Former mom on Fresh Prince claims Will Smith sabotaged her career


Will Smith has worked long and hard to firmly establish his reputation as the prince of Hollywood. And he’s probably considered the nicest guy there, right after Tom Hanks. Certainly some rumors and innuendos have floated his way, mostly related to whether or not he and wife Jada Pinket-Smith have a traditionally monogamous marriage. Oh, and the occasional Scientology-related thing here and there. But for the most part, it seems like everyone loves Mr. Smith. Well, everyone except Janet Hubert, who played the original mom on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

Hubert’s written a book called ‘Perfection Is Not A Sitcom Mom’ that’s going to be released next year, and in it she says that Will was not the nice considerate guy he makes himself out to be. He was a diva on the show from the very beginning. If a guest star was too good and ran the risk of stealing the spotlight from Will, they were fired. No one but Smith was allowed to go on “The Tonight Show” for the first season. And then there was season four, in which Hubert was unceremoniously let go and her part recast, without any explanation or acknowledgement to the audience. And that’s bugged me since the fifth grade, so I’ve held a grudge on Hubert’s behalf.

In one excerpt from the tome, given to BV Buzz exclusively, Hubert writes: “Smith had people around him who made sure no one outshone him. I was happy to see Don Cheadle become the quality actor that he is, and often wondered how he made it past one episode, as Hilary’s boyfriend, being such a fierce actor. No one could be on ‘The Tonight Show,’ that first season, except Will. And I mean no one.”

“I recall the lovely and incredibly talented Countess Vaughn coming to guest star. Oh my God! The day of table read, she was pee-in-your-pants funny. The writers were howling, we were howling, so I knew she was history – banished into the cornfield. Many years later, after she had her own show, I had to tell her when she asked me why. ‘Miss Janet why did I get cut from the episode,’ she asked? Simply, my darling, you were too good,” she recollected.

[From Black Voices]

Hubert likens the negotiations the news that she was being fired as akin to a murder. First they offered her just 10 episodes, when the standard was 22-26. It would have meant a pay cut of over $100,000 a year, and Hubert had a three and a half month old son, a new house, an unemployed husband, and had just started a new business, signing a three year lease on an exercise studio.

“‘That’s not all,’ Michael [her agent] said. ‘They don’t want you to work on any other shows. You can only do two guest starring roles.’ What? Who? I stammered. I couldn’t breathe. What do we do, Michael? What do we do? ‘We pass,’ Michael said. ‘This is a dirty deal, and they know it.’ OK, I trust you, I said. Michael had been my agent for more than 20 years. ‘OK sweetie, I will call you back,’ he said.”

…”My mind was going in a million places. OK, I thought, they will come back; this is how they do it. They always come back. I started into the kitchen where Rayna – my friend, housekeeper and nanny was. She was doing dishes as baby E was enjoying a swing. I knelt down, kissed his head, and waited for the next round of negotiations. They never came. The next time Michael called he said, ‘They are going to recast your role.’ There was a beautiful stained glass window that I designed in the bedroom, and the windows were open, so my neighbors probably heard me scream. And that beautiful window probably has many cracks in it. Time of Death: approximately 3 pm. The real Vivian Banks was murdered,” the excerpt closed.

[From Black Voices]

Okay so the writing style is a bit overdramatic, but the point is certainly made. This was a massive financial and career setback for Hubert. And the implication seems to be that Smith was in some way responsible for it. She doesn’t directly say that he wanted her role cut back, but it seems like, if nothing else, he didn’t help her out.

Thanks to my freakishly restrictive parents, I was only allowed to watch two shows at that point in my life – Blossom and Fresh Prince. As a result, I’ve seen just about every episode – I’m not kidding here – at least two dozen times (thanks to reruns and strong Canadian T.V. signals). So I really think it’s safe to say that I am the world’s foremost expert of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

I can absolutely recite any episode right now. Just give me one. The song? Too easy, something harder. Anyway, I can say with absolute 100% authority that the show was not nearly as good once Hubert left. While she was a very good actress, the woman they replaced her with was absolutely beyond dull. She had no personality or character and the role just went flat. And frankly I just could never forgive the show the insult of assuming I wouldn’t notice some brand new woman walking around, calling herself Aunt Vivian, when clearly she was a sucky imposter.

