Hardison, Kadeem 1966–
Kadeem Hardison 1966–
Actor, television director, producer
A mainstay of the NBC comedy series A Different World, actor Kadeem Hardison helped co-star Jasmine Guy anchor the series during its six-year run. From 1987 to 1992, Hardison developed his fast-talking, somewhat nerdy character Dwayne Wayne into what the Washington Post aptly described in 1990 as “a hip Phi Beta Kappa who hides his sensitivity” behind trademark flip-up shades. It is the role for which he is best known, and it earned him an NAACP Image Award in 1989 and an Image Award nomination in 1992.
Theatre-trained—he appeared in several productions at the Eubie Blake Theatre—Hardison has worked steadily since his television debut in the early eighties, making numerous guest appearances on several television series and specials. His work on A Different World was decisive in the show’s ability to soon stand on its own, well beyond the shadow of The Cosby Show. Hardison has also had many supporting and central roles on his list of film credits, including parts in School Daze (1988), White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Panther (1995), and The Sixth Man (1997). In addition to acting, Hardison has directed episodes of A Different World, and also served as co-executive producer on the CBS-TV Schoolbreak Special Words Up! in 1992.
The son of Bethann Hardison, a former fashion model, and Donald McFadden, an art collector, Kadeem Hardison was born July 24, 1966 in Brooklyn, New York. He was an only child whose parents were married for only a short time, and was raised in Brooklyn by three women: his mother, his aunt Marta, and his late grandmother, Sophie. The constant travel demands of her career meant he would see his mother less frequently than his aunt and grandmother in his first ten years, but Hardison told People Weekly in 1992 that he credits her with being “the driving force, the one I got ambition from.” Although she would encourage him to pursue modeling, Bethann Hardison enrolled her son in acting classes at the age of nine.
When he was 14, Hardison landed his first role in The Color of Friendship, an ABC After School Special. He also appeared in the ABC After School Specials Amazing Grace and Don’t Touch. In 1984, at the age of 17, he appeared as Royal in the PBS production Go Tell it on the Mountain, and also won a recurring role on The Cosby Show as a friend of Cosby son Theo. His efforts were rewarded in 1987 with the regular part of wisecracking Dwayne Wayne on the Cosby spinoff, A Different World.
Set at fictional Hillman College, the show initially featured Cosby daughter Denise, played by actress Lisa Bonet. The show lacked conviction and focus in its first season. Donna Britt wrote in the Washington Post in 1990 that
At a Glance …
Born Kadeem Hardison, July 24, 1966, in Brooklyn, New York; son of Bethann Hardison (owner of a modeling agency) and Donald McFadden (an art collector). Education: Studied acting with Earl Hyman and at H.B. Studios, New York.
Career: Actor, television director, producer. Television: A Different World, 1987–92; numerous guest appearances on television series and specials; host, For Our Children; the Concert, 1993, Made-for-television movies: Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1984; Dream Date, 1989; Words Up! 1992; Drive, 1997; Blind Faith, 1998. Films: Beat Street 1984; Rappin’, 1985; I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, 1988; School Daze, 1980; Def by Temptation, 1990; White Men Can’t lump, 1992; Renaissance Man, 1994; Gunmen, 1994; Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995; Panther, 1995; Drive 1997; The Sixth Man, 1997. Television director: episodes of A Different World. Co-executive producer: CBS-TV Schoolbreak Special Words Up!1992. Video recording: The Imagination Machines, 1992.
Memberships: Screen Actors Guild.
Awards: Recipient, NAACP Image Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy Series or Special, for A Different World, 1989; Emmy nomination for Words Up! 1992; NAACP Image Award nomination for A Different World, 1992.
Addresses: 19743 Valleyview Drive, Topanga, CA 90291.
“critics bashed the show’s unfunny scripts and thenstar… Bonet’s lackadaisical acting; black viewers wondered why so many white kids were enrolled in what was supposed to be a Howard University-type school.” Hardison noted in the same article that the show “just wasn’t black,” and added, “The problem was the producers and the scripts. The humor wasn’t true to us. We were acting like… high school kids from Kansas.” Despite an uncertain start, the show’s first season was buoyed by its favorable time slot on Thursday night, sandwiched between the wildly popular Cosby Show and Cheers.
In its second season, A Different World settled into a solid ensemble sitcom about the insular nature of campus life. In their book, Harry and Wally’s Favorite TV Shows, Harry Castleman and Walter Podrazik noted the crucial addition of former Fame star Debbie Allen, who joined the show in 1988 as producer-director and writer. Lisa Bonet also left the show that year. The result, according to Castleman and Podrazik, was “a more truly balanced ensemble.” In a cast that included DawnnLewis as Jaleesa, Darryl Bell as Ron, and Sinbad as Walter, Hardison and Guy emerged as the two main co-stars. Britt also noted that once Allen joined the production, the scripts improved significantly, broadening their scope to deal with real-life college student concerns such as date rape, unprotected sex, and drug use.
It is unfortunate that A Different World’s favorable time slot was often credited for the show’s success, causing many, including Hardison, to speculate that perhaps NBC’s lackluster promotion of the show was based on racial issues. Additionally, the shadow of the show’s poor first season continued to unfairly color subsequent evaluations. Nevertheless, beginning with its second season, A Different World received very favorable reviews of its own, and consistently placed in the Nielsen ratings’ top ten shows. Hardison himself was so popular as Dwayne Wayne that he was voted favorite actor in a poll conducted by Canada’s TV Guide. According to Jet, Hardison “won by a landslide.” Following a successful six-year run, A Different World was cancelled by NBC in 1992.
