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Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson, co-star of the "Diary Of A Mad Black Woman" Movie!

One of America's most respected dramatic actresses, Cicely Tyson has worked steadily as a television, film, and stage actress since making her stage debut in a Harlem YMCA production of Dark of the Moon in the 1950s. The daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Tyson was raised in Harlem. After working as a secretary and a successful model, she became an actress, landed her first jobs in off-Broadway productions, and eventually made it to the Great White Way in the late '50s. Tyson got her first real break in 1963, playing a secretary to George C. Scott on the TV series East Side/West Side, and in 1966 signed on with the daytime soap The Guiding Light. That same year, she made her credited screen debut starring opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in the drama A Man Called Adam (her first uncredited film role was in 1959's Odds Against Tomorrow). More film, television, and stage work followed, but Tyson did not truly become a star until her Oscar-nominated performance in the Depression drama Sounder (1972). An unusual beauty with delicate features, expressive black eyes, and a full, wide mouth, Tyson next hid her good looks beneath layers of old-age makeup to convincingly portray a 110-year-old former slave who tells her extraordinary life story in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). A well-wrought effort, it won Tyson her first Emmy for her title role, which required her to age 91 years on the screen. Tyson subsequently had great success on television, particularly with her role in the legendary miniseries Roots (1977) and her work in The Women of Brewster Place (1989). She also continued to do a fair amount of film work, appearing in films like Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994), The Grass Harp (1995), and Hoodlum (1997). In 1997, Tyson again donned old woman's makeup to offer a delightfully crotchety version of Charles Dickens' Scrooge in the 1997 USA Network original production Ms. Scrooge. Two years later, she had another television success -- and another Emmy nomination -- with A Lesson Before Dying, a drama set in the 1940s about a black man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Tyson was born on December 19, 1933, in New York, NY, USA.

Tyson is also a well-known lecturer, activist and humanitarian who sets aside one month out of every year to tour U.S. colleges, speaking about topics ranging from human rights, education and race relations to teen pregnancy. She holds a record 12 NAACP Image Awards as best actress and has received awards from such civil rights organizations as PUSH, CORE, the SCLS and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. Honoured by the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Council of Negro Women, Tyson was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977.

More fun facts about Cicely Tyson

Spouse: Miles Davis (26 November 1981 - 1988) (divorced)

Worked as a secretary and model while establishing herself as an actress

Will only portray strong images of women

Co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem with Arthur Mitchell.

She was married to Miles Davis by Andrew Young in the home of Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby was the best man, and gave away the bride.

Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

She was the Thursday night host for CBS Radio's "Sears Mystery Theater" (1979). She was still Thursday's host when it became "The Mutual Radio Theater" on Mutual Radio (1980).

Aunt of Cathy Tyson.

Honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Is the first African American Actress to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie for her performance in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman".

Her personal quotes:

"Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They're what make the instrument stretch-what make you go beyond the norm." "The choices of roles I made had to do with educating and entertaining. And as a result I found myself working only every two or three years." - on her commitment to choose only positive images

"One lady told me that before she saw 'Sounder', she didn't believe black people could love each other, have deep relationships in the same way as white people."

Cicely Tyson's Remarkable Career

The highlights of Cicely Tyson's life and career tell a story of personal excellence -- and interesting choices. Few know Tyson was the wife of late jazz genius Miles Davis, and was recently acknowledged by President Bush as a driving force in creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

She is better known for her roles on television and the silver screen. Her memorable roles include her Emmy-winning turn in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Harriet Tubman in A Woman Called Moses, Kunta Kinte's mother Binta in Roots and an Oscar-nominated turn as Rebecca in the film Sounder.

Tyson, who can pick and choose her roles, recently made two interesting film choices. She appears in the supporting role of Myrtle in Diary Of a Mad Black Woman, and also as a reclusive woman rumored to be a witch in Because of Winn-Dixie.

The film version of Diary Of a Mad Black Woman is adapted from the stage play of the same name by Tyler Perry, which has garnered a huge following. Critics call the new film an interesting mix of high drama and lowbrow comedy that focuses on forgiveness, family and women finding their own identities.

Cicely Tyson's still in love with her craft

In an Academy Awards season in which people are buzzing about the record five nominations for black actors, screen legend Cicely Tyson, who was nominated for her 1972 role in "Sounder," doesn't want to talk about it.

"There is something that makes me uncomfortable when people say to me these days: 'Don't you think it's wonderful that the Academy is finally recognizing African Americans with so many nominations this year?' " says 71-year-old Tyson, the first black actress to win an Emmy award for "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (1974).

Calling from Los Angeles, the soft-spoken Tyson says, "I've asked myself why this question makes me feel so uncomfortable, and the other day I came up with an answer.

"The talent has always been there," she proclaims. "And the day when African Americans are nominated and we don't make it a topic of conversation is when I'll feel comfortable. Then it will no longer be a novelty, it will be a fact."

The fact is, Tyson, who over the years has been a strong advocate for civil rights and the arts (she co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem), calls 'em as she sees 'em.

If you want a demure type of interview subject, well, then find another subject. She has been there, done it, and seen it all in this business.

