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How I Got My Equity Card

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Ruby Dee & Ossie Davis

Ruby Dee
It was December 1943. I was still in college and, as I remember, very busy. Through government programs, I was studying radio techniques at the American Theatre Wing with Arthur Hanna, who directed the popular radio series, “This Is Nora Drake.” In addition, I was working in a special presentation of Three’s a Family, while the main white cast was off. It was during that stint that a drama by Howard Rigsby and Dorothy Heyward, starring Canada Lee, staged by Lee Strasberg and produced by David Lowe at the Cort Theatre, beckoned me, Gordon Heath and George Fisher to become natives of a small South Sea Island community. The review by Burton Rascoe in the New York World Telegram on December 30, 1943, was not encouraging, but it marked my beginning as a member of Actors' Equity. I was now a professional.

Ossie Davis
I was discharged from the U.S. Army in October of 1945, and returned to my home in Valdosta, Georgia. Dick Campbell, head of the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem, where I had studied for two years before World War II, sent me a wire that a play called Jeb, which was about a soldier who had lost his leg in the South Pacific, was looking to cast the lead. I returned to New York at his suggestion and he took me down to audition for Herman Shumlin, the producer and David Merrick, his assistant. I got the part and in due course, I got my card.

Editor’s Note: Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were the second recipients of the Actors Equity Foundation’s Paul Robeson Citation Award in 1975.


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