Marilyn B. Coleman was a writer and award-winning actress on Broadway, television and film.
She died on Tuesday, June 25, 2013. She was 79.
She was born March 23, 1934 to the late Estella and Fred Bonaparte in Philadelphia.
Coleman grew up in Philadelphia and graduated from Roxborough High School.
One of her early highlights was entering local talent contests with her brother Fred, who accompanied her on the piano. In one competition, she won the Marion Anderson Award by signing the theme from Madam Butterfly in fluent Italian.
Coleman embarked on an acting career at the Theatre of Living Arts under the direction of Andre Gregory. There she met and worked with Roger Robinson, Sherman Hemsley of The Jeffersons and longtime friend Dolores Gaskins.
PBS made a two hour documentary film of Coleman walking through the streets of Philadelphia talking to the community and dealing with the various gangs as they highlighted her singing. The documentary titled “Marilyn Coleman’s North Philadelphia” won the Silver Medallion Award.
With the encouragement and the firm persistence of actor and cofounder of the Negro Ensemble Company, Robert Hooks and Hemsley, Coleman ventured into New York City to further her career. Thus she studied theatre with renowned director, the late Lloyd Richards and made her New York Debut at the American Place Theatre in Five On The Black Hand Side and The Fabulous Marie.
In 1966 Andre Gregory requested that she come to L.A. where she received critical acclaim for her portrayal of ‘Dorrine’ in Tartuufe. From that time on, Coleman became a full time actress traveling to and from the east and west coasts as well as abroad in a career that spanned more than 45 years on stage, film and television.
Her Broadway credits include: Melvin Van Peebles’, Ain’t Supposed to Die A Natural Death; Ron Milner’s, What The Wine Sellers Buy, Don’t Get God Started and Langston Hughes, Mule Bone. Off Broadway she was among the early works of the Legendary Negro Ensemble Company in Ododo, The New Federal Theatre in For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and many others.
An award winning actress, Coleman received the L.A. Critics and Dramalogue Awards for her work in Steve Carter’s, Eden. At the arena stage, in Washington, DC she won the Helen Hayes Award for Best supporting actress in Jar The Floor which toured in the U.S. and London.
A few of her film and television credits include Looking For Mr. Good Bar, Meteor Man; The Five Heartbeats; CB-4, Menace II Society Willie Dynamite, White Shadow, The Love Boat, Vice Squad, and Designing Women.
Despite her success, Coleman never forgot the community and she became active writing, directing and teaching theater arts to the youth in schools, workshops, and churches. A scholarship fund was established in her name at Bloomsburg University for children of color, studying in the performing arts.
She had her first child with percussionist husband, George Allen. She later married ballad singer, Earl Coleman. That union produced two children.
“Marilyn’s versatility touched lives in countless ways. As a singer she brought tears to your eyes; an actress, who made you believe her characters; a director, poet, writer and teacher, who expressed her thoughts genuinely; an activist who stood for fairness and a down to earth Christian who fulfilled her God given purpose with integrity,” her family said.
She is survived by her brothers; Fred and Sylvester Bonaparte; children, Marcia ‘Kia’ Koutsialis, Kevin Coleman, and Dana Davis, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A celebration of her life will be held Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. at Mother African Zoar United Methodist Church, 1204 Melon St.