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With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together
     

With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together

by Ossie Davis
 

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This is the captivating, inspiring autobiography of a star couple who've celebrated 50 years of marriage.

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee are legendary stars of the American stage, television, and film, a beloved and revered couple cherished not just for their acting artistry but also for their lifelong commitment to civil rights, family values, and the black

Overview

This is the captivating, inspiring autobiography of a star couple who've celebrated 50 years of marriage.

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee are legendary stars of the American stage, television, and film, a beloved and revered couple cherished not just for their acting artistry but also for their lifelong commitment to civil rights, family values, and the black community. Now they look back on a half- century of their personal and political struggles to maintain a healthy marriage and to create the record of distinguished accomplishment that earned each a Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

With Ossie and Ruby overflows with consummate storytelling skill developed by decades in the spotlight. From their early years as struggling actors in Harlem's black theater to Broadway and Hollywood stardom, they regale the reader with colorful, entertaining tales of the places they've been and the people they've met. But their charming humor is leavened with a more serious side, as they share their experiences of keeping a family together in a world where scandal and divorce is the rule, and of being artists and political activists in an era of intense racial ferment. Born into the struggle, their characters were shaped by the dynamic collisions of life, politics, and art; and from those experiences, they achieved some sense of their worth as married people, friends, and lovers.

Warm, positive, and compelling, this is a book that will surprise and challenge readers everywhere — black and white, male and female, young and old. Lifting the veil of public image, media hype, and mystique, Ossie and Ruby speak of the real-life dilemmas and rewards of their lifelong search for purpose and value.

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee are legendary stars of the American stage, television, and film, a beloved and revered couple cherished not just for their acting artistry but also for their lifelong commitment to civil rights, family values, and the black community. Now they look back on a half- century of their personal and political struggles to maintain a healthy marriage and to create the record of distinguished accomplishment that earned each a Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

With Ossie and Ruby overflows with consummate storytelling skill developed by decades in the spotlight. From their early years as struggling actors in Harlem's black theater to Broadway and Hollywood stardom, they regale the reader with colorful, entertaining tales of the places they've been and the people they've met. But their charming humor is leavened with a more serious side, as they share their experiences of keeping a family together in a world where scandal and divorce is the rule, and of being artists and political activists in an era of intense racial ferment. Born into the struggle, their characters were shaped by the dynamic collisions of life, politics, and art; and from those experiences, they achieved some sense of their worth as married people, friends, and lovers.

Warm, positive, and compelling, this is a book that will surprise and challenge readers everywhere — black and white, male and female, young and old. Lifting the veil of public image, media hype, and mystique, Ossie and Ruby speak of the real-life dilemmas and rewards of their lifelong search for purpose and value.Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee are legendary stars of the American stage, television, and film, a beloved and revered couple cherished not just for their acting artistry but also for their lifelong commitment to civil rights, family values, and the black community. Now they look back on a half- century of their personal and political struggles to maintain a healthy marriage and to create the record of distinguished accomplishment that earned each a Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

With Ossie and Ruby overflows with consummate storytelling skill developed by decades in the spotlight. From their early years as struggling actors in Harlem's black theater to Broadway and Hollywood stardom, they regale the reader with colorful, entertaining tales of the places they've been and the people they've met. But their charming humor is leavened with a more serious side, as they share their experiences of keeping a family together in a world where scandal and divorce is the rule, and of being artists and political activists in an era of intense racial ferment. Born into the struggle, their characters were shaped by the dynamic collisions of life, politics, and art; and from those experiences, they achieved some sense of their worth as married people, friends, and lovers.

Warm, positive, and compelling, this is a book that will surprise and challenge readers everywhere — black and white, male and female, young and old. Lifting the veil of public image, media hype, and mystique, Ossie and Ruby speak of the real-life dilemmas and rewards of their lifelong search for purpose and value.

