Tyson during her early modeling days, circa 1956. (Courtesy of Cicely)
“Born on December 19, 1924, in East Harlem to West Indian immigrant parents, Tyson rose from humble beginnings. After graduating from high school she worked as a secretary for the American Red Cross before becoming a model; at the top of her game, she appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She studied at the Actors Studio and with Lloyd Richards and Vinnette Carroll.”
Cicely Tyson circa 1966. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
“In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, but she has also shaped the course of history.” –President Barack Obama, 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony
“Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” – Cicely Tyson
Tyson was discovered by a photographer for Ebony magazine and became a popular fashion model.
HOLLYWOOD – MARCH 2: Actress and honoree Cicely Tyson gives a speech at the 2nd Annual EBONY Oscar Celebration at the Henson Studios on March 2, 2006, in Hollywood, California. The annual pre-Oscar “Hollywood in Harlem” party honors African-Americans who continue to make a difference in the world of film and television. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)
Her first acting role was on the NBC series Frontiers of Faith in 1951. Tyson got her first play role in 1950 and her first film role in Carib Gold in 1956, but she went on to do more television work, such as the celebrated series East Side/West Side and the soap opera The Guiding Light.
Carib Gold (1956) | Ethel Waters and Cicely Tyson [her movie debut]
Carib Gold (1956) is a maritime-themed B-movie, written and filmed almost entirely in Key West, Florida, with locally-cast musicians and extras. It is most notable for its largely African-American cast headlined by Ethel Waters, featuring the first known film roles for both Geoffrey Holder and 2019 Oscar Winner Cicely Tyson. Thought lost for decades, the film is now in the public domain and was digitized in early 2012 and released online for free public viewing by Southern Methodist University, as part of the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection at the university’s Hamon Art Library.
Carib Gold. 1957. – Directed by Harold Young. Screenplay by Charles Gossett, D. Lyle Kretsinger. With Cicely Tyson, Ethel Waters, Diana Sands. 35mm. 62 min. When the hard-working crew of a decrepit shrimping boat discovers gold on a sunken Spanish galleon, a greedy crewman’s attempt to steal the treasure results in murder. Ethel Waters sings the title song and costars with Tyson, Diana Sands, Richard Ward, and Geoffrey Holder, all making their credited screen debuts. Print courtesy Southern Methodist University
Cicely Tyson played a nurse on Guiding Light Jan 1966-Oct 1966.
East Side/West Side
NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 23: “EAST SIDE / WEST SIDE” featuring cast members Cicely Tyson as office secretary Jane Foster and George C. Scott as a New York City social worker Neil Brock. The series premiered on September 23, 1963. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
In 1961, Tyson appeared in the original cast of French playwright Jean Genet‘s The Blacks, the longest-running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade, running for 1,408 performances.
The Blacks: A Clown Show (French: Les Nègres, clownerie) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. Published in 1958, it was first performed in a production directed by Roger Blin at the Théâtre de Lutèce in Paris, which opened on 28 October 1959. Synopsis A review of the Theatre Royal Stratford East production (2007) states: Using the framework of a play within a play, it exposes racial prejudice and stereotypes while exploring black identity. As a troupe of black actors re-enacts the trial and ensuing murder of a white woman before a kangaroo court, the Queen and her entourage look on and comment. Five of the 13 black actors white up to play the establishment figures. The Queen (a whited-up woman) comes to a Command Performance, but the proceedings are far removed from any Royal Variety Show.
The production was the longest-running Off-Broadway non-musical of the decade. This 1961 New York production opened on 4 May at the St. Mark’s Playhouse and ran for 1,408 performances. It was directed by Gene Frankel, with sets by Kim E. Swados, music by Charles Gross, and costumes and masks by Patricia Zipprodt. The original cast featured James Earl Jones as Deodatus, Roscoe Lee Browne as Archibald, Louis Gossett, Jr., as Edgar, Cicely Tyson as Stephanie, Godfrey Cambridge as Diouf, Maya Angelou as the White Queen, and Charles Gordone as the burglar.
James Earl Jones
MARTHA SWOPE@NYPL (Photos)
View of American actors Cicely Tyson (as Stephanie), and James Earl Jones (as Deodatus) in ‘The Blacks: A Clown Show‘ (written by Jean Genet, directed by Gene Frankel) on stage at St Mark’s Playhouse, New York, New York, 1961. (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)
Cast portrait from ‘The Blacks: A Clown Show‘ (written by Jean Genet, directed by Gene Frankel) at St Mark’s Playhouse, New York, New York, 1961. Among those pictured are, from left, actor Roscoe Lee Browne (1922 – 2007), actress and author Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014), actress Cicely Tyson, actor James Earl Jones (third right), and actress Cynthia Belgrave (right). (Photo by Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)
“Remembering my very first acting assignment opposite dear departed Cicely Tyson. Here is my Off-Broadway debut performance of Jean Genet’s “The Blacks”, when I replaced James Earl Jones in the role of “Deodatus Village” and found myself in ‘actor’s heaven’ opposite Cicely, and the stellar cast of Black theatre’s ‘creme de la creme’! Cicely on stage with me here became the first actress (of any color) to ever have her head shaven ‘bald’ in a starring role! This was my New York Off-Broadway ‘baptism’. We miss you so much already dear one.“ – Robert Hooks
“A classic throwback photo. Here, with the grand lady of stage and film, Cicely Tyson, from the film “Just An Old Sweet Song” (circa 1976) This particular post in celebration of her new freshly published memoir “Cicely Tyson: Just As I Am”. Over the years we’ve worked together successfully on stage, in film, and on TV, our creative collaboration was truly magical! Congratulations Cicely on your important new book!/…./AND BY THE WAY, Cicely is still with us. This post is in celebration of her new Memoir! ..Oh! my God, I can’t believe it’s true...”
ARCHIVIST, EDUCATOR, HISTORIAN, and ARTiST
Dale Shields is a professor of theatre, director, and actor (Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and Regional).
The 2017 winner of The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award®, 2017 and 2015 Tony® award nominee for the Excellence in Theatre Education Award, and the winner of the 2017 AUDELCO/"VIV" Special Achievement Award. In 2020 He was also awarded The Actors Fund / Encore Award
On the web, he is the archivist and historian of Iforcolor.org and Black Theatre/African American Voices [Facebook] (theatre, music, and art). He has taught classes and workshops at SUNY Potsdam, Susquehanna University, Denison University, Randolph-Macon College, Macalester College, The College of Wooster, Ohio University, Wayne State University, and the Joseph Papp Public Theatre (New York Shakespeare Festival).
B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees from Ohio University.