Theresa Merritt (1922-1998) was an actress who began her career in stage musicals and dramas but on-screen usually played warm, motherly types. In 1996, she played Gordon's mother Grandma Sarah in Sesame Street Episode 3578.
Merritt was in the original Broadway cast of Carmen Jones in 1943, moving from ensemble to the featured role of Carmen's friend Frankie in two more forties mountings. She played Tituba in the 1972 revival of The Crucible (with Stuart Pankin) and originated Ma Rainey in August Wilson's play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (netting a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress).
On television, she starred on the sitcom That's My Mama (1974-1975) as the titular Mama and had guest roles on The Love Boat, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, and Cosby. In film, she debuted as a sympathetic telephone operator in They Might Be Giants (with George C. Scott and F. Murray Abraham) and went on to play Aunt Em in The Wiz (having been a replacement as the far from motherly Evillene on Broadway), Jewel in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Juanita in Billy Madison (with Adam Sandler).