Editorial Reviews

Victor Navansky
This book reads as if Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. . .talked it, in alternating chapters, paragraphs and sometimes sentences. A conversation studded with anecdotes. . .and also some inspiration, wisdom and gossip. —The New York Times Book Review
Beth Johnson
...[T]he pair give testament to the rewards of a lifetime spent honoring commitments.
Entertainment Weekly
Publishers Weekly
In 1998, renowned actors Davis and Dee celebrated 50 years of marriage by penning an engaging memoir of their life together, musing on the theater, the struggle for civil rights and what they considered their most important roles: being parents. Between the book's publication and Davis's death in 2005, the couple recorded this stellar audio version. It's a marvelous blend of readers' theater and classy, old-married style, with Davis and Dee trading off portions of their narrative and sometimes gently correcting each other's version of events. ("It takes two of us to get this story told," Davis chuckles after his wife amends his account of a particularly funny 1950s incident when the two were being pursued backstage by Joseph McCarthy's men, intent on serving the alleged Communist sympathizers with subpoenas.) The book has humor and pathos, pain and nostalgia, all told with Davis's deep, resonant baritone and Dee's fast-as-lightning wit. Most of all, it's a personal walk through the 20th-century African-American experience, with both reflecting on the many luminaries they have known, including Father Divine, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier. Available as a Harper paperback (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In December the co-authors will mark their 50th wedding anniversary, an almost unheard of milestone for two stars of the performing arts this century. Even before their marriage, according to Davis, "we were in love, head over heels, and stuck with each other forever!" Rather than just telling the story of a successful marriage, however, their book (related in alternate voices) provides a panorama of the 20th-century African American experience, or, as they label it, The Struggle. Both socialists and militant battlers for African American rights, Davis and Dee have known, and worked with, such leaders as W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King and Malcom X. And they haven't shied away from the consequences of taking a public stand: during the flowering of McCarthyism, Dee was called a Communist sympathizer in the press. Still, with refreshing honesty, they steer clear of self-congratulation, as when Davis tells how, as a little boy, in exchange for a few pieces of peanut brittle, he acquiesced as some racist local cops mistreated him. Of course, Dee and Davis also chronicle their careers as pioneers on stage, film and television, from their involvement with New York's African American theater scene during the Depression to their work alongside stars like Sidney Poitier and Lena Horne. From Davis's youth as a "Negro boy surrounded by white hoods, burning crosses, and stories that brought the smell of burning flesh," to Dee's concern for the future of African American theater, this is a compelling read, effectively evoking the challenges and rewards that have attended the authors' roles as black leaders over the past 60 years. Photos not seen by PW. Appendix, index. Agents, Betty McCort and Susan Crawford. (Nov.) FYI: Also out this November is Ruby Dee's My One Good Nerve, a collection of verse based on her one-woman show of that title. (Wiley, $16.95 192p ISBN 0-471-31704-7)
Library Journal
In this memoir, actors Davis and Dee reflect on their struggle to maintain a healthy marriage, relate stories of the places they've been and the people they've met, and share their experiences as Civil Rights activists.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780688175825
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/28/2000
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
528
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.32(d)

Read an Excerpt

I was born to laugh. The midwife who introduced me into existence by slapping my behind expected me to cry. And cry I did. But, knowing me, I probably cried to keep from laughing.

The first child of Kince and Laura Davis, I was born into a world of jokesters, black and white, waiting to tickle my feet. Take, for example, the matter of my first name. I was named after my father's father, Raiford Chatman Davis. (He put twenty-five cents in my fat little hand for the privilege.) In the South, we tend to use initials. So when the clerk at the Clinch County courthouse asked Mama who I was, she said, R. C. Davis." He thought she said, "Ossie Davis," and wrote it down that way. Mama would not have argued with him. The man was white. Mama and I were black, and down in deepest Georgia. So the matter of identification was settled. Ossie it was, and Ossie it is till this very day.

Cogdell, the little town in Georgia where I was born, was home to some four hundred souls, mostly black, who lived under the civic paternity of Alex K. Sessoms, the white man who owned Cogdell and everything in it, including the Waycross and Western, a little railroad that ran twenty-three miles from Cogdell to Waycross. It had one jitney, which had once been a streetcar that seldom carried passengers; a donkey steam engine; some boxcars and some flatcars, most of which carried timber from the swamps and stumps, and sometimes cattle, off to Waycross.

My daddy, who couldn't write his name, helped to build the Waycross and Western. I don't mean that he just labored with picks and shovels, crossties and sledgehammers; Daddy was a self-taught railway and construction engineer. He could build a railroad line fromscratch, which in that day and age was a white man's job. Daddy, of course, was black, but was not afraid and didn't give a damn about the Ku Klux Klan. The bad blood between them was the source of my first adventure.

Daddy had moved the family to Zirkle, Georgia, for a while, to help another white man build a small railroad, which ran right in front of the shack in which we lived. I was but three or four years old, and ran outdoors early one morning to play in the yard. There I found a long, tall stick driven into the ground. The stick was split at the top with a folded sheet of paper stuck in the split. I took the paper into the house and showed it to Mama, who looked at it, and let me look, too. Somebody had drawn a pistol in red ink, firing a stream of red bullets into a big, black heart from which red drops of blood were falling into a coffin. I didn't know what it meant, but Mama did.

"Oh my God, the Ku Klux Klan!"

She called a neighbor to watch me and my baby sister, put on a pretty dress, and stuck the letter and my father's pistol in her bosom. Then she walked out onto the middle of the railroad track — the one my daddy and his crew were building — and started up the road as fast as she could go, to the spot a couple of miles away where Daddy and his men were working.Everybody loved my daddy, Kince Charles Davis. Everybody except the Klan. At least that's what I thought. Daddy was a local legend, the hero of many a story told by black and white folks. It was common knowledge that he had once spent time on the chain gang, for shooting a preacher in Kissimmee, Florida, it was rumored; the preacher, it was said, had made Mama leave the church in the middle of his sermon because I was crying too loud.

My first memory of him was as a presence looming out of the myth and mystery that always surrounded him. Mama was sitting on the floor in the back of a horse and buggy giving me lunch from her breast. Daddy was sitting in the driver's seat next to Grandpa Sam, Mama's father. Cradled in her arms, I was slurping away as the old horse farted along. I remember looking up at my daddy's big broad shoulders spread across the horizon, and knowing, just from that look, that I would never die.

There were stories about Daddy told by the men who worked in his construction gang. There were stories Daddy told of himself, some of which were not quite satisfactory. For example, when we asked why he didn't have a left forefinger, like other people, he'd laugh and tell us that a bullfrog had bitten it off. Some of his men said that he had lost it long ago in a gunfight. Daddy refused to clarify the matter when we pressed. Rather he'd laugh, pick up his guitar, and play a funny tune.The letter in the split stick was to warn him to run for his life. But Daddy didn't run. He was big and strong and easy, and laughter trailed after him like a long, warm scarf in the wintertime. Everybody looked up to him and laughed a lot when he did. Everybody knew that Daddy wasn't scared of anybody, black or white. But when he got angry, a great silence could be heard in his vicinity.

The crew of men, who called him "Chief," built a big fire in the yard and kept watch all night. I was the little, big-eyed boy allowed to stay up with the rest of the men standing guard. Daddy went inside and went to sleep with his pistol on the bed right next to his hand.

The Klan never came. But that was not surprising. A black man with Daddy's skill was a rare and precious commodity to Sessoms and the other big men who ran things. They didn't mind giving him a white man's job as long as they didn't have to give him a white man's pay. It was all right for the Klan to try and run him off, but they didn't dare touch him, not while he worked for Sessoms. Daddy knew that as well as they did.

The job in Zirkle was only temporary, and when it was over, Daddy moved us back to Cogdell. As I remember it, Cogdell was a warm, country world, full of family — Grandpa and Grandma, a whole lot of uncles and aunts, but no cousins yet. I was the first grandchild, a boy, and everyone must have been waiting. They loved me to death.

Cogdell had one country store where the railroad and the dirt road intersected. It had two or three churches for black folks, a lot of woods and paths and gatherings of shanties here and there where the black folks lived. Most everybody, black and white, worked for Alex Sessoms.Sessoms had a scientific bent, and had gone all the way to France to bring back the latest method of distilling the gum from pine trees into turpentine. He also planted acres and acres of sweet potatoes; the leaves from the growing sweet potato vine were fed to his cattle while the potatoes under the ground were left for his Negroes. Cogdell was Sessoms's industrial and agricultural base, but it had no school for black folks. So off I had to go, at the age of five, in search of an education.

Grandpa Sam had moved away from Cogdell after Coot, Mama's Mama, died. He now lived in Waycross with a newly acquired wife, a schoolteacher who had little use for any of Grandpa Sam's children, including Mama. They sent me there. I remember Mama telllng Grandma that she was my mother. Then Grandma took me away.

Grandpa Sam, Mama's father, was a Methodist preacher. I don't remember ever hearing him preach. What I do remember is that he was also a carpenter, and that he called me "Jack," and enjoyed very much showing me how to use his tools.

I remember even less about my grandmother, Martha, or Coot, as they used to call her. My only memory of her places me somewhere along a country road, walking, with her and two of her women friends. They had on long, colorful dresses that covered their high, buttoned shoes. I am told that when she was buried, I was found somewhere close to the graveyard chasing a rabbit. Somehow, even now, I know that I was special to her, that she loved me, and that I returned that love with all my heart.

Cogdell of course, has vanished; it is no more, gone with the wind carrying down with it all the small things that made it seem that someday it might be a city as big and as important as Homerville, including the cemetery. Nobody knows now where Coot lies buried, not even Mama. Her resting place is grown over now with grass and brush and trees, as so many southern black cemeteries are, when a city gives up the ghost and the people who inhabited it move on. I certainly wish I knew where to find her grave. But I don't.

Still, wherever she is, I hope the spot is quiet and peaceful, with some sense of respect for the love, suffering, and sacrifice that must have filled her bosom. I hope she knows that her first grandchild would like to know her again, now that he has come to some understanding of who you really are, Coot. You and Daddy's Mama, deep people of the shadows, were the backbone of the black man's survival and existence. No one yet has chronicled the peculiar woman's price you paid that kept us all alive. Coot, wherever you are and wherever lie your remains, you are still very much a part of the family.

Copyright ) 1998 by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Meet the Author

Ossie Davis illumined America's stage and screen for two generations. He distinguished himself as a writer, actor, director, and narrator. A short list of his film work includes: I'm Not Rappaport, The Client, Grumpy Old Men, and Do the Right Thing. He and his wife Ruby Dee were 1995 recipients of the National Medal of Arts Award. On Feb. 4, 2005 Ossie Davis died at the age of 87.

Not only is Ruby Dee one of the most respected African-American actors of her day, she was also an important part of the civil rights movement. She is probably best known for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, which she performed on both the stage and the screen.

Dee has also written plays, fiction, and a column in New York's Amsterdam News.

Born in Cleveland, she worked initally with the American Negro Theater in Harlem, where she grew up. She is married to the actor and author Ossie Davis.

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