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Gail Fisher

Came across an episode of "Love, American Style" on Mother's Day and one of the sketches was about a black couple on the verge of divorce when the wife finds out she's pregnant. I was struck by the beauty of the actress playing the wife, so I looked her up -- Gail Fisher. Such a sad life. Her father died when she was two. Grew up in poverty in New Jersey. Won some local beauty pageants, one of which got her a scholarship to study acting, which she even did with Lee Strasberg. The first African-American actress accepted to the repertory at Lincoln Center, where she worked with Elia Kazan. Appeared on Broadway in "Danton's Death," understudied Ruby Dee in "Purlie Victorious," toured in "A Raisin in the Sun." Cast as Mike Conner's secretary in the re-vamped second season of "Mannix" (1967-75), she became a viewer favorite and the ratings soared. She was the first African-American actress to win an Emmy award (for Best Supporting Actress - Drama, 1970) and also won two Golden Globes for her work on "Mannix." But after "Mannix" ended its run, her appearances became more sporadic, mostly guests spots such as "Fantasy Island," "Knight Rider" and "Hotel." She was arrested in 1978 for possession of marijuana and cocaine, and apparently struggled with her dependence for the rest of her life. Her last acting job was in 1990, playing an unnamed secretary in the tv movie "Donor." In addition to her drug problem, she was diabetic and, in her later years, suffered from emphysema. She died of renal failure Dec. 2, 2000; tragically, her brother died 12 hours later of a heart attack. She was so forgotten that news of her death wasn't published until four months after she had died.

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