HELLO AMERICA!—When the lights begin to dim and the stage of thins and nothing is heard but the magic-making of some of the most talented people in the world resembles the fading sound of a powerful sympathy fades, that is when one suddenly one is returned to reality, realizing that it is time to yell good night to the studio guard or night watchman. The last time spending with star Cicely Tyson was two or three days after she accepted a Tony Award for her last Broadway production.
Our last talk was via phone and when she heard me yell, “Hey Girl, Congratulations on the award, you deserve it!” She laughed and replied, “Thanks, Mike, I appreciate your call, it makes me remember the old days when you were one of the few columnists who genuinely cared what was happening in the business. Boy! A lot have changed since those days. Hey, we’re lucky to be still here, I hope you realize that, boy!”
The award-winning actress who trail-blazed a career across several decades and appeared in countless TV shows, films and Broadway plays, died Thursday at age 96, according to her manager. Tyson’s role as a sharecropper’s wife in the film “Sounder” landed her an Oscar nomination in 1973. Those of us who starred or were featured in the first award-winning film, “Carmen Jones” starring the likes of Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, and Dianne Carroll and even I was featured in the Oscar-winning musical were thrilled at this industry recognition at last.
It was no surprise that Tyson would not sit still and simply be satisfied as an award actress and rest on her laurels. She in a few weeks following doing TV and radio interviews was on the phone with her agent to let him know she was ready to hit the cameras again and interested in finding another challenging project.
The actress admitted that doing the film “Sounder” was quite a challenge, especially working with my late actor/friend, Paul Winfield. Tears suddenly filled her eyes when hearing his name. “Paul,” her voice raised in volume a bit and quickly exploded with, “He was one of the exciting, powerful actors I had ever worked with. His timing, when He touched you, it wasn’t a phony action,” she said. “Paul was magic and that voice which screamed with passion and emotion gave me enough to deal with playing my character. I will never forget him as an actor as well as a human being; Paul was one of a kind!”
I asked about her years with Miles Davis who was a business partner of my brother John Lewis who was not only a jazz musician, but shared a partnership in owning a jazz club with Miles in the Village of New York. Because of Miles, noted musicians from all over the country as well as Europe made the place their second home. It was no surprise that every night, there would be a special guest performance by some noted musician. Naturally, because of this kind of reputation, stars from Hollywood and, of course, the Broadway theater would be found in the front row of the club. Cicely, when remembering a few times she showed how the other musicians and guests would treat her. “It was as though,” she laughed. “I was some kind of princess.”
When we last spoke, Cicely admitted how much she loved working, she was getting a bit tired. She even confessed that learning a lot of dialogue was suddenly challenging. “I remember during the old days, I would take a script home and in one night knew every one of my lines the next day. Well, things have changed but the only thing that hasn’t isn’t my lofe and respect for good writing, that is when I forced myself to unleash the tiger deep inside Tyson, who first entered the spotlight as a model, was well-known across the entertainment industry, earning two Emmy Awards — Lead Actress in a Drama and Lead Actress in a Special — for her role as a former slave in the 1974 TV drama “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”
In a defining moment of the film, Pittman walks up and drinks from the whites-only water fountain.