Earlier this month, we lost a good actress and by all account a greater human being. Legendary actress of stage and screen (big and small), Ruby Dee passed away at the age of 91 on June 11th. At least for the bulk of my lifetime, I knew of her through her activism, partnership with husband Ossie Davis and the films she would grace with her presence in her later years.
I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of my favorite films that showcase Dee from earlier in her long and prolific career. While the roles were never “headliners” in the way we think of modern movie stardom, it is worthwhile to note the film projects she chose to affiliate herself with. There are quite a number from this period in her career to choose from, but I am just going to highlight a few.
No Way Out (1950): Featured alongside husband Davis (both uncredited), this Sidney Poitier/Richard Widmark drama handled its challenging subject matter rather well.
The Tall Target (1951): A political thriller set at the height of the Civil War, Dick Powell is the star, but Ruby Dee features heavily in her role as Rachel, a slave accompanying her mistress aboard a train with a mysterious passenger.
Edge of the City (1957): Another film from the era (also starring Sidney Poitier) that examines the friendship between longshoremen Poitier and John Cassavetes and how the tense racial environment around them affects that relationship; the film is directed by Martin Ritt.
St. Louis Blues (1958): A fictionalized account of the life of American musical pioneer WC Handy (Nat King Cole). In this film Dee stars as Elizabeth, Handy’s steadfast wife.
If you get the opportunity, please seek out these films and get a glimpse of quiet confidence with which Ruby Dee carried herself in these roles.
* I would have added her performance as Rachel Robinson in The Jackie Robinson Story, but I honestly do not remember if I have seen it.
Programming Notice: Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be airing a 2-movie tribute to Ruby Dee on Saturday, June 28th, featuring the aforementioned Edge of the City and the screen adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun.