Lee Chamberlin, original Electric Company cast member, dies at 76

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Lee Chamberlin, an actor who was part of the original cast of PBS children’s show The Electric Company, died May 25 in Chapel Hill, N.C., from metastatic cancer. She was 76.

Chamberlin joined the educational variety show at its 1971 launch alongside notable cast members including Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and Rita Moreno. She stayed with the program for two seasons, singing and dancing in sketches to teach kids about reading and language.

“My mother always had a great love of words, and of writing and reading,” said her son Matthew. “I think acting was sort of the logical progression to how to get those words out and make those words resonate.”

In one of her sketches, Chamberlin tap-danced alongside Freeman to explain the “th” sound. “To hear my mother tell it, that whole thing was improvised, all the dance steps were improvised,” Matthew said. “I think what she meant was, she and Morgan had the freedom to do whatever they wanted.”

Chamberlin left the show after its second season, though her sketches continued to air on broadcasts until its 1977 cancellation. She went on to a varied acting career, appearing in New York’s Shakespeare in the Park stage productions, the Sidney Poitier film Uptown Saturday Night, and on the soap opera All My Children in a decade-long recurring role. In 2010 she founded the Playwright’s Inn Project, an organization to help black playwrights workshop their productions.

She is survived by Matthew, father Bernando La Pallo, sister Nandra Gant, daughter Erika Chamberlin and two grandchildren.

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