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Jackee from '227' plans TV comeback

The lady is a vamp

By Serena Kappes

Jackee Harry in 2002; (inset) Harry on "227."

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(PEOPLE) -- Being sexy hasn't always been an asset for Jackee Harry.

Long before the actress rose to fame playing seductive Sandra Clark in the 1980s sitcom "227," she was a history teacher at Brooklyn Technical High School. And getting her male students to pay attention to her academic lessons instead of her physical attributes was a test she just couldn't pass. "They started whistling at me every day," she recalls with a laugh. "I was trying to teach them how to behave -- it didn't work."

Harry's teaching stint was short-lived (it lasted just two years), but her acting career has had much more longevity. She recently wrapped a two-month run playing the feisty madam of a bordello in the Broadway revival of the musical "The Boys from Syracuse." It was Harry's first time on the Great White Way since making her Broadway debut in 1978's "A Broadway Musical." "Well, I looked fabulous," she says of her recent run in her Mae West-esque voice, adding that she lost 23 lbs. while doing the show. "It was hard work singing and dancing, lifting that leg up, that fan kick. It reminded me of the days when I really used to work for a living."

Harry, 46, has never stopped working, though mainstream audiences haven't seen much of her since 1999, when "Sister, Sister," the sitcom in which she played free-spirited mom Lisa Landry, went off the air. Since then she has been busy getting back to her stage roots, with roles in a 2000 New York City production of the drama "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" and the musical "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill," which she performed in Wilmington, Delaware, last winter, playing Billie Holiday. She hopes to bring the show to Broadway.

Harry's dream

Seeing her name in lights was always a dream for Harry, who was raised in Harlem. She sang in glee clubs through elementary school, then landed the lead role -- of the King -- in her all-girl school's production of "The King and I" when she was 14. "I took my curtain call and they screamed and cheered and I got hooked," she recalls.

A history major at Long Island University, Harry continued acting and, during her teaching stint, she began winning roles in local productions. "Then I started getting job after job and so I had to quit my teaching gig anyway," she says.

From the stage, Harry leapt to the small screen in the soap opera "Another World" (from 1983-85), and then came her breakout role on "227" (1985-89), for which she won an Emmy. "It was great -- it was the best time of my life, actually," she says of working on the show. "I wouldn't trade it for the world." Other series, including the short-lived "The Royal Family" and "Sister, Sister," followed.

And though Harry often plays voluptuous man-eaters, in real life she's married to hair salon owner Elgin Charles, whom she met at a Halloween masquerade party in 1995. He didn't call her for three weeks, which Harry jokingly attributes to the fact that "I was dressed as Marilyn Monroe, so everything was out. I guess I scared him," she says with a chortle. They married on December 1, 1996, and now live in Sherman Oaks, California.

As for her career, Harry is eager to return to television. "I'm trying like heck -- it ain't easy," she says. "You've gotta come up with a concept and we haven't found one yet." But Harry is hopeful. "It's a lot of irons in the fire," she says. "Hopefully, one of them will catch."

For more Where Are They Now? stories, visit PEOPLE.COM

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