January 16, 1950
Houston, Texas, United States
Actor, Choreographer, Director, Dancer, Producer, Singer
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With notable credits on stage as an actress and on TV as an actor, producer, director and choreographer, Debbie Allen has become one of the more diversified talents in TV. The career of this dynamic, award-winning singer-dancer has been an inspirational beacon to Black women in the entertainment industry. On Broadway, Allen was a fiery Anita in the 1980 revival of "West Side Story" and a high-kicking prostitute with a heart of gold in Bob Fosse's 1986 revival of "Sweet Charity." She began appearing regularly on TV in the mid-1970s in guest shots, summer replacement series, variety specials and TV-movies. Featured as hard-driving dance teacher Lydia Grant in the film "Fame" (1980), she reprised the greatly expanded role on the critically acclaimed TV series (NBC, 1982-83; first-run syndication, 1983-87) which she also choreographed.Allen joined the already popular "Cosby Show" spin-off, "A Different World" (NBC, 1987-93), during its second season as producer and primary director. Under her guidance, the show found its focus, hit its stride and became a ratings powerhouse. Along with Cosby, Allen became one of contemporary TV's leading proponents of Black bourgeois values. She has numerous directing credits on such family-oriented sitcoms as "The Cosby Show," "Family Ties," and "The Sinbad Show." She also helmed the 1990 NBC pilot for the hit sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Allen also proved adept as a director of hour long TV drama with two episodes of "Quantum Leap."Allen may be most widely known to international audiences as the choreographer of the annual Academy Awards presentations since 1991. Though the sometimes unseemly and vulgar production numbers have received their share of critical brickbats, several linger in the memory for their sheer audacity.Allen returned to the regular grind of a weekly sitcom as the co-star, opposite rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J, of "In the House" (NBC, 1995-96), a family sitcom about a once wealthy divorced mother who finds herself sharing a household with a former pro football player. Her feature acting credits include Milos Forman's "Ragtime" (1981), Richard Pryor's semi-autobiographical "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling" (1986) and the Disney family comedy "Blank Check" (1994).Since the 80s, Allen has been more active behind the camera, helming the Disney musical comedy remake "Polly" (NBC, 1989) and its 1990 sequel "Polly Comin' Home!" (both of which featured her sister Phylicia Rashad) and the feature "Out of Sync" (1995). She also provided choreography for Billy Crystal's "Forget Paris" (1995). In 1997, Allen realized a long-held dream of producing the film "Amistad," directed by Steven Spielberg, which recounted the story of an 1839 revolt on a Spanish slave ship and court battle for the Africans freedom.
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