Ruby Dee, Acclaimed Actress and Activist, Dies at 91

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12 Jun 2014

Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Award-winning actress Ruby Dee, who originated the role of Ruth Younger in the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun, died June 11 at the age of 91.

Born in Cleveland, Ruby Ann Wallace grew up in Harlem and graduated from Hunter College. She made her Broadway debut in 1943 in the play South Pacific and moved on to star in Anna Lucasta, Jeb, A Long Way from Home and The Smile of the World. Her stage credits also include Purlie Victorious and Checkmates, in which she co-starred with Denzel Washington, who is currently playing Walter Lee in a revival of Raisin.

Following her performance in A Raisin in the Sun — the first play by a black woman to receive a Rialto staging and the first Main Stem play to be directed by a black man — Ms. Dee and others from the cast reproduced their performances for the 1961 film adaptation, which was selected for the National Film Registry in 2005.

Ms. Dee won an Obie and Drama Desk Award in 1971 for her starring role opposite James Earl Jones in the original Off-Broadway production of Athol Fugard's Boesman and Lena. She won another Drama Desk Award in 1973 for her work Off-Broadway in Alice Childress' Wedding Band. Her stage credits also included Gertrude in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet and her solo show My One Good Nerve: A Visit with Ruby Dee.

Ms. Dee married Ossie Davis in 1948, and the two collaborated frequently, both onstage and on the book "With Ossie and Ruby." Mr. Davis starred in the revue Two Hah Hahs And A Homeboy, which Ms. Dee wrote. Their son, Guy, also performed in the production. Mr. Davis and Ms. Dee appeared in Spike Lee's films "Do the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever," and the acting couple also starred in the 1963 film "Gone Are the Days!," an adaptation of the controversial play Purlie Victorious, which Ms. Dee starred in on Broadway.



The duo were also were civil rights activists beginning in the early 1950s during the controversy over the trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Later they were involved in Martin Luther King's March on Washington. The two were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.

Ms. Dee also performed on TV and film frequently, making her big-screen debut with a prominent role in the all-black musical "That Man of Mine" in 1946. She came to prominence with her role in 1950's "The Jackie Robinson Story," with the first African-American in Major League Baseball playing himself and Ms. Dee playing his wife. During the 1960s she had recurring roles on "Peyton Place" and the daytime soap "Guiding Light" while guesting on other programs. She starred as Mary Tyrone in an Ace Award-winning television production of Long Day's Journey Into Night. She received her first Academy Award nomination in 2008, for her performance in "American Gangster."

Augmenting her numerous film and televison credits, Ms. Dee also penned children's books, one of which received the 1989 Literary Guild Award.

Ms. Dee was married to Mr. Davis for 56 years until his death in 2005. She is survived by their three children: daughters Nora and Hasna and son Guy Davis, an actor, blues musician and choreographer.