Carol Mayo Jenkins, who has been an artist in residence in the University of Tennessee’s Department of Theatre for 22 years, retired earlier this month but told those gathered to celebrate that she’d still be around, hopefully performing at the Clarence Brown Theatre.
The veteran stage and television actress was feted by fellow thespians – in person and in videotaped tributes — during a dinner at Bridgewater Place in West Knoxville. She was visibly touched when her “Fame” television series co-star, actress Debbie Allen, announced via video a gift of $10,000 to an endowment established in Jenkins’ name. That fund will be used to assist outstanding undergraduate acting students at UT.
Tony Award-winning actor Michael Cerveris attended in person and praised Jenkins for her commitment to teaching. “We need more people like Carol,” he said. “She brings optimism, hope and is forward-looking. Plus she brings history and a grounding in tradition.”
Actress Jane Alexander, via videotape, also praised Jenkins as a teacher. “Teaching is the greatest gift we as actors can give,” she said.
Jenkins, who has been a working actor for more than 60 years, said she has survived “the longest fear of performing, demanding directors, long hours in cold theaters and a few really terrible leading men!” But, she added, “I never lost the incredible sense of wonder for the profession and the theater.”
“It’s not about being rich and famous,” she said. “It’s about working in the theater and believing in the theater. The theater influences — and maybe even directs — where we are going as a civilization.”
She said the evening meant more to her “than any acting award I could ever receive.”