|Trailblazing TV/Film Writer and Playwright Judi Ann Mason Dies at 54, Services this Friday
LOS ANGELES -- Trailblazing TV/film writer and playwright Judi Ann Mason died on Wednesday, July 8, of a ruptured aorta in Los Angeles at the age of 54.
When she joined the Writers Guild of America, West in 1975, Mason continued the legacy begun in 1953 by Helen Thompson, the Guild’s first African-American member. As did Thompson, many fellow black and women writers over the years were inspired by Mason’s decades-spanning career in television, film, and on the stage. Writers Guild Award-winning writer Tina Andrews notes about Mason, “So many of us are here as writers because she was there first willing to assist our journeys. I thank God I had her powerful shoulders to stand upon.”
A Shreveport, Louisiana native and Grambling State University alumna, Mason began in theater, becoming a prolific playwright with her work still in production today. She penned over 25 published and produced plays such as: Living Fat, for which she won the Kennedy Center’s Norman Lear Award for comedy writing at only age 19, and A Star Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hole in Heaven, garnering her the first Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award in 1977. She also became one of the youngest playwrights – of any race – ever to be produced Off-Broadway.
She was also a successful television writer/producer. Her career in television began at barely 20 years old after being hired as a writer on the CBS hit Good Times by TV legend Norman Lear, when he was the show’s executive producer/developer. “I never saw Judy Ann Mason without a smile. She brought it to her writing and her writing brought the rest of us to laughter. She was the ultimate upper,” commented Lear on Mason’s passing.
Her other TV writing credits include writing or co-writing for primetime network shows such as A Different World (NBC), American Gothic (CBS), Beverly Hills 90210 (FOX), Sanford, (NBC), and the Emmy-nominated series I’ll Fly Away (NBC). Her telefilm credits include Lifetime’s Sophie & the Moonhanger (teleplay by Sara Flanigan and Judi Ann Mason, story by Sara Flanigan). In addition, she wrote on daytime serials, as Head Writer for the Writers Development Program at Guiding Light (CBS), later becoming Associate Head Writer on the ground-breaking Generations (NBC), the first daytime series to center around an African American family.
Mason’s screen credits include co-writing Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (written by James Orr & Jim Cruickshank and Judi Ann Mason, based on characters created by Joseph Howard). In fact, before this unexpected tragedy, Mason was in the midst of working on her independent film scheduled to shoot in December called Motherland, about a college history instructor taking middle-class African American students to Africa. Mason also found time for academia, sharing her writing and producing knowledge as a visiting professor at such institutions as the University of Florida and the University of Louisville.
Yet Mason never left her theater roots. Last fall, she served as inaugural national honorary chair of the First Southern Black Theatre Festival, held in Shreveport. In addition, she was lauded for her latest play Storm Stories: True Dramas of Hurricane Katrina, a cross-cultural collection of monologues based on the storm’s real-life survival stories. Since 2006, venues where Storm Stories has been produced include New York’s famed Billie Holiday Theatre.
She is survived by her daughter, Mason Synclaire Williams, and her son, Austin Barrett Williams, as well as her siblings, Viola Mason Johnson, Waletta “Cookie” Dunn, and Willie Gene Mason.
A memorial service for Mason will be held this Friday, July 17, 2009, at 11:00 a.m. in the Prayer Chapel on the East Campus of the Church on the Way, located at 14300 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA, 91405.. The services will be presided over by Pastor Gary B. Abke. For further service details, please call the church at (818) 779-8000 or the Rose Family Funeral Home at (805) 581-3800. For further information, please contact Mason’s representative, Phyllis Larrymore Kelly, at Larrymore Entertainment & Literary Management at: (818) 349-8228.
To access a press photo of the late Judi Ann Mason, please visit the following link: