The following piece is from Vanity Fair. It was written by Beverly Johnson.
By: Beverly Johnson
Like most Americans, I spent the 60s, 70s, and part of the 80s in awe of Bill Cosby and his total domination of popular culture. He was the first African American to star in a dramatic television series, I Spy, a show my family in Buffalo, New York, always watched. Cosby cut a striking figure on-screen then. He was funny, smart, and even elegant—all those wonderful things many white Americans didn’t associate with people of color. In fact, as I thought of going public with what follows, a voice in my head kept whispering, “Black men have enough enemies out there already, they certainly don’t need someone like you, an African American with a familiar face and a famous name, fanning the flames.”
Imagine my joy in the mid-80s when an agent called to say Bill Cosby wanted me to audition for a role on the The Cosby Show. Cosby played an obstetrician, and he sometimes used models to portray pregnant women sitting in his office waiting room. It was a small part with one or two speaking lines at most, but I wanted in.
I was in the midst of an ugly custody battle for my only child. I needed a big break badly and appearing on The Cosby Show seemed like an excellent way of getting Hollywood’s attention. I’d appeared in one or two movies already, but my phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook with acting jobs.
Cosby’s handlers invited me to a taping of the show so I could get the lay of the land and an idea of what my role required. After the taping I met all the cast and then met with Cosby in his office to talk a bit about the hell I’d been through in my marriage. He appeared concerned and then asked what I wanted from my career going forward. He seemed genuinely interested in guiding me to the next level. I was on cloud nine.
I brought my daughter to the next taping I attended. Afterward, Cosby asked if I could meet him at his home that weekend to read for the part. My ex-husband had primary custody of my daughter at the time, and I usually spent my weekends with her. Cosby suggested I bring her along, which really reeled me in. He was the Jell-O Pudding man; like most kids, my daughter loved him. When my daughter and I visited Cosby’s New York brownstone, his staff served us a delicious brunch. Then he gave us a tour of the exceptional multi-level home.
Looking back, that first invite from Cosby to his home seems like part of a perfectly laid out plan, a way to make me feel secure with him at all times. It worked like a charm. Cosby suggested I come back to his house a few days later to read for the part. I agreed, and one late afternoon the following week I returned. His staff served a light dinner and Bill and I talked more about my plans for the future.
After the meal, we walked upstairs to a huge living area of his home that featured a massive bar. A huge brass espresso contraption took up half the counter. At the time, it seemed rare for someone to have such a machine in his home for personal use.
Cosby said he wanted to see how I handled various scenes, so he suggested that I pretend to be drunk. (When did a pregnant woman ever appear drunk on The Cosby Show? Probably never, but I went with it.)
As I readied myself to be the best drunk I could be, he offered me a cappuccino from the espresso machine. I told him I didn’t drink coffee that late in the afternoon because it made getting to sleep at night more difficult. He wouldn’t let it go. He insisted that his espresso machine was the best model on the market and promised I’d never tasted a cappuccino quite like this one.
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