Willie Sangwan / Willie Sangwan / Invision / AP
Actress Carol Sutton, who has appeared in more than 100 films, plays and TV shows, died Thursday in New Orleans from complications from the Coronavirus. She was 76 years old.
In 1974, Sutton appeared on television for the first time in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Bateman”, and then went on to show films, starring in theatrical roles and more television productions. Although she refused to move from her hometown, she has worked steadfastly, winning roles in films, including “The Big Easy,” “The Pelican Brief,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Ray,” “Steel Magnolias” and “The Help, “Sutton was diagnosed with the virus and was hospitalized in November.
Sutton honed her acting abilities starting in 1968, when she joined one of the rare African American theater groups in the Deep South. The Dashiki Project Theater, founded by students at Dillard University and other historic black colleges and universities in Louisiana, was based in New Orleans and installed plays that reflected the complexities of African-American life. The job came easily to Sutton, in part because her mother, Margaret Bush, was a community activist in the city.
Often times, Sutton tells stories of a night in 1957, when her mother took the family car from their downtown neighborhood to pick up Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. when he arrived in town. Carole said she rode with her siblings asleep in the back seat. King appears to have attended meetings that helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that has become a major factor in the advancement of civil rights.
In the year Sutton committed to acting, she also started what could be more than 40 years of work at Total Community Action, an organization that helps distressed families and children with special needs. I retired from social and educational work in 2011.
Sutton’s special talent for humanizing and dignifying regular characters translated from stage, to television, to photography with remarkable ease. Moreover, her acting style was deceptively natural. In a Dashiki production, the woman who played refused to present a male character so convincingly that a member of the audience shouted, “You’re stupid ****!”
And while it’s unclear if Sutton considers herself a method actress, she could still be in character long after the other cast members stopped performing.
Adela Gauthier, an actress and longtime friend, said that in at least one case, Sutton’s life seemed to reflect the life of her character. In 1974, Sutton was hired to play Vivienne, the daughter-in-law of Jane Bateman of Cecily Tyson in the award-winning television film “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Bateman”. Gauthier, who also appeared in the movie, but did not release the final version, said that Sutton was most likely pregnant in the audition, but the situation became clear when she got to the set.
“Carole was nine months pregnant.” Gauthier said with a laugh. “She was (riding) in a canoe. And she was there, with a big stomach.”
In recent years, Sutton’s television work has included roles in “Tremé,” “True Detective,” “Queen Sugar,” and “Lovecraft Country.”
Donald Matthews, who grew up a block away from Sutton in Central City and then later worked with her and made sets for Dashiki production, said it was as accessible to her fans as it was for her friends. Over the course of her 60-year career in shows, she has never moved out of the house she grew up in on Josephine Street and raised a son and daughter. Her children and siblings survive from her.
“Carol was a human every day,” Matthews said. “People would stop her and say how much they liked her on the show and say, ‘Yeah, girl, I’m pretty happy. She regularly took city buses and carried her bag in her bra.
Gauthier recalls Sutton’s generosity.
Gauthier said, “Carol Sutton was reaching out on her lap and… she’d give you a $ 50 bill, and she’d say,“ Hey, go get some beer. ”She was drinking beer. And if the tab came up at dinner, it would say, ‘Don’t worry, I get it.’
“If there’s a filming project in New Orleans, you know it’s going to have a big role for Carol Sutton,” said Pato Chandler, assistant director, who has worked with her on several films. “Because once you work with Carol, you’ll want to work with her again.”
However, an extended filmography only tells part of Sutton’s story. Besides television and film roles, she has appeared in any number of local theatrical productions, including “Sty of the Blind Pig”, “Bridal Member”, “The Women”, “Our Town” and “A Raisin in the Sun”. She toured internationally with the musical “One Mo ‘Time”.
New Orleans playwright Dal Wonk recalls her talents that overshadowed a play he wrote about a Louisiana cottage called A Bitter Glory.
“It was supposed to be a ‘upstairs downstairs’ story with white farm owners upstairs and slaves downstairs,” said Wonk. “But Carol and the other black actors turned out to be more interesting as slaves, so I rewrote the play to make it revolve around their stories.”
Shortly before Sutton became ill in November, she participated in the screening of a yet to be released film to honor Briona Taylor, an African-American emergency room technician who was shot dead in March during a police raid on her home in Louisville, Kentucky. .
Sutton’s disease lasted for just over a month. On November 10, she texted her friends saying that she and her daughter had tested positive for the virus, adding, “Please, keep us in your prayers.” The next day, I reported severe nausea and a fever. By November 17, she was hospitalized at Toro Hospital.
On November 22, she texted Matthews saying that the oxygen mask had made talking difficult. Her condition appeared to have improved enough for doctors to be able to take her out of intensive care, but she died in hospital Thursday night.
The next day, television crews filming in the city halted production in her honor.