Writer Judi Ann Mason dies at 54

Scribe was an inspiration

Judi Ann Mason, a trailblazing African-American writer who spent more than three decades creating for television, film and the stage, died July 8 of a ruptured aorta in Los Angeles. She was 54.

As a 20-year-old, Mason was hired by Norman Lear for the hit CBS sitcom "Good Times," and her film credits include co-writing "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit" (1993). The Shreveport, La., native penned more than 25 published and produced plays, many still in production.

When she joined the WGA West in 1975, Mason continued the legacy begun in 1953 by Helen Thompson, the guild's first black member. Many black and female writers over the years said they were inspired by Mason.

"So many of us are here as writers because she was there first willing to assist our journeys," said Tina Andrews, a WGA Award winner for TV's "Sally Hemings: An American Scandal." "I thank God I had her powerful shoulders to stand upon."

Lear said he never saw Mason without a smile. "She brought it to her writing, and her writing brought the rest of us to laughter," he said. "She was the ultimate upper."

Mason's other TV writing credits include work on primetime shows "A Different World," "American Gothic," "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Sanford" and "I'll Fly Away" and the telefilm "Sophie & the Moonhanger."

In addition, Mason led the writers development program at the CBS soap opera "Guiding Light," later becoming associate head writer on NBC's "Generations," the first daytime serial to revolve around an African-American family. The show ran from 1989-91.

The Grambling alumna was one of the youngest playwrights ever to be produced off-Broadway. Her work for the stage include "Living Fat," for which she won the Kennedy Center's Norman Lear Award for comedy writing at 19, and "A Star Ain't Nothin' but a Hole in Heaven," which earned her the first Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award in 1977.

Last fall, she served as inaugural national honorary chair of the First Southern Black Theatre Festival in Shreveport.

At the time of her death, Mason was working on "Motherland," her independent film about a college history instructor who takes middle-class black students to Africa. The movie was scheduled to shoot in December.

A memorial service for Mason will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif.