Theresa Merritt based her That's My Mama character on her aunt

Image credit: The Everett Collection

While watching the short-lived series That's My Mama, which premiered on ABC in 1974, many viewers found it easy to connect with and relate to the main characters — especially Eloise 'Mama' Curtis. 

Mama Curtis was played by Theresa Merritt. She was the fictional mother to Clifton Curtis (Clifton Davis) and her character's love, wisdom and warmth made many feel as though she was part of their family. 

Many of us wished we could have someone like Mama Curtis in our family, but not many of us did. However, it turns out that Merritt's aunt had been playing the part of Mama Curtis long before Merritt did. 

According to a 1974 interview with The Columbia Record, Merritt built her portrayal of Mama Curtis on her great aunt, Gertrude Ruth Thomas, who raised her since she was nine.

Mama Curtis, according to Merritt, was a lady with tremendous dignity and a great flair for telling people the way it is. Those were just a few of the many traits she pulled from her Aunt Gertrude.

"That's my Aunt Gertie," Merritt said. "She was a God-fearing woman who wouldn't take any sass."

According to the interview, Merritt lost her mother when she was only four and was raised by her aunt.

She said the wardrobe, dialogue and the way her character worked all had the same qualities her aunt did. Even the Philadelphia home seen in the series shared similarities to those in the home Merritt grew up in. 

"Every morning she was up before anyone else," Merritt remembered. "She always was dressed in a clean, fresh dress and a pretty apron. She managed to dust around the room before she went down to make breakfast just in case she didn't get up to clean."

Promoting understanding through laughter was her main mission on That's My Mama, and it's also something she felt her aunt would have been proud of. 

Merritt played the role of Mama so well; she had viewers at home saying, 'That's My Mama!' as they watched. Her role was based on a real person she loved, and the love was so visible to viewers watching.

According to the interview, her aunt passed away due to a long-standing illness she had been battling for a while.

Merritt added: "I think she would be pleased to see how I portray her in the series."