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Overview for Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee



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Also Known As: Ruby Ann Wallace Died: June 11, 2014
Born: October 27, 1924 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Cleveland, Ohio, USA Profession: Cast ... actor playwright screenwriter director journalist activist


. Dee remained visible on television throughout the decade, most notably in historic miniseries like the top-rated "Roots: The Next Generations" (1979) and an adaptation of Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (CBS, 1979).

Now considered an elder stateswoman of 20th century African-American theater, Dee was increasingly in demand for her stately, sage-like presence. She and Davis co-starred in their own short-lived children's series, "Ossie and Ruby!" (PBS, 1980-81) before the pair headlined an all black production of "Long Days Journey into Night" (PBS, 1983). Public television remained an ideal outlet for Dee's sophisticated taste, so she next appeared in an adaptation of James Baldwin's landmark novel "Go Tell it on the Mountain" (1985). The following year, Dee and Davis' production company, Emmalyn Enterprises, produced the documentary "Martin Luther King: A Dream and a Drum" (PBS). After a Broadway run in "Checkmates" alongside Denzel Washington and a production of "The Glass Menagerie" in Washington D.C., Dee was introduced to younger audiences via filmmaker Spike Lee in his breakout 1989 film "Do the Right Thing." Dee earned a NAACP image award for her portrayal of Mother-Sister, the prickly, stern neighborhood watchdog wo d by Da Mayor (Davis), another neighborhood fixture who holds court outside the corner store with his drinking buddies. Following that mainstream success, Dee took "Zora is My Name" - her one-woman show about African-American author and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston - to public television, before an Emmy Award-winning turn in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production, "Decoration Day" (1990).

Dee released the children's book Two Ways to Count to Ten: A Liberian Folktale in 1990 and rejoined Lee for "Jungle Fever" (1991), where she played the soft-hearted mother of two very different sons - one a successful architect (Wesley Snipes); the other, a crack addict (Samuel L. Jackson). She continued to surface regularly in supporting roles in TV movies, including her memorable turn as Mother Abagail in the miniseries "Stephen King's The Stand" (1994). In 1995, Dee and Davis were awarded the Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, though it was clear that neither one considered their body of work anywhere near complete. After Dee appeared in the Sean Connery thriller "Just Cause" (1995) and the Academy Award- nominated short film "Tuesday Morning Ride" (1995), in 1996, Dee and Davis received NAACP Image Awards for the Emmalyn production "Promised Land" (PBS). In 1999, Dee had one of her best career roles as the centenarian physician Bessie Delany in the TV production "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years" (CBS, 1999).

The same year Dee turned a collection of her own memoirs and stories, My One Good Nerve: Rhythms, Rhymes, and Reasons into a one-woman stage show, chronicling her own 70-plus years. Dee and husband Davis also found time to publish Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together (2000), a memoir of their years together in theater, the civil rights movement, and as lifelong lovers and parents. They were recognized with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Screen Actors Guild in 2000, and followed up by co-starring in the Showtime original movie "Finding Buck McHenry" (2001). Later that year, Dee starred in the well-received off-Broadway production, "St. Lucy's Eyes," in which she played an amateur abortion provider trying to work her way out of poverty in 1960s Memphis. Dee co-starred in notable TV films, including "Taking Back Our Town" (Lifetime, 2001) and "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Their Eyes Were Watching God" (2005), adapted from the Zora Neale Hurston book. She and Davis recorded a wildly entertaining CD version of "In This Life Together," before flying to New Zealand to shoot the family drama "Naming Number Two" (2006). While on location, she received word that Davis had died of a heart attack while filming in Florida.

Dee remarkably soldiered on, and the following year, released Life Lit by Some Large Vision, Selected Speeches and Writings from Dee and her revered husband. The following year, the 83-year-old actress hit a career high point when she earned a Screen Actor's Guild Award and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the conflicted mother of a New York drug kingpin (Denzel Washington) in "American Gangster" (2007). She continued her late-in-life success by earning another Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her performance in "America" (Lifetime Television, 2009), which focused on a 16-year-old biracial boy (Philip Johnson) who underg s psychological counseling after growing up with a crack-addicted mother and suffering sexual abuse at various foster homes. Dee continued working steadily in small films even as she entered her 90s, At the time of her death on June 11, 2014, she was filming the drama "King Dog," a drama in which she co-starred with Ice-T, Coco Austin and Akon.

s causes. In 1953, she and Davis lent their voices to protest the controversial execution of suspected "Communist spies" Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and throughout the decade, they were active with civil rights groups including the NAACP, SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference).

Dee returned to Broadway with resounding success in 1959, winning acclaim as Ruth Younger, the quiet, supportive wife in Lorraine Hansberry's ground-breaking family drama, "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959). She was tapped to recreate the role in the 1961 film, for which she earned a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress. That same year, Dee co-starred off-Broadway in Davis' race relations satire, "Purlie Victorious," reprising her role in the big screen adaptation entitled "Gone are the Days!" (1963). That same year, she and Davis served as emcees at the infamous civil rights march on Washington D.C., where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. By this time, the couple was friends with King and had also become associated with Malcolm X through Dee's brother Edward, one of his earliest disciples.

Year after year, Dee was successfully breaking through to new territory for black actors, earning a daytime Emmy in 1964 for her appearance on "The Nurses" (CBS, 1962-65) and the following year, becoming the first African-American woman to appear in a major role at the American Shakespeare Festival with her role in "King Lear." In 1966, she wowed audiences in a staging of Aristophanes' ancient work, "The Birds" and returned to the big screen in the gripping urban drama, "The Incident" (1967). In 1968, the woman who had begun her career in an era that relegated black women to walk-on parts as maids, joined the cast of the serial "Peyton Place" (ABC, 1966-69) as the wife of an affluent black doctor. She went on to co-author and star in the feature "Up Tight" (1968), a fictionalized but stirring chronicle of events following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Months earlier, Dee had stood by as husband Ossie Davis gave the eulogy at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral, having done the same for Malcolm X several years earlier.

A new wave of African-American cultural pride had been building, and by the 1970s, had exploded with a barrage of new screen and stage works that examined the black experience. Dee returned to Broadway, where she earned OBIE and Drama Desk Awards for her starring role in "B sman and Lena," Athol Fugard's play about apartheid-era South Africa. In 1972, she played a spirited frontier woman in Sidney Poitier's "Buck and the Preacher" (1972) and also appeared in the Davis- directed "Black Girl" and an adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's play "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black" (1972). Her winning streak continued with another Drama Desk Award for "The Wedding Band" and a well-received book of p try, Glowchild and Other P ms

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