Will Smith, you’re starting to lose some public favor. Frankly you’ve been losing mine since 1993. I think it’s time you make things right with Aunt Vivian. And let her throw you out the front door. That was a DJ Jazzy Jeff reference for you there.


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55 Responses to “Former mom on Fresh Prince claims Will Smith sabotaged her career”

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  1. Mairead says:

    And yet didn’t he supposedly help Tatiana Ali with her then fledgling career?
    Ok so year one only Will could do the major press.. big whoop.

    I will agree with one thing, whatever about cutting her weeks, not allowing her to do other guest appearances was nasty.

  2. Annie says:

    It’s peculiar to me that if she is that talented, how she has not gotten any other work? Or has she and I just missed it?

  3. I Choose Me says:

    Hmm, this is one side of the story so I don’t know. I do however agree with Mairead that cutting her weeks and not allowing her to go on other shows was pretty damned low. And I’m with you Jaybird 100% that the show was never as good after Janet Hubert was replaced. She will always be Aunt Viv to me not that imposter.

  4. geronimo says:

    Never bought into Will Smith being a nice guy, so whatever. He tries way too hard with his public image, just like Cruise….

  5. Susette says:

    Back when the show was still on the air, a friend of mine was working on it. He used to talk about what a diva and a*hole Will Smith really was behind the scenes. I remember being disappointed to hear it, since Smith seemed like such a nice guy.

    I haven’t thought about that in years, but because of it, I believe Hubert’s story.

  6. rbsesq says:

    Seriously, does anyone think this woman would still have a career even if she had not been cut from the show? Of the cast, Will Smith was the only person to make it big after the show. Is she going to claim that he ruined the career of every single cast member? TV sitcom actors just don’t have a long shelf life. Their careers are over as soon as the show is over. Some of them manage to cross into movies and acheive moderate success. Even less manage to acheive major stardom. It’s just the way it is.

  7. LondonParis says:

    annie: are you at all familiar with the definition of “sabotage”?

  8. Iggles says:

    Wow, it’s annoying how some people always stick up for the established star. :rolls eyes:

    I believe this story. I never knew why that recasted Aunt Viv. I think that was point the show jumped the shark. It was downhill from there.

    Another thing that pissed me off, other than the fact the baby suddenly became a cute 5 year old, was that the new actress looked NOTHING like the original Aunt Viv! It wouldn’t have made her replacement okay, but it was just another thing that insulted loyal viewers.

  9. RexKing says:

    Um, maybe I’m missing something, but Will didn’t become a producer for several seasons, meaning he probably had little to do with larger decisions about who stayed and who goes, and they sunk EVERYTHING into that show to be popular and if that meant cutting someone who might overshadow their budding star, they make cuts. That’s normal unless the guest star is an actual star.

    Regardless, I think it’s funny that she’s trying to draw a small line between talented people being cut from roles and her departure. And why was Will supposed to come and whitekinght her needs? Eh, life happens.

    I love that some 15 years later after he’s clearly proved his worth time and time again she’s determined to still use him as both the example of her success and failure and smear him to get book sales. Bitter, anyone?

  10. sandy bical says:

    Ok…so if this actress was so great, why hasn’t she starred or guest starred in any shows since Fresh Prince? It’s never a smart idea to badmouth a big star like Will Smith. She should have just played the Hollywood game and made nice. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

  11. Ellie says:

    Hmm, I haven’t seen or heard about her being in anything, either. Maybe this is an attempt to get back into the spotlight… make a little money? She’s getting broke and bitter it seems.

  12. Annie says:

    Yes LondonParis. Have you ever heard of something called “Proof”?

    I’m not defending Will or belittling Hubert. I was merely asking if she was in other shows?

    15 years is a long time to wait about coming out about something like this.

  13. Lem says:

    I imagine he had some pull (because they were basing the series on him) but not like she is suggesting. the first season was his first gig.

  14. Neelyo says:

    Even if she was a good actress (I don’t know), back in the late 80s there were probably about five roles for actresses of color any given year, let alone any that paid like a sitcom role. There were probably other factors in her firing besides Will.

    But I believe her completely about the guest stars and his diva like behavior. I think Will Smith was an innocent in Hollywood for maybe five minutes.

