Why Gail Fisher is not more widely celebrated in the annals of Hollywood history is a mystery not even Joe Mannix could solve. Fisher was only the second Black actress to appear in a prominent role on weekly broadcast TV, after Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek. And she was the first to win an Emmy, and not one but two Golden Globe Awards.
The New Jersey native got her start studying acting with Lee Strasberg in New York City, eventually becoming a member of the Repertory Theatre at Lincoln Center. In the 1960s, she became the first Black actor “to make a national TV commercial, on camera, with lines,” as she once explained, when she was cast in an All detergent campaign. But her big break came on the second season of the CBS series Mannix, when the star detective (Mike Connors) sets up his own P.I. firm and hires Fisher’s character, Peggy Fair, to be his Girl Friday.
The struggling show became a hit thanks to their chemistry. When she accepted her 1970 Emmy for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series — the first time that award was presented — in a silver-and-white tasseled jumpsuit, a genuinely shocked and delighted Fisher exclaimed, “Wow! … Needless to say, it’s a very exciting and most emotional moment for me.”
After Mannix‘s cancellation in 1975, Fisher made sporadic TV appearances but struggled with addiction. She died of kidney failure in L.A. in 2000. She was 65.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.