Tyson is the type of trailblazer who doesn't mind remembering the pain of breaking ground for others.

"One lady told me that before she saw 'Sounder,' she didn't believe black people could love each other and have deep relationships in the same way as white people," Tyson recalls.

"I guess we've come a long way," she says in a soft voice.

Tyson, however, figures she's still got a ways to go on her journey. This despite the fact that she's at an age where many might retire and rest on film and TV laurels that include "Roots" (1977) and "A Woman Called Moses" (1978).

Tyson never has been busier, with key roles in two new theatrical releases, "Because of Winn-Dixie" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which opens Friday.

"One of two things happen when I read a script," she says. "Either my skin tingles or my stomach churns. When my stomach churns I know a movie is not for me and I could never do it."

She got tingles over "Because of Winn-Dixie," a Southern charmer about a little girl and a dog that changes the lives of everyone around it. Tyson plays an almost blind, slightly crazy old lady who befriends the girl. "I loved that it's a movie about deep-seated insecurities caused by traumas," Tyson says.

"It's a film fraught with dysfunctional people who are closed to the world. My character has isolated herself from everyone. She's closed to the world because of this loss of sight. Her life is ebbing away, but suddenly her life is opened up by a girl and a dog. It shows that at any age you can begin to live again," she says.

"I have spent years waiting for the right role to come along," Tyson says. "Each time I finished a movie I loved, I was convinced that I might never work again. I waited six years between 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter' and 'Sounder' [she had lesser roles in two TV movies in the interim], which is a long, long time in a business that tends to forget.

"I just said to myself that if I never did anything again, I could die knowing I left something of value on the screen," she recalls. "Two years after my six-year wait came 'Miss Jane Pittman' and then 'A Woman Called Moses.'"

Harlem native Tyson didn't plan on working as an actress. She grew up with extremely religious parents who came to the Big Apple from the Caribbean island of Nevis. "Oh, I never expected to be an actress. I grew up in this very devout household and spent all of my time in church as a young girl," she recalls.

A striking woman, Tyson was approached to model by the fashion editor of Ebony magazine. In a blink, her parents were shocked to see their lovely daughter gracing the covers of different publications. Soon, she was encouraged to audition for Off-Broadway shows and made her feature film debut in an uncredited role in 1957's "Carib Gold."

"It is still a source of amazement to my family that I got into this business," she says. "I never said, 'I want to be an actress.'

"I look at it now as if this profession chose me," Tyson says.

Ask her when she fell in love with the work and she doesn't hesitate. "The first time I stood onstage, I realized that this was what I was meant to do," she says. "I was an extremely shy child and a shy young woman. You couldn't get a word out of me. But I realized that I could speak through a character."

"Playing someone else allowed me to understand that I had an avenue for expressing my emotions," says Tyson, who admits there were tough times during her early days in the business.

"When I first started, I wasn't aware of prejudice. I worked in the theater in black pieces," Tyson says. "I went to Europe with a play called 'The Blacks' and we were incredibly celebrated over there.

"I was never confronted with discrimination," she says. "That is, until my agent began to command more money and billing for me. This business often doesn't recognize the contributions made by women."

But women like Kimberly Elise, who plays Tyson's daughter in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," were taking note. Elise says it was "a dream come true to work with someone who is it for me in terms of acting."

"I've been a huge fan since 'Sounder' and 'Miss Jane Pittman,' " Elise says. "She just reminded me of me onscreen at a time when nobody reminded me of me at the movies.

"Here was a woman just full of self-respect, dignity, elegance and intelligence, and that made me feel proud," she says.

Cicely Tyson: "Riot" Probes L.A.'s Wounds

L.A. burns again Sunday on Showtime in Riot, a fictional account of the urban disturbance of 1992. Luke Perry stars as a cop and Melvin Van Peebles and Cicely Tyson play liquor store owners in South Central with Mario Van Peebles as their son.

It's a raw experience that blends news footage with a lot of profane dialogue. But the real hook to Riot is its shifting points of view: Showtime hired four directors, each from a different ethnic group, to tell the story of how the event cut through their respective communities.

Galen Yuen directed the segment about a Chinese couple who lose their small store to looters; Alex Munoz took on the story of a group of young Hispanics who join the looting (one of whom is shot by the Chinese merchant); David C. Johnson's segment covers an upwardly-mobile black man who returns to the ghetto from the suburbs to rescue his folks; and Richard DiLello covers a white cop who feels abandoned by his department when superiors order the police to withdraw from the riot zone.
This is still pretty tough stuff for many Los Angelenos. Showtime screened the movie for a racially-diverse audience at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in L.A. a few days ago--then hosted a tense discussion period afterwards.

"Instead of Riot, this movie should be called Stereotype," said one man, who identified himself as Native American. "All this shows is people of color beating lup on each other." Another audience member agreed and added "We don't need another film like this. We need more positive movies." One member of a group that tries to reform gang members angrily confronted the producers, demanding that a cut of their profits be returned to "the community."

Director Johnson, who is black, defended the movie as even-handed. "What this film is saying is,'Walk a few miles in someone else's shoes," he said.



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