Long before we ever heard of the Obamas, the Cosbys were the first family of black America. Black royalty.
So, it pained me to see Camille Cosby walking with her husband into the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown on Monday doing the proverbial stand-by-your-man thing. What a comedown.
Growing up, I looked up to her. She was married to the biggest black star in America, a man who had managed to break color barriers by becoming the first African American actor with a starring role in a TV drama. I never watched I Spy. The animated Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was more my speed. I was a voracious reader, though, and used to look at all the gorgeous photos of Camille and Bill in Ebony and Jet magazines. At a time when there were few African Americans in vaunted positions, their life always seemed glamorous and exciting.
During the 1980s, Camille wasn't just the wife of America's Jello Pudding-eating dad. She also was the inspiration for the beatific and sometimes sassy Clair Huxtable — the better half of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable on the groundbreaking sitcom The Cosby Show. Men wanted to date her. Women aspired to be like her. It was Camille who insisted that the Huxtable family be upper class — not working class — as Bill had envisioned.
As the years went on, Camille's philanthropic work became the stuff of legend. She and her husband gave Spelman College a gift of $20 million. At the time, it was the largest private financial contribution ever to a historically black college. An avid supporter of the arts, Camille eventually returned to school and got her doctorate. She worked on various book projects. She helped inspire many of us to start collecting black art and she helped bring Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters: the First 100 Years to Broadway.
Still, there she was Monday, walking arm in arm with her husband of 53 years into a courthouse as if she were Tammy Wynette. I was saddened to see her in that setting. Her smile, as always, was beautiful.
Dozens of women have alleged that Cosby drugged and raped them over the years. And now, Cosby's on trial facing allegations that he drugged and raped Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletics employee, back in 2004.
"That's why you know it's not about the money," pointed out Argie Allen, director of clinical training in couple and family therapy at Drexel University. "It's about the power that comes with the brand that was a household brand for decades."
"She's not letting the power go because she's invested in it," added Allen, who is also a relationship therapist. "Her blood, sweat, and tears is invested in what Bill Cosby and that brand stand for and I believe she is unwilling to allow others, no matter what they say, to tarnish what she has built. If it were about money, she'd walk away. … This is hers. This is what she built."
Allen, who is a consultant on an upcoming play called Breakthrough, which will be at the Proscenium Theater at the Drake on June 22 to June 25, said nobody knows for certain but the Cosbys may have a deal similar to that of many famous couples, including former President Bill and Hillary Clinton.
"There's something to be said for the nonverbal agreement of couples," Allen said. "We don't know what their agreement was. My hunch is that there was never a verbal agreement that they would have an open marriage, but there was probably a nonverbal agreement that he didn't bring these relationships home … She would continue to be the queen behind the throne and he would continue what he did."
You never really know what goes on inside anyone's marriage. Whatever the Cosbys' deal is, it's sad to watch as the fairy-tale facade of what was once considered such a good thing crumbles.