A character actress with an extensive and decades-long career in some of the most well-known American television shows of their time, Vernee Watson-Johnson was perhaps most familiar to a generation as Viola 'Vy' Smith, the mother of Will Smith's lead character in the hugely popular sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC 1990-96). She also worked extensively as an animation voice artist. Offscreen, she was also in the media in 2005 when she appeared as a witness for the defense at the second trial of Michael Jackson on child molestation charges.
Born and raised in North Trenton, NJ, as Vernee Christell Watson, Watson-Johnson worked steadily from her entrance into show business at the dawn of the 1970s. Beginning with a very small role in the blaxploitation favorite "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (1970), she spent the rest of the decade in projects as diverse as the movie "Trick Baby" (1972), television sitcoms including "That's My Mama" (ABC 1974-75), "Good Times" (CBS 1974-79) and "What's Happening!" (ABC 1976-79), as well as the memorable John Travolta-starring television film "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" (1976).
It was during this period that Watson-Johnson earned her earliest recurring roles in television series. The first was as Vernajean, one of the "unteachable" Sweathogs in the high school comedy "Welcome Back, Kotter" (ABC 1975-79), and the other in the short-lived, odd couple police comedy "Carter Country" (ABC 1977-79). The late 1970s would also bring her first voice roles on animated shows, "Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics" (ABC 1977-78) and "Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels" (ABC 1977-1980), beginning a lengthy aspect to her career in which she went on to voice multiple animated characters for producers Hanna-Barbera Productions and Warner Brothers Animation.
In the 1980s, Watson-Johnson continued to gather a respectable CV as a television actress and voice artist, becoming the sort of character actress whose face and voice were familiar to viewers even if they were unaware of her name. She made four appearances in "The Love Boat" (ABC 1977-1986) as four different characters, played the title character's sister in the hit sitcom "Benson" (ABC 1979-1986) and co-starred opposite Margaret Colin and Hector Elizondo as secretary Denise Willums on a sitcom set in the New York District Attorney's Office, "Foley Square" (CBS 1985-86).
Watson-Johnson's first appearance in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" came during the hit sitcom's first season. Although her irascible, show-stealing part only featured in a handful of episodes, she appeared prominently in the show's opening title credits. During the five years she was involved with the show, Watson-Johnson's voice acting skills would also be used in "Baby Talk" (ABC 1991-92), the television follow-up to the Amy Heckerling's hit comedy "Look Who's Talking" (1989).
Although she continued working steadily in low-profile roles throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Watson-Johnson's most prominent appearances in front of the camera came during Michael Jackson's 2005 trial, when she testified for the defense in her role as the acting instructor of the unnamed accuser, whom she had tutored at the Los Angeles Academy of Fine Arts. It was the second and more serious occasion in which she made an extracurricular appearance based on her work as an acting teacher; she had appeared on "The People's Court" (Syndicated 1981-1993) opposite a former acting student who had not had any work after her lessons. (Watson-Johnson won her case.) Following the Jackson trial, she continued her regular guest television appearances, including a recurring role on "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS 2007- ) as Althea, the sardonic nurse who always happened to be on duty when one of the characters needed to go to the hospital.
Cast (Feature Film)
Sound (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Feature Film)
First film role in "Cotton Comes to Harlem".
First television role in "The Corner Club".
Recurring television role in "Welcome Back, Kotter".
First television voice role in "Scooby's All-Star Laff-A-Lympics".
Recurring television role in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air".
Recurring television role in Days of Our Lives.
Recurring television role in "The Big Bang Theory".