In 1992 Hardison starred in Words Up!, a CBS School-break Special. Playing Henry, an illiterate dropout who returns to high school to get an education, his performance was called “attractive, funny and thoughtful” by the Los Angeles Times. Hardison also served as co-executive producer for Words Up! and received an Emmy nomination for his excellent work on the film. “I was proud to contribute information about a problem that greatly affects our community,” he told Essence in 1995.
Hardison has also received favorable reviews for his acting in otherfilms. In a review of Keenen Ivory Wayans’s 1988 blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Variety pronounced him “hilarious” in his supporting role. His performance as K in the 1990 all-black horror film Def by Temptation was called “a delight” by a Los Angeles Times reviewer. Although the film itself received great reviews in limited release, it was not highly publicized and performed poorly at the box office.
Hardison landed a role in the comedy White Men Can’t Jump in 1992. Initially, Shelton did not realize Hardison was a legitimate actor, and cast him in a bit part as a pickup player. Assuring Shelton that he could handle the challenge, Hardison was given a larger role. “The result,” according to People Weekly, was “an ad-libbed, in-your-face insult-and-hoops scrimmage that has audiences roaring.” In 1994, he played Izzy in Gunmen and Jamaal Montgomery in the Danny DeVito film Renaissance Man. Variety called him “a hoot” in Renaissance Man, as one of the eight student recruits “who bring the film an inordinate amount of energy.”
In 1995, Hardison starred in Panther, which was directed by Mario Van Peebles from a script written by his father, Melvin Van Peebles. The film is a fictionalized account of various events in Black Panther history, and Hardison plays the central character named Judge who, while sympathetic to the Panther cause, is also tapped by the authorities as an informant. Variety described Hardison as very effective in his role as “the classic man in the middle, someone through whom the audience presumably can… view the more extreme behavior of the activists on both sides.” “I wanted to do this part,” Hardison told Seventeen in 1995, “…not only because I thought it was something I could relate to, but because it’s an important story.”
In 1997’s Vampire in Brooklyn, Hardison co-starred with Eddie Murphy as Julius, the vampire’s ghoulish chauffeur whose limbs keep falling off. Although Entertainment Weekly pronounced the film “a lethally leaden horror comedy,” Hardison is singled out in reviews as a scene-stealer. That same year, he co-starred with Marlon Wayans in the Disney film, The Sixth Man. In this basketball comedy, Hardison played Antoine Tyler, a self-serving college star who unexpectedly dies from a heart ailment. He returns from the dead to help his brother lead the Washington Huskies to the NCAA title. Variety reviewer Joe Leydon praised Hardison’s performance, calling him “very funny as a swaggering, trash-talking spirit,” as well as skilled at conveying his character’s darker aspects. Leydon added, “Together, Hardison and Wayans give the comedy a bit more depth and texture than it might otherwise have had.”
Although he has lived in the Los Angeles area for much of his career, Hardison’s heart remains in New York, where the rhythms and energy of the city stimulate him. Described by an Essence interviewer in 1991 as being as “introspective and analytical” as he is outgoing and talkative, Hardison’s personal tastes run to sleek motorcycles, rap, jazz, and funk. He reserves admiration for acting icons such as Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, and Wesley Snipes. Having successfully made the transition from television to film, Hardison is aware of his position as an African American celebrity. “I’m an African-American,” he told Essence in 1995, “andmyrole in the entertainment industry is to entertain—and to educate.”
Castleman, Harry, and Walter J. Podrazik. Harry and Wally’s Favorite TV Shows. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1989, p. 129.
International Motion Picture Almanac, 68th Edition. Edited by James D. Moser. New York: Quigley Publishing Company, Inc., 1997, p.159.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 11th Edition. Edited by Shirelle Phelps. Detroit: Gale, 1999, p. 541.
Who’s Who in Hollywood, Vol. 1. Edited by David Ragan. New York: Facts on File, 1992, p. 696.
Entertainment Weekly, April 19, 1996, p. 86; October 24, 1997, p.72.
Essence, February 1993, p.49; June 1995, p.48.
Jet, April 16, 1990, pp.59–60; April 19, 1991, p.52; October 19, 1992, p.56; May 10, 1993, p.60; February 2, 1998, p.46.
Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1992, p.F9.
People Weekly, April 27, 1992, pp.101–102; May 22, 1995, p.17; November 13, 1995, p.26.
Playboy, July 1995, p.20.
Seventeen, June 1995, p. 110.
Variety, March 31, 1997, p.86.
Variety’s Film Reviews 1987–1988, Vol. 20. New Providence, RI: R.R. Bowker, 1991.
Variety’s Film Reviews 1989–1990, Vol. 21. New Providence, RI: R.R. Bowker, 1991.
Variety’s Film Reviews 1993–1994, Vol. 23. New Providence, RI: R.R. Bowker, 1995.
Variety’s Film Reviews 1995–1996, Vol. 24. New Providence, RI: R.R. Bowker, 1997.
Washington Post, September 20, 1990, p.Dl.
—Ellen Dennis French
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