Ruby Dee had impressive versatility as an actress in Broadway dramas, TV soap operas and movies that included Buck and the Preacher (1972) and Do the Right Thing (1989). Dee, who passed away on June 12 at age 92 in New Rochelle, N.Y., had an equally impressive career as a civil rights activist. She and her husband of nearly six decades, actor Ossie Davis, spoke out in the 1950s against McCarthyism; organized a campaign to press the government to restore the revoked passport of actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson; served as masters of ceremonies for the entertainment portion of the 1963 March on Washington; and demonstrated against segregation in the south and against the Vietnam War. Here she is in 1969, in reading the names of African-American men killed by police.
Here are facts about Dee and her remarkable life and career.
- As a child, Dee had rickets and epilepsy.
- Dee’s acting career began in 1940, during her sophomore year at Hunter College, when she appeared in writer-director Abram Hill’s play On Strivers Row at the American Negro Theater, and she debuted on Broadway in South Pacific in 1943.
- Dee borrowed her stage name from Frankie Dee Brown, a liquor salesman to whom she was married for several years in the early 1940s.
- Dee initially had reservations about taking the role in the Broadway drama A Raisin in the Sun that propelled her to stardom. As she later explained, “it seemed that I’d been playing that same character, more or less, in almost everything I’d done.” She also appeared in the 1961 film version.
- In the mid-1960s, Dee became the first African-American woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, appearing as Kate in Taming of the Shrew and Cordelia in King Lear.
- In 1995, Dee and Davis both received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton and Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.
- She received her first Oscar nomination at age 83 for her role in the 2007 film American Gangster.
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