'Roots 2' - New face has the series' biggest role
TV Data Features
February 17, 1979
Debbi Morgan can't stop her enthusiasm for Roots: The Next Generations from bubbling out. Two dimples on either side of her face deepen as she smiles and discusses her role of Elizabeth Harvey, Alex Haley's Aunt Liz.
As Aunt Liz, Debbi ages from 18 to 83. Her's is the miniseries' largest roles; shes in 12 out of the total 14 hours.
She thinks the impact of Roots: The Next Generations will be "just as much or Roots.
"The phyiscal slavery isnt' there," she says, "but the struggle is."
Tom Harvey's attempt to vote is snuffed out by an impossible literacy test. The Ku Klux Klan burns a white store-owner's shop to the ground because he helps the blacks.
The blacks have more contempt for their lifestyles than the characters in Roots did. Most are determined to better themselves.
For instance, Will Palmer buys a lumber company and builds a grand house. He's able to send his daughter, Bertha, Haley's mother, off to college.
According to Debbi, the conflict between the races takes on a new dimension in this miniseries.
"It's always dealing with prejudice between races, even within our own people."
When Miss Carrie, the black school teacher (Fay Hauser), marries a young white man (Richard Thomas), he's ostacized by the whites.
"It just was not done then," Debbi says. "As far as his father was concerned, he was a black man."
Like many Americans, Debbi was enthralled by the original Roots miniseries. But she insists that all the good roles in the first miniseries were for men. Roots: The Next Generations has all the best roles for actresses.
In Roots: The Next Generations, Debbi's heaviest role is in the opening episode, when Liz Harvey falls in love with a light-skinned boy.
"The boy I'm in love with," Debbi says, "my father refuses to let me marry him. It completely shatters her; she never marries."
Instead Liz goes to Memphis, Tenn., and becomes a school teacher. She gives up teaching and comes home to Henning, Tenn., when her father dies.
Other scenes, which are small but very important, feature Aunt Liz with young Alex Haley. She tells Alex about his ancestor, Kunte Kinte.
A 22-year-old former New Yorker, Debbi moved to Los Angeles in 1976. She began acting with a workshop production, "What the Win Sellers Buy," then continued her role after the play moved to Lincoln Center. When the company went on the road, Debbi got the lead role, which she found to be a better experience than working her way up in theater.
Once Debbi moved to California, she was cast in several episodes of WHAT'S HAPPENING as J.J.'s girlfriend.
If Roots: The Next Generations is as successful as Roots, Debbi is headed for stardom. She has a series pilot lined up with Warner Brothers. Hopefully, it will become a weekly series.