Thursday, June 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Ruby Dee, 1922-2014

She signed on even though she would not have the ingenue role of Walter Lee's sister that she desired; Diana Sands got the part, while Claudia McNeil portrayed his mother. Instead, Ms. Dee would play his wife, Ruth: "Another one of those put-upon wives. And they always seemed to be named Ruth!'' But, she added: ''I dusted off my disappointment. This was very important. It was going to be a Broadway show.''
— Michael Anderson talks to Ruby Dee about the original 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun, New York Times, March 7, 1999

Dee made her film debut with [Ossie] Davis in No Way Out in 1950 and the same year played baseball player Jackie Robinson’s wife in The Jackie Robinson Story. She was the good, uncomplaining wife to Sidney Poitier again in Edge of the City and to Nat King Cole as W.C. Handy in St. Louis Blues (1958). She was cast in this kind of role so often that she was dubbed the “Negro June Allyson,” after a contemporary white film star who played similar “good girl” parts.
African Americans in the Performing Arts, by Steve Otfinoski. Above, Dee with Nat King Cole.

"Freedom isn't a thing you should be able to give me, Miss Ginny. Freedom is something I should have been born with."
— Ruby Dee in The Tall Target (1951)

"I usually played good-girl wives and mothers. And truthfully those good-girl roles were stretches."
— Ruby Dee in Backstage, March 9, 2001, explaining why she liked her roles in The Balcony and as Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night

"The thing that fascinated me about her and her work was that in the really dramatic moments, it was as if her body had difficulty containing the emotions. That's the best compliment I could pay anybody who worked at this craft. We all hit a point in life at which we are unable to hide what we feel: Those emotions have either gotten away or are about to get away. Well, with her, she had control, but it was as if the control existed at the very edge of chaos. That's Ruby Dee."
— Sidney Poitier, who directed Dee in Buck and the Preacher; quoted in the Hollywood Reporter in 2001. Above, Dee with John Cassavetes and Kathleen Maguire in Edge of the City (1957), in which she played opposite Poitier.

"Dear Ossie, When I think of you, let there be silence and no writing at all. Ruby."
— Inscription on a photo she gave him during their courtship; they married in 1948

“In doing it our way, we didn’t have to sell more of ourselves than we could get back before the sun went down.”
— Ossie Davis on a lifetime’s shared career with Ruby Dee. Above, Martin Luther King Jr. visits the set of the stage production of Purlie Victorious, 1961.

“We've got to trust it and go wherever it takes us. Especially women. We women have a great function to perform. The world needs us. Feminine sensibilities are not being acknowledged, and we've allowed the anti-people to steal the children and are tolerating far too much: the assault on ourselves, the families of the world, permitting war and rape. More women are becoming enraged about these things and I think we're on the verge of doing something about them... We have to bring forward the graces in life and make them real. We have to institute democracy, which is still mostly an aspiration, and universal love, which is still unrealized. I dream of getting prisons off the stock exchange. It is a dastardly crime and an insult to the word democracy to make a commodity of jailing people.”
— Interview with Essence magazine in 2005, shortly after Davis’ death. Above, a protest over the shooting death of Amadou Diallo, 1999; Dee is in the lower right-hand corner. She and Davis were arrested that day.

"Cremation after a public ceremony, and then into an urn. A special urn, large enough and comfortable enough to hold both our ashes. Whoever goes first will wait for the other. When we are united at last, we want the family to say goodbye and seal the urn forever. Then on the side, in letters not too bold — but not too modest either — we want the following inscription: 'Ruby and Ossie — In This Thing Together.'"
— from In This Life Together, by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

“We keep going upward. But the ascent is jagged. Up a little, then back, then up some more. But, all in all, upward. We're going to come into our glory as a species. When someone challenges my optimism, I remember a line from Lorraine Hansberry, I think it's from her play The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window. It goes, 'Why do you despairing ones think that only you know the truth?' ”
— from a 1996 interview with Joe Adcock in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer


jim said...

Lovely tribute to a lovely & talented woman.

Thank you.

john_burke100 said...

Thank you--. A beautiful assembly of memories. Siren, you're a national treasure.

Birgit said...

A great tribute to a lady who held on to her beliefs and is greatly respected

gmoke said...

She was very, very good.

Juanita's Journal said...

If there are two movies I remember Ruby Dee from, they are 1951's "THE TALL TARGET" (by the way, she had a funny story about her first meeting with Dick Powell) and the recent 2007 movie, "AMERICAN GANGSTER". I also remember her from a television movie she did with Lou Gossett Jr. and Kate Nelligan.

Damn! I miss her already.

barrylane said...

What is the Dick Powell story?

The Siren said...

I want to hear the Dick Powell story too.

The Siren said...

I want to hear the Dick Powell story too.

Buttermilk Sky said...

A fine classical actress, too -- I remember her Gertrude in Central Park (Sam Waterston as Hamlet). The British would have taken better advantage of her gifts.

Lemora said...

Anybody notice Alan Alda in the rear of the cast of Pulrie Victorious? And who is the guy dressed like Colonel Sanders? I too want to hear the Dick Powell story.

La Faustin said...

Re: new header picture

Store THAT on your iCloud!

La Faustin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Gee said...

We're never going to hear the Dick Powell story, are we?