In the near quarter century since The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air first premiered on TV, we hold these five truths to be self-evident:
1. The show saved Will Smith’s life (financially, at least). Will being in serious debt – to the tune of $2.8M in back taxes – is the critical reason the rapper-turned-actor agreed to take part in the Quincy Jones-inspired idea. “For the first three years of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the IRS was taking 70 percent of every check and after the third year I got back to zero,” he explained to 60 Minutes. “It’s terrible to have that kind of success and have to quietly be broke.”
2. Despite rumors of tension, every character was casted in the absolute perfect role. Their natural chemistry is a vital component why the show has elevated to iconic status over the years. The show’s influence has reached all parts of the globe, including perhaps the unlikeliest of corners – with the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay – where all six seasons of Fresh Prince have superseded Harry Potter as the ideal relaxation escape for the world’s most dangerous criminals.
3. Will’s collection of Jordans was impeccable.
4. Carlton was the funniest character. Geoffrey had the best one-liners.
5. Maybe it was the high-top fade, but some of the ’90s most beautiful and famous Black women made cameos on the show.
It’s the fifth point why we’re all gathered here. Over the next handful of slides, a healthy list of lovely (and famous) ladies who graced the famed Banks Mansion living room are given their proper due. Each commanded Will’s attention in some aspect, and to my knowledge, no comprehensive collection of their talents exists on the Internet…until now.
Consider it my gift to the world long after I’m gone. The Sistine Chapel, in a sense.
Photos: Getty, Twitter
Episode: “Clubba Hubba” (Season 1, Episode 3 as “Mimi Mumford”)
Your grandma probably knows her as “Dr. Amanda Bentley-Livingston” from Diagnosis Murder or “Drucilla Winters” from Young & The Restless. For those of us who grew up on the Banks family, however, she’s the gorgeous Mimi Mumford.
All credit to Will, too. Social media had yet to exist in September 1990. The closest thing thing to sending a DM on Twitter was paging someone. To even have the opportunity to earn her time, impressing her father, Dr. Mumford, was the first order of business. He was only played by Richard Roundtree, aka one of the OG’s and pillars of the Black cinema community, immortalized as the great “John Shaft.”
Episode: “Kiss My Butler” (Season 1, Episode 10 as “Helen”)
Will’s heart was in the right place on this classic episode from the series’ first season (before an aggressive and uncalled for attempt at cockblocking). Being that it was Geoffrey’s birthday, the legendary butler deserved to let his hair down and show his true British party roots. The only thing was, Master William never expected G’s blind date to be a tall glass of chocolate milk in the form of one of the world’s most famous supermodels.
Episode: “It Had To Be You” (Season 1, Episode 19 as “Janet”)
Vivica Fox was one of the premiere examples of beautiful African-American ladies in the ’90s. And personally, she could’ve done without the botox in recent years, but it’s her body. Nevertheless, Miss Fox’s appearance in Season 1 as Jazz’s gorgeous, but ultimately pompous snob of a cousin helped prove whatever Will was selling to entice these famous women to appear on his show, they were buying.
Episode: “Love At First Fight” (Season 1, Episode 21 as “Kayla Samuels”)
Alas, yet another ’90s beauty linked to both Will Smith and Tupac. Even 20 years ago as a young’n seeing this episode, Jasmine/Whitley/Kayla seemed like the ideal round-the-way girl to take home to mom.
Episodes: “Working It Out” (Season 1, Episode 25 as “Marissa Redman”); “She Ain’t Heavy” (Season 2, Episode 8 as “Dee Dee”)
What I remember most about this episode is my mama praising the lesson behind “She Ain’t Heavy.”* The producers must have seen Queen had a natural presence in sitcoms, too, given the fact she played two different characters in two different seasons (and later went on to receive her own show in Living Single).
Queen receives a lifetime salute from yours truly for one of the hardest movie scenes of all-time in Set It Off. Look up “going out like a G” in the dictionary and this scene should at least receive some sort of footnote. Rest in peace, Cleo.
