Jessie Coles Grayson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Jessie Coles Grayson
Jessie Coles Grayson.jpg
Jessie Coles

(1886-03-07)March 7, 1886
DiedFebruary 27, 1953(1953-02-27) (aged 66)
OccupationActress, singer
Years active1921–1953
Spouse(s)Garner Van Grayson

Jessie Coles Grayson (also credited as Jessie Grayson and Jessica Grayson) (March 7, 1886 – February 27, 1953) was an African-American singer and actress, known for The Little Foxes (1941), Cass Timberlane (1947) and Homecoming (1948).


Grayson was born in 1886 in Albia, Iowa.[1][2] She lived in Los Angeles from the age of eight,[1][2] and after marrying Garner Van Grayson,[2] with whom she had a daughter and a son,[1] moved to Portland, Oregon.[1][2][3] She studied with Portland voice teacher J. William Belcher,[4] and, during the 1920s and 1930s, performed on stage and radio as a contralto soloist.[4][3][5][6] In 1929, before a performance at a concert in Seattle, she was advertised as "Portland's Famous Contralto", [7] and a review in the Northwest Enterprise said, "Mrs. Grayson proved herself an artist in every sense of the word. She is a master of contralto voice which she uses effectively and without exaggeration."[7]

Grayson was active in civic organisations. She was elected as a secretary of the National Association of Colored Women in 1928,[8][9] was on the Portland committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1929,[10] and was president of the Oregon Federated Club Women in 1936.[11] In the late 1930s and early 1940s, she was active in the YWCA in California.[12][13] In 1944, she was named as "the outstanding woman for 1943" by the Xi Alpha chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority in Pittsburgh.[14] Her hobby was collecting rare American pottery.[15] She died on February 27, 1953 in Los Angeles County, California, USA.[16]

Acting career[edit]

Bette Davis and Jessie Grayson in The Little Foxes

Grayson's first screen role was in 1939 in the all-black film One Dark Night,[1] intended as an African-American version of the Hardy films.[17] She was next cast in The Little Foxes in 1941,[1][5][18] in the role of Addie.[19][18] One review of the film reported that Grayson "had never been on the screen before",[20] and that "absolutely unknown, [she] got the job by telephoning [the casting director], who was so intrigued by the quality of her voice that he arranged the test which landed her the part."[20] Another explained that she "braved the Goldwyn studios when she learned through friends of the role in The Little Foxes. She had taken part in a few non-professional theatricals in ... Los Angeles, but had practically no contact with the theatre or films. Given a test, she won out over many veteran .. players".[21] She was described as "a fine character actress" and her role of Addie "the wise "aristocratic" servant who is one of the dominant characters in the picture."[22]

Jessie Grayson and Bonita Granville in the 1943 film Syncopation

In their review of Syncopation (1942),[1] in which Grayson played a blues-singing servant[23] whose young son is musical, the African-American newspaper Amsterdam News reported that Grayson's role was not that of an "Aunt Dinah", and saw in the film evidence of a move in Hollywood to represent African-Americans more positively.[24] One reviewer considered that the best acting in a film that otherwise disappointed was from the African-American actors, including Grayson, saying "They play naturally in settings that seem authentic. If the rest of "Syncopation" reached their level the [movie theater] might have had something to shout about."[25]
Grayson's role in Cass Timberlane was also considered significant, as she "counsels and listens to Judge [Timberlane] throughout the picture".[15] The magazine Ebony and the 1948 edition of the Negro Who’s Who in California both noted that "the Negro maid [is] called for the first time on the screen " 'Mrs.' Higby".[6][15][26][27][28] The Pittsburgh Courier quoted the director, George Sidney, as saying, "I think six years ago we would have cast a comedy performer in it. But the war has made us more conscious ... more aware of that Negro comic and mammy roles, like Jewish comics and Italian pushcart peddlers, have become unfair, dangerous symbols. So ... we wanted a normal, intelligent character actress ..." hence Mrs. Grayson."[26]

