There is a movie listed as being “filming” starring Ruby Dee. Who has been dead for five years. It is listed as last being updated in 2012, which I’d note is well before she died, and I kind of feel as though this is time to acknowledge it is not, in fact, filming, and it’s not coming out, and Ruby Dee deserves better than that. Ruby Dee deserves so much, and I feel as though we never talk about her pretty much at all. Honestly, we could use another Ruby Dee—a fierce, fearless actress who was also excellent at speaking truth to power.
In fact, I’m a little surprised to discover that she wasn’t on Nixon’s enemies list. (June Foray, yes; Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, no.) She was one of the most prominent black actresses of the twentieth century, with her career dating back to the ’40s. Her career is so long that she initially worked at the American Negro Theater. She and Ossie Davis met met on Broadway in 1946 and were together pretty much ever since, except for a short-lived attempt at an open marriage that failed when Davis realized he was monogamous by nature and jealous of men sleeping with her.
The two things I think of when it comes to her, honestly, are both things she did with Ossie Davis. I think of Do the Right Thing, where they are deeply moving together, and The Stand, where I’m not sure they share any screen time. They did nine films together, all told, over a forty-five year period—and also a short-lived TV show that I can find basically nothing about except a really excellent guest list, including previous Attention Must Be Paid honoree Butterfly McQueen.
She did Arsenic and Old Lace in ’46. The Glass Menagerie in ’89. A wide array of Shakespeare. Aeschylus and Aristophanes. And, of course, so many voiceovers for so many PBS shows, that notorious blindspot in both IMDb and Wikipedia. She’s been a trading card. She emceed the March on Washington. Obviously, there is Raisin in the Sun. She was an amazing actress who frankly deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Vivien Leigh, Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn, and so forth—so many great women of the stage and screen. Can’t think why she isn’t.
She is, at least, the second-oldest person to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Unfortunately, it was her sole Oscar nomination—though she was invited to join the Academy in 2008—and she lost to Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton. She didn’t even ever get an honorary. Not even a Jean Hersholt, which she definitely deserved. It’s still more than Ossie Davis got. Ah, well; they are cremated and share an urn, which I’m sure is more important to them.