Although I vaguely remember Josephine Premice from her guest-starring stints on The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, and A Different World (most likely her most known role as Whitley Gilbert’s boss, the haughty Mrs. Abernathy), it wasn’t until I’d come across her daughter, Susan Fales-Hill’s (an accomplished television writer and producer, as well as a notable socialite style icon in her own right) homage, Always Wear Joy: My Mother Bold and Beautiful, that I fully grasped just who she was and what she’d accomplished.
Having been born in Haiti in 1926 to an upper-class family, Josephine moved to New York as a child, where she initially wanted to pursue a career in Anthropology. While she obtained a degree from Columbia University, the strong pull of show business drew her in as a dancer, singer, and, eventually, an actress. Never one to stick to a script as to what was expected of her at the time, she stormed her way through Broadway with her undeniable talent, dazzling style, and charming wit- resulting in her Tony-award nominated turns in Jamaica and A Hand Is On The Gate. So impressive was her personality and style that she’d caught the eye of some of the most legendary French designers of the day, such as Jacques Fath and Hubert de Givenchy. She’d also caught the eye of seafaring scion and Mayflower descendant, Timothy Fales, who taken to her and promptly married her, despite the great scandal that resulted in 1950s America:
Unfortunately, while she’d received acclaim for her starring turns in Bubbling Brown Sugar and The Glass Menagerie, her fabulous effervescence was underappreciated in an era where fabulous black beauty was narrowly accepted in the form of the keener-featured divas as Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, and Diahann Carroll. As a result, she worked sporadically in the theatre and television, unable to garner the same amount of success as her peers. And while she’d passed away from emphysema in 2001, largely forgotten by the mainstream, her daughter took it upon herself to immortalize Josephine’s greatness in print. For not only did she instill a great sense of pride in Susan’s sense of self, she also represented the woman who wasn’t afraid to break the mold of what was considered to be black and beautiful.
That, folks, is the true embodiment of a Vintage Lavish Diva.