Actress Ja’net Dubois, famously brought the character “Willona Woods” from the hit TV show “Good Times” to life. Willona, neighbor to the Evans family was not only comic relief, she lived the saying ‘it takes a village.” Woods would help nurture the boys, J.J. and Michael (played by Jimmie Walker And Ralph Carter) and was the “Play Auntie” that Thelma (played by Bernnadette Stanis) needed.
For those who might not know, a “play auntie” is an older woman who you grew up around and is like family. You hold the highest respect for this woman just like you would your real aunt or mother. If you got in some trouble she would discipline you BUT make sure you don’t get in too much trouble with you folks. She’s definitely the first woman that fit the “play auntie” role to me. If I’m missing someone let me know.
Willona was all of that and then some. Dubois was a mainstay on Good Times, appearing in all six seasons. In season five, Florida Evans left the kids in the care of Willona after getting married and moving to Arizona (in real-life Esther Rolle, who played the role of Florida was dissatisfied with the shows direction and left production). In that same season, she would take on the role of parent to a little girl named Penny (played by Janet Jackson) who was being abused by her biological mother.
Woods held the Evans kids down like her own while staying independent, fashion forward, giving great advice and being the ying to their mother Florida’s yang. In the last episode of Good Times, we find out that Thelma and her husband was Moving out the projects and it turns out that Willona wasn’t going to be too far behind because she was moving into the same building.
In later years you would see Dubois play in movies such as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. She make television appearances on The Wayans Brothers and even had her own school, the Ja’net DuBois Academy of Theater Arts and Sciences in New York.
You would also hear her voice singing the classic theme song for the Jeffersons and played Janet Jackson’s’ mother for a second time, this time in the video for Janet’s classic video “Rhythm Nation.”
But no Television role was bigger and more important than playing the play auntie of the kids in the Chicago projects.
Dubois passed away in her sleep on Monday, February 17th. She was 74. Rest In Peace Auntie.