Family & Companions
Payton has gained some measure of celebrity playing Harriet Winslow, first as a recurring character--the sarcastic elevator operator at the newspaper office on the goofy "buddy" sitcom "Perfect Strangers" (ABC, 1987-89)--and subsequently as a regular, the long-suffering Mom who must endure the increasingly cartoonish antics of her blowhard husband and oddball neighbor (the infamous Steve Urkel) on the hit sitcom "Family Matters," a role she vacated in 1997 after the series moved from ABC to CBS. Ironically, though her character was ostensibly the original spur for the spin-off, Payton has been somewhat shunted aside by the phenomenal success of her young co-star Jaleel White as Urkel. Even before this happened, however, her on-screen husband Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) was emphasized over her. Later, the interplay between Urkel and Carl became the focus when the stylized nerd shared the spotlight at all. Perhaps Payton's qualities are more those of a supporting player than a star. In any event, she has been working steadily for about a decade.
Prior to these two successful stints, Payton's modest TV credits were almost exclusively in comedy. She had recurring roles on "The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour" (ABC, 1977), "The New Odd Couple" (1982-83) and "Silver Spoons" (NBC, 1985-86). Payton guested on such fare as "Frank's Place," "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story" and "227." She also appeared in several bit parts in films. Payton entered professional show business in the mid-1970s after appearing in numerous amateur productions in Miami, Florida. In 1975, her big break arrived in town with a touring company of "Purlie" starring Robert Guillaume. Payton's local celebrity helped her snare the part of Idella. She joined the tour and stuck with it until it ended in Los Angeles. Payton became involved in local theater and soon segued into TV where she found a comfortable home.
Cast (Feature Film)
Joined the touring company of "Purlie" when the show reached Miami; took over the principal role of Idealla, opposite Robert Guillaume; remained with the show until it ended its tour in Los Angeles
Made her first TV appearances on "The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour", a short-lived variety series
Appeared as Mona, a recurring character on "The New Odd Couple" (ABC), a black version of the classic sitcom
Made feature debut with a small role in "Crossroads"
Left the series after it moved to CBS during the 1997-1998 season