Holly Robinson Peete
Born Holly Robinson, September 18, 1964, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Matthew (a television actor, producer, and writer) and Dolores (a school teacher, television station publicist, and talent manager) Robinson; married Rodney Peete (a professional football player), June 10, 1995; children: Ryan Elizabeth, Rodney Jackson, Robinson James. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, undergraduate degree in French and psychology, 1986.
Addresses: Office —HollyRod Foundation, 9250 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 300, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Website —http://www.hollyrobinsonpeete.com/.
Actress in television, including: Kidsworld, c. 1975; This Is Your Life, 1975; 21 Jump Street, FOX, 1986-91 (also theme song singer); Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, ABC, 1992-97; For Your Love, NBC, 1998, then The WB, 1998-2001; One on One, 2001-02; Like Family, The WB, 2003-04. Television movies include: Dummy, 1979; Killers in the House, 1998. Miniseries include: The Jacksons: An American Dream, 1992. Film appearances include: Lorea and the Outlaws, 1985; Howard the Duck, 1986. Signed recording deal with Atlantic Records, 1988; performed in night clubs and at Club Med; founded the HollyRod Foundation, 1997; designer of maternity clothing and spokesperson for Mervyn's, 2003—; author of Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching the Game, 2005.
With the help of her talent manager mother, Holly Robinson Peete has had a successful acting career, appearing in a succession of television series. Peete's career was launched on the FOX hit drama 21 Jump Street, and she also appeared on the situation comedy Hangin' With Mr. Cooper and several television programs. In addition to acting, Peete longed for a singing career, though she was never able to match the success she found in acting. She did, however, use her fame for charitable causes, including the founding of the HollyRod Foundation.
Born on September 18, 1964, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she is the daughter of Matthew and Dolores Robinson. Her father was a local television writer and producer, while her mother worked as a school teacher, and later for a Philadelphia television station doing public relations. In 1968, Peete's father nabbed a career-defining role in a new PBS children's show, Sesame Street. Matthew Robinson was cast as Gordon, a friendly grown-up on the show. He later returned to producing and writing for television, including work on The Cosby Show.
After her parents divorced in the early 1970s, Peete moved with her mother and older brother, also named Matthew, to Malibu, California. The transition from Philadelphia to Malibu was not easy for the family, but Dolores Robinson's career was enhanced, which later helped when Peete pursued acting. Dolores Robinson found employment at a talent agency and went on to become a manager for actors and actresses. Some of them quite high profile; one of her first clients was actor LeVar Burton. Dolores Robinson was one of the few black women to succeed in a business dominated by white men.
Peete already had entertainment industry ambitions of her own. As a small child, she had tried to be on Sesame Street with her father, but repeatedly flubbed her line and her appearance was never completed. After Peete moved to Malibu, where she attended Malibu Park Junior High School, she had her own job on television. At the age of eleven, Peete worked for the children-oriented show Kidsworld as a celebrity correspondent. She interviewed many actors and actresses for the show. Peete wanted to have her own career as an actress and singer, but her parents insisted she finish school.
Though Peete excelled in school, she had a few acting roles as a child and teenager. In 1975, she had a guest-starring role in This Is Your Life. Four years later, her mother also helped her win a role in a television movie called Dummy. The movie starred Burton, and Peete played his character's sister, Genettia Long.
While Peete's mother helped her secure roles, she also helped her daughter understand the business by allowing her to come to the sets of television shows. Peete told Margena A. Christian of Jet, "This gave me an unbelievable advantage to understand what show business was and how I needed to be and remain a professional when I got my shot. It was a real edge. I was watching what people did wrong and right. Ultimately this contributed to the longevity I've had on television. I'm real proud of that."
After graduating from high school, Peete entered Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She majored in psychology and French, and could speak four languages. During her time as an undergraduate, she spent a year abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. After she graduated in 1986, she considered attending graduate school and perhaps working in languages for the U.S. State Department. However, her love of acting contributed to her decision to give an acting career a chance for a few months first. Within a short time, Peete found roles on a television series and in two films, and thoughts of graduate school were left behind.
When Peete decided to try and establish her acting career, it was with her mother's help. Dolores Robinson ended up acting as her manager for much of her career. Peete appeared in her first film, Lorea and the Outlaws, in 1985. In 1986, Peete played a member of a band Cherry Bomb in the box office disaster Howard the Duck. These two films did not do much to further her career, but a role on a hit television series did.
Shortly after Peete's college graduation, she was cast on 21 Jump Street, one of the first casting calls she had attended. On the show, she played Judy Hoffs, one of several young detectives who went on undercover investigations in high schools. Originally, the role called for a white actress, but Robinson impressed producers enough to win the role despite her relative inexperience as an actress. The show became one of the first hits on FOX, then a young fourth network. Though Peete was learning much about acting, she was not sure she still wanted to be an actress. Peete left the show in 1991, before the end of its run.
