Hollywood Flashback: Cicely Tyson Won Emmys for 'Jane Pittman' in 1974

AP Photo
Cicely Tyson at the 1974 Primetime Emmy Awards

The actress, now 94, says of her role as a woman born into slavery who ultimately becomes part of the civil rights movement: "I never knew any of my grandparents. And to me, Jane was the grandparent who might have been."

Cicely Tyson, 94, has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honorary Oscar, three Emmys and a Tony. In TV, her breakthrough came from playing the lead in 1974's The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

The CBS movie tells the story of a woman born into slavery who survives life on a Louisiana plantation and the Civil War and lives to become part of the 1960s civil rights movement. (The complex aging makeup Tyson wore as Pittman was done by future Oscar winners Rick Baker and Stan Winston.)

"I never knew any of my grandparents," Tyson tells The Hollywood Reporter. "And to me, Jane was the grandparent who might have been."

Not only did Tyson win the Emmy for lead actress in a drama, but she also received the rarely given "actress of the year" award.

"Ms. Tyson goes from 19 to 110 years of age and her performance is riveting," said THR's review. "She dominates everything."

When President Barack Obama presented her with the Medal of Freedom in 2016, he said she wasn't "the likeliest of Hollywood stars." (Born in the West Indies to deeply religious parents, she did not set foot in a movie theater until her teens.)

Added Obama: "She helped us to see the dignity of every single beautiful member of the American family. And she's just gorgeous."

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.