Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen Want to Star in a Remake of 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'

A Tale of Two Sisters Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts - Getty - H 2018
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

The superstar sisters were honored last night at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts by Halle Berry, Shonda Rhimes, Common, Lee Daniels and many others.

The Met Gala wasn’t the only star-studded event Monday night. 

As Madonna, Rihanna and Cardi B were partying at Anna Wintour’s Vatican-themed extravaganza, superstar siblings Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad were being honored at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills for their decades-long careers and philanthropic achievements.

"A Tale of Two Sisters" was a musical revue with performances by Gladys Knight, Jennifer Holliday and various other singers and dancers with tributes presented to the multihyphenates by Halle Berry, Common, Shonda Rhimes, Norman Lear and Alfre Woodard, among others.

“For me as an African-American woman and a young actress, the varied roles I saw Phylicia and Debbie take on were not only powerful statements but it was an awakening for me to see women of color not allowing themselves to be limited to playing maids or servants, but demanding equality in a time when it wasn’t freely given,” Berry said.

As their careers were highlighted with video and photo montages, Rashad and Allen looked gorgeous in white gowns as they sat in the audience with several family members, including their 94-year-old artist mother, Vivian Ayers Allen.

Both graduates of Howard University, Rashad became a household name playing attorney Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show while Allen did the same with her role as the inspiring dance teacher in the Fame movie and television series.

“These women do — they do too much,” Rhimes said. “They are actors. They are directors. They are producers. They are singers. They are mentors and they are icons. They are legends and they are trailblazers.”

Rhimes said the two became role models for her and her sister Sandy. “My sister Sandy and I danced with Debbie, dancing in front of our television set in Park Forest, Illinois, and imitating her dance moves,” she said. “We did performances of Claire Huxtable monologues to one another.…These two sisters shaped who and what my sister and I wanted to be.”

Common joked that he was still single because of Rashad and Allen. “Me being a kid from the South Side of Chicago seeing two powerful black women on television was an incredible thing,” he said before debuting a spoken word piece titled “The Day Women Took Over." “I had a great mother but there’s something about TV that gets your mind when you’re a youngster. And for me to see Debbie Allen in Fame and to see Phylicia Rashad on The Cosby Show, these were examples of women that I needed to see as a young man to set a standard, to set a standard of how great women can be and what type of woman I want. Actually, you know, I could blame both of you for the reason I don’t have a lady yet because my standards are so high.”

In pretaped remarks, director Lee Daniels recalled Rashad and Allen pitching him a remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the iconic 1962 film about an aging actress (Bette Davis) who holds her paraplegic sister (Joan Crawford) captive in her Hollywood mansion.

“I wish we had done that film,” the Empire creator said before adding, “but we still have time.”

While the evening included several recollections of The Cosby Show, the only reference to Bill Cosby was by Lear when he said that the recent "hubbub” surrounding the disgraced comedian shouldn’t overshadow Rashad’s groundbreaking work on the sitcom. (Rashad herself avoided talking about her disgraced former co-star by skipping red carpet interviews while Allen declined to comment to THR.)

The gala ended with Rashad and Allen being called to the stage.

“This tale of two sisters after tonight, I have to say is still in the making,” said a teary-eyed Allen. “It is still in the making. It has been such an inspiration to look back but as we look back, we’ve always learned we look forward. So we know there’s a lot of work yet to be done. There’s a lot of inspiration but there’s a lot of work.”

Ain’t that the truth. Rashad skipped the evening’s dessert after-party because she had to catch a flight back to New York to continue rehearsing Our Lady of 121st Street, an off-Broadway revival of the Stephen Adly Guirgis play opening May 20.

The night served as a benefit for the Wallis’ artistic, educational and outreach programs. "I’ve never been honored with my sister before,” Allen told THR on the arrivals red carpet. “I love the title they came up with, 'A Tale of Two Sisters.' I love that. It’s a blessing.”

Wallis Annenberg received a standing ovation as she came to the stage to kick off the festivities.

"We launched this center five years ago for a simple, single purpose — to create a place where this whole community would come together around the performing arts,” she said. “We wanted to reach out and grab people to show them that the arts aren’t some dusty relic but a living, breathing expression of who we are at this very moment. To me, this center is about art as an essential part of life as something we should never live without. And there is no one who embodies that ideal more than these two remarkable women — powerful as individuals, unstoppable as a pair — my dear friends Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad.”