Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis (1980)
Duration: 00:28:55

See other episodes with similar themes and topics

Themes: Education and Families | Literature and Language | Sports and Entertainment |

Guests: Ossie Davis
Host : Gene Elzy
Producer : Deborah Ray

Summary: Elzy begins by discussing Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's fame as entertainers, both on screen and television, where they present their interpretation of drama, poetry, dance, and music. Now, they have a new PBS television series called "Ossie and Ruby," where they "portray an anthology of the human spirit." Ossie Davis is with Detroit Black Journal today to give an interview.

The interview starts with a discussion of what the series is about. Ossie says that it's a continuation of what he and Ruby have been doing their entire careers, a show in which they hope to provide the world with a look at influential black culture, with looks at its poets, novelists, artists, and others who have made strong cultural contributions. He says that people featured will be both known and, on occasion, unknown to the general public. Ossie talks about how, although he is busy, he and Ruby find time to do this show because they truly love doing so and they care so much about it.

He goes on to discuss how he and wife Ruby got into their careers, and talks about how, as struggling actors, they were desperate for a way to make money. In looking around at their community, they saw that if they went around to where black people were located and performed works by people such as Langston Hughes and Phyllis Wheaton, they could get paid for this. They found that if they "cultivated this audience," their own people, they would always find work, and as they continued in their work, they branched out and found even more material to use. Then, as curriculum for blacks was expanded and branched out at the university level, they found even more places where their work was needed (on campuses).

Elzy poses the question to Davis, "Can anyone act?" and Davis responds that yes, anyone can, and goes on to elaborate. He talks about as, throughout one's life, as you are put in different situations, you have to assume different roles and act as different versions of oneself. Your environment influences how you act, and Ossie believes that acting on-stage is essentially no different than the "acting" that one does in everyday life to adapt to different situations. He stresses, however, that although young people who wish to pursue acting should do so, they should first remain in school and learn to read, write, and use the English language well. They cannot just go out and wait for the entertainment industry to pick them up. Rather, they must prepare themselves and develop in their homes and at school before they pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

Next, they show a clip of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's program. In the clip, Davis highlights Louis Armstrong and his experiences working with him in film. He discusses the sometimes heartbreaking nature of always having to "put on a face" and make everything funny, rather than exposing one's true, often conflicted and unhappy, self. He talks about how Armstrong and others must hide their manhood deep inside just to survive in the world that they live in.

Ossie says that the programs will start to air February 14th at 7:30, and he hopes the audience will participate and help continue the show on past its first 13 episodes (the season). He also stresses the variety that will be present in the programs, each differing from the one before it and providing a variety of scenarios, performances, themes, emotions, etc. They are also going to feature interviews with prominent people such as Sterling A. Brown.

The show then takes a few questions from the audience. The first woman asks Davis if he has any ideas as to how they can develop control by community participation in putting on black shows as they want them to be put on. Davis talks about how the television industry is about to change immensely with the addition of satellites and cable. He believes that smaller groups and stations will then have the chance to make themselves heard and do their own thing, but this means that blacks must immediately work to protect their stake in cable television, ensuring that they will be able to do what they hope to for their own people. The next person asks why there aren't any black dance and theater workshops in Detroit, and if there are, wants to know whether there is the possibility of bringing any of the top black talents into Detroit. Davis states that, as an outsider, he can't speak authoritatively on the subject of Detroit, but Elzy says that there are indeed workshops and programs in the area, and they both agree that there still are not enough, and one must work hard to search out what is available and let entertainers know that they want them to come. Everyone must be vocal. The third question comes from a male in the audience who is also an actor, and he wants to know how Davis manages to keep a sense of perspective and sense of humanity in an often cruel and ruthless business. Short on time, Davis gives the brief answer that his humanity lies in the hands of all his brothers and sisters, and that when he "runs short," he asks them to give it back.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 2, File 17, Black Images in Television Movies – November 2, 1987
Box 16, File 12, Ossie Davis