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Ruby Dee meets Fats Waller in "Jazztime Tale"

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News has come this afternoon of the death of actress Ruby Dee. Here is the lead on her New York Times obit.

Ruby Dee, one of the most enduring actresses of theater and film, whose public profile and activist passions made her, along with her husband, Ossie Davis, a leading advocate for civil rights both in show business and in the wider world, died on Wednesday at her home in New Rochelle, N.Y. She was 91.
A diminutive, placid beauty with a sense of persistent social distress and a restless, probing intelligence, Dee began her performing career in the 1940s, and it continued well into the 21st century. She was always a critical favorite though not often cast as a leading lady.
Her most successful central role was off Broadway, in the 1970 Athol Fugard drama, “Boesman and Lena,” about a pair of nomadic mixed-race South Africans, for which she received overwhelming praise. Her most famous performance came more than a decade earlier, in 1959, in a supporting role in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry’s landmark drama about the quotidian struggle of a black family in Chicago at the dawn of the civil rights movement.

Dee’s other notable film roles include “The Jackie Robinson Story,” “No Way Out” (with Sidney Poitier), “American Gangster” (with Denzel Washington) and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever.” In 1968, she became the first black actress to be featured regularly on the titillating prime-time TV series “Peyton Place.”
Dee was raised in Harlem, an upbringing that served her well as the narrator of “Jazztime Tale,” Michael Sporn’s 1993 animated short spotlighting jazz and Fats Waller in particular. Here’s the L.A. Times’ original review.

Based on an original story by Maxine Fisher and narrated by actress Ruby Dee, "Jazztime Tale" is set in 1919 in New York's Harlem. Billy Rowland supplies the voice for Fats.
Ten-year-old Thomas Waller is already a legend in his own neighborhood, and to a larger degree with many of the patrons of the district's Lincoln Theater, where the boy shares piano duties with Miss Mullins playing accompaniment for the silent-movie shows. One of Waller's neighbors is a young black girl named Lucinda, who is about 13 and enchanted by the new kind of striding jazz music she hears her chum playing on the upright in his parlor. "It makes you want to laugh," she says.
In another part of Manhattan, a young white girl about Lucinda's age lives with her talent-scout father. But with no mother, and her father away a large part of the time, Rose is lonely and feels neglected. One day her father tells her he is going to the evening show at the Lincoln Theater and will be late coming home.
Rose decides to tag along, and hides in the rear of her father's auto. When he parks and goes to take his supper, she decides to explore this new neighborhood. Lost, and obviously somewhat out of place in the neighborhood, she meets Lucinda by chance.
The two girls take to each other at once, and Lucinda brings Rose home and introduces her to her rather startled mother and siblings who probably have never seen a white child that close up before. Rose's family is on the way to the Lincoln. They leave word with the policeman on the beat that should he spy a man looking for a child, it will most likely be Rose's father.
Meanwhile, in the last half of the show (a sterling segment done in black, whites and sepias, all in animation), when the organist for the entertainment part of the program fails to show, Thomas Waller sits in and plays the mighty organ accompaniment. But Fats cannot contain his joy, and to the consternation of the juggler on stage, begins playing jazz. The juggler's plates survive, and the music brings down the house. Rose and her talent-scout father are reunited, and Fats . . . well, you'll have to watch the video.

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