In 1946, she was cast in the four-state touring production of Deep Are the Roots, by Arnaud d'Usseau and James Gow, in the role of Bella Charles, the mother of the African-American war veteran,[1][5][29][30] which had been played in the Broadway production by Evelyn Ellis. A reviewer in Chicago wrote, "The best roles belong to Henry Scott as the framed Negro and to Jessie Grayson as his terrified mother, and they give living performances, illuminated by validity, deepened by compassion."[31] Grayson reprised the role in the San Francisco and Los Angeles productions of the play in 1948.[32][33]

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role References
1939 One Dark Night Grandmother [17]
1941 The Little Foxes Addie [5][18][34][22]
1942 Syncopation Ella Tearbone, servant, mother of a boy with musical talent [35]
1944 The Adventures of Mark Twain Housekeeper [1]
1946 Tomorrow Is Forever Servant [1]
1947 Cass Timberlane Mrs. Higbee [1][15][6]
1949 Mr. Adam's Bomb [36]
1950 Our Very Own Violet [37]

Selected stage performances[edit]

Year Title Theatre Role Author
1944-1945 Ladies' Room Filmcity Playhouse, Los Angeles Janet Clark[30][38]
1946 Deep Are the Roots New Haven, CT
Boston, MA
Philadelphia, PA
Selwyn Theater, Chicago, IL
Bella Charles,
war veteran's mother
Arnaud d'Usseau and James Gow[1][5][30][29]
1948 Deep Are the Roots Belasco Theater, Los Angeles
Tivoli Theater, San Francisco
Bella Charles [32][33]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Gant, Bessie M. (9 August 1947). "Bess' Secrets 'Bout Good Things To Eat". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. p. 8. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Cox, Bette Yarbrough (1996). Central Avenue--its rise and fall, 1890-c. 1955: including the musical renaissance of Black Los Angeles. BEEM Publications. pp. 40–41. ISBN 9780965078306. Retrieved 3 August 2019. Jessie Coles Grayson, a concert singer and character actress born in Albia, Iowa, came to Los Angeles at the age of eight. She married Garner V. Grayson and moved to Portland, Oregon where she lived for a number of years singing in choirs ...
  3. ^ a b Wysinger, Lena M. (1 March 1936). "Activities among Eastbay Negroes". Oakland Tribune. Oakland, California. p. 8B. Retrieved 2 August 2019. The Women's Council of First A.M.E. Church ... will bring to bay area music lovers a treat on Thursday evening, March 5, when Mrs. Jessie Grayson, contralto, will be presented in song recital. Mrs. Grayson's home is in Portland, Oregon.
  4. ^ a b "Mme. Carreno's Protege Will Be Heard Here". The Oregon Daily Journal. Portland, Oregon. 30 October 1921. p. 5. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Jessie Grayson Gets Top Role". The Evening News. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 13 September 1948. p. 19. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  6. ^ a b c Calvin, Dolores (15 November 1947). "Spencer Tracy and Jessie Grayson are Two Quiet, Home Loving People in New MGM Film". The Weekly Review. Birmingham, Alabama. p. 1. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b Mangun, Kimberley (2012). "13. A renaissance in Seattle and Portland". In Glasrud, Bruce A.; Wintz, Cary D. (eds.). The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: The New Negro's Western Experience. New York: Routledge. p. 221. ISBN 9781136649103. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  8. ^ Leslie, LaVonne (2012). The History of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc.: A Legacy of Service. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 9781479722655. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  9. ^ Davis, Elizabeth Lindsay (1933). Lifting as They Climb. G.K. Hall. ISBN 9780783814193. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Stop Girl Scout Discrimination". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 30 November 1929. p. 3. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  11. ^ Wysinger, Lena M. (15 March 1936). "Activities Among Negroes. State President's Visit". Oakland Tribune. Oakland, California. p. 15 March 1936. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  12. ^ "Mrs. Bert McDonald U.S.O. Chairman". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 29 November 1941. p. 10. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  13. ^ "Y.W.C.A. Will Launch New Branch Tomorrow". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. 14 November 1942. p. II 5. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Jessie Grayson Wins Zeta Honor". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 11 March 1944. p. 11. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  15. ^ a b c d "Cass Timberlane". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 1947. pp. 220–221. Retrieved 2 August 2019. Pottery collection of rare pieces from all over America is Jessie Grayson's pride, splendid role in Cass Timberlane completes ten years of movie work for her. In picture she comforts and takes care of lonely Judge Timberlane when Jinny leaves ... Mrs Higby (Jessie Grayson) .. counsels and listens to judge throughout the picture.
