Lesson 125:
Melanie Henderson

An ongoing illustrative history study
This piece originally posted 5/6/2023
(Free Comic Book Day 2023!)

Prelude | 121 | 122 | 123 | 124 | 125 | 126 | 127 | 128 | 129 | Email

Madame President. Pen and ink, 2.5 in. x 3.5 in.

Happy Free Comic Book Day 2023, everyone. A somewhat more lighthearted subject for today: meet actor, writer, and director Melanie Henderson. A New York native, Henderson is herself second-generation showbiz: her father Luther Henderson was a Broadway composer and conductor, and her mother Steffi Henderson was also an actress. Melanie has appeared in various supporting roles in 1980's Times Square and 1994's Disclosure, and also appeared in the popular TV series Glee. More recently Henderson wrote and directed 2016's short but compelling series Postcards From Planet Earth, and has appeared in Dinner With Friends.

But here's where the comic book connection comes in: after a great deal of double-checking on IMDB and elsewhere, I am 99.9% sure that Henderson is in fact the very first Black woman to portray the President Of The United States on television. Between 1971 and 1975, Henderson was a child cast member of the PBS show The Electric Company. Aimed at a slightly older audience --children who had "graduated" from shows such as Sesame Street-- The Electric Company emphasized literacy and reading but kept it fast and entertaining, with lots of humour and pop-culture references to hold kids' attention. One popular recurring feature was a series of short Spider-Man segments, produced in enthusiastic collaboration with Marvel Comics. One such segment featured a highly-nuanced and multilayered plot, coincidentally narrated by another Black actor who would one day portray a U.S. President, Morgan Freeman. SPOILERS AHEAD:

A costumed bunny villain inexplicably turns up at the White House to wreak havoc on the annual Easter Egg Roll, hosted by the President. Spider-Man appears, webs up the troublemaker, and saves the day. The President thanks Spidey for his service. Credits roll.

As far as I have been able to determine from the date on this particular 1974 skit, Henderson would appear to have beat Alfre Woodard to this milestone by a good 40 years or more! #withgreatpowercomesgreatresponsibility

Melanie Henderson's IMDB page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0376545/

In more serious news: last week I was humbled and honored to be invited to participate as "artist-in-residence" at the First Annual Community Impact Social Justice Awards event in Concord, New Hampshire. Congratulations to all nominees and the winners... you're all doing such important work and thank you for making my ongoing trading card series a small part of that: https://www.dartmouth-health.org/about/ergs#BIPOC

April 29, 2023 - Artist-in-residence

Next page - Lesson 126: Barbara Jordan

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