In honor of TCM and their “Summer Under the Stars” series, we launch our companion series, Summer Madness. The series will spotlight the achievements and films of one Black actor, daily throughout the month of August.
Beah Richards (July 12, 1920 – September 14, 2000), born Beulah Elizabeth Richardson, was an actress of stage, screen, and television. She was a poet, playwright, and author. During her career, Richards was nominated for a Tony and an Academy Award and received two Primetime Emmy Awards for her performances on television.
Her career began in 1955 when she portrayed an eighty-four-year-old-grandmother in the off-Broadway show Take a Giant Step. She often played the role of a mother or grandmother and continued acting her entire life. She appeared in the original Broadway productions of Purlie Victorious, The Miracle Worker, and A Raisin in the Sun.
Richards was nominated for a Tony Award for her 1965 performance in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner. She received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Sidney Poitier’s mother in the 1967 film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Other notable movie performances include Hurry Sundown, The Great White Hope, Beloved and In the Heat of the Night.
She made numerous guest television appearances including roles in Beauty and the Beast, The Bill Cosby Show, Sanford and Son, Benson, Designing Women, The Practice, The Big Valley and ER (as Dr. Peter Benton’s mother.) She was the winner of two Emmy Awards, one in 1988 for her appearance on the series, Frank’s Place, and another in 2000 for her appearance on The Practice.
In the last year of her life, Richards was the subject of a documentary created by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton. The documentary, Beah: A Black Woman Speaks was created from over 70 hours of their conversations. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Film Festival.
Richards was diagnosed with emphysema in 2000. Richards died from emphysema in her hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi at the age of 80.