  16. ^ "The Week's Census. Died". Jet. III (19): 66. 19 Mar 1953. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Negro Counterparts of 'Hardy Family' Pix". Variety. New York, NY. 136 (12): 1. 29 November 1939. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  18. ^ a b c "Reviews. "The Little Foxes"". The Film Daily. Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 7 12 August 1941. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  19. ^ Shelley, George E. (15 January 1942). "Davis scores in new drama". Harrisburg Telegraph. p. 8. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  20. ^ a b Hopper, Hedda (3 January 1943). "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood. All Directors Have Headaches". The Times. Shreveport, Louisiana. p. A7. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  21. ^ "Victoria. Star-Studded Cast. Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall to Appear in 'The Little Foxes', Opening Tomorrow". Shamokin News-Dispatch. Shamokin, Pennsylvania. 23 January 1942. p. 9. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  22. ^ a b "Herbert Marshall in 'Little Foxes'". The Times. Munster, Indiana. 24 June 1941. p. 13. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Syncopation". Time. 39: 48. 1942. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  24. ^ Townsend, Peter (2007). Pearl Harbor Jazz: Change in Popular Music in the Early 1940s. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 189. ISBN 9781604731477. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  25. ^ Cohn, Herbert (29 May 1942). "Albee Film Promised More Than It Gives". The Brooklyn Eagle. Brooklyn, New York. p. 18. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  26. ^ a b Johnson, Toki Schalk (11 October 1947). "The Things We Talk About". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. p. 8. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  27. ^ "Hollywood Calls Negro "Mrs." For First Time". Alabama Tribune. Montgomery, Alabama. 24 October 1947. p. 6. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  28. ^ MORRISON, PATT (24 February 1999). "The Light-Years and Micromillimeters of Our History". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. p. A12. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  29. ^ a b Cassidy, Claudia (5 May 1946). "Critic Passes Out May Bouquets to Town's Actors". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. p. 6, Pt 3. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  30. ^ a b c "'Deep Are The Roots Show' Casting for Road Company". The Pittsburgh Courier. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 5 January 1946. p. 17. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  31. ^ Cassidy, Claudia (26 March 1946). ""Deep Are The Roots" Stacks Its Cards and Deals from the Bottom of the Deck". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. p. 19. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  32. ^ a b "Belasco Theater To Present Hit Play January 15". Wilmington Daily Press Journal. Wilmington, California. 12 January 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  33. ^ a b "Race Drama Seats on Sale". Oakland Tribune. Oakland, California. 25 March 1948. p. 47. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  34. ^ Kane, Sherwin A. (12 August 1941). "Reviews. "The Little Foxes"". Motion Picture Daily. 50 (30): 8. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  35. ^ "Reviews of the New Films. "Syncopation"". The Film Daily. 81 (88). 7 May 1942. p. 6. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  36. ^ Pitts, Michael R. (2019). Astor Pictures: A Filmography and History of the Reissue King, 1933-1965. McFarland. p. 231. ISBN 9781476676494. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  37. ^ Cameron, Kate (28 July 1950). "Sentimental Drama On Victoria Screen". Daily News. New York, New York. p. 48. Retrieved 2 August 2019.
  38. ^ "Actress Creator of Seven Plays". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. 7 January 1945. p. III 3. Retrieved 3 August 2019.

External links[edit]