  15. e-non says:

    uh, i could count on my finger the number of acting roles available to middle-aged black women in those years. and it’s hardly any better now.

  16. sam says:

    Wasn’t he just a young guy at the time? Wouldn’t most young guys at with all that fame be a bit diva-ish till they settled down?

  17. I did like her part on the show however I don’t think that Will Smith owed her anything. He was trying just as she was to establish an acting career of his own.

  18. CeeJay says:

    Don’t like the guy and his movies have sucked ever since he started giving Tommy Boy script approval of all his roles.

  19. wow says:

    Wow, she is STILL bitching about this?

    Write a book and move on.

    Oh wait.

    Well she needs to get to the moving on part then.

    Will Smith does come off like an arrogant a$$ some times though, so I wouldn’t put this stuff past him.

  20. Lizzard says:

    I don’t remember what I was watching or where I heard it from, perhaps the E! True Hollywood Story about the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but I remember thinking the entire show was like his. I believe he was the one with the idea or in the very least was the first person cast. I think that might explain why he was the only one allowed to appear on the media circuit to promote it. When he first started on the show and probably the length of the show, he may have been some-what of a diva, but he was really young and had a lot to do with the shows success so he kind of earned that right to be a little bit demanding.

    As for him sabotaging her career? Maybe. I don’t think it was quite as harsh as what she claims. Also, who knows how the show really approached her agent in the first place. I mean ten episodes and not being able to do anything else is pretty shaddy, but also for negotiation purposes it is a really low number and was obviously for a reason. If she really did just have a baby 3 and a half months prior, that may have had something to do with it too. She may have asked for a lighter load to juggle everything and maybe just “forgot” to mention it in her book. Or maybe she had gained a lot of weight and the producers expected her to regain her shape and size for wardrobe purposes.

  21. Layla says:

    Will Smith seems really strange to me. He’s WEIRD in interviews, & his wife is the same way. It’s like they’re trying hard to be normal or something.

  22. velcrodots says:

    I’m guessing Oprah wasn’t that famous when she guest-starred then.
    Tom Jones was though

  23. TRINI says:

    i agree with velcrodots and am cracking up @ jaybird……”thats a jazzy jeff reference for u right there?”

  24. j.ann says:

    I kind of want to stick to Hubert’s side here, just because everyone is so quick to judge her and take Smith’s side. She was a pretty fab mother, and while the replacement Vivian was not so bad, it just wasn’t the same, yo.

    There was SOME in-show recognition of the change the cast, both for Vivian and for Baby Nicky. I think at the beginning of the season after Vivian changed, Jazz asked if Vivian changed, and big Little Nicky walks into the shot going, “It’s the same mom!” while Jazz and Will have a silent, mimed conversation about how big Nicky was all of a sudden and that they didn’t know how or why.

  25. Persistent Cat says:

    Why would The Tonight Show want no name secondary actors from the first season of a show? I guess it’s easier to blame someone than to face the fact that you weren’t asked. And I guess it’s easier to blame a high profile celebrity for your failed career rather than yourself. If she was going to blame the actress that played Hilary, I doubt the book… well it wouldn’t have become a book because it didn’t get published. What publishing house isn’t going to pay for a book trashing Hollywood’s nice guy.

    Maybe he’s a diva and not nice but I call bullshit. And who cares about her book? Even if you liked the show (I didn’t care for it), would you really read that book? I think we just read what might be considered the best part.

    And of course no one liked the second mother. No one liked it when Miss Ellie was recast either (Dallas). No one likes adjusting to that.

  26. Candi says:

    It could be just a rumor,but I hear
    Judy Hubert was not only a diva on set,but was asking for a raise,which she claimed she was denied of,then ultimately fired.

    She was always my favorite “Vivian Banks”.

    So I am glad is going to make some more coin for herself,and have everyone that was a fan hear her side of the story.

  27. Shay says:

    Not sure about the Countess thing but now that she says it I can see what she means. I don’t remember anyone outshining Will ever on the show no matter how big a star or character they were.

    As far as her career I doubt Will was primarily at fault. I’d blame Quincy Jones more so for that one.

  28. hmm says:

    The only thing is that all of the other cast members deny her story and recall how difficult she was to work with. She was obviously a trained actor who had difficulty with the star of the show being a rapper with no acting experience. And if Will was such a diva, trust that someone else would have revealed that in the years since.

  29. Spike says:

    rbsesq: People who had decent careers after Fresh Prince

    James Avery (Uncle Philip)

    Brian Stokes Mitchell He’s a Broadway mainstay. Multiple Tony nominations; one win

    Tyra Banks

    Garcelle Beauvais

    Queen Latifah

    I did watch it for quite a while when it was on. After the recast, not so much. But looking at the guest stars it was a good stop for many black actors in a time where there were very few opportunities.

    Let’s not totally diss Janet Hubert. She was trained at Julliard. That’s nothing to sneeze at. She was a lot better than Daphne Reid. I tend to believe what she is saying. I think she has a lot of guts to speak out now, especially considering how powerful Will and Jada are right now.

    The fact that she was unceremoniously fired from such a popular show at that time was in no way a boon for her career.

  30. Rachel says:

    First, I sympathize with Hubert about ‘not making guest appearances on other shows’ while doing Fresh Prince WTF?! I loved that show too. But the truth is Will didn’t really help any of the other cast land big parts either. You know what, it’s not his job to. Hubert is an adult, you make your own way! The other issues here are 1) Hubert is not a cross-over actress, she can’t handle alot of diff. roles. 2) Hubert doesn’t want to address this but Hollywood didn’t like to cast extremely very dark Black Women in roles. It’s gotten better now with the likes of Viola Davis, who is a remarkable actress. But there’s dark & then there’s too dark & unfortunately Hubert falls into the latter category! Don’t put all the blame on Will Smith cause Hollywood is Hollywood.

  31. Ron says:

    She was not a big name actress, and if you are labeled “difficult” by a big star or studio, it really is like poison. Think about Mira Sorvino, She won an oscar for God’s sake and she got the diva attitude and was labeled “difficult” by a studio head. After that it was off to made for tc movies which she could still and based on her name. With a moderately successful actress, you go off the charts of who to call. Something had to happen on her part as well for Will Smith not to like her. It’s never the one sided victim story.

  32. lisa says:

    I guess you have to be Oprah to really be into this guy because I honestly don’t see what is so great about him. He’s annoying, his wife is annoying, his kids are annoying. But I do not believe that back then he had the power to ruin anyone’s career. He was pretty new himself even if he was the star of the show.

  33. Hello!! says:

    Cutting her pay to $100,000K per year with a new house, new baby, and an unemployed husband. In the 80′s, a mere pittance. Maybe she bit off more than she could chew. (Can’t sell a crappy book about poor management choices, HUH?) Smith was a teenager (hard to believe he wasn’t loving the attention and a bit diva-ish) with no acting experience that “the powers that be” built a show around. (Quincy Jones a powerhouse in the industry) and she blames Will, I’m sure Jones made “the rules.” Come on! I find it hard to believe she feels like she was punished for outshining Will, yet Uncle Phil a fabulous actor I see regularly, hilarious Carlton and his dance, Karen and her weather girl stuff, and Tatiyana Ali’s music career on and off the show where all big caricatures and roles. Even Jazzy Jeff was funnier than Aunt Viv. The show gave a lot of actors, writers, etc good, stable work. Hers was always the smallest, least interesing role until she got pregnant and I bet that was after the recast. Remind me…she was in what other show or movie…much less multiple blockbusters. Contracts, show renewals, ratings, and ticket sales are all that count in Hollywood!! She just sounds bitter.

  34. Hello!! says:

    Did anyone ever outshine Bill Cosby?? Even the kids roles were not allowed to out do Cosby. When Lisa Bonet started to get a little heady (cocky even-hell she married Lenny Kravitz-still an ultra cool dude) from the attention, they wrote her off the show and gave her her own show. Can’t P off the star or discard the new big talent, just write her off one show and start another. Will Smith, maybe a teenager at the time, did not offer her a 10 show rather than 22 show deal. Her management TOLD her to refuse the deal. How is any of that stuff Smith’s fault!! Sounds super stupid to me!!

  35. Oenix says:

    I don’t care much for Will Smith’s acting and think his artistic strength is in music. That being said, I am not a Will Smith FANATIC and think this Aunt Viv is just bitter and needs to let it go. There are several factors that derailed her career, least of which is Will Smith’s direct involvement.

