T is for Cicely Tyson

I had mixed, though mostly positive, feelings when I saw the 2011 movie, The Help. However, I was unabashedly thrilled to see Cicely Tyson as one of the older maids. I’ve been watching her for nearly 50 years.

The first time I knew her by name was in the 1963 television series East Side, West Side. It was, as I vaguely recall, a gritty and realistic show, which starred George C. Scott (Emmy nominated) as social worker Neil Brock, and Tyson as the secretary Jane Foster. The series lasted only 26 episodes, but my recollection was that it was great having a black person, a black woman, no less, in a significant role that was in a drama, and she WASN’T a maid, or a caricature. Before Greg Morris on Mission: Impossible or Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, there was Cicely Tyson.

Subsequently, I saw her in episodic TV shows. Her next big role was in her Oscar-nominated role in the movie Sounder (1972). Then she played as the title character in the 1974 television movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the story of a woman born in slavery who lived long enough to be part of the civil rights movement. The film won nine Emmys, including two for Tyson.

Cicely was Emmy nominated for playing Kunta Kinte’s mother in Roots (1977), Coretta Scott King in King (1978) and the title educator in The Marva Collins Story (1982). She was nominated four additional times, winning for The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994).

She was married to jazz legend Miles Davis from 1981 until their divorce in 1988.

Cicely Tyson appeared on CBS Sunday Morning in April 2013. What I did not remember is that, before her acting career, she appeared as a model in Ebony magazine, though when I saw the images, they were oddly familiar to me. Her decision to model meant her mother didn’t speak to her for two years.

The new television piece was about her first acting on Broadway in 30 years, to appear in a stage version of The Trip to Bountiful, based on Horton Foote’s story. Her research included visiting Foote’s daughter and seeing the places that inspired the story.

She is actively involved in Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey.

There is some argument about Cicely Tyson’s age. The IMDB suggests that she turns 80 in December 2013, while the story, and the Wikipedia, suggested she may be as old as 88. Regardless, she has been a beacon as an actress who only took roles she thought enhanced the portrayal of her people.

ABC Wednesday – Round 12

26 thoughts on “T is for Cicely Tyson”

  1. I remember her face. She is so beautiful. I saw the TV series “Roots”! But I don’t remember that she played Kinta Kunte’s mother. Thanks for this information.
    Wil, ABCW Team.


  2. Great feature. I was glad to see here in that movie too. From time to time I’ve seen her show up as an older actress in supporting roles and it’s always good to see her.


  3. Shame on me I have not watch The Help yet. I read great reviews about this movie I would be happy if I find it in my tv on demand channel. ^_^ Thanks for the visit I do appreciate it.

    Mary, MI


  4. Wonderful… I ‘ve seen her in several of the episodes and movies you mentioned and she played each role so magnificently. This was a very enjoyable and informative read. Thanks.


  5. A great choice for the letter T, Roger. Living in a town which doesn’t have a movie theatre I haven’t seen The Help, but read the book. It also touches me that Tyson, who may be between the age of eighty and eighty-eight is still active in the theatre!


  6. Ever since “Miss Jane Pittman,” I’ve been in love with Cicely Tyson. Her work in “Roots” was amazing, too. Think about what must have been boiling in her mom to make her not speak to C. for two years! Wonder how she felt when Cicely “settled down” and became an actress? Thanks for a blissful ramble down memory lane… Amy


  7. Cicely definitely is a classy lady and I’ve enjoyed everything she has been in. Went over to see your little tiger too and her artist did a very good job too. Looks like it was a highlight of her trip and she made a lot of people happy also.


  8. I love those old actors who just keep going until they drop, whatever age she is she it sounds like she has packed in a lot of roles.


  9. Her face is familiar but I do not know her at all. But then, I know very few celebs.

    Our sinking of the boat is incredible. My husband never liked to travel in it.


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