Mary Ellis, Tony Winner for Her Role in ‘Fences’, Dies at 85

Mary Alice, an Emmy- and Tony-award-winning actress who brought a delicate grace and a quiet dignity to her roles in Hollywood blockbusters (“The Matrix Revolution”), television sitcoms (“A Different World”) and Broadway dramas ( “Fence”), died Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 85, according to the New York City Police Department.

The death was confirmed by Detective Anthony Passaro, a police spokesman, who said officers responded to a 911 call and found Ms Ellis unresponsive.

A former Chicago schoolteacher, Ms. Alice has appeared in nearly 60 television shows and films. In 2000, he was included in Theater Hall of Fame,

He first gained wide attention in 1987 in a Broadway production of August Wilson’s “Fences”. She earned a Tony Award for Best Actress for playing Rose Maxson, a housewife in the 1950s, Pittsburgh forced to balance duty with anger toward a benevolent husband (played by James Earl Jones), who also won a Tony), who is filled with anger after a promising career as a baseball player, developing into a grueling life as a garbage collector.

“Ms. emphasizes the performance of Alice strength over self-pity‘Open anger at the bitterness of the celebration,’ wrote Frank Rich in a review for The New York Times. “The actress finds the spiritual quotient in the acceptance that Rose has for a wounded, deeply complicated man with love.”

The role had deep resonance for Ms. Alice, who based her performance on the memories of her mother, her aunt and her grandmother, women who were “not educated, living in the time before women’s emancipation.” , and their identity was tied to that of their husbands,” she wrote in a . said in interview with the times That same year.

“I decided long ago that I didn’t want to — well, not so much that I didn’t want to get married, but that I wanted the world to know,” she said. “I made it through college, through learning, through books and traveling.”

Mary Alice Smith was born on December 3, 1936, in Indiana, Miss. Sam Smith and Ozeller (Jernkin) Smith had three children. When she was a young child, the family moved to Chicago, where they lived in a house on the Near North Side that was later demolished to make way for a Cabrini-green housing project.

No immediate family member is alive.

Seeing teaching as a way to live a stable, middle-class life, he graduated from Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State University) in 1965 and taught at a public elementary school.

Nevertheless, she aspired to be an actress. “It was escapism,” she told The Chicago Tribune in 1986, adding: “We never lacked anything. But my parents got up before the sun rose and worked all day. My father was tired. My mother had to cook. When I used to go to the movies, they didn’t have to work on screen.”

Leaving the nickname “Smith” and moved to New York City in 1967, Ms. Alice trained here Negro Ensemble Company, taking an advanced acting class taught by Lloyd RichardsArtistic Director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, who directed “Fences.”

In the 1970s and early ’80s, he made several appearances in sitcoms such as “Good Times” and “Sanford & Son”, while carving a film appearance in “Sparkle”, the 1976 musical based on The Supremes, and “Beat Street” The 1984 break-dancing film that helped bring hip-hop culture into the mainstream.

He earned on-stage acclaim in a 1980 Off-Broadway production of “Zooman and the Sign”, starring Frances Foster and Giancarlo Esposito, as well as a 1983 Yale Rape Production “Raisins in the Sun” featuring Delroy Lindo.

Following her success with “Fences,” she played Letty Bostick, a resident director at a historically black college who has an intriguing past in “A Different World,” a spinoff of “The Cosby Show.” A year after that, she won acclaim as the mother of Oprah Winfrey’s maternal character in “The Women of Brewster Place”, based on the Gloria Naylor novel about a group of women living in a run-down housing project. A television mini-series.

By the 1990s, she had become a familiar face in film. He had roles in Charles Burnett’s “to sleep with anger” Featuring Danny Glover, and Penny Marshall in “awakening” Featuring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in 1990; And two years later in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” with Denzel Washington in the title role.

She also appeared in “The Bonfire of the Vanities”, in which the mother of a teenager was hit by a car in a hit-and-run accident.

In 1992, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role in “I’ll Fly Away,” a series starring Sam Waterston and Regina Taylor and in a fictional Southern town in the 1950s. Was established; She won the award for the same role the following year.

Ms. Alice took another Tony home in about 1995. She was nominated for Best Actress for her performance as the fiery Bessie, one of two sisters looking back a century of life. “We have to say,” Written with Amy Hill Harth, Sarah (Sadie) L. Emily Mann’s Broadway adaptation of the 1994 best-selling memoir by Delaney and her sister, Anne Elizabeth (Bessie).

Ms. Alice’s place Gloria Foster in 2003 as Oracle in the third installment of the Matrix film series, and continued acting until 2005, when she appeared in a television reboot of the 1970 detective show “Kojak”.

She told The Tribune in 1986, “Acting has been a big sacrifice. I sometimes feel that if I had remained a teacher, I would have retired earlier. The income would have been stagnant. But the way I acted. I was not in the mood to teach him. This is my service in life. I should use it.”

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