Lynn Whitfield is a Primetime Emmy Award-winning American actress and producer, who made her career breakthrough after she landed a lead role in the 1991 HBO biographical drama movie “The Josephine Baker Story.”
Age, Early Life, and Education Background
She was born Lynn Smith, under the Taurus zodiac sign on 6 May 1953, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which makes her 69 years old as of 2022. She is the first-born daughter of Dr Valerian Smith, a dentist but also a music composer famous for writing the musicals “The Wake” and “The Supper,” and his wife Jean Smith, a Financial Officer who previously served as the lead of Louisiana Housing Finance Agency.
She was brought up together with her two sisters, Kimberlegh Butler-Smith and Shawne Langston Smith, and brother Valerian Butler-Smith. Lynn’s father played a huge role in developing her interest in acting; he had created a local community theater, and he continuously encouraged her to appear in his plays.
Whitfield attended a local high school, matriculated to Howard University, and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. She received acting training at the Washington D.C.-based Black Repertory Company.
Lynn began her career in the late ‘70s shortly after she relocated to New York, and mostly featured in off-Broadway shows such as “The Great MacDaddy” and “Shutdown.”
Her fame started rising steadily when she joined Ntozake Shange’s Los Angeles production of the acclaimed theater piece “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When The Rainbow Is Enuf.”
Lynn ventured into television in the early ‘80s, and made her debut in 1981 with the role of Jill Thomas in the NBC drama “Hill Street Blues.” She subsequently featured in a number of films, including “The Slugger’s Wife,” “Jaws: The Revenge,” and “Doctor Detroit” (1983) before she starred in the 1986 film “The George McKenna Story”, together with Denzel Washington.
Rise to Stardom (1990 – 2000)
Whitfield rose to prominence in 1991 with her lead role in the film “The Josephine Baker Story,” which saw her scooping a number of awards, including a Golden Globe and an NAACP Image Award.
She then landed a recurring role in the ABC drama “Equal Justice”, and later in the films “A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story”, and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” in 1991 and 1992 respectively. From 1994 to 1998, she was seen in the films “State of Emergency,” the comedy “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” in 1996, the comedy “Gone Fishin’” in which she starred alongside Rosanna Arquette and Danny Glover in 1997, and “The Wedding” in 1998. She had steady work in a couple films such as “The Color of Courage” and “Deep in My Heart” before the decade ended.
Continued Work (2000-Present)
Lynn was selected for many supporting roles in movies in the early 2000s. 2003 saw her co-starring in the comedy “Head of State” by Chris Rock, and in Tyler Perry’s comedy “Madea’s Family Reunion” in 2006.
She subsequently featured in the film “The Women” in 2008, and “The Rebound” in 2009.
Whitfield also had recurring roles in several TV shows such as “Without a Trace ” and “Boston Public” in the 2000s. She caught the public’s attention with her role of the villainous Mary Walker in the drama “How To Get away With Murder” in 2014 and 2015. Whitfield’s rising fame saw her landing the role of the villain in Oprah Winfrey Network’s drama “Greenleaf” (2015), which also stars Oprah Winfrey, Kim Hawthorne, and Keith David. She was praised for her great performance in the TV show, one fan stating that ‘Whitfield has the imperious aura of a grand soap opera diva in the tradition of Joan Collins.’ In addition, she scooped an NAACP Image Award for her portrayal of Lady Mae Greenleaf in the 2020 series “Greenleaf”.
Lynn’s most recent roles are in the Netflix romantic film “Nappily Ever After” (2018), Fox’s drama “The Resident”(2019), and the 2022 comedy movie “The Retirement Plan,” in which she appeared together with Ron Perlman and Nicholas Cage.
She is active on several social media platforms, with close to 700,000 followers on her Instagram (@mslynnwhitfield). Her Facebook and Twitter accounts have around 500,000 and 45,500 followers respectively.
Lynn has been married twice; she walked the aisle with the director, actor and playwright Vantile Whitfield at the age of 21 in 1974; Vantile was 23 years older than her, however, their marriage was short-lived as they divorced four years later in 1978.
Whitfield later married the British director Brian Gibson in 1990. Nonetheless, they ended their relationship two years later in 1992. Lynn once said during an interview that, ‘When I went through a terrible divorce is when I really divorced my relationship, you know, a spiritual relationship with God.’ Gibson and Lynn had welcomed a daughter named Grace together,
who has followed in her mother’s footsteps, and is now an actress who’s featured in the movies, “Unsolved:The Murder of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.,” “All Eyes on Me,” and “Black Nativity.” Sadly, Gibson succumbed to bone cancer in January 2004. Lynn is now seemingly single, and has remained tight-lipped about her romantic life.
Height, Weight, and Physical Appearance
Lynn is of Afro-American ethnicity, but has very fair skin tone, dark brown eyes and black hair. She stands 5ft 3ins (1.61m) tall, weighs about 115lbs (53kgs), with vital statistics of 34-24-34.
Lynn has featured in numerous successful projects since she began her career decades ago. She has earned a good sum, mainly from acting, and is reportedly living a lavish lifestyle. According to sources, the Chicago-born actress is worth approximately $3 million.
About Lynn Whitfield’s First Husband Vantile Whitfield
Vantile Emmanuel Whitfield was an established Arts Administrator, who had a steady career in several US performing arts institutions.
He was born on 8 September 1930, in Washington, D.C., to Theodore R. Whitfield and Lugene Green, and grew up very interested in painting and soccer. He went to a local high school, and later joined the US Air Force, but left to enroll into Howard University, from which he graduated with a BA in 1957.
Together with the American actor Frank Silvera, Whitfield was the co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Theater of Being. He contributed to the production of the Silvera’s play “The Amen Corner” as the lights, sets and costume designer. He also came in as Studio West’s founding Artistic Director.
Vantile sadly died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2005.