Saturday, February 1, 2014

Peggy from Mannix: The Spectacular Rise & Fall of Gail Fisher


I've been watching the third season of Mannix on DVD. I liked this show as a kid, I was especially fond of Mannix' secretary Peggy played by Gail Fisher.

Some of the episodes are quite effective, many are boiler plate TV dramas of the era, but one thing that struck me was the superb cinematography with unusual camera angles and inventive setups.

No doubt about it, the Mannix theme song is one of the most exciting in TV history.

Gail Fisher was one of the first blacks to ever have a major role on a TV program; Mannix aired from 1967-1975, Fisher joined the cast in 1968. Although there were episodes written around her character, some of the best episodes in fact, Peggy often had little more to do than hand Mannix the mail and recap the plot. She was always treated with deference and as an equal by everyone. And it wasn't uncommon for Peggy to see what Mannix couldn't and find the missing link that solved the case.

(Fisher was also the first black female to be seen on camera and have lines in a national TV commercial, that was in the early-1960s.)

In 1972 she stated, ''Well, certain people who had no knowledge of blacks have maybe -- maybe -- learned something because of 'Mannix's' Peggy Fair.' 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, and I'm proud I'm a part of that.''

She won an Emmy for the role of Peggy, the first black actress to do so, and was nominated another four times. Nominated for a