dick Van Dyke. Diagnosis Murder gave Rowell a chance to show off her funny side. "I love my night job," she said in her press materials issued by her publicists, Baker-Winokur-Ryder, "I get to hold my own amongst a cast of men." As she told Elinor Tatum of the Amsterdam News, "I really covet that role, being a black actress playing a professional role such as a pathologist."

The 1990s also brought a number of movie roles for Rowell. She appeared opposite Eddie Murphy as his lobbyist girlfriend in Distinguished Gentleman, as an undercover cop in the blockbuster comedy Dumb and Dumber, and as the freedom fighter Cora D. in the 1996 picture Barb Wire, a film adaptation of the comic book by the same name. She filmed Barb Wire while pregnant with her second child, Jasper, who was the product of her lengthy relationship with the trumpet wizard Wynton Marsalis.

Rowell spent several busy years splitting her time between her day (The Young and the Restless) and night (Diagnosis Murder) gigs. "I'm very happy at Young and the Restless," she assured Mendoza during that period in her career. "I don't see the soap as a vehicle or a step into stardom or features. To me, it's all one process. Work is work." The producers at both shows were extremely helpful coordinating her schedule. After several hours in the early morning at The Young and the Restless, she would troop on over to Diagnosis Murder for another few hours.

Rowell left The Young and the Restless in 1998, as her Hollywood career and her foster care advocacy efforts both heated up. Diagnosis Murder's eight-year run on CBS ended in 2001, and the following year Rowell rejoined the cast of The Young and the Restless, where she stayed until 2007, when Drucilla fell off a cliff. That year, Rowell published her best-selling first book, The Women Who Raised Me, which recounts the special people who took her into their homes when she was a child and helped shape her into the successful woman she is today. Since then, Rowell has spent much of her time touring the country to promote the book and spread the word about the importance of supporting the foster care system. She told Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa of the Boston Herald, "In writing about it, it gave me great joy. It was as cathartic as it was joyous, and painful as it was enlightening. Many emotions come out of writing a memoir."

Based on the success of her first book, there seems to be a good chance that Rowell will have more opportunities to experience that special catharsis, in addition to all the other emotions that go along with being a famous actress.

Selected works

Film

Leonard Part 6, 1987.

The Distinguished Gentleman, 1992.

Dumb and Dumber, 1994.

One Red Rose, 1995.

Barb Wire, 1996.

A Wake in Providence, 1999.

Fraternity Boys, 1999.

Black Listed, 2003.

Motives, 2004.

A Perfect Fit, 2005.

Home of the Brave, 2006.

Television

The Cosby Show, 1989-90.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 1990.

The Young and the Restless, 1990-98, 2002-07.

Herman's Head, 1991-93.

Full Eclipse, 1993.

Secret Sins of the Father, 1994.

Diagnosis Murder, 1993-2001.

Feast of All Saints, 2001.

Noah's Ark, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Amsterdam News (New York, NY), May 25, 1996.

Black Elegance, November-December 1992, p. 42.

Boston Globe, May 5, 2007.

Boston Herald, May 6, 2007, p. 16.

Ebony, August 1995.

Essence, September 1995.

Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1994, p. F1; September 10, 1995, p. 21.

Maine Sunday Telegram, February 24, 1991.

Morning Call (Allentown, PA), November 7, 2007.

People, February 1, 1993, pp. 94-95.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 2, 2008.

Soap Opera Digest, August 16, 1994, p. 29; January 2, 1996; June 11, 1996.

Total TV, December 10, 1994; May 18, 1996.

Online

"Biography," Victoria Rowell, http://victoriarowell.com/site/index.php (accessed May 22, 2008).

"Victoria's Corner," Rowell Foster Children Positive Plan, http://www.rowellfosterchildren.org/index.html (accessed May 22, 2008).

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from press materials from Baker-Winokur-Ryder Public Relations, 1996.

—Joanna Rubiner and Bob Jacobson

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

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Rowell, Victoria." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rowell, Victoria." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rowell-victoria

"Rowell, Victoria." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rowell-victoria