Many felt the impact of Thursday’s loss of Cicely Tyson, the legendary actress whose vivid portrayals of strong Black women shattered racial stereotypes in the 1970s — but far fewer could say they ever shared a stage or screen with the civil rights leader and cultural icon.
Among this latter group is Canby resident Malinda Lett Dixon Buckles, a retired stage actress and model in her own right, whose film credits include Mr. Holland’s Opus and the 1976 film Just An Old Sweet Song — starring Robert Hooks and Cicely Tyson.
Buckles, who was 18 at the time but playing the part of a 13-year-old girl, shared several scenes with Tyson — then 51 and at the height of her fame, having been nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe in 1973 for Sounder and having won two Emmys in 1974 for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
“She was an amazing, kind, sweet and loving woman,” Buckles told The Canby Current. “I was nervous about the fact that I was so much older than my part, but she made me feel very comfortable with my role.”
During the filming, Buckles was able to invite her mother, grandmother and three aunts to the set.
“They ended up as extras in the movie,” she said with a laugh. “I really wanted to be in [Tyson’s] presence again one day. I will always treasure these memories and thank Cicely Tyson for it!”
In her remarkable career that spanned seven decades, which began during a time in which African-American actors had little clout, Tyson broke ground by refusing to take parts that demeaned Black people — and urging Black colleagues to do the same.
She criticized films and television programs that typecast Black characters as criminals and insisted that African-Americans, even if poor or downtrodden, be portrayed with dignity. She died Thursday at the age of 96.
“Cicely Tyson left a legacy for Black women and men to follow your dreams — but never forget your past or your ancestors and what they went through,” Buckles said. “Remember history! Most of her roles were Black women in the South or in the days of slavery, and that’s huge in our culture.
“Cicely Tyson stood for all women,” she added.
Buckles went on to a career as a model and actress in Atlanta, Ga., and in the city of Karlsruhe, Germany, where she was a stage actress and singer in local productions.
She eventually moved to Portland, where she continued singing and eventually landed a small role in Mr. Holland’s Opus.
For Buckles, Thursday’s news was bittersweet — sad, yet bringing back happy memories, full of hope.
“This has taken me back to a time and place that was beautiful in my life,” she said. “I love Cicely Tyson and will miss her tremendously.”