Oscar-nominated stage and screen actress Ruby Dee died Wednesday at her home in New York. She was 91. Dee made her film debut in 1946’s That Man of Mine, earned notice playing Rae Robinson in 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story, and famously originated the role of suffering housewife Ruth Younger in the groundbreaking Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun opposite Sidney Poitier – a role she reprised in the 1961 film adaptation, earning the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress. Decades later Dee received her only Academy Award nomination for her brief turn in 2008’s American Gangster. In between those milestones she also won an Emmy for 1990 miniseries Decoration Day and earned eight more Emmy nods. Among her numerous additional honors, Dee shared a Grammy with late husband Ossie Davis for their spoken word album With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together and was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild.
Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace, later taking her surname from first husband, blues singer Frankie Dee. But it was her second marriage to fellow actor Ossie Davis that became indelibly intertwined with her life in the arts and in political activism. The couple were close friends with civil rights icons Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, attending the 1963 civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dee spoke and Davis emceed. Following Davis’s death in 2005, the two received the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award.
Dee made her stage debut in 1940 with the American Negro Theatre’s On Strivers Row and played Ruth Younger in the 1959 Broadway premiere of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in The Sun (currently being revived on Broadway). Dee would have a significant impact on the cause of non-traditional casting, starring in the title role of Philip Yordan’s Anna Lucasta, as Kate in The Taming Of The Shrew, Cordelia in King Lear, Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and as Gertrude, in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of Hamlet, among other many others. She is remembered for an astonishingly powerful performance in Athol Fugard’s Boesman and Lena (later made into a film starring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett). Dee and husband Davis were devoted supporters of African-American theater artists and was long affiliated with groups such as Woody King Jr.’s off-Broadway New Federal Theatre. (more…)