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Ruby Dee

( b. Oct 27, 1922 Cleveland, Ohio, USA - d. Jun 11, 2014 New Rochelle, New York, USA ) Female
Relations: Mother of Guy Davis
Wife of Ossie Davis (December 9, 1948 - his death)

Ruby Dee was one of the theater and film's most enduring actresses, whose public profile and activist's passions made her, along with her husband, Ossie Davis, a leading advocate for civil rights both in show business and in the wider world.

A diminutive, placid beauty with a sense of persistent social distress and a restless, probing intelligence, Ms. Dee was always a critical favorite but never really a leading lady. Her performing career began in the 1940s and continued well into the 21st century. But, more introspective than outgoing, she was perhaps more naturally suited to character roles than starring ones.

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. 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).

The play lasted 530 performances on Broadway and was reprised, with much of the cast intact, as a 1961 film.

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 mega-hits.

In 1965, playing Cordelia in King Lear and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, she was a theatrical pioneer, 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 regularly featured on the titillating prime-time TV series "Peyton Place."

She appeared in two of Spike Lee's earliest films, "Do the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever." Meanwhile, she picketed Broadway theaters whose shows weren't employing black actors and spoke out against film crews that employed few or no blacks.

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 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; she also fell in love with the star, Ossie Davis. The show lasted nine performances, the relationship nearly 60 years, until Mr. Davis's death in 2005.

During their careers they performed together many times, including in Raisin, when Mr. Davis took over the 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, as well as the 1963 film version, "Gone Are the Days!"

Source: The New York Times obituary

ProductionsDate of Productions
[Play, Comedy, Original]
  • Starring: Ruby Dee [Mattie Cooper]
Aug 04, 1988 - Dec 31, 1988
Purlie Victorious
[Play, Comedy, Original]
  • Starring: Ruby Dee [Lutiebell Gussie Mae Jenkins]
Sep 28, 1961 - May 13, 1962
A Raisin in the Sun
[Play, Drama, Original]
  • Performer: Ruby Dee [Ruth Younger]
Mar 11, 1959 - Jun 25, 1960
The Smile of the World
[Play, Original]
  • Performer: Ruby Dee [Evelyn]
Jan 12, 1949 - Jan 15, 1949
A Long Way From Home
[Play, Original]
  • Performer: Ruby Dee [Marcy]
Feb 08, 1948 - Feb 15, 1948
[Play, Original]
  • Performer: Ruby Dee [Libby George]
Feb 21, 1946 - Feb 28, 1946
Anna Lucasta
[Play, All Black Cast, Original]
  • Performer: Ruby Dee
        Anna - Replacement
Aug 30, 1944 - Nov 30, 1946
South Pacific
[Play, Original]
  • Performer: Ruby Dee [Native]
Dec 29, 1943 - Jan 01, 1944
1973 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance
winner Ruby Dee (for "Wedding Band") [winner]
1971 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance
winner Ruby Dee (for "Boesman and Lena") [winner]
Find out where Ruby Dee and are credited together