Ruby Dee in 1972
|Born||Ruby Ann Wallace|
October 27 1922
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||June 11 2014 (aged 91)|
New Rochelle, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Natural causes|
|Occupation||Actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, activist|
|Spouse(s)||Frankie Dee Brown (approx 1941–1945; divorced)|
Ossie Davis (1948–2005; his death)
Ruby Dee (née Wallace; October 27, 1922 – June 11, 2014) was an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and activist. She was married to actor Ossie Davis until his death in 2005.
Dee began her acting career on the Broadway stage before appearing in films and television. Roles for which she is best known include A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Do the Right Thing (1989), and American Gangster (2007) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was the recipient of Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awards as well as the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors.
Dee and her husband, Ossie Davis, stood in the forefront of changing the experience of black actors in the entertainment industry playing leading roles rather than being relegated to those of maids and butlers. They were also activists for civil rights, personal friends of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Despite experimenting with an open marriage for a time, they showed deep love and commitment to each other and were an outstanding example of a successful black couple in America.
Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1922, she was the third child born to Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace. Her parents were two teenagers who married when Gladys became pregnant with the first child. In three years Gladys left Ruby's father with three children. He remarried, to Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher who had studied at Atlanta University under W.E.B. Du Bois.
The family moved to New York City, and the children were raised in Harlem. She attended Hunter College High School and went on to graduate from Hunter College with a degree in romance languages in 1945.
Three years later she married actor Ossie Davis, who she met while costarring in the 1946 Broadway play Jeb. Together, Dee and Davis wrote an autobiography in which they discussed their political activism and their decision to have an open marriage (later changing their minds). Together they had three children: son, blues musician Guy Davis, and two daughters, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad.
She was a breast cancer survivor of more than three decades.
Dee died on June 11, 2014, at her home in New Rochelle, New York, from natural causes at the age of 91. Her wish was to be cremated, and her ashes held in the same urn as that of Davis, with the inscription "In this thing together." A public memorial services was scheduled for Saturday, September 20, 2014 at the Riverside Church in New York City.
Dee joined the American Negro Theater as an apprentice, working with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Hilda Simms. She made several appearances on Broadway. Her first onscreen role was in That Man of Mine in 1946. She received national recognition for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story. In 1965, Dee performed in lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear, becoming the first black actress to portray a lead role in the festival. Her career in acting crossed all major forms of media over a span of eight decades, including the films A Raisin in the Sun, in which she recreated her stage role as a suffering housewife in the projects, and Edge of the City. She played both roles opposite Poitier.
During the 1960s, Dee appeared in such politically charged films as Gone Are the Days and The Incident, which is recognized as helping pave the way for young African-American actors and filmmakers. In 1969, Dee appeared in 20 episodes of Peyton Place. She appeared in the role of Cora Sanders, a Marxist college professor loosely influenced by the real-life Angela Y. Davis, in the Season 1/Episode 14 of Police Woman in 1975. The. She appeared in one episode of The Golden Girls' sixth season. She played Queen Haley in Roots: The Next Generations, a 1979 miniseries.
Dee was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning once for her role in the 1990 TV film Decoration Day. She was nominated for her television guest appearance in the China Beach episode, "Skylark." Her husband Ossie Davis (1917–2005) also appeared in the episode. She appeared in Spike Lee's 1989 film Do the Right Thing, and his 1991 film Jungle Fever.
In 1995, Dee and Davis were awarded the National Medal of Arts. They were also recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2003, she and Davis narrated a series of Works Progress Administration (WPA) slave narratives in the HBO film Unchained Memories. In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was shared by Dee and Davis, for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.
Dee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster. She won the Screen Actors Guild award for the same performance. At 83 years of age, Dee was the second oldest nominee for Best Supporting Actress, behind Gloria Stuart who was 87 when nominated for her role in Titanic. This was Dee's only Oscar nomination.
On February 12, 2009, Dee joined the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College orchestra and chorus, along with the Riverside Inspirational Choir and NYC Labor Choir, in honoring Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday at the Riverside Church in New York City. Under the direction of Maurice Peress, they performed Earl Robinson's The Lonesome Train: A Music Legend for Actors, Folk Singers, Choirs, and Orchestra, in which Dee was the Narrator.
Dee and Davis were well-known civil rights activists. Dee was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dee and Davis were both personal friends of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, with Davis giving the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral in 1965. In 1970, she won the Frederick Douglass Award from the New York Urban League.
In 1999, Dee and Davis were arrested at 1 Police Plaza, the headquarters of the New York Police Department, protesting the police shooting of Amadou Diallo.
In early 2003, The Nation published "Not In My Name," an open proclamation vowing opposition to the impending US invasion of Iraq. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were among the signatories, along with Robert Altman, Noam Chomsky, Susan Sarandon and Howard Zinn, among others.
In November 2005 Dee was awarded—along with her late husband—the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis. In 2009 she received an Honorary Degree from Princeton University.
Ruby Dee and her husband Ossie Davis were known as the "'First Couple' of black America" and together they changed the way the entertainment industry viewed black actors forever. When she began her career, black stage actresses were cast as maids but Ruby took on Shakespearean roles, such as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew (American Shakespeare Festival, 1965), Cordelia in King Lear (American Shakespeare Festival, 1965), and Gertrude in Hamlet (New York Shakespeare Festival, 1975).
In a statement on hearing of her death, Gil Robertson IV of the African American Film Critics Association said, "the members of the African American Film Critics Association are deeply saddened at the loss of actress and humanitarian Ruby Dee. Throughout her seven-decade career, Ms Dee embraced different creative platforms with her various interpretations of black womanhood and also used her gifts to champion for Human Rights. Her strength, courage and beauty will be greatly missed."
Following her death the marquee on the Apollo theater read “A TRUE APOLLO LEGEND RUBY DEE 1922-2014.”
Awards and nominations
- 1961: National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress – A Raisin in the Sun
- 1971: Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance – Boesman and Lena
- 1971: Obie Award for Best Performance by an Actress – Boesman and Lena
- 1973: Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance – Wedding Band
- 1988: Induction into the American Theater Hall of Fame
- 1991: Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie – Decoration Day
- 1991: Women in Film Crystal Award
- 1995: National Medal of Arts
- 2000: Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2007: Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album – With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together
- 2008: African–American Film Critics Best Supporting Actress – American Gangster
- 2008: Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role – American Gangster
- 2008: The Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award
- 2008: She was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
- 1964: Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role – The Doctors and the Nurses: Express Stop from Lenox Avenue
- 1979: Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special – Roots: The Next Generations
- 1988: Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special – Lincoln
- 1990: Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series – China Beach: Skylark
- 1993: Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – Evening Shade: They Can't Take That Away from Me
- 1995: Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – Whitewash
- 2001: Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – Little Bill
- 2002: Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Actress – Saint Lucy's Eyes
- 2003: Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – Little Bill
- 2008: Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role – American Gangster
- 2008: Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – American Gangster
- 2008: Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture – American Gangster
- 2009: Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries – America
- 2010: Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Event – America
- That Man of Mine (1946)
- The Fight Never Ends (1947)
- What a Guy (1948)
- The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
- No Way Out (1950)
- The Tall Target (1951)
- Go, Man, Go! (1954)
- Edge of the City (1957)
- Virgin Island (1958)
- St. Louis Blues (1958)
- Take a Giant Step (1959)
- A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
- The Balcony (1963)
- Gone Are the Days! (1963)
- The Incident (1967)
- Up Tight! (1968)
- King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis (1970) (documentary)
- Buck and the Preacher (1972)
- Black Girl (1972)
- Wattstax (1973)
- Countdown at Kusini (1976)
- Cat People (1982)
- Do the Right Thing (1989)
- Love at Large (1990)
- Jungle Fever (1991)
- Color Adjustment (1992) (documentary) (narrator)
- Cop and a Half (1993)
- The Stand (1994)
- A Simple Wish (1997)
- Just Cause (1995)
- Mr. & Mrs. Loving (1996)
- A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner (1998) (documentary) (narrator)
- Baby Geniuses (1999)
- Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (2003) (documentary)
- No. 2 (2006)
- The Way Back Home (2006)
- All About Us (2007)
- American Gangster (2007)
- Steam (2007)
- The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll (2009)
- Dream Street (2010)
- Video Girl (2011)
- Politics of Love (2011)
- Red & Blue Marbles (2011)
- Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey With Mumia Abu-Jamal (2012)
- A Thousand Words (2012)
- Betty and Coretta (2013)
- Lorraine Hansberry: The Black Experience in the Creation of Drama (1975)
- The Torture of Mothers (1980)
- Tuesday Morning Ride (1995)
- The Unfinished Journey (1999) (narrator)
- The New Neighbors (2009) (narrator
- The Bitter Cup (1961)
- Seven Times Monday (1962)
- The Fugitive (1963)
- Of Courtship and Marriage (1964)
- Guiding Light (cast member in 1967)
- Peyton Place (cast member from 1968–1969)
- Deadlock (1969)
- The Sheriff (1971)
- It's Good to Be Alive (1974)
- Police Woman Season 1 / Episode 14 "Target Black" (1975)
- Roots: The Next Generations (1979) (miniseries)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979)
- All God's Children (1980)
- With Ossie and Ruby! (1980–1982)
- Long Day's Journey into Night (1982)
- Go Tell It on the Mountain (1985)
- The Atlanta Child Murders (1985) (miniseries)
- Windmills of the Gods (1988)
- Gore Vidal's Lincoln (1988)
- The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson (1990)
- Decoration Day (1990)
- Golden Girls (1990)
- Jazztime Tale (1991) (voice)
- Middle Ages (1992–1993)
- The Ernest Green Story (1993)
- The Stand (1994) (miniseries)
- Whitewash (1994) (voice)
- Mr. and Mrs. Loving (1996)
- Captive Heart: The James Mink Story (1996)
- The Wall (1998)
- Little Bill (1999 – on hiatus) (voice)
- Passing Glory (1999)
- Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999)
- A Storm in Summer (2000)
- Finding Buck McHenry (2000)
- The Feast of All Saints (2001) (miniseries)
- Taking Back Our Town (2001)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005)
- Meet Mary Pleasant (2008)
- America (2009)
- On Strivers Row (1940)
- Natural Man (1941)
- Starlight (1942)
- Three's a Family (1943)
- South Pacific (1943)
- Walk Hard (1944)
- Jeb (1946)
- Anna Lucasta (1946) (replacement for Hilda Simms)
- Arsenic and Old Lace (1946)
- John Loves Mary (1946)
- A Long Way From Home (1948)
- The Smile of the World (1949)
- The World of Sholom Aleichem (1953)
- A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
- Purlie Victorious (1961)
- King Lear (1965)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1965)
- The Birds (1966)
- Oresteia (1966)
- Boesman and Lena (1970)
- The Imaginary Invalid (1971)
- The Wedding Band (1972)
- Hamlet (1975)
- Bus Stop (1979)
- Twin-Bit Gardens (1979)
- Zora is My Name! (1983)
- Checkmates (1988)
- The Glass Menagerie (1989)
- The Disappearance (1993)
- Flying West (1994)
- Two Hahs-Hahs and a Homeboy (1995)
- My One Good Nerve: A Visit with Ruby Dee (1996)
- A Last Dance for Sybil (2002)
- Saint Lucy's Eyes (2003)
- The Original Read-In for Peace in Vietnam (Folkways Records, 1967)
- The Poetry of Langston Hughes (with Ossie Davis. Caedmon Records, no date, TC 1272)
- What if I am a Woman?, Vol. 1: Black Women's Speeches (Folkways, 1977)
- What if I am a Woman?, Vol. 2: Black Women's Speeches (Folkways, 1977)
- Every Tone a Testimony (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001)
- Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together (William Morrow, 1998, ISBN 978-0688153960).
- Alan Duke and Todd Leopold, Screen, stage legend Ruby Dee dies at 91 CNN, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
- Sarah Halzack, Ruby Dee, actress and civil rights activist, dies at 91 The Washington Post, October 27, 1922. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- Ronald Bergan, "Ruby Dee obituary", The Guardian, June 13, 2014. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
- Felicia R. Lee, At home with: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; Art and Politics: Keeping It All Fresh New York Times, April 20, 1995. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- Sheri Stritof and Bob Stritof, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage About.com. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- Lesley Messer and Mark Crudele, Oscar Nominee Ruby Dee Dead at 91 ABC News, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- Denis Slattery, Joe Dziemianowicz, and Larry Mcshane, Ruby Dee dead at 91 New York Daily News, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- Ruby Dee Davis. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Ruby Dee Awards, IMDb. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee National Medal of Arts, NEA. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives, IMDb. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Andrea Mandell, 6 great moments from Ruby Dee’s legendary career USA Today, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Broadway & Hollywood Legend Ruby Dee Dies at 91 BWWTVWorld, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Gala Concert The Riverside Church, February 1, 2009. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Eulogy delivered by Ossie Davis at the funeral of Malcolm X, February 27,1965. The Official Website of Malcolm X. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Veteran actors Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis arrested at protest CNN, March 24, 1999. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
- Douglas Feiden, "Ruby Dee marks 90th birthday with new documentary about her illustrious life with late husband Ossie Davis", New York Daily News, November 13, 2012. Retrieved July 23, 2014
- Ruby Dee Stage Credits Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Retrieved July 23, 2014.
- R.I.P. Ruby Dee Deadline.com, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names New York Times, November 22, 1988. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Past Recipients: Crystal Award Women In Film. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- 37th Life Achievement Recipient, 2000 Screen Actors Guild Awards. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Taylor Gordon, Iconic Actress and Activist Ruby Dee Dead at 91 Atlanta Black Star, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Roberta Hershenson, For Ruby Dee at 83, Acclaim and Performances The New York Times, February 3, 2008. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- The Associated Press, Daughter: Ruby Dee, Val-Kill medal winner, dead at 91 Poughkeepsie Journal, June 12, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- NAACP Spingarn Medal NAACP. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Rick DeMott, Clifford Leads All Toon Nods At Daytime Emmy Animation World Network, March 16, 2001. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- 10 nominations for Nick in the daytime Emmy Indiantelevision.com, March 22, 2003. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Nominations Announced for the 16th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards SAG-AFTRA, December 17, 2009. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
- Nominees for 41st NAACP Image Awards announced live at press conference by Taye Diggs, Michael Strahan, Wanda Sykes, Kyle Massey, Chris Massey, Tatyana Ali and NAACP executives NAACP, January 6, 2010. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony, and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arts and Letters: An A-to-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African American Experience. Running Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0762420421
- Davis, Ossie. Life Lit by Some Large Vision: Selected Speeches and Writings. Washington Square Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0743289894
- Davis, Ossie, and Ruby Dee. Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears. Caedmon Audio Cassette, 1984. ISBN 978-0694511877
- Davis, Ossie, and Ruby Dee. With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow, 1998. ISBN 978-0688153960
- Dee, Ruby. My One Good Nerve: Rhythms, Rhymes, Reasons. Third World Press, 1987. ISBN 978-0883781142
- Epps, Henry. Great African-American Women in America History Vol I: Women of Excellence in African America Culture (Volume 1). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. ISBN 978-1477647738
- Lyman, Darryl. Great African-American Women. Jonathan David Publishers, 2005. ISBN 978-0824604592
- Stovall, TaRessa, and Calvin Stovall. A Love Supreme: Real Life Stories of Black (African-American) Love. Grand Central Publishing, 2000. ISBN 978-0446521710
All links retrieved August 31, 2019.
- Biography at Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
- Ruby Dee at the Internet Broadway Database
- Ruby Dee at the Internet Movie Database
- Archive of American Television interview
- Ruby Dee at the TCM Movie Database
- Ruby Dee's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Ruby Dee Biography at Film Reference
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