Karen Bankhead -You know her, you do. She has an impressive list of credits that include “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Curb your Enthusiasm,” “Reno 911” and “I Am Sam” to name a few.
But, you probably know her best as Elaine Hadley, the hilarious lunatic that tried to steal Nikki Parker’s life and Mr. Oglevee on an episode of “The Parkers.”
Ok, if you’re still not in the know, then let’s start here. As a kid, Bankhead found herself enamored with the circus and wanted to be in one. She would come to find out her family said no to the circus dream to which she replied, “I was really mad at them for not being a circus family.”
It was in elementary school, actually the 5th grade, that she began her aspirations to act with taking a drama elective in school and writing a play, starring herself, while in the Girl Scouts.
“I was the lead and I wrote it and instead of Cinderella it was ‘Scoutarella’,” said Bankhead. “So always, always an opportunity to kind of be creative, and recreate and play like that.”
Those early opportunities in life would later lead Bankhead to her first break on a syndicated show, “Superior Court” and later casted as a series regular on an ABC series “New Attitude” starring Sheryl Lee Ralph, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney and Morris Day of musical group, The Time.
On the show, Bankhead said it “didn’t last very long,” but, the opportunities, she states, “that was God.”
The life of an actor can often be discouraging looking for parts and roles. In the early 1990s, Bankhead was traversing old ground eventually trying her luck moving to New York.
“I kind of packed up my whole life in L.A.,” said Bankhead. “And three weeks later, I was back home.”
But, like adversity often does, it made Bankhead turned inward and brought the best that was yet to come.
“I did what a lot of actors do, I started writing a one woman show,” said Bankhead. “I played like six different characters—it’s really funny.
She continued, “It was all about little Karen, the actress, encouraging me. It was called ‘The VO5 Experience’ as in ‘thou has anointed my head with oil.”
“At the end, I wanted an African American woman, like iconic, to speak to Karen more words of encouragement.”
After watching some documentaries, Bankhead noticed there was always an older, Black woman, who knew a celebrity before they made it in entertainment or encouraged them in their talent. She decided to create a character who knew just about everyone before they were “somebody.”
“I said, ok, I want to be that lady, I want to be the lady who was there, who told them what to do,” said Bankhead.
And so, Etta Mae Mumphries was born.
“I created this little lady character in the show that talked about everybody from Billie Holiday to Josephine Baker, to Michael Jordan, now we do Taylor Swift—anybody who’s famous, [Etta] has something to do with them.”
Bankhead’s one woman show starring her Etta Mae character resonated with many being based on Black grandmothers, aunties and Bankhead’s minister, the late Rev. Bernice O. Edwards.
“Rev. Bernice, there’s a lot of her in Etta Mae,” said Bankhead. “The first time I stepped into her church, I was like, ‘ok, now I understand who Jesus is’ because of her.”
Bankhead continued, “So Etta Mae has a lot of her in that she’s so welcoming, accepting and even when she’s being ornery, she’s always encouraging.”
The show itself has won her some awards and taken her across the country where she has performed at a variety of events and venues. She has continued to do her Etta Mae character bringing her to the masses, where she has encouraged many to make their life count.
“I’ve done hundreds—churches, I love to do senior groups, widow and widowers’ groups, tons of anniversaries, women’s conferences, birthday parties.”
You can find Etta Mae online and on social media spreading her brand of humor, love and encouragement. Bankhead hopes to take the inspirational elder to television.
“I’d love to be on TV somewhere regularly with the type of show, kind of variety show with Etta Mae doing what she does and other fun things,” said Bankhead.
Bankhead offered some nuggets of wisdom to aspiring actors who are looking to enter the entertainment industry.
“Be true to yourself,” said Bankhead
She continued, “Whenever I’ve just been going about my business, doing what I know I’m supposed to do, the things that God has for me, He kind of just places them in my path.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Hollywood, the fame and the fortune, you know, wanting to be famous—if you’re really looking at it from a God perspective, that’s not going to work.
“I say every day, ‘Only what you do for Christ will last’, so if you see your work as a service, a ministry, a gift, use it how it works for you.
“Keep your eyes open because there’s a lot of distraction, there’s a lot of opportunity that’s just aren’t for you but, work hard, be authentic—be confident, I think that’s huge.”
You can find out more about Karen Bankhead at karenbankhead.wordpress.com. You can see Etta Mae Mumphries at ettamaetv on YouTube, Instagram and Tiktok.