A familiar face for well over a decade on television in the United States, actor Dorien Wilson displayed impressive versatility. He first attracted wide notice as Eddie on the HBO cable series Dream On, playing a womanizing talk show host in what was generally considered one of the most ribald shows on television. But Wilson cleaned up his act as Professor Stanley Oglevee on the wildly successful UPN sitcom The Parkers, a show that often topped viewership measurements of African-American households. Wilson's versatility was based in solid theatrical training, and he continued to appear in plays as often as his busy schedule allowed.
Born in New Jersey around 1962, Wilson moved around the country frequently with his family; his father Ernie was a member of the U.S. Air Force. They landed in the small central California city of Lompoc, and Wilson attended schools there, becoming interested in acting at Cabrillo and Lompoc high schools and meeting his future wife JoAnn. Various people influenced the young Wilson, but his greatest inspiration, he told Deb Berger of the Lompoc Online Web site, were his parents, who continued to live in Lompoc. "They taught me that with hard work and determination, being in the right place at the right time and God's will, there's nothing that I couldn't do," he said.
After graduating from Lompoc High School, Wilson enrolled at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in nearby Santa Maria. He also studied acting at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and his first job out of school was as a drama teacher. "I always told a lot of my students … that there's no greater training ground than doing theater," he told Berger. "You touch the audience immediately, and by doing it every day you really hone your craft. A lot of these actors that are in Hollywood, they may have a great look or a gimmick, or whatever, but in order to sustain a great job or keep the longevity going you have to have some chops behind you."
While in school, Wilson began appearing in local productions including the musical Carousel and a play called Hank Williams: The King of Country Music. As his commitment to an acting career deepened, he and his wife moved to San Francisco. They remained there for eight years, raising two children, daughter Sarita and son Devin. Wilson appeared in the musical Dreamgirls, Shakespeare's The Tempest, the hit mystery Death Trap, and a variety of other plays. He landed a marquee part with the title role in Most Valuable Player: The Jackie Robinson Story, which toured the West Coast, brought Wilson to the stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and toured as far afield as Europe and Peru.
Wilson began landing television roles as well, including one on the hit series Murphy Brown, and when Hollywood auditions began to keep him out on the road, his wife suggested that the family move to Los Angeles. Once there, Wilson threw his energy into landing a good television part and was rewarded with the role of Eddie Charles in Dream On, which premiered in 1989. Wilson and actor Brian Benben played best friends, a book editor (Benben) and a talk show host, who become enmeshed in romantic and sexual misadventures.
As a cable show, Dream On could push the envelope in ways that broadcast television could not, and Wilson's nude backside was occasionally shown on screen. The semi-nude scenes did not bother Wilson, who made a habit of going to the gym four days a week to stay in shape. Dream On brought Wilson to the attention of fans and his reputation as a sex symbol began to grow.
Wilson relished the sheer fun of working on Dream On but admitted that he especially enjoyed the show for its lack of focus on racial issues. "I … really like the black-white relationship between Eddie and Martin," he told N.F. Mendoza of the Los Angeles Times. "I've had a lot of experience being the only minority among many whites, so it's wonderful the way their relationship is in no way based on race." Wilson's work on the show garnered a CableAce award nomination.
Wilson's next television projects, however, involved shows with mostly African-American casts. In the short-lived Goode Behavior, Wilson starred opposite Jeffersons veteran Sherman Hemsley as a college professor with a con-man father (Hemsley) who has been placed under house arrest at his son's residence. The show drew fire from a local Hollywood NAACP branch for what some members felt was outmoded and offensive racial stereotyping. Wilson disputed the group's charges, telling Allan Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that "You have a father and son who are estranged, and in a lot of black households the father is not around. But here is an African-American man who's trying to come back into his son's life to rebuild a relationship that they never had."
Once again playing a college professor in The Parkers, Wilson made amends with the NAACP with his positive portrayal and was nominated for the organization's Image Award. Wilson's Professor Stanley Oglevee was a constant object of pursuit for returned-to-college mom Nikki Parker (played by comedienne Mo'Nique), much to the consternation of her daughter Kim (Countess Vaughn). Wilson was the perfect foil for the broad comedy in which Mo'Nique specialized, and by the time The Parkers finished its successful five-year run on the UPN network in 2004, Wilson was a true television star.
In addition to his series triumphs, Wilson amassed a long list of guest appearances that included those on the two biggest comedy hits of the 1990s, Friends (in the episode "The One with the Stoned Guy") and Seinfeld. (the two-part "The Raincoats"). He appeared in several films, including Beethoven's 4th, House Party 4, and You Got Served, and he hoped to expand his film career with a film "something like Disclosure or Fatal Attraction," he told Mendoza. As his character had been for that of Mo'Nique in The Parkers, Wilson became an obsession for female fans as a result of appearances in the Alaye publishing company's 2004 "Men of the Year" calendar. Apparently divorced, he was featured in an Ebony magazine "Best Bachelors of the Year" feature, but he kept in touch with his daughter Sarita and brought her to a Hollywood gala in 2004. In 2005, looking for new projects, Wilson kept his face before the public with an appearance in a BET promotional spot.
At a Glance …
Born in 1962(?) in New Jersey; son of Ernie (U.S. Air Force member) and Margaret Wilson; grew up mostly in Lompoc, CA; married JoAnn (divorced); children: Sarita, Devin. Education: Attended Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Santa Maria, CA, and American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco.
Career: Performed in theatrical productions in San Francisco, mid-1980s; appeared at Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and toured internationally, 1980s–; television actor, 1989–.
Awards: CableAce award nomination, for Dream On; NAACP Image Award nomination, for The Parkers.
Addresses: Office—c/o UPN Television, 11800 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025.
Beethoven's 4th, 2001.
House Party 4, 2001.
You Got Served, 2004.
Most Valuable Player: The Jackie Robinson Story.
Dream On, 1990–96.
Goode Behavior, 1996–97.
The Parkers, 1999–2004.
Boston Herald, August 26, 1996.
Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1997, p. 3.
Ebony, June 2003, p. 180.
Jet, February 23, 2004, p. 44; May 10, 2004, p. 54.
Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1992, p. F2; July 9, 1995, p. 8.
New York Beacon, May 16, 2001, p. 30.
PR Newswire, May 2, 2005.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 4, 1996.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 1992, p. F9.
"Dorien Wilson Sizzles on the Screen," Sacramento Observer, www.sacobserver.com/soul/100203/dorien_wilson.shtml (October 17, 2005).
"Meet Dorien Wilson," Lompoc Online, http://lompoconline.com/interview.html (October 17, 2005).
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