One reason Peete was not yet committed to an acting career was her continued interest in singing. She provided the vocals to the theme song of 21 Jump Street. During the show's run, she also signed a recording deal with Atlantic Records in 1988. Although she recorded tracks under the contract, she was not happy with the results and nothing was ever released. She continued to sing in nightclubs in New York City and at Club Med, and once also appeared with Lionel Hampton.
Of her problems in establishing a singing career, Peete told Aldore Collier of Ebony, "What I found was that in Hollywood, once you establish yourself as a television person, they put up barriers in the recording business. You get pigeonholed. For a minute, it was tough for me letting go of that dream but I had to. I still want to sing, but it's not do or die. Now, I have different priorities."
Peete still tried to take roles that involved singing. In 1992, she appeared in the miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream. The miniseries focused on the musical Jackson family, including the rise of the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson. Peete had a small part as Diana Ross, the Motown singer who was once a member of the Supremes. Ross played a very small part in the start of the group's career.
The same year that Peete appeared in the miniseries, she was cast in her second television series, ABC's Hangin' With Mr. Cooper. The show starred comedian Mark Curry as Mr. Cooper, and Peete played Vanessa Russell, his rather airheaded housemate who worked as a secretary. Hanging' With Mr. Cooper marked the first time she worked on a comedic show and she enjoyed the experience. However, the fact that the show's focus changed several times, from a comedy focusing on African-American professionals, to a more urban Three's Company, to a more kid-oriented show, bothered Peete. She also did not like the fact that her character did not evolve, but acted inconsistently and went in several different directions like the show did. Hangin' With Mr. Cooper went off the air in 1997.
During the run of Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, Peete's personal life was transformed. On June 10, 1995, she married Rodney Peete, a professional football player. Peete played quarterback for a number of National Football League teams, including the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Carolina Panthers. Their wedding was officiated by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist, one-time U.S. presidential candidate, and family friend.
Because of the nature of Rodney Peete's job, and the fact that Holly Robinson Peete had to be based in California to work in television, the couple spent a lot of time apart during football season. This situation provided drama when Peete was ready to deliver the couple's first children, a set of fraternal twins, in 1997. When Ryan Elizabeth and Rodney Jackson were ready to be born, their father finished a game halfway across the country, received a police escort to the airport, and flew to California in time to see them born by caesarean section. The couple later had another child named Robinson James.
Though Peete would often bring their children to their father's football games on Sundays, her work on television also allowed her to bring them with her to her job. In 1998, Peete was cast in the situation comedy For Your Love. The show spent part of its first season on NBC, before moving to The WB for the rest of its run. Peete played psychiatrist Malena Ellis, who has just married an attorney named Mel and played by James Lesure. For Your Love focused on their relationship, the relationships of two other couples, one black and one white, and their interactions.
Peete enjoyed working on the romantic situation comedy, especially as For Your Love discussed race in a positive way. She wrote in a biography on her website, "This is a dream show and I hope it lasts forever! I only wish more network programmers would give us more shows like For Your Love —multi-ethnic romantic comedy with humor that can appeal to everyone, celebrating the things we have in common instead of highlighting our differences as so many other shows do."
After For Your Love ended its run in 2001, Peete went for a season without a lead on a television series. She had a recurring role on the show One on One. She also had pilots and talk shows in development. Peete also took time to focus attention on her charitable foundation, the HollyRod Foundation, which she and her husband had founded in 1997. Robinson's father had been diagnosed with Parkinson's while she was a college student, and died of the disease in 2002. The HollyRod Foundation provided financial support for low-income sufferers of the disease as well as those with cancers of the breast and ovaries. Peete also served as a spokesperson for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) awareness, a respiratory infection infants can suffer from.
In 2003, Peete was cast in a lead role in her fourth situation comedy, Like Family. On The WB show, she played Tanya Ward, a wife and mother who lives in suburban New Jersey and decides to spend more time at home. She and her family open their home to her long-time friend, a white single mother who lived in New York City, and her teenaged son. The situation comedy focused on how the families lived and blended together, and Peete had taken the role in part because race was just there, not a major issue. Like Family lasted for only one season.
While Peete worked on Like Family, she had moved into new business ventures. In 2003, she signed a deal with the Mervyn's department store to design a line of maternity clothing and serve as a spokesperson for the retailer. The clothing was introduced in the fall of 2004 and was meant to be affordable yet fashionable. It was announced that she would be publishing a woman's guide to football in the fall of 2005 with Daniel Pasiner, Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching the Game.
From the beginning of her career, Peete worked to ensure her success. She wrote in Black Enterprise, "You're not guaranteed anything in this business. You get this one little shot. When you get your first shot, whatever you do with it basically sets up what's going to happen in the future . I was fortunate that I took my shot and made the best of it. I think that's why I've been able to sustain a consistent career in television to this point."
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Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 15, 2003, p. K1467.
Toronto Star, March 17, 1998, p. B8.
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