Celebrating Black History Month: Gail Fisher first Black woman to win Emmy Award

The first Black woman to win an Emmy Award, Gail Fisher received the honor for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Drama for her portrayal of Peggy Fair in the TV Series “Mannix.”

In a biographical sketch of Fisher for IMDd.com, Gary Brumburg described her as “a classy, smart-looking, spectacularly beautiful African-American actress who broke racial barriers in 1970s Hollywood.”

Long before her role on “Mannix,” which ran for eight years beginning in 1967, Fisher was a groundbreaking performer as the first Black to make a national TV commercial on camera with lines, according to the New York Times.

Fisher, according to GoldenGlobes.com, also won a Golden Globe in 1971 for Actress in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe in 1973 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series Drama as Peggy Fair.

One of five children, Fisher was raised in Edison and graduated from Metuchen High School in 1954.

”Well, certain people who had no knowledge of Blacks have maybe – maybe – learned something because of ‘Mannix’s’ Peggy Fair,” Fisher said in a 1972 interview later reported in the New York Times. ”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.”

According to her 2001 obituary in the New York Times, Fisher worked in a factory and skipped meals to pay for acting lessons. “She studied with Lee Strasberg and joined what was then the Repertory Theater at Lincoln Center, working with Elia Kazan and Herbert Blau,” the newspaper reported.

According to her high school yearbook bio, Fisher was destined for greatness: “With a flair for singing and acting, she has entertained on our stage many times. Broadway, here she comes!”

As a teenager, Fisher was a cheerleader and entered several beauty contests, winning the titles of Miss Transit, Miss Black New Jersey, and Miss Press Photographer before becoming a model. In a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola, Fisher won an opportunity to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

According to the African-American Registry, a non-profit education organization, “Fisher landed her first television appearance at age 25 in the 1960-syndicated program, Play of the Week.” In addition to her work on “Mannix,” Fisher also made appearances on My Three Sons, Love American Style, Room 222, and The White Shadow.

Fisher appeared in a film that can be found on archive.org about a company hiring its first Black employee, which the President’s Committee on Government Contracts sponsored in the 1950s. Acting alongside Ed Asner, Fisher portrayed a secretary in a white-owned company whose hiring results from new federal equal employment policies.

According to the New York Times, Fisher, whose father died when she was 2 years old, described her mother, Ona, as “A great lady who brought me up to know there’s no such thing as ‘I can’t.’”

Fisher was a member of Metuchen High School’s inaugural Hall of Fame induction class in 2015.


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