* – The whole “treat-everyone-with-respect” principal
Episode: “Did The Earth Move For You?” (Season 2, Episode 1 as “Kathleen”)
Three years after her role as “Jane Toussaint” on School Daze and a year after “Sidney” on House Party, Tisha Campbell was as hilarious as ever for her one episode on Fresh Prince. Luckily, while Will wasn’t ready to move as fast as she was at the time, another Bad Boy entered her life and they both fell head-over-heels in love with each other living happily ever after (or until Season 5 happened).
Episode: “Will Gets A Job” (Season 2, Episode 3 as “Cindy”)
I’ve always felt as if Lela was one of the most underrated women of the ’90s. And admittedly, my first memory of Rochon was her role as “Robin” on Waiting To Exhale. But it came as no surprise when I was reminded she made a brief appearance alongside Will in the episode where he picked up a gig to earn money for prom.
Michole Briana White
Episodes: “Community Action” (Season 2, Episode 17 as “Lisa”); “P.S. I Love You” (Season 3, Episode 6 as “Lindsey Simon”)
Whether as a community activist or school geek, she found a way to immerse herself in Will’s life almost effortlessly.
Episodes: “That’s No Lady, That’s My Cousin” (Season 3, Episode 3 as “Veronica”); “Not I, Barbecue” (Season 6, Episode 6 as “Sandra”)
Her name alone is enough to send chills down spines of both men and women. Garcelle turns 47-years-young on November 26, which leads me to believe she and Pharrell must divulge from of the same fountain of youth. Ms. Beauvais is still as easy on the eyes now as she was twenty-something years ago when she had the Fresh Prince and Jamie Foxx both willing to run through concrete walls for her attention.
Episodes: Recurring character for eight episodes as “Jackie”
Jackie was the thought to be “the one” for Will before they ultimately fizzled out and Lisa came along. In the ’90s, Tyra Banks and Will Smith was about as big as it came to Black superstar couples on sitcoms (excluding Martin and Gina, of course). The Prince won again.
Carlton never stood a chance.
Episode: “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home From The Forum” (Season 3, Episode 11 as “Danny Mitchel”)
Want to see the level of Lakers fans you’re dealing with, ask him/her what The Great Western Forum was. You’d be surprised at the answer. Anywho, Vanessa Williams still ranks as one of the finest cougars prowling America, so in the ’90s her talent (yes, she was much, much more than simply the recipient of amazing genes) made her one of America’s biggest popstars. Even (fake) pregnant, Will couldn’t resist and not that it’s difficult to blame him either.
A beautiful woman in Los Angeles, covering sports as her job and wasn’t a regular at “The Forum Club?” That’s a keeper!
Episode: “The Best Laid Plans” (Season 3, Episode 17 as “Monique”)
Being the one to take a person’s V-card means you’re forever linked to that person for the rest of your natural born lives. Some of us made great decisions in that department, while some of us – a la J. Cole – came to regret “the one.” Will went about it in the absolute worst way imaginable by proposing to Monique all in hopes of GTD’ing (Getting The Draws; an impeccable cross-sitcom reference if I must say so myself).
Will did that so hopefully we wouldn’t have to go through that.
Episode: “Just Say Yo!” (Season 3, Episode 19 as “Cindy”)
Perhaps the most unheralded name (and a personal ’90s crush!) because the episode she starred in just so happened to be the one where Carlton OD’d on Will’s sleeping pills – a signature moment in the series – Mari is appreciated and more than deserves placement on this list.
Aside from Marrow’s brief stint as Will’s girlfriend/prom date, her roles as Eddie Winslow’s girlfriend on Family Matters, “Wendy Malloy” and “Pam” on Baywatch as well as “Katrina” on How To Be A Player ring bells. According to her IMDb page, Mari is also a real estate agent in Los Angeles.
Episode: “When You Hit Upon A Star” (Season 4, Episode 17 as “Michelle Michaels”)
Consider it karma for Will’s playboy ways, but even he was no match for wrath for the serial polygamist/sexy Republican known as Stacey Dash. His nose was so wide open he missed his own surprise birthday party.
Episode: “Stop Will! In The Name Of Love” (Season 4, Episode 18 as “Samantha”)
Hunter’s time on Fresh Prince was limited to one episode – the one where she and Will went on a double putt-putt date with Ashley and her boyfriend Bryan (of Sandlot fame). Her beauty made more than enough of an impression to make this list.
Here’s a fun fact: Hunter made her rounds on classic sitcoms during the late ’80s-to-mid-’90s – The Cosby Show (1989), In The House (1995), The Wayans Brothers (1995), Step By Step (1995), Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper (1995) and The Parent ‘Hood (1996).
Episode: “M Is For The Many Things She Gave Me” (Season 4, Episode 22 as “Wendy”)
Yep, Ms. Neal is an often overlooked gem in the lineage of beautiful Black women to grace the Bel-Air mansion.
Bonus: This is a truly classic moment in sitcom and “jaw dropping” history. Every red-blooded American male would have the same exact reaction if put in the same situation. Hell, a lot of women, too.
Episode: “M Is For The Many Things She Gave Me” (Season 4, Episode 22 as “Janice”)
Pam Grier, dog. Pam f’n Grier! Foxy Brown! A living legend! A pinnacle in the annals of the matriculation to manhood! One of the most beautiful women to ever walk the face of the planet and the one woman Max Julien would’ve emptied his bank account for. And Will, that lucky son of a bitch, got taken advantage of by her in ways that bring tears of jealousy to these eyes even now in 2013. Especially now in 2013!
Pam Grier. Long live that beautiful Nubian demigoddess. **/deactivates thirst**
**Clicks this link and has no shame activating it again**
Episode: “Cold Feet, Hot Body” (Season 5, Episode 23 as “Denise”)
Robin Givens, for as fine as she has always been, has made a living casted in the role of a bat-shit crazy beautiful woman to an exact science. There’s something alluring and exotic about her that makes even the most accomplished celebrity men question their morals.*
Case in point her nearly getting Will to step out on Lisa (Nia Long) – and she was Lisa’s best friend! – or as far back as causing Theo Huxtable to lose his damn mind trying to impress her. And let’s not speak of her alleged real-life love triangle with Mike Tyson and Brad Pitt.
* – No lie, I loved her role of “Kimberly Johns” on Blankman. Sure, it wasn’t an Academy Award-winning movie, but I’ll always hold that movie near and dear to my heart. May the world never forget J5. Gone too soon, mi amigo.
Episode: “Boxing Helena” (Season 6, Episode 12 as “Helena”)
Some women simply like knowing their men will manhandle them. When the time’s appropriate and within reason, of course.
Episode: Recurring character for 16 episodes as “Lisa”
According to reports, “Lisa” was originally slated to be played by Jada Pinkett (who later became Jada Pinkett-Smith), but she never met the height requirements. So if Nia Long was the “consolation prize,” Miss Long goes down in history as perhaps the greatest consolation prize in the history of mankind not named Michael Jordan falling to the third spot in the 1984 NBA Draft. Nia was the apple of most everyone’s eye in the ’90s and given how she looks in 2013, she’s the perfect example of why “black don’t crack!”
Jesus, this woman is beautiful. **/deactivates thirst**
Disclaimer: For years, my love for Nia Long was marginally dwindled by the fact she left Will standing at the alter. Doing so ranked second to only Torres dying on New York Undercover in ’90s TV programs WTF-worthy moments. Thankfully, I’ve completed counseling and come to grips with the fact people get cold feet and most everyone deserves a second chance. Unless you’re George Zimmerman.
More importantly, go see Best Man Holiday. It’s well-worth the price of admission as long as you bring a spare set of tissues because, trust me, they’ll be needed.
**activates thirst again**