Jo Marie Payton’s portrayal of Harriet Winslow on Family Matters solidified her as one of television’s most favorite moms. While Steve Urkel’s character is arguably the most memorable from the show, there was no doubt that Harriet’s style of parenting was one of the reasons fans resonated with the show. But Family Matters wasn’t her only popular TV mom role. She starred as the witty and tough mother of Hakeem Campbell on Moesha.
Jo Marie Payton as Harriet Winslow on ‘Family Matters’
Payton starred as the loving mother of the Winslow family. At the time, there weren’t many images of working-class African American families on television, especially those with a two-parent household. Payton jumped at the chance to change the narrative of Black families in media and was excited to star alongside her television husband, Reginald VelJohnson. The two were fiercely protective of another, both as their characters and in real life.
“He popularized big ole, wonderful, sexy men on tv. Chemistry was just magic. When we started doing the show, I mentioned to the producers I didn’t want heavy jokes and jokes about fat people. I didn’t want those jokes,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2019, as reported by Madame Noire. “One of those reasons was because I was a little heavier. He was so wonderful and so beautiful. I thought he was so sexy too. Look at his skin, even today. He has beautiful skin and he was the best smelling man I ever knew.”
Family Matters was created around Hariette’s character. A spinoff of Perfect Strangers, Harriette was an elevator operator at the building where her cousins Larry and Balki (Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot) worked. The spinoff became a huge hit for ABC.
But toward the show’s end, Payton became frustrated over the direction of the show as writers focused more Urkel versus developing material around the Winslow family.
“I actually made the decision to leave the show two years before I left,” she revealed. She was replaced by Judyann Elder.
Jo Marie Payton on ‘Moesha’ as Mrs. Campbell
A year before leaving Family Matters, Payton would take on the role of another television mom on the hit UPN series Moesha as Mrs. Campbell. She starred as the mother of Hakeem, who was Moesha’s best friend. The Campbells were longtime next-door neighbors to Moesha’s family, the Mitchells. The Mitchell’s served as a surrogate family to Hakeem, particularly Moesha’s father Frank, as Hakeem’s father was absent.
While the Mitchell’s were a well off family, the Campbell’s struggled a bit. Mrs. Campbell worked at the local Magic Johnson Theatre in the ticket booth and had a few issues with providing financially. However, she taught Hakeem the value of hard work. By season 4, Hakeem was the assistant manager of a clothing store, working to help his mom pay for college tuition.
Though Mrs. Campbell’s role was not a primary character, her features were memorable, particularly in her relationship with Moesha. She viewed Moesha as a bright teenager but one who was too vocal. While Moesha grew up in a household where communication was open, Mrs. Campbell believed in a child “staying in her place” and took on a more tough-love approach to parenting.