The Show “A Different World”, Cast, Pictures, and Trivia!
This show was a spin-off of the incredibly popular television series, “The Cosby Show”.
The original basis of the show being that Cliff and Clair Huxtable’s daughter, Denise, (Lisa Bonet) leaves home to attend Hillman College, (fictional) which is their alma mater. And for the first season, it centers on Denise making friends, going to school and learning how to live on her own. Of course, due to Bonet’s pregnancy, she had to be written out, and the series was then re-focused on to the characters of Whitley Gilbert, (Jasmine Guy) Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) and others. Also, A Different World addressed many issues that The Cosby Show tended to avoid, such as race relations, sex and world issues like HIV/AIDS, making it stand out among other shows.
Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet)-Denise is far from home and attending college at her parents’ alma mater, Hillman College in the state of Virginia. This is her first time really being away from home and she is a little unsure of herself at times. In the end however, she decides to leave college and return home to her parents in Brooklyn, New York.
Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison)-Dwayne first appears as an odd sort of guy, who likes to wear flip-up glasses and Air Jordan sneakers. He is constantly hitting on women, although he gets turned down a majority of the time. His great love for a while is Denise Huxtable, but the feelings are not mutual. Dwayne is a math genius, actually getting a perfect score on that section of the SAT. And though he can sometimes be annoying, he is an incredibly good person, and over time starts to mature at college. He is also from Brooklyn, New York, and his best friend and roommate is Ron Johnson (Darryl M. Bell).
Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy)-Whitley is a spoiled southern belle from Richmond, Virginia. When first arriving at Hillman College, she feels that she is better than most people. As time goes on though, she slowly starts to mature and realizes that she needs other people. She dates several men seriously, having an on-again-off-again relationship with Dwayne, and eventually becomes close friends with some of the other students, especially Kimberly Reese (Charnele Brown).
Maggie Lauten (Marisa Tomei)-Maggie is the roommate of Denise and Jaleesa (Dawnn Lewis). One of the few white students at the essentially African-American Hillman College, Maggie is journalism major and a “military brat”, and has a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend, Mike.
Jaleesa Vinson (Dawnn Lewis)-Jaleesa is from Camden, New Jersey, and a little older than the rest of the students at the age of 25. She is divorced from a man named, Lamar Collins (Thomas Mikal Ford) and is now enrolled as a business management major. She is the roommate of Maggie and Denise, and is the assistant director of Gilbert Hall. Being a little bit older than the rest of the girls, she is able to provide insights and advice into certain situations. She is well-liked and a hard worker, both in school and out.
Ronald Marlon Johnson (Darryl M. Bell)-Ron is Dwayne Wayne’s best friend and roommate. From Detroit, Michigan, he is also a member of the Hillman ROTC. Ron dates many women during his time at college, and works summers at his father’s automobile dealership.
Kimberly Reese (Charnele Brown)-Kimberly is a biology major and becomes best friends and roommates of Whitley. She is from Columbus, Ohio, and works part-time at “The Pit”. A fun girl with a great smile, she has several relationships and is a good friend. Her ultimate goal is to go to medical school.
Walter Oakes (Sinbad)-Walter is the coach of baseball, football, track and basketball. He is a graduate student and the co-dorm director of Gilbert Hall. A tall, funny and good-looking man, he is always available to help when the students need advice or assistance. He has a serious relationship with Jaleesa and is well-liked by all.
Winifred “Freddie” Brooks (Cree Summer)-Freddie is from New Mexico and is a roommate of Jaleesa’s for a while. A somewhat unusual girl, Freddie is a student activist and a cousin to Matthew, (Andrew Lowery)
Who briefly dates her friend, Kimberly.
Stevie Rallen (Loretta Devine)-Stevie is a kind woman and the graduate student dorm director of Gilbert Hall. She also has a son named, J.T. She is later replaced with Lettie Bostic (Mary Alice).
Colonel Bradford Taylor (Glynn Turman)-Colonel Taylor is a professor of mathematics at Hillman College. His nickname is “Dr. War”, due to his reputation of being tough. A very kind man, he is divorced with two children and served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He is the principal mentor for Dwayne and is the commander of the Hillman ROTC.
Vernon Gaines (Lou Myers)-Mr. Gaines is both the owner and the manager of “The Pit”. Married with a son, he is also a father figure to Kimberly as well as an employer to her and several of the other students. And most interesting, was that he met Lena Horne during World War II.
Gina Deveaux (Ajai Sanders)-Gina is the roommate and friend of Charmaine and Lena. Her family immigrated to the United States from Martinique. She also dates a man who physically abuses her, but does the right thing by pressing charges against him.
Lena James (Jada Pinkett)-Lena is engineering major, but later changes it to journalism. She is named for singer, Lena Horne, and comes from Baltimore, Maryland. She also has a brief crush on Dwayne.
Charmaine Brown (Karen Malina White)-Charmaine is from Brooklyn, New York, and was previously on The Cosby Show as the best friend of Clair Huxtable’s cousin, Pam Tucker (Erika Alexander). Now at Hillman College, she is a nice girl, but has a tendency to irritate others at times with her fast-paced form of talking.
While similar in some ways to The Cosby Show, it did have some major differences. The most obvious of course, being the addressing of certain issues on the show that were avoided, not only on The Cosby Show, but other series as well, making it stand out. It was great writing and good storylines, combined with the occasional crossover to characters from The Cosby Show. I give it 7 out of 10.
Denise Huxtable-Lisa Bonet
Dwayne Wayne-Kadeem Hardison
Whitley Gilbert-Jasmine Guy
Jaleesa Vinson-Dawnn Lewis
Ron Johnson-Darryl M. Bell
Kimberly Reese-Charnele Brown
Freddie Brooks-Cree Summer
Vernon Gaines-Lou Myers
Colonel Taylor-Glynn Turman
Lena James-Jada Pinkett Smith
Maggie Lauten-Marisa Tomei
Gina Devereaux-Ajai Sanders
Charmaine Brown-Karen Malina White
Lettie Bostic-Mary Alice
Stevie Rallen-Loretta Devine
Terrence Taylor-Cory Tyler
Terrell Walker-Patrick Malone
Dorian Heywood-Bumper Robinson
Spencer Boyer-Michael Ralph
Ernest Bennett-Rueben Grundy
Shazza Zula-Gary Dourdan
Kinu Owens-Alisa Gyse Dickens
Julian Day-Dominic Hoffman
Dean Davenport-Jenifer Lewis
Marion Gilbert-Diahann Carroll
Adele Wayne-Patti LaBelle
Byron Douglas III-Joe Morton
Randall Adams-Maurice Davis
Velma Gaines-Bebe Drake
Dion-Brandon Quintin Adams
Professor Randolph-Roger Guenveur Smith
Desiree Porter-Josephine Premice
J.T. Rallen-Amir Williams
Lisa Bonet’s first marriage was to musician, Lenny Kravitz, originally known to the public as Romeo Blue.
The character of Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) was only supposed to be in the pilot, however, her character became so popular that she became a regular. Later, she ended up being one of the stars of the series.
Cree Summers (Freddie Brooks) and Kadeem Hardison were in a relationship during A Different World.
During the time that Lisa Bonet and Marisa Tomei were playing roommates on A Different World, they were also living together as roommates in real life. Marisa Tomei is also the godmother of Bonet’s daughter, Zoe.
Sinbad’s (Walter Oakes) birth name is David Adkins.
Dawnn Lewis (Jaleesa Vinson) released her debut CD in 2006.
Jasmine Guy has a daughter, Imani. She chose the name after hearing it being used on A Different World as the name of Jaleesa’s baby.
Marisa Tomei (Maggie Lauten) is no relation to actress Concetta Tomei.
After the departure of Lisa Bonet, the show, of course, had to be re-vamped. However it was not just because of a character’s departure, but also due to the fact that the series had been criticized for not accurately representing what a historically African-American college would be like. Debbie Allen, who became the producer of the show, helped to change it by drawing on her own experiences as a Howard University graduate. Also, the show’s writing staff as well as Allen herself, would make yearly visits to colleges that were predominantly African-American, to get ideas for the series.
Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne Wayne) is divorced from singer Chante Moore and has one daughter named, Sophia.
Darryl M. Bell (Ron Johnson) graduated from Syracuse University in 1986.
Lisa Bonet changed her name legally in 1995 to Lilakoi Moon. She still uses Lisa Bonet for her acting career.
Loretta Devine (Stevie Rallen) had a recurring role on “Grey’s Anatomy”.
Lisa Bonet and Cree Summers are best friends in real life, and were both on the show, but never at the same time.
Sinbad has been married two times, both to women with the first name Meredith.
Jasmine Guy was good friends with Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Alfonso Ribeiro who made a guest appearance as character named, Zach Duncan, was actually going to reprise the role and became a series regular. Instead, he changed his mind and decided to take the role of Carton Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air“.
Marisa Tomei has dual citizenship between Italy and the United States, and sometimes travels under an Italian passport.
The show’s theme song, which was partially written by Dawnn Lewis (Jaleesa), was sung by Phoebe Snow in the first season, then by Aretha Franklin for the next few, and finally by R&B group, Boyz II Men.
During a week-long marathon of the series on Nick at Nite in 2006, the network also premiered some new shorts entitled, “Hillman College Reunion”. It was basically some of the cast members reprising their roles and showing where they would be now. Those who participated were, Lisa Bonet, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Cree Summer and Sinbad.
Jada Pinkett Smith (Lena James) has been married to Will Smith for the past seventeen years and they have two children.
Jasmine Guy has won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, six times in a row. She has won this award more times than any other actress to date.
Lou Myers (Mr. Gaines) died in 2013.
Loretta Devine has been in such movies as “Waiting to Exhale” and “The Preacher’s Wife”, both with Whitney Houston.
Sinbad attended the University of Denver and played college basketball.
Glynn Turman (Colonel Taylor) was once married to Aretha Franklin.
Darryl M. Bell and Tempestt Bledsoe, who played Vanessa on The Cosby Show, have been together since 1993. The reason they have never married is due to the divorce rate of friends and acquaintances, according to “Househusbands of Hollywood”, 2009.
Lisa Bonet made the movie, “Angel Heart”, in 1997, a movie which was full of racy and very bold sexual scenes. So explicit was the sexual scene between her and co-star Mickey Rourke, that several seconds were edited in order to ensure that the movie received an R-rating. This seemed to be the beginning of the end for her career, despite just having started a Different World.
Kadeem Hardison and Darryl M. Bell (Ron Johnson) are still good friends today.
All but two of The Cosby Show regulars made an appearance on a Different World. The only ones who did not were Erika Alexander (Cousin Pam) and Geoffrey Owens (Elvin Tibideaux).
Several characters of A Different World simply disappeared without explanation. These characters were, Maggie, Jaleesa, Millie, Ernest, Lettie and Terrence.
In an episode from 1990, the song “Try Me” is heard playing in the background. This is from the debut album of Jasmine Guy (Whitley).
Sinbad joined First Lady Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Crow on a USO tour in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996.
Marisa Tomei won an Academy Award for her role in “My Cousin Vinny”.
Although never explained on the show, Dawnn Lewis who played Jaleesa, left the series to co-star on a new series, “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper”.
Kadeem Hardison went to junior high with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jon Cryer from “Two and a Half Men”.
Glynn Turman was originally cast for the part of Han Solo in “Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope”, by George Lucas. Lucas, however, changed his mind and re-cast the part with Harrison Ford instead.
Though she was written out of A different World, due to her pregnancy, Lisa Bonet did return briefly to The Cosby Show, and appeared for a short time before her character was sent off to Africa. This way it allowed her to re-enter at some point and still hid her pregnancy from viewers. Her character did in fact return to The Cosby Show from Africa, married with a step-daughter,
Jada Pinkett Smith auditioned for the role of Will Smith’s girlfriend, Lisa, on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but was told she was too short.
Sinbad was put in the top 10 of the 250 worst tax debtors for the state of California in 2009. In that same year, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, as he owed $2.5 million in personal income tax. The following year, he put his 2.5 acre home up for sale in order to help get rid of his debt.