By DALE RICARDO SHIELDS
“What sums me up is Eclectic and Versatile!”
“What I tell young actors is LEARN your Craft.”
“When I was seven years old, the Hallmark Hall of Fame, produced Green Pastures (directed by George Schaeffer) with William Warfield as De Lawd and Rochester as Noah, Estelle Hensley was the Sunday School teacher Mrs.DeShay and I was the little girl Myrtle whose eyes the audience saw ‘Heaven” through.”
“I remember that Rochester was not a very friendly man, at least not to us kids. Another thing I remember is that in the heaven scenes there were clouds and because they (the clouds) were made from some toxic material, they told us kids” don’t touch the clouds they can hurt you”, I touched them anyway and was just fine.”
Jonelle Allen grew up in Harlem’s, Sugar Hill community among neighbors that included: Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, and Johnny Hodges, all of whom had an influence on her choice of an artistic career. Born and raised in Harlem, she was the only child of Marion Allen, a postal worker, and Robert Allen, who worked for the New York Transit Authority.
Her parents divorced when she was just five and she lived with her mother, Aunt Bea, and her maternal grandparents. Her grandfather, the first Black post office supervisor in New York City, was a superb jazz saxophonist who didn’t think much of music as a profession but who nevertheless taught a neighborhood kid, Sonny Rollins, being one of them, how to play.
A song-and-dance star in front of her family at age three, Allen was enrolled by her Aunt Bea, in a children’s dance class where she was discovered by a talent scout from The Merry Mailman, a popular children’s show in New York. She was soon a frequent sidekick to the host, Ray Heatherton, and a busy young actress and performer.
She played a Sunday school kid trying to visualize heaven in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Green Pastures (1957) and Small War on Murray Hill, a work-in-progress by Robert E. Sherwood, directed by Garson Kanin who sat her on his lap while giving her notes. “I was sitting on a lot of people’s laps in those days,” recalls Allen.
“When I was a kid growing up in Harlem in New York City, I went to the Schomberg Library on 135street. Now it is The Schomberg Cultural Center, however, I digress. Anyway as a kid I walked in the lobby and there a was bust of a man obviously in costume with an earring and on the plaque, it said “Ira Aldridge The Great Shakespearean Actor as Othello”. I became fascinated and read about him, a freedman born in New York, however, he moved to England and had great success in the 1800s.“