Theresa Merritt faced an identity crisis during her time on That's My Mama

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Many actors who play a role over the course of a couple seasons find it easy to get attached to their characters, and some even have a hard time separating themselves from who they play onscreen. 

That was the case for Theresa Merritt when she played the role Eloise 'Mama' Curtis on the short-lived series That's My Mama (1974).

The series was popular among its fans, but the public opinion of the show varied from critic to critic. This resulted in That's My Mama being a short two-season wonder. Although the series didn't last long, the memories and the emotion behind Merritt's character never went away.

In a 1975 interview with The High Point Enterprise, Merritt said she was facing an identity crisis while acting on That's My Mama. Merritt was an acting veteran who spent more than 30 years onstage and in Broadway before her role on the series. 

Even with all of her fame before the series and with years of experience in the industry, after she starred as Mama Curtis, she was only known by everyone in the country as "Mama."

"Even people 20 years older than me call me 'Mama' and hug me," Merritt said. "I'm grateful for all the love I'm receiving but I'm beginning to wonder if Theresa Merritt still exists."

An identity crisis wasn't the only issue Merritt faced during her first year in television stardom. She said when she began working on the series, she had no idea what she was in store for.

Not only did the country only know her as 'Mama,' but she said she had a problem finding herself. Most of her professional time was spent as Mama Curtis, and the rest of it was spent meeting people who thought she really was Mama Curtis. 

Besides her identity crisis, Merritt also had to face racial issues, scheduling problems and the many public appearances that came along with promoting a new show on a network such as ABC.

"I was used to the stage, where you say your lines, take your bows and go home," Merritt said. "No one warned me that there's a lot more to being in television than appearing in front of a camera."

"The touring of cities was the hardest," Merritt continued. "You're up at 6:30 a.m. and didn't hit the hotel again until 11 p.m. and all day long it's interviews, autographs, pictures and questions from everyone. You need good shoes and a hearty constitution."

Although she struggled with the fame of television at first, like a true professional, she eventually found her rhythm. According to the interview, by the second season of That's My Mama she had only just started to adjust to the lifestyle.

Merritt was able to deal with her identity crisis and other issues she faced because she found acting to be rewarding. She said she would often receive gifts and notes from children when she visited schools, well, because she felt like their 'Mama,' too. 

"While it was happening, there were many times when I wanted to say 'whoa,'" Merritt said. "I wanted to have some time for myself but the professional in me wouldn't let me quit."