    As I remembered it, she was labeled “difficult to work with”. Given her educational background, I would assume she wasn’t a “team player” as she felt she was the better actress (of the whole).

    Personally, I found her acting TOO dramatic. Too theatrical. The second Aunt Viv came across as being more REAL.

    That’s my 2 cents

  36. Tia C says:

    Hey, everyone’s got their own version of their own personal drama. She does sound just a tad on the cra-ZAY-zee side, but who knows. Whatever the truth of the situation is, she has done some respectable work since “Fresh Prince.” Not a ton, but she’s had a few good gigs. She was on the Denis Leary show “The Job” that nobody but me watched, LOL. I loved that show! She was a hoot, too, as the uber-controlling wife of Leary’s partner.

  37. Iggles says:

    Right, because saying Mel Gibson is a jerks after working with him makes you bitter? Oh wait, we’d be more inclined to believe that now that his drunken rants and mistress have become public knowledge.

    It’s sickening how people demonize others when they ‘tell it like it is’ about someone who is famous. More other than not, what they say have grains of truth.

  38. ashley says:

    someone must be desperate for JUST NOW doing this book…who cares that was years ago go to therpy to get over it. nobodys gonna buy your stupid book

  39. Apres Ski says:

    When you have an “office favorite”, they get everything they want including ruining your career. Will was young, had the power of The Suits & producer behind him and they let him $hit all over anybody he wanted. So he took it to an extreme.

    In show business, if people are willing to give you another shot, you have to crawl you way back to where you were and that’s hard after having some TV success.

    She’s been able to come back and get some work but Will really, REALLY did a number on her career.

    However, BK, Bad Karma has come back to bite Will in his a$$! He divorced his 1st wife, his 2nd marriage is all for show and he’s rumoured to be gay behind closed doors, not to mention he’s sold his soul to the devil.

    So there, take that Will!

  40. XxX says:

    Bigtime Sour grapes. I cant remember one episode that she was memorable in. Also, sounds like she is a drama queen herself and if she cant get her husband to get a job, fire some nannys and housekeepers and put him to work. Then you would have been able to afford to take the gig part time and maybe still have had a career — for a little while anyway.

  41. Annie says:

    Apres Ski, where are you pulling these “facts” from? Hmm?

    BK? Please.

  42. dubdub2000 says:

    Will Smith has openly said over and over again that when he first got famous during the Fresh Prince he totally lost it and became the biggest prick on the block, threw ALL his money away, got into serious trouble with the IRS and was basically a 2 bit punk (which also resulted in the end of his first marriage) It’s only after all this came crashing down on him and he met his 2nd wife Jada Pinket that he took a step back and decided that he needed to grow up and drastically change his attitude if he wanted to have a long successful career and life generally. Thats when he turned into mr nice guy. Now I cant remember who mentored him but if you look around for articles or interviews of him about this transition I remember he saif he worked with or met some older actors and producers who were legends who basically shook him up and told him to get his act together.

    All of this to say that what she says is probably true and that he probably wouldnt deny it but since then the guy has made amends and has helped various people and has reinvented himself. Though his brand of niceness and happiness to me isnt in the Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Ron Howard league but more in the Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman league: way too manic (his over the top laugh is scary, seriously) and over the top and creepy.


  43. manda says:

    It’s easier to blame everyone else than to look inside and see if you might have had anything to do with your situation.

    Maybe Will didn’t like her, but if you read those links that Mairead posted, she sounds like she was crazy high-maintenance. Bitter too, but I find it hard to believe that the crap she was spewing in those interviews was simply a result of being spurned…if I had to place a bet, I’d say she was probably talking crap like that prior to her exit from the show.

    In any job, if you are high maintenance and difficult, people will not want you around. I find it easier to believe that the producers got tired of crap from a minor character than it is to believe that a teenage Will Smith was “out to get her”.

    And “out to get her” is different than being in a position to decide who he liked to work with and who he didn’t like to work with. Maybe WS had something to say about it and maybe the execs were inclined to listen…if that happened, I don’t think that’s so terrible. If I was in the same position I might do my part to persuade the powers that be to see things my way too.

    Bottom line is that there is no freaking way I believe that Will Smith is the one who permanently damaged her career. Outspoken or not and with cause or without, she made some pretty harsh accusations about the show and studio. And just like in real life, when you leave a job, you don’t get to curse out your boss and then expect him/her to give you a glowing recommendation.

  44. BOGART4017 says:

    This story is almost as old as the show. I’ve heard and read it a dozen times before. Unless she has something new to add i’ll pass on the book.

  45. ebonygoddess says:

    She doesn’t think that suing NBC had/has anything to do with her not being successful? They were the number one network at the time and the whole thing was quite public. I can’t imagine that suing did her career any favors.

  46. Nonny says:

    Wait…Will Smith was in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire? AND he was the star? I thought Alfonso Ribeiro was. All that show was known for was the Carlton dance. Why else would you watch the show. (shakes head) I misunderstood so much in the 80′s. First the shows on Nickelodeon weren’t first time airs they were repeats of old 50′s shows…now this…next y’all’er gonna tell me that they’re making a remake of 90210. God I love Luke Perry…

  47. Reina says:

    Wait a minute; so you’re telling me that an actor (who is female) playing the non-title character of a (prime-time, top 20) television show that is targeted towards minorities (with an all minority cast) got into a dispute with Hollywood is unusual?!

    Let alone how shocking it is that suing the number one network in television (at the time) and (true or not) having the reputation of a diva on-set makes you difficult to employ?!

    Man, what world is it that we’re living in these days?!

    (Personally, I loved the over-dramatic Vivian, the second one was boring and terrible, but meh. I don’t see a story here, what happened can’t be blamed on any one person, and likely she’s just another person ‘victimized’ by the Hollywood machine.)

  48. Beth Smith says:

    I don’t mind watching Will in a movie now and then but if he’s does an interview I change the channel, he annoys me more than Tom Cruise!! He’s perfect, his wife is perfect, his kids are perfect, even is dogs are perfect. Oh and their sex life is perfect too. I would rather watch someone who is humble and waits to be complimented by the interviewer not brag himself up the whole interview.

  49. !)))x(((! says:

    I agree that will probably was arrogant and cocky and YOUNG!! c-mon really who wouldn’t be with that much stardom at such an age?? Its hard to take in humbly when soooo many people adore your work and your YOUNG. anyways i think this is really old and bitter, like cmon really? now u wanna talk about someone u haven’t worked with in yrs ruining your career? annnnnnnd when ur watching a interview of a celebrity ummmmm i dont know ,expect them to talk about their life being perfect for their image duh…though it would be nice to hear a celbrity talk like a normal person (it happens sumtimes now and then) but sumtimes celebrities are expected to act a certain way wheter it be very energetic like jim carey or serious like an oscar nominated actor. so maybe under the lights they fall into there role to be “this person” in public and i love how people talk about actors like they know them too, that must suck for actors if they are called a jerk by the press so the people read it (and sumtimes true or not) we dont know them, we are fed info and we can believe it or not.

  50. Cody says:

    LOL, first of all, this article lost credibility as soon as you claimed to be the foremost expert on everything Fresh Prince and followed it with your OPINION on the actress who replaced her, as if your obsessive viewing habits make you a better judge of talent. Second, Will Smith is losing public favor? Since 1993? You should look up the word hyperbole, then the word crazy and unsubstantiated. Most people don’t even know this woman’s name, goofy.

  51. Thomaz says:

    In the past, to me will smith was only a funny guy…
    only after i saw that he make action movies too

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  53. Drtrey34 says:

    Just an old woman full of herself that has nothing else to do but blame the only actor “the star of the show” that made it big i dnt fully believe this but i could believe him bieng somewat of a diva cuz hes an actor most of em r it wouldnt hav mattered if she had come back her career would hav ben over once the show was get over urself women ur wat 60 so um grow up too the show was just as good once u left and o yes i watched the show so many times cuz of reruns and everything so i mean it

  54. Chris says:

    You claim to know every episode inside out. You say they insulted you by thinking you wouldn’t notice they replaced her. Watch episode 1 season 4 they make a very obvious point tat it’s a different actress. And who cares if will smith had an attitude the man is funny as hell and talented, that’s why I’m a fan