Actress Gail Fisher and her onscreen accomplishments have been largely forgotten, but she blazed a trail as the first Black actress to win an Emmy Award for her role as Peggy Fair in the CBS detective drama, Mannix. During the height of her career, she also won a pair of Golden Globe Awards. Fisher was born August 18, 1935 in Orange, N.J. She was one of five children, losing her father when she was just a toddler. Raised in poverty by a determined single mother, Fisher made the best of her circumstances.
As a teenager, the lovely actress-to-be was a cheerleader and won several beauty pageants before heading to New York City to take acting courses. Fisher sacrificed plenty in the early stages of her career, often skipping meals to pay for the classes. One of her early big breaks came by way of acting in a commercial for soap detergent, All.
Fisher was quite proud of the bit role, as it made her the first Black actor or actress to have a speaking role in a televised commercial. In fact, Fisher was proud of all of her achievements as noted in a 1972 interview published within an obituary piece in the New York Times.
”Well, certain people who had no knowledge of blacks have maybe – maybe – learned something because of ‘Mannix’s’ Peggy Fair,” she said. ”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.”
The show ran from 1967 to 1975, with Fisher winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1970. The following year, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.
She is the only Black actress to win the category and also the most nominated. In 1973, Fisher won another Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama, becoming one of only two Black women (Diahann Carroll was the other) to win in that category. Fisher married several times, and her marriage to personal manager Joe Levy led to two daughters.
Her career waned after Mannix’s on-air run ended, and she appeared in bit roles over the years with the last occurring in 1993. Fisher succumbed to kidney failure in 2000 at age 65.