Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have been selected as the 37th recipients of Screen Actors Guild's highest honor—the Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment.
The presentation of the 2000 Life Achievement Award will take place during the live telecast of the 7th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards from the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center on Sunday evening, March 11, 2001, on Turner Network Television (TNT).
In making the announcement, SAG President William Daniels said, "For more than half a century, together and individually, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have enriched and transformed American life as brilliant actors, writers, directors, producers and passionate advocates for social justice, human dignity and creative excellence. Screen Actors Guild is proud to honor Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's acclaimed body of work, their philanthropic encouragement of performing artists, and their courage to live their convictions. We are equally honored by their acceptance of this award."
Since meeting on Broadway in "Jeb" in 1946 and marrying in 1948, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have excelled as collaborators and individual artists, serving as compelling role models for artistic breadth and social activism.
They made their film debuts in 1950's "No Way Out" with Sidney Poitier, then starred together on Broadway in "A Raisin in the Sun." They brought Davis' 1961 satirical comedy "Purlie Victorious" to Broadway, then to film as "Gone Are the Days." For PBS they created the 1980-82 series "With Ossie & Ruby" and produced "A Walk Through the Twentieth Century With Bill Moyers and Martin Luther King: The Dream & The Drum." Close friends of Dr. King, they had served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington.
In 1976 they produced the first American feature to be shot entirely in Africa by black professionals, "Countdown at Kusini," with Davis directing. Alex Haley's "Roots: The Next Generation," in which both starred, garnered Ms. Dee her second of seven Emmy nominations—her first Emmy Award coming in 1991 for the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation "Decoration Day." Both received NAACP Image Awards for the 1996 CBS series "Promised Land."
Frequent collaborators with provocative filmmaker Spike Lee, they starred in "Do the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever." Davis recently appeared for Lee in "Get On the Bus," set against the Million Man March, and played himself in Lee's 1992 biography of Malcolm X, having delivered the eloquent eulogy for the slain black leader in 1965.
Ossie Davis first electrified television audiences in 1965 as the title role in "The Emperor Jones." While Davis was directing his first feature, the 1970 comedy "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (for which he also wrote the screenplay and songs), Ruby Dee was starring for director Sidney Poitier in the comedy "Buck and the Preacher." Both films captured new audiences for the industry.
Emmy nominations greeted Davis' performances in "Miss Evers' Boys," "King" and "Teacher, Teacher." He starred on Broadway and on screen in "I'm Not Rappaport" with Walter Matthau, and with Matthau and Jack Lemmon in "Grumpy Old Men." He received an Image nomination for "The Client," and this year played the title role in Showtime's "Finding Buck McHenry," starring opposite Ruby Dee. Davis received the Neil Simon Award for his teleplay "For Us the Living: The Story of Medgar Evers," and is the author of three children's books: "Langston," "Just Like Martin" and the award-winning "Escape to Freedom."
Ruby Dee, who drew national attention in 1950 in "The Jackie Robinson Story," broke ground herself in 1965 as the first black woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival—Kate in "Taming of the Shrew" and Cordelia in "King Lear." She won an Obie Award for the title role in Athol Fugard's "Boesman and Lena," opposite James Earl Jones, and Image nominations for "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters First Hundred Years" and "Captive Heart: The James Mink Story."
Her 1998 solo show, "One Good Nerve"—based on the best-selling compilation of her short stories, folktales and poetry—continued Ruby Dee's notable work bringing her own words to life, begun with "Zora Is My Name," the Jules Dassin film "Uptight," the musical "Take It From the Top," and the storytelling musical revue "Two Hah Has And A Homeboy," a collaboration with husband Ossie and their son, musician Guy Davis.
Family is central to Davis and Dee, who also have two daughters, Nora and Hansa, both educators. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with a benefit which raised $300,000 for New York community theaters and with the publication of "With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together," an inspiring memoir set against the fabric of historical events of the past half-century.
In their 52 years together, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee have been on the frontlines of the fight for social justice. Early on they risked their careers resisting McCarthyism. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's activism has seen them face arrest for protesting the killing in New York of a Guinean immigrant, sue in federal court for black voting rights, and speak for citizen involvement in democracy and in support of sickle cell disease research.
Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were celebrated as "national treasures" when receiving the National Medal of Arts from President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House in 1995. They received the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle Award in 1994 and are inductees in the Theater Hall of Fame and NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame. This year they returned to the Lincoln Memorial to narrate Stephen Spielberg's millennium celebration film "The Unfinished Journey."
The Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award was established in 1962. For 37 years, the annual presentation of this award has celebrated the achievements of a highly accomplished Guild member in improving the image of the acting profession, and in public service and humanitarian endeavors. Recent recipients were Sidney Poitier in 1999, Kirk Douglas in 1998 and Elizabeth Taylor in 1997.
The Screen Actors Guild Awards—the only industry honors devoted solely to actors honoring actors—is a presentation of Jeff Margolis Productions in association with the Screen Actors Guild.