The great joy of celebrating Debbie Allen’s Governors Award has not ended. I wrote about the great Margie Peters, who was one of the showrunners on A Different World when I worked on the show. Margie had an illustrious career in Hollywood and was wonderful to work with. If Debbie was the professor, Margie was the Dean- corralling new writers to pitch jokes and write their scripts. Margie held the pencil in the writers' room- it was she that wrote, in her perfect penmanship, the changes in the scripts. I love her memories of Debbie, and could not wait to share, with Margie’s permission, her memory of those days at A Different World.
Words from Margie Peters
I was a Debbie Allen fan back in the day when she debuted on tv in 3 Girls 3. The show did not last long, but she made a strong impression on me, so after seeing Fame and then watching Debbie in the tv series based on the film, I was a bonafide fan.
I too learned a lot from Debbie Allen. One of the first things I learned was that Black culture and White culture do not necessarily wear the same pair of glasses when they look at life. I mean, I knew about some of the big differences of being White in America juxtaposed with being Black. But I did not know that even the simplest things were approached differently. For example, when Kadeem (or Debbie) rewrote a line of mine so that Dwayne had to get home for the holidays because he had a date with Big Butt Brenda, I took offense. I thought he was saying she's an easy mark because she's fat and unattractive and will put out just for the thrill of having a date. Well, for a White guy that logic would apply; I'd seen it apply in my own life when a boy broke a date with me to get a sure thing with a fat girl. Debbie patiently explained to me that in Black culture, a big butt was attractive-- more than attractive--spectacular. Lesson learned, the line was left in the show and got a big laugh, especially the way that Kadeem Hardison delivered it.
This is a minor example of what I learned from Debbie, who latched on to my white girl prudishness and for two years called me "The Flying Nun" because of it. I embraced that title and at dinner, during our final show together, I greeted her with a Sister Bertrille sized wimple on my head. (I am pretty sure the writers and actors considered me an ally, but they didn't know just how much they educated me.) She laughed heartily and hugged me tight!
But I cannot speak of the influence Debbie had on my life without mentioning the miraculous Susan Fales, the talented Yvette Denise Lee and the dedicated Thad Mumford all of whom had such a profound effect on me that when I left Hollywood, I enrolled at Lesley University in Cambridge and got my masters degree in Multicultural Education. (Okay, okay, I consider the year I spent working with you, Adri, as a career highlight as well, and remember fondly our romp through NYC when Gil and I were on our cross-country trip back in the day.)
You could imagine my delight when a year and a half after I got my MEd, Gil earned his Masters in Clinical Mental Health from Lesley and his graduation speaker was none other than Miss Debbie Allen! She and I had a couple of excited and spirited conversations around that event.
While I slipped into contented retirement after the mid-90's, Debbie, with her usual verve, ramped up her career and no one cheered louder for her than I when she became a regular on Grey's Anatomy and then a producer of the show. I've been cheering her on from my Massachusetts beach house and my new -- though three years in, maybe not so new -- home in SWFL. And Emmy night was no exception. I felt so proud for Debbie when she was cited for her body of work and I felt luckier than ever that I had the privilege of working with her, learning from her and being her colleague.
I have been carrying around these feelings of gratitude and admiration for Debbie for a few decades, and I thank you, dear Adri, for opening up a window through which I could share my appreciation for "Miss Debbie" as you did.