Teresa Graves was one of the great glass-ceiling breakers of the 1970s, achieving a new height for black women when she became the first to star in an hour-long TV drama series.
Teresa Graves (Wikimedia Commons/gobonobo)
Graves's career was as short-lived as it was notable. Beginning in 1969 and retiring just five years later, Graves appeared in just a few movies and TV shows. One of the first was Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, where, in one of five appearances, she helped Carol Channing become a soul sister.
Laugh-In and other TV spots led to movie fame… or maybe notoriety is the better word for it, considering the B-movie classics Graves starred in. One of the most notable was Vampira, renamed Old Dracula to capitalize on the success of Young Frankenstein.
Graves's greatest role would also be her last. In 1974, she played the lead in a made-for-TV movie that built on the popularity of the blaxploitation genre. In Get Christie Love!, Graves played a tough cop with a great catchphrase: "You're under arrest, Sugah" (decades later, Mike Myers’s Austin Powers sequel Goldmember would pay homage to Love by having Foxxy Cleopatra utter the line). Christie Love was so well received that it became a series – the show that would give Graves the opportunity to make history as the first black woman with her own hour-long dramatic TV series.
But after just one season, the show was cancelled. Teresa Graves's career was over post-Christie Love, too – she chose to retire in order to devote her time to her religion (Graves was a devout Jehovah’s Witness).
Ten years ago today, Graves died in a house fire, just 54 years old. In her honor, we've just got to say… "You're missed, Sugah."
Written by Linnea Crowther