Edit
Gail Fisher Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (12) | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 18 August 1935Orange, New Jersey, USA
Date of Death 2 December 2000Culver City, California, USA  (kidney failure)
Birth NameGail Ann Fisher

Mini Bio (1)

A classy, smart-looking, spectacularly beautiful African-American actress who broke racial barriers in 1970s Hollywood but suffered greatly in her private life years after her TV glory days, award-winning actress Gail Fisher was born on August 18, 1935, in Orange, New Jersey, the youngest of five children. Her father, a carpenter, died when she was only two years old and the family was destitute, living in the slums ("Potters Crossing") with their widowed mother Ona Fisher. Gail was a cheerleader as a teen and found some joy performing a leading role in one of her Metuchen High School plays in Metuchen, New Jersey. Beauty pageants became a source of pride during this period, earning distinction on the beauty-pageant circuit and becoming the first African-American semifinalist in the New Jersey State Fair beauty contest. A multiple pageant winner, among her titles were "Miss Transit," "Miss Black New Jersey" and "Miss Press Photographer."

Thanks to a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola, Gail won the chance to study acting at New York's American Academy of Arts for two years. She trained under Lee Strasberg for a time and subsequently became a member (the first African-American accepted) of the Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center, where she worked with Elia Kazan and Herbert Blau. The young serene beauty also worked as a model at the time and even worked in a factory to pay bills. In 1964 she married John Levy (1912-2012), a bassist and pioneer jazz talent manager whose clients included some of the jazz world's biggest names (Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Cannonball Adderley, Betty Carter, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Abbey Lincoln, Shirley Horn, Les McCann, Wes Montgomery). He also managed Gail's acting career. John and Gail, who was his second wife, had two children, Samara and Jole.

In 1965, teacher Herbert Blau cast Gail in a classical stage production of "Danton's Death" in 1965. Gail also understudied Ruby Dee in "Purlie Victorious" on Broadway and toured with a production of "A Raisin in the Sun". The 25-year-old broke into TV years earlier in 1959, appearing in the syndicated program "Play of the Week" entitled "Simply Heavenly," a musical starring Mel Stewart and Claudia McNeil, and also played a singer in the series "The Defenders" and a judge on daytime's "General Hospital". During the early part of the 1960s, she made history when she appeared in a nationally televised commercial for All laundry detergent and became the first black performer to be given dialogue.

The crime series Mannix (1967) starring Mike Connors was revamped in its second season due to mediocre ratings and Gail was added to the mix as Peggy Fair, Mannix's widowed secretary whose murdered husband, a cop, was a friend to the detective and who was now raising their small son alone. Sometimes Peggy would go undercover as a housekeeper or prostitute to help him solve crimes. The public immediately took to the dusky-voiced actress and the ratings soared. Any slight hint of romance between the Peggy Fair and Joe Mannix characters was never acted upon as CBS (who initially was hesitant in hiring a black woman in this role), or any other network for that matter, would not allow an interracial romance. Gail went on to win an Emmy (the first black actress to do so -- besting Susan Saint James of "McMillan and Wife" and Barbara Anderson of "Ironside") and two Golden Globe trophies (the first black actress to win this award) in the process. In between she made amiable guest appearances on such popular TV series as "My Three Sons," "Love, American Style" and "Room 222."

Once "Mannix" was canceled in 1975, however, acting offers slowed down considerably and chaos rose beneath her usually calm and controlled exterior. Not in keeping with her public image, she flew into a series of marriages and divorces and developed a major drug problem. She made tabloid headlines in 1978 when she was busted for possession of marijuana and cocaine and for using an illegal phone device. She entered rehab and eventually recovered but her career was irreparably damaged. Sporadic acting roles came in such series as "Medical Center," "Fantasy Island," "Knight Rider" and "Hotel," and the TV-movie Donor (1990) and the Grade "Z" crime film Mankillers (1987) co-starring Edd Byrnes, but they were very few and far between. Fisher was married at least twice and had two daughters, Samara and Jole, from her marriage to John Levy, which ended in divorce in 1972 during the run of "Mannix". She briefly married second husband Robert A. Walker the following year.

Gail's battle with drug addiction contributed to her health decline. A diabetic as well, she was later diagnosed with emphysema. Gail died of renal failure in Los Angeles in 2000 at age aged 65 and was cremated. Unnoticed and forgotten, news of her death did not surface until four months later. Survived by brother Herbert and sister Ona, another brother, Clifton, died of heart failure twelve hours after Gail's passing. Gail was such a class act on TV and it is inconceivable that she could fall from grace as hard as she did...but she did.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

Robert A. Walker (3 May 1973 - ?) (divorced)
John O. Levy (23 March 1965 - 1972) (divorced) (2 children)

Trivia (12)

On December 2, 2000, Gail Fisher passed away at home from lung cancer. 12 hours later, her brother Clifton, a businessman, died of heart failure.
In 1970 she became the very first African American Actress to win an Emmy award for acting, when she received the Emmy for Oustanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Peggy Fair in "Mannix".
Understudied Ruby Dee on Broadway in "Purlie Victorious".
Had two daughters by her first husband: Samara and Jole.
Studied with Lee Strasberg and was later a member of the Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center where she worked with Elia Kazan. Her stage work included "A Raisin In The Sun," "Purlie Victorious" and "Danton's Death".
One of TV's most visible black actors of the late 60s, Gail was nominated for four Emmy Awards for her stylish secretary, winning once, and for three Golden Globe Awards, winning twice.
CBS was hesitant to cast Gail as the widow and altruistic secretary Peggy Fair of detective Joe Mannix, but actor Mike Connors and "Mannix" producer Bruce Geller persisted.
She battled drugs in the popular show's aftermath and finally sought rehab after being arrested in 1978 for cocaine possession.
Became one of the first black actresses to appear in a national TV commercial with speaking lines when she did an ad for All detergent in 1961.
Gail did not make her appearance on Mannix (1967) until the show's second season, after Mannix left the detective firm Intertect and set up his own shop as private investigator.
Landed her first television appearance at age 25 in the 1960 syndicated program, "Play of the Week".
Gail was only the second black woman, the first being Nichelle Nichols of "Star Trek," cast as a regular character in a dramatic hour-long network series.

Personal Quotes (2)

Certain people who had no knowledge of blacks have maybe -- maybe -- learned something because of Mannix's Peggy Fair. Blacks were pretty much alien objects on TV as recently as 10 years ago, you know, and now we're people. I think maybe before it's all over, it's going to be all right, and I'm proud I'm a part of that. -- GF, in a 1972 interview
It was really a revolution in casting, you know. It was understood by all of us who auditioned that the girl could be anything -- oriental, black, anything -- just a human being. I won. I was the first black female -- no, make that black, period -- to make a national TV commercial, on camera, with lines. My friends and family thought I was crazy, you know. But honey, there ain't any black actresses!

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page