Ruby Dee (1922 - 2014)

A photo of Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee
1922 - 2014
October 27, 1922
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio United States
June 11, 2014
New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York United States
Ruby Dee was born on October 27, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio United States. She died on June 11, 2014 in New Rochelle, New York United States at 91 years of age.
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Updated: June 18, 2021
Ruby Dee - Biography Born October 27, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA Died June 11, 2014 in New Rochelle, New York, USA (natural causes) Birth Name Ruby Ann Wallace Height 5' 2¼" (1.58 m) Ruby Dee was an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and civil rights activist. She is best known for originating the role of "Ruth Younger" in the stage and film versions of A Raisin in the Sun (1961). She also starred in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), Cat People (1982), Do the Right Thing (1989), and American Gangster (2007). 2004: Recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, along with Elton John, Joan Sutherland, John Williams, Warren Beatty, and husband Ossie Davis. Her film debut was That Man of Mine (1946). For her performance as Mahalee Lucas in American Gangster (2007), she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. As of 2019, she stands as the second oldest nominee for Best Supporting Actress, behind Gloria Stuart who was 87 when nominated for her role in Titanic for the 70th Academy Awards, 1998. Dee died on June 11, 2014, at her home in New Rochelle, New York, from natural causes at the age of 91. Spouse (2) Ossie Davis (December 1948 - 4 February 2005) (his death) (3 children) Frankie Dee Brown (31 August 1941 - 1945) (divorced) 1989: Voted into the NAACP image award Hall of Fame with husband Ossie Davis. She was a member of the NAACP, CORE, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Council. Says her favorite quote comes from the book, "Charlotte's Web": "'Isn't life peculiar!' said Jeremy. 'Compared to what?' said the spider.". Ruby was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Had three children: Guy Davis, Nora Day, and Hasna Muhammad. 1995: She and her husband Ossie Davis were awarded the American National Medal of the Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Attended and graduated from Hunter College with degrees in French and Spanish in 1944. In 2008, at age 85, she became the second oldest actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. The oldest is Gloria Stuart. Ruby was one of 105 people invited to join AMPAS in 2008. In early 2003, she and her husband signed "Not In My Name", a statement opposing the impending invasion of Iraq. Other signatories included Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn. A lifelong friend of Marla Gibbs. Had appeared with Sidney Poitier in four films: No Way Out (1950), Edge of the City (1957), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and Buck and the Preacher (1972). Had appeared with her husband Ossie Davis in nine films: No Way Out (1950), Gone Are the Days! (1963), The Sheriff (1971), Cool Red (1976), Roots: The Next Generations (1979), All God's Children (1980), Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), and The Stand (1994). Grandmother of Muta'Ali Muhammad. Aunt of Tommy Wallace Jr.. Had appeared with Sidney Poitier in four films: No Way Out (1950), Edge of the City (1957), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and Buck and the Preacher (1972)." Also in "Go Man Go" (1954), as Poitier's wife. Her ashes are inurned with Ossie at Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hartsdale, New York. Personal Quotes (2) I didn't have the kind of talent or personality that kept me dreaming about Hollywood. They don't hire little colored girls to do this or that. I think you mustn't tell your body, you mustn't tell your soul, 'I'm going to retire', You may be changing your life emphasis, but there are still things that you have in mind to do that now seems the right time to do. I really don't believe in retiring as long as you can breathe.
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Ruby Dee
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Ruby Dee was born on in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio United States
Ruby Dee died on in New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York United States
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Attended and graduated from Hunter College with degrees in French and Spanish in 1944.


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Filmography Ruby Dee and Joel Fluellen (center) in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) Year Title Role Note 1946 That Man of Mine [9] Joan First film 1947 Easy to Get [37] Drugstore girl U.S. Army venereal disease training film The Fight Never Ends [38] Jane 1948 What a Guy [38] 1950 The Jackie Robinson Story Rae Robinson No Way Out Connie Brooks Uncredited 1951 The Tall Target Rachel 1954 Go, Man, Go! Irma Jackson 1956 Mrs. Ashlow Uncredited 1957 Edge of the City Lucy Tyler 1958 St. Louis Blues Elizabeth Virgin Island Ruth 1959 Take a Giant Step Christine 1961 A Raisin in the Sun Ruth Younger 1963 The Balcony Thief Gone Are the Days! Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins 1967 The Incident Joan Robinson 1968 Up Tight! Laurie 1970 King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis Documentary 1972 Buck and the Preacher Ruth Black Girl Netta's Mother 1973 Wattstax 1976 Countdown at Kusini [39] Leah Matanzima 1982 Cat People Female 1989 Do the Right Thing Mother Sister 1990 Love at Large Corrine Dart 1991 Jungle Fever Lucinda Purify 1993 Color Adjustment Narrator Documentary Cop and a Half Rachel 1994 The Stand Mother Abagail Freemantle 1995 Just Cause Evangeline 1996 Mr. & Mrs. Loving [40] Sophia 1997 A Simple Wish Hortense 1998 A Time to Dance: The Life and Work of Norma Canner Narrator Documentary[39] 1999 Baby Geniuses[39] Margo 2003 Beah: A Black Woman Speaks Herself Documentary 2006 No. 2 Nanna Maria The Way Back Home [39] Maude 2007 All About Us [39] Ms. Ella American Gangster Mama Lucas Steam Doris 2009 The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll [39] Miss Candy 2010 Laura| [41] 2011 Video Girl Valerie [42] Politics of Love [39] Grandma 'Estelle' Roseanne Gupta Red & Blue Marbles [39] Professor June Wright 2012 Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey With Mumia Abu-Jamal [43] A Thousand Words Annie McCall [39] 2013 Betty & Coretta Narrator [44] 1982 Rose Brown Short subjects: Lorraine Hansberry: The Black Experience in the Creation of Drama (1975)[45] The Torture of Mothers (1980)[38] Tuesday Morning Ride (1995)[46] The Unfinished Journey (1999) (narrator)[47] The New Neighbors (2009) (narrator)[48] Television The Bitter Cup (1961)[40] Seven Times Monday (1962)[40] The Fugitive (1963)[40] The Great Adventure (1963) [40] Of Courtship and Marriage (1964)[40] Guiding Light (cast member in 1967)[40] Peyton Place (cast member from 1968 to 1969) Deadlock (1969)[40] The Sheriff (1971)[40] It's Good to Be Alive (1974)[40] Police Woman Season 1 / Episode 14 "Target Black" (1975) Roots: The Next Generations (1979) (miniseries)[40] I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1979)[40] All God's Children (1980)[40] With Ossie and Ruby! (1980–1982)[40] Long Day's Journey into Night (1982) Go Tell It on the Mountain (1984) The Atlanta Child Murders (1985) (miniseries) Windmills of the Gods (1988)[40] Gore Vidal's Lincoln (1988)[40] The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson (1990)[40] Decoration Day (1990)[40] Golden Girls (1990)[40] Jazztime Tale (1991) (voice)[38] Middle Ages (1992–1993) The Ernest Green Story (1993) The Stand (1994) (miniseries) Whitewash (1994) (voice)[40] Mr. and Mrs. Loving (1996)[40] Captive Heart: The James Mink Story (1996) The Wall (1998)[40] Little Bill (1999 – 2004) (voice) Passing Glory (1999) Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (1999) A Storm in Summer (2000)[40] Finding Buck McHenry (2000)[40] The Feast of All Saints (2001) (miniseries) Taking Back Our Town (2001)[40] Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) Meet Mary Pleasant (2008) America (2009) Stage On Strivers Row (1940)[49] Natural Man (1941)[49] Starlight (1942)[49] Three's a Family (1943)[49] South Pacific (1943)[49] Walk Hard (1944)[49] Jeb (1946)[49] Anna Lucasta (1946) (replacement for Hilda Simms)[49] Arsenic and Old Lace (1946)[49] John Loves Mary (1946) A Long Way From Home (1948)[49] The Smile of the World (1949)[49] The World of Sholom Aleichem (1953)[49] A Raisin in the Sun (1959) Purlie Victorious (1961)[49] King Lear (1965)[49] The Taming of the Shrew (1965)[49] The Birds (1966)[49] Oresteia (1966)[49] Boesman and Lena (1970)[49] The Imaginary Invalid (1971)[49] The Wedding Band (1972)[49] Hamlet (1975)[49] Bus Stop (1979) Twin-Bit Gardens (1979)[49] Zora is My Name! (1983)[49] Checkmates (1988)[49] The Glass Menagerie (1989)[49] The Disappearance (1993)[49] Flying West (1994)[49] Two Hahs-Hahs and a Homeboy (1995)[49] My One Good Nerve: A Visit with Ruby Dee (1996)[49] A Last Dance for Sybil (2002)[49] Saint Lucy's Eyes (2003)[49]

Personal Life

Ossie Davis (December 1948 - 4 February 2005) (his death) (3 children) Frankie Dee Brown (31 August 1941 - 1945) (divorced) She chose cremation with her ashes together with Ossie Davis.

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By Bruce Weber June 12, 2014 Ruby Dee, one of the most enduring actresses of theater and film, whose public profile and activist passions made her, along with her husband, Ossie Davis, a leading advocate for civil rights both in show business and in the wider world, died on Wednesday at her home in New Rochelle, N.Y. She was 91. Her daughter Nora Davis Day confirmed the death. A diminutive beauty with a sense of persistent social distress and a restless, probing intelligence, Ms. Dee began her performing career in the 1940s, and it continued well into the 21st century. She was always a critical favorite, though not often cast as a leading lady. Her most successful central role was Off -Broadway, in the 1970 Athol Fugard drama, “Boesman and Lena,” about a pair of nomadic mixed-race South Africans, for which she received overwhelming praise. Clive Barnes wrote in The New York Times, “Ruby Dee as Lena is giving one of the finest performances I have ever seen.” Her most famous performance came more than a decade earlier, in 1959, in a supporting role in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark drama about the quotidian struggle of a black family in Chicago at the dawn of the civil rights movement. Ms. Dee played Ruth Younger, the wife of the main character, Walter Lee Younger, played by Sidney Poitier, and the daughter-in-law of the leading female character, the family matriarch, Lena (Claudia McNeil). Ruth is a character with far too much on her plate: an overcrowded home, a troubled husband, a young son, an overbearing mother-in-law, a wearying job, and an unwanted pregnancy, not to mention the shared burden of black people everywhere in a society skewed against them. Ms. Dee’s was a haunting portrait of a young woman whose desperation to maintain grace under pressure doesn’t keep her from being occasionally broken by it. The play had 530 performances on Broadway and was reprised, with much of the cast intact, as a 1961 film. On-screen, Edith Oliver wrote in The New Yorker, Ms. Dee was “even more impressive” than she was onstage. “Is there a better young actress in America, or one who can make everything she does seem so effortless?” Ms. Oliver wrote. The loyal but worried loved one was a role Ms. Dee played frequently, in films like “The Jackie Robinson Story” (in which she played the wife of the pioneering black ballplayer, who starred as himself) and “No Way Out,” a tough racial drama in which she played the sister of a young doctor (Mr. Poitier). Over the course of Ms. Dee’s career, the lives of American blacks, both extraordinary and ordinary, belatedly emerged as rich subject matter for mainstream theater productions and films, and black performers went from being consigned to marginal and often belittling roles to starring in Hollywood megahits. Ms. Dee went from being a disciple of Paul Robeson to starring with Mr. Poitier on Broadway. She was a featured player in the films of Spike Lee and an Oscar nominee for a supporting role in the 2007 movie “American Gangster,” about a Harlem drug lord (Denzel Washington); she played a loving mother who turned a blind eye to her son’s criminality. But Ms. Dee not only took part in that evolution; through her visibility in a wide range of projects, from classics onstage to contemporary film dramas to television soap operas, she also helped bring it about. In 1965, playing Cordelia in “King Lear” and Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew,” she was the first black woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn. In 1968, she became the first black actress to be featured regularly on the titillating prime-time TV series “Peyton Place.” She appeared in two of Mr. Lee’s earliest films, “Do the Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever.” (On Thursday, Michelle Obama tweeted about Ms. Dee: “I’ll never forget seeing her in ‘Do the Right Thing’ on my first date with Barack.”) Ms. Dee picketed Broadway theaters that were not employing black actors for their shows and spoke out against film crews that hired few or no blacks. Having made her name in films that addressed racial issues, she began seeking out more of them. She collaborated with the director Jules Dassin on the screenplay for “Up Tight!,” a 1968 adaptation of “The Informer,” Liam O’Flaherty’s 1925 novel set after the Irish civil war. (It had also been filmed by John Ford.) Mr. Dassin and Ms. Dee shifted the tale of betrayal among revolutionaries to 1960s Cleveland; Ms. Dee played a welfare mother who helped feed her family by resorting to prostitution. She also lent her voice and presence to the cause of racial equality outside show business. She was an active member of the Congress of Racial Equality, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the Tony Awards ceremony on Sunday, Audra McDonald, in accepting her sixth acting award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” acknowledged Ms. Dee as one of five black women whose shoulders she stands upon. (The others were Holiday, Maya Angelou, Diahann Carroll, and Lena Horne.) A revival of “Raisin in the Sun,” now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway, the same stage as the original production, won three Tonys, including one for Sophie Okonedo, who plays Ruth Younger. In a statement, Ms. Okonedo called Ms. Dee “one of my heroines.” Ruby Ann Wallace, as she was known when she was born in Cleveland on Oct. 27, 1922, grew up in Harlem. The third child of teenage parents, she was reared mostly by her father, Marshall Wallace, who became a waiter on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his second wife, the former Emma Amelia Benson, a college-educated teacher who was 13 years older than he. Ms. Dee described her as a strict but loving mother, a stickler for elocution, and the person who introduced her to poetry, music, and dance. By the mid-1940s, when she graduated from Hunter College, Ms. Dee was already a working actress, having appeared on Broadway and in productions of the American Negro Theater, then a fledgling professional company housed in the basement of the Harlem branch of the New York Public Library. She had also been married, in 1941, to the singer Freddie Dee Brown. The marriage dissolved within four years, but it gave Ms. Dee the name by which she would be known for the rest of her life. She made her Broadway debut in December 1943 in a short-lived play called “South Pacific,” unrelated to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that came along more than five years later. In 1946 she joined the cast of a Broadway-bound play called “Jeb,” about a black soldier who has lost a leg in World War II and discovers that his sacrifice for his country is of little value in the face of the racism he encounters on his return home. Hired as the understudy for the role of Libby, the title character’s loving girlfriend, Ms. Dee not only replaced the original actress in the role before opening night but also fell in love with the star, Ossie Davis. The show lasted for nine performances, the relationship nearly 60 years, until Mr. Davis’s death in 2005. They married in 1948. Besides her daughter Nora, Ms. Dee is survived by another daughter, Hasna Muhammad; a son, the singer Guy Davis; a sister, Angelina Roach; and seven grandchildren. The partnership between Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis was romantic, familial, professional, artistic, and political, and they jointly received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton. During their careers, they performed together many times, including in “Raisin,” when Mr. Davis took over the stage role of Walter Younger from Mr. Poitier, and in “Purlie Victorious,” Mr. Davis’s own broad satire about a charismatic preacher in the Jim Crow South, on Broadway in 1961 and in the 1963 film version, “Gone Are the Days!” In 1998 they published a joint autobiography, “With Ossie & Ruby: In This Life Together,” to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary. The book is remarkable for its candor, not only about their careers and upbringings but also about their intimate lives, together and apart, and their reflections on race relations, politics, and art. Told in separate, alternating voices, it was a book-length public conversation that testified to a lifelong private one. Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis stood together, far to the political left, on behalf of numerous causes. They spoke out in the 1950s against the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and against the persecution of American Communists (and purported Communists) in the investigations by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. When, under the McCarran Internal Security Act, the government revoked the passport of Robeson, the great black actor, singer and outspoken socialist, they helped organize the campaign to have it restored. They were friends and supporters of both the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, whose eulogy, after his assassination in 1965, was delivered by Mr. Davis. On Aug. 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which culminated in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis were the M.C.'s of the entertainment event at the foot of the Washington Monument that preceded the march to the Lincoln Memorial. They raised money for the Black Panthers. They demonstrated against the Vietnam War. In 2005 Ms. Dee received a lifetime achievement award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. “You can only appreciate freedom,” she said then, “when you find yourself in a position to fight for someone else’s freedom and not worry about your own.”

1922 - 2014 World Events

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In 1922, in the year that Ruby Dee was born, on June 22, coal miners in Herrin Illinois, were on strike (coal miners had been on strike nationally since April 1). The striking miners were outraged at the strikebreakers (scabs) that the company had brought in and laid siege to the mine. Three union workers were killed when gunfire was exchanged. The next day, union miners killed 23 strikebreakers and mine guards. No one, on either side, ever faced jail time.

In 1932, when she was merely 10 years old, five years to the day after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart flew solo from Newfoundland to Ireland, the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo and the first to replicate Lindbergh's feat. She flew over 2,000 miles in just under 15 hours.

In 1958, by the time she was 36 years old, on March 24th, Elvis Presley was inducted into the United States Army. Although he could have served in Special Services as an entertainer, he chose to become a regular soldier. Almost everyone thought it would be the end of his career - it wasn't.

In 1964, at the age of 42 years old, Ruby was alive when in June, three young civil rights workers - Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner from New York City, and James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi - were kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi. Working with "Freedom Summer", they were registering African-Americans to vote in the Southern states. Their bodies were found two months later. Although it was discovered that the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office and the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department were involved, only 7 men were convicted and served less than six years.

In 1993, by the time she was 71 years old, on January 20th, William J. Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States. He beat incumbent George H.W. Bush who was seeking his second term. Clinton won 43.01% of the popular vote to Bush's 37.45%. An independent candidate, Ross Perot, won 18.91% - the most votes for an independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt's run for President in 1912.

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