Cicely Tyson Remembers Her 1973 Oscar Nomination: ‘That Was My Dream’

The day I realized I’d been nominated for an Oscar, I used to be filming a small function for a brand new Black director. Simply as I used to be delivering an essential line, I heard laughter on the sidelines of the set. “Don’t they know we’re capturing in right here?” I snapped. “What’s the matter with them?” A second later, a producer walked in. “We’ve simply gotten some excellent news,” he stated. I held up my hand. “I don’t wish to hear something,” I advised him. “No matter it’s can wait.” When I’m working, I present as much as do precisely that. All else is a distraction, a disruption to an unfolding second. The gentleman smiled, shook his head, and left.

The director, who should’ve heard the information that awaited, gave me a wierd look earlier than we resumed. We accomplished the scene, and even on my means out, I wouldn’t let anybody inform me something. It was upon arriving house, at my agent Haber’s place, that he gave me the exhilarating announcement: I’d been nominated for an Academy Award for Greatest Actress. “Actually?” I stated, the lounge immediately swirling out of focus. “Sure!” he yelped. As tears flooded my face, all I might take into consideration have been my buddy Arthur Mitchell’s phrases to me: “You’re going to be nominated for an Oscar.” My buddy’s what-if had come true.

I don’t care what any actor says, that golden statue issues. It’s what we’re all vying for—the final word validation from our friends. You empty your self into a personality, you labor hour upon hour to get each single gesture and sentence exact, and also you imply to inform me that such an affirmation means nothing to you? It holds great energy. Once I was simply entering into the enterprise, I’d appeared on in awe as Sidney Poitier earned that affirmation for his marvelous work in Lilies of the Subject, changing into the primary Black man to win an Academy Award for Greatest Actor. That night, as I watched the ceremony on my previous black-and-white RCA set, I stated to myself, I’m going to take a seat within the entrance on the Oscars someday. That was my dream. However as my profession carried me largely towards stage and tv, that hope appeared unlikely. That’s the reason, lengthy earlier than I did Sounder, I’d quietly accepted that the Academy Awards would in all probability not be a part of my path. And but, lo and behold, right here I used to be, on the verge of taking a seat in that entrance row I’d envisioned for myself.

cicely tyson, playing rebecca in sounder, has her arms around her on screen son

Cicely Tyson as Rebecca in Sounder.

Stanley Bielecki Film AssortmentGetty Photos

My excellent news was just the start. Sounder acquired a slew of nominations, for Greatest Image, Greatest Writing (Lonne Elder), and Greatest Actor (I used to be as delighted for Paul Winfield as I used to be for myself). The movie’s message additionally reverberated past our shores, incomes a BAFTA nomination for its rating, created by Taj Mahal, who additionally earned a Grammy for his work. Kevin Hooks, who performed my son (and who, in actual life, is the son of director and actor Robert Hooks), acquired a Golden Globe nomination. That awards season additionally grew to become a landmark recognition of Black expertise: Diana Ross was nominated for an Oscar for her function in Girl Sings the Blues, as was screenplay author Suzanne de Passe. The 1973 nominations for Diana Ross and myself have been the primary time Black ladies had been nominated within the Greatest Actress class since trailblazer Dorothy Dandridge acquired the honour in 1954 for her function in Carmen Jones.

The morning after the official nomination announcement in Los Angeles, I referred to as my mom in New York. On tv, she’d seen how all these white people had stood and applauded me. “Effectively?” I stated to her. “Effectively, what?” she stated chuckling. “You’d higher inform me one thing,” I stated. The road went silent. “I’m so pleased with you, Sister,” she lastly stated. I might really feel tears brimming and I allow them to fall, unable to talk as a result of I used to be so overcome by what I’d longed to listen to. If I had not heard these phrases from my mom, none of this is able to have made any distinction. If she had not been in a position to take part within the acclaim I used to be receiving, all of it will’ve felt empty to me.

I, after all, already knew she and my father acknowledged my work. “Why do you do such unhappy films?” my dad as soon as joked after he’d seen me in Brown Lady, Brownstones. Likewise, Mother would usually inform me what her mates have been all the time asking her: “Why is she all the time carrying rags in her films? Doesn’t she ever gown up?” Although their teasing was an oblique acknowledgment of their delight, I wanted my mom, particularly, to voice her validation. She’d been my biggest supply of power, the rationale I’d devoted myself so wholly to my work. She had believed I’d exit and turn into a slut of some type, had no concept this Hollywood journey could lead on me to play a personality as honorable as Rebecca. My nomination did extra than simply show my mom incorrect. After a childhood throughout which my mom’s opinions drowned out all others, it gave me the final say.

“If I had not heard these phrases from my mom, none of this is able to have made any distinction.”

I flew my mom to Los Angeles to attend the screening of Sounder. We have been seated within the mezzanine, and he or she was one row behind me. At nighttime, simply because the curtains parted, she tapped me on the shoulder. “Ed Sullivan is sitting behind me,” she stated, saying his final title Sulli-wan, as a result of for no matter motive, West Indians can’t say v’s. For years, she’d by no means missed The Ed Sullivan Present on Sunday nights. I circled and whispered to her, “And I’m sitting right here.” We each snickered, her loudly sufficient to immediate Ed Sulli-wan to smile in my mom’s course.

To have a good time Sounder’s cascade of nominations, the studio hosted a splashy New York premiere. I referred to as upon acclaimed designer Invoice Whitten to design my gown (years later, Invoice would design Michael Jackson’s rhinestone glove to cowl the singer’s early indicators of vitiligo). “I wish to create the sort of robe that Rebecca might need worn if she’d had cash,” I advised Invoice. That despatched him looking for the prints and cottons poor coloured ladies would’ve worn in 1933. Utilizing the material remnants he discovered, he pieced collectively a treasure. The gown, antebellum in model, got here with a elaborate apron that served as a flower sack. He crammed it with cotton balls he’d despatched for from down South. It was essentially the most wonderful creation. The identical girl who braided my hair for the film created a crown of lovely cornrows to enrich my look. Once I strode into the theater that night, chin lifted, delight on my forehead, I confirmed up within the title of the ancestors whose sweat and sorrow had carried me there.

Within the months main as much as the ceremony, the satan started working doing what he does finest: trying to pit Black ladies towards one another. Within the lead-up to the Oscars, one in every of Diana Ross’s designers tried to maintain my gown from being completed by hiring my designer to make fits for the Jackson 5. I don’t know whether or not Diana knew something about it, however I heard the whispers. The media, for months, had been enjoying up the narrative that there was some huge competitors between the 2 of us. I refused to feed into that storyline, which was false. I’ve by no means been in competitors with anyone however myself, and I needed no half in such unpleasantness. Simply Respiratory Whereas Black is bother sufficient.

A month earlier than the ceremony, the studio despatched me abroad on a promotional tour in Europe, my first time in Paris and London. Months earlier than I left city, I’d rubbed elbows with British royalty. Antony Charles Robert Armstrong-Jones, First Earl of Snowdon, was then husband to Princess Margaret and an avid photographer and filmmaker. Lord Snowdon had taken fairly an curiosity in Arthur’s work at Dance Theatre of Harlem. The 2 started a partnership, with Lord Snowdon investing within the college. Arthur related me with him, and through one in every of Lord Snowdon’s journeys to New York, he and I met for appetizers and a quick dialog. As we awaited our order, he stored glancing over his left shoulder. How unusual, I assumed. I’m wondering if he’s anticipating somebody. Because it turned out, he was looking out for the paparazzi, who after all had adopted him to the restaurant. Later, on one other one in every of his journeys to New York, Lord Snowdon photographed me carrying that Invoice Whitten masterpiece of a gown. What a reminiscence.

cicely tyson with suitcases at heathrow airport

Cicely Tyson at England’s Heathrow Airport in February 1973, a month earlier than the Oscars.

George StroudGetty Photos

In London, the marveling started with my trip from Heathrow in an unlimited black taxi, a Hackney carriage so gargantuan that I might arise inside it! In a penthouse suite within the Dorchester Lodge, I spent a half-hour simply wandering across the area, gawking on the grandeur of the lodging, considering again on these days when my siblings, Emily and Melrose, and I had all been squished collectively on a rollaway mattress in our dad and mom’ front room.

And to suppose that I now had this sprawling area to myself, in a world the place my title was plastered on billboards throughout America and Europe. It was nothing wanting spectacular. The identical was true of my time within the Metropolis of Gentle, the place, from my balcony, I gazed in awe on the Eiffel Tower, head held excessive and preening within the distance.

“Once I strode into the theater that night, chin lifted, delight on my forehead, I confirmed up within the title of the ancestors whose sweat and sorrow had carried me there.”

Again in New York earlier than the ceremony, the surrealism continued. In one other head nod to Rebecca, I needed my hair achieved in a croquignole, the deep-wave model that might’ve been fashionable for well-to- do ladies in the course of the 1930s. “Are you aware how to do this model?” I requested my hairstylist Omar. “No,” she stated, “however my mom can.” Are you able to imagine that little one’s mother got here out of retirement simply to create my waves? The phrases thanks fell wanting expressing the gratitude I felt. Designer Invoice Whitten turned up the luxurious by making a white silk-wool fitted gown, with a contact of gray in it, full with a coronary heart cut-out, lace-trimmed element throughout the décolletage. Gracing every sleeve was a glistening row of tiny gold buttons, with the identical buttons stretching down the again. It was completely gorgeous.

When Arthur arrived, dashing in his tuxedo, he escorted me by the arm to the awaiting limo. The night, for us, marked two celebrations: the Forty-Fifth Academy Awards, and my expensive Arthur’s thirty-ninth birthday. The quintet of hosts—Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson—took the stage on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. My dream was to be within the entrance row, and there I sat, delighted that my fantasy had come to move.

However as for the opportunity of garnering the gold statue, I had achieved my back-of-the-napkin math. I’m logical that means, a pragmatist who’s all the time weighing the chances, and in Hollywood politics, these odds have been decidedly not in my favor. That very same 12 months, Liza Minnelli had been nominated for her function in Cabaret. Her father, Vincente, was a big-time director, which gave her one benefit. Verify. Her mom was Judy Garland. Double test. Neither of them had ever earned an Oscar. Triple test. And on the time, Liza was courting Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Desi and Lucille Ball, Hollywood royalty. Quadruple test. Frequent sense advised me that I had no likelihood amid the schmoozing and vote-securing that goes on in again rooms.

In order I sat close to the stage that night, I relaxed into the enjoyment of simply being there, with Arthur to my left and with Rebecca’s spirit dancing on my shoulder. So sure was I that this was Liza’s 12 months, when Gene Hackman stated, “And the winner is…,” I turned to Arthur and stated, “Liza Minnelli.” Liza made her means as much as the stage, tearful and jubilant, and I sat there, palm over my coronary heart, relishing my presence within the area. This journey of mine, this path so unpredictable, had one way or the other carried me from 219 East 102nd Avenue within the slums to the entrance row of film magic at Hollywood’s most grand affair. As Liza accepted her award, I’d already acquired the one prize I’ve ever really needed—the affirmation of the expensive girl who gave me delivery.

From the e book Simply as I Am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson with Michelle Burford. Copyright © 2021 by Cicely Tyson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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