AS THE ROYAL FAMILY’S CAST MURMURED heartfelt amens on Stage 31 of the Paramount Studios lot in Hollywood on Nov. 11, Della Reese delivered her eulogy. “Although I know his spirit still abides with me,” Reese said, “that doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss my man.” She was speaking in character as the widow of sitcom patriarch Al Royal, but it was obvious from the emotion on the set that she was also talking about the man who played Al, Redd Foxx, who died of a heart attack during rehearsal on Oct. 11.
Reese’s tender lines are from a tribute episode airing on CBS Nov. 27, after which the series may break for retooling until later this season. Despite Foxx’s death, producers vow the show will go on. Making a scene-stealing entrance at Al’s funeral as Reese’s half sister, Ruth, is the fox who will try to fill the void: the flamboyant Jackée.
Actually, Jackée, who swiveled her hips for five years as 227’s resident vamp, Sandra Clark, says she was humbled after that show was canceled in 1990. “I was a TV star,” says the actress, who later filmed four dead-end pilots (including a 227 spin-off, Jackée) and says she was considered as a replacement for Delta Burke on Designing Women. “Now I’m just a person who happens to be on TV.”
Maybe. But Royal Family execs thought Jackée a better choice than John (Good Times) Amos, who was also considered. No one would think of Jackée as a replacement for Foxx, says co-executive producer Mark McClafferty, but she can still hold her own with Reese.
Though she has never headed a rescue squad before, the 5’7″ Jackée—at 38, now 30 lbs. slimmer than she was on 227—has always risen to an occasion. Born in Winston-Salem, N.C., Jacqueline Harry has been turning heads since her first break as a chorus girl in the 1978 flop A Broadway Musical. “You have a tendency to upstage people,” the show’s late supervisor, Cower Champion, told her. She took it as a compliment.
In 1983 she stretched a one-day part into a two-year stint on Another World. Next she was hired for 227, winning an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in 1987. By then she was on a certifiable star trip. “I bought a Jaguar convertible,” she says. “Everybody was screamin’, ‘You look fabulous.’ I’m pulling out of the garage and bang! Dented it. Me, the diva, says, ‘Fix it immediately.’ ” They did.
Still, Jackée, whose four-year marriage to a musician ended in 1984, was lonely, with nobody to share her peach-colored, two-bedroom home in the Hollywood Hills. “The night I won the Emmy, I stood at a window for 90 minutes by myself,” she says. “I knew that I was too into the life of a star and not enough into life itself.”
Jackée credits her elder sister Brenda Dickerson with straightening her out, especially after their mother, Flossie, a nurse, died of complications from diabetes in 1985. (Jackée’s father, Warren, a tobacco-factory worker, died when she was 9.) “She distanced herself from the family and sort of forgot about the real Jackée,” says Dickerson.
Today Jackée, who is dating “someone in the business,” is trying to keep her ego in check. “The difficulty is when I’m Jackée and the star at the same time,” she says. “Once I was going to get a massage and my boyfriend told me to hurry up. I said, ‘They’ll wait.’ He said, ‘Get real.’ I’m making more of an effort to be a team player.”
Which is fine with Reese. “I want this to work,” Reese says. “How far she’ll stretch, we’re not at that point yet. But the lady is very talented.”
ANDREW ABRAHAMS in Los Angeles