Five Great Thalmus Rasulala Guest Appearances
Today, we look at five great guest appearances by Thalmus Rasulala.
This is “Following a Star,” a new feature where I spotlight five great guest spots by an actor who frequently did/does guest spots on TV series in their careers. It doesn’t mean that they’ve NEVER been regulars on shows, but obviously I’m not looking to spotlight people who are best known for their regular TV roles (like no Jason Alexander or Florence Henderson, for instance).
Since this is Black History Month, I’ll specifically spotlight Black character actors this month.
The actor now known as Thalmus Rasulala was born Jack Crowder, and he initially acted in theater under the name Crowder, including an appearance in the acclaimed all-Black 1967 production of Hello Dolly! that starred Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. However, in the early 1970s, Crowder starred in the “blacksploitation” film, Cool Breeze, and while he used the name Crowder on that film, at first, as well, by the time it was released he had adopted the stage name, Thalmus Rasulala, which he used for the rest of his career (his Cool Breeze character is the featured image for this post). He did other “blacksploitation” films, like Blacula, in the 1970s, but also began doing a number of notable guest spots on television shows.
All in the Family (Mr. Byrd)
In All in the Family Season 2’s “The Blockbuster,” Rasulala (he’s billed as Jack Crowder in this episode, as he hadn’t yet adopted his stage name) is brilliant as a “blockbuster,” a term for a man who overpays to buy a home in a White neighborhood and then sells the house at an even higher markup to a desperate Black family that can’t otherwise get anyone in those neighborhoods to sell to them. He’s nominally doing a good thing by getting Black families into segregated neighborhoods, but only by gouging them of all of the money he can possibly get. Archie is thrilled to sell to Byrd until it turns out Archie’s plan to move to California wouldn’t pan out, so Archie backed out, and Byrd explained that he’d just have to make the offer to someone else in the neighborhood. Archie replied, “They ain’t gonna sell to you. I think you’ll find that all of my neighbors is just about like me,” but Byrd just smiles (that amazing Rasulala smile) and replies, “That’s what I’m countin’ on!” Awesome stuff.
Good Times (Ernie Harris)
In Good Times Season 2’s “The Houseguest,” Rasulala plays Ernie Harris, an old friend of James, who stays with the family for a bit (and comedically moves the boys into sharing one big bed in the living room). He tells James he is working in marketing, but it soon becomes clear that he is simply a gambler when some criminals come looking for money he owes them. James has to throw him out of the house, but before he goes, James realizes that Ernie has stolen sterling silver salt and pepper shakers from them that he and Florida received for their wedding. When he confronts Ernie about it, telling him that if he takes them, it will prove that Ernie is sick, Ernie struggles with the idea…but then takes them and tells them as he leaves, “I’ll bring them back, with interest!” Ooph, it was tough to watch.
What’s Happening!! (Bill Thomas)
On the hit sitcom, What’s Happening!!, Rasulala probably had his most memorable TV role (and really, since his film roles were more of the cult classic variety, it’s probably his most well-known role period nowadays) as the estranged father of Raj and Dee (who left the family when Dee was just a month old). In his first appearance, he’s a total dirtbag (who thinks Rerun is his son at first) who tries to con his estranged wife out of money, but in later episodes, he is shown in a more positive light, just as sort of this other figure in Raj’s life.
The Jeffersons (Kurt Hendricks)
On The Jeffersons Season 4’s “Florence Gets Lucky,” Rasulala plays a land developer that George is trying to woo for a business deal who gets such a kick out of how Florence insults her boss that he ignores George while trying to woo Florence. His laugh after Florence’s insults is very endearing. Florence, though, is put off when he invites her to Las Vegas, but she ultimately agrees to go when he agrees to not try any hanky panky. He wasn’t breaking any huge new ground with the role, but he was definitely a striking figure.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (Captain Donald Varley)
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2’s “Contagion” is a pretty dreadful episode overall, but Rasulala is good as a doomed old Captain friend of Jean-Luc Picard who dies early in the episode, but whose findings help push the plot along. Captain Varley is an old friend of Picard’s and, to this point in the series, we had not seen that many of those characters, so he was a notable figure. Rasulala died a few years after this episode, and you can tell that a lot of his early vibrancy was missing from Varley, but he was still able to give Varley an interesting performance.
If you folks have any other actors you’d like to suggest for this feature, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! I have my 28 for this month, but A. feel free to suggest people for the future and B. maybe you’ll suggest someone for this month that I like better than the 11 remaining actors I’ve already chosen.