Actress/singer Nell Carter is having a bad day. By her own somewhat exaggerated account, it's the worst day of her life. Seems the previous afternoon, after discovering several golden flecks in her mostly raven hair, she paid a visit to a chichi Beverly Hills salon in an effort to rid her mane of chemical dyes. "I don't actually color my hair, but ...," she says dryly on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. She expected to emerge a striking platinum blonde, but was instead left what she calls a "sunshine blonde." And after one of her sons doled out the backhanded compliment about her looking "like a rock star," she wasn't really having very much fun at all.
But Carter has known many moments worse than this. A survivor of serious drug and alcohol addictions, two troubled marriages, and two near-fatal brain aneurysms, she is fortunate to be alive, let alone to perform onstage. Add to that the fact she's a black Jewish woman trying negotiate the nastiness of Hollywood, and you have all the ingredients for a colossal basket case. Amazingly Carter remains undaunted. "I don't regret anything that happened, except for yesterday," she jokes.
While Carter may lament the immediate past, she knows her long-term history brims with a slew of accomplishments. Among her credits: a Tony Award as best actress for the musical Ain't Misbehavin'; two Emmy Award nominations for her role on the NBC sitcom Gimme a Break, on which she spent six years in the Eighties; and big-screen films with big-name actors such as Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, and Jeanne Moreau. A formidable body of work that more than counters a mere bad-hair day.
Whatever color her tresses, Carter will be the featured entertainment at this Friday's Hotel Inter-Continental Ballto benefit Make-a-Wish Foundation of South Florida, the organization that grants wishes to children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses. She has befriended two kids who, as part of the program, chose to meet her. As someone who has come through extreme hardship, she feels an affinity with them. "I think it's important for children to be children," she says. "Once you're an adult, you're an adult forever. You're only a child as long as your parents allow you to be."
Wise beyond their years yet still kids, more than 200 youngsters have had their wishes granted by the local chapter of the organization. The goal is to complete 435 more. Carter hopes lending her talents will do the trick. "These kids are special," she says. "I'm going to put on the best show that I possibly can. It's about knowing that I've done something to help another child." -- Nina Korman