Ruby Dee in 1972
October 27, 1922 |
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Occupation||Actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, activist|
|Spouse(s)||Frankie Dee Brown (approx 1941-1945; divorced)
Ossie Davis (1948-2005; his death)
Ruby Dee (born October 27, 1922) is an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, activist, and widow of actor Ossie Davis. She is perhaps best known for co-starring in the film A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and the film American Gangster (2007) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has won Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors, among scores of others awards.
Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio in 1922 to Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace, a cook, waiter, and porter. After her mother left the family, Dee's father remarried, to Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher.
Dee was raised in Harlem, New York and attended Hunter College High School and went on to graduate from Hunter College with degrees in French and Spanish in 1944. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta.
Dee made several appearances on Broadway before receiving national recognition for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story. Her career in acting has 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 Sidney 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.
Among the many appearances that she made in various television series is her role as Cora Sanders, a Marxist college professor, in the Season 1/Episode 14 of Police Woman, entitled “Target Black” which aired on Friday night, January 3, 1975. The character of Cora Sanders was obviously, but loosely, influenced by the real-life Angela Y. Davis. She appeared in one episode of The Golden Girls' sixth season. Dee has been 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.
In 1995, she and Davis were awarded the National Medal of Arts. They were also recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2003, she narrated a series of WPA slave narratives in the HBO film Unchained Memories. In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was tied between Dee and Ossie Davis for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.
She 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 is currently 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 first 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.
Personal life and activism
Ruby Wallace married blues singer Frankie Dee in the mid-1940s; the couple later divorced, but she kept his surname professionally. Three years later she married actor Ossie Davis. Together, Dee and Davis wrote an autobiography in which they discussed their political activism and their open marriage. Together they had three children: son, blues musician Guy Davis, and two daughters, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad. Dee is a breast cancer survivor of more than three decades. Dee and Davis were well-known civil rights activists. Dee is 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 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. Dee, a long-time resident of New Rochelle, New York, was inducted into the New Rochelle Walk of Fame which honors the most notable residents from throughout the community's 325 year history. She was also inducted into the Westchester County Women's Hall of Fame on March 30, 2007, joining such other honorees as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nita Lowey. In 2009 she received an Honorary Degree from Princeton University.
- That Man of Mine (1946)
- What a Guy (1948)
- The Fight Never Ends (1949)
- The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
- No Way Out (1950)
- The Tall Target (1951)
- Go, Man, Go! (1954)
- The Great American Pastime (1956)
- Edge of the City (1957)
- Virgin Island (1958)
- St. Louis Blues (1958)
- Take a Giant Step (1959)
- A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
- Purlie Victorious (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)
- Baby of the Family (2002)
- Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (2003) (documentary) (narrator)
- Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (2003) (documentary)
- No. 2 (2006)
- The Way Back Home (2006)
- Lockdown, USA (2006) (documentary) (narrator)
- All About Us (2007)
- American Gangster (2007)
- Steam (2007)
- The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll (2009)
- A Place Out of Time: The Bordentown School (2009) (documentary) (narrator)
- Dream Street (2010)
- Video Girl (2011)
- Politics of Love (2011)
- Red & Blue Marbles (2011)
- Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age (2012) (documentary)
- Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey With Mumia Abu-Jamal (2012)
- A Thousand Words (2012)
- Lifetime - Betty and Coretta (film) (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 First Year (1946)
- Seven Times Monday (1962)
- The Fugitive (TV series) (1963)
- Guiding Light (cast member in 1967)
- Peyton Place (cast member from 1968–1969)
- Deadlock (1969)
- The Sheriff (1971)
- Chelsea D.H.O. (1973) (unsold pilot)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- A Treasury of Negro World Writing (1964)
- King Lear (1965)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1965)
- The Talking Skull (1965)
- The Wedding Band (1966)
- Agamemnon (1966)
- 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)
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
- 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
- 2001: 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: Satellite Award Best Supporting Actress – 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
- Davis, Ossie; Ruby Dee (1984). Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears (Audio CassetteISBN 978-0-694-51187-7.). Caedmon.
- Dee, Ruby (1986). My One Good Nerve: Rhythms, Rhymes, Reasons. Third World Press. ISBN 0-88378-114-X.
- Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow. ISBN 978-0-688-15396-0.
- "Ruby Dee marks 90th birthday with new documentary about her illustrious life with late husband Ossie Davis", New York Daily News, November 13, 2012.
- Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). "Ruby Is Born at Seven". With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow. ISBN 0-688-17582-1. Retrieved 2008-07-30.
- Gates, Henry Louis (2005). Arts and Letters: An A-To-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African American Experience. Running Press. ISBN 0-7624-2042-1.
- Lyman, Darryl (2005). Great African-American Women. Jonathan David Company, Inc. ISBN 0-8246-0459-8.
- "Ruby Dee profile at FilmReference.com". 2008-07-30.
- Delta Sigma Theta website
- "Ruby Dee Awards". IMDb. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-30.
- Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
- "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". About.com. Retrieved 2008-07-30.
- The official site of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, ossieandruby.com; accessed March 3, 2014.
- Davis, Ossie (February 27, 1965). "Malcolm X's Eulogy". The Official Website of Malcolm X. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- Staff writers (2007-03-06). "Ruby Dee To Be Named To Women's Hall Of Fame". Westchester.com. Archived from the original on 2007-03-06. Retrieved 2008-01-23.
- "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- NAACP Spingarn Medal
- Life's Essentials with 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 Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Ruby Dee at the TCM Movie Database
- Ruby Dee's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Notable Alumni of Hunter College High School on Wikipedia
- Ruby Dee Discography at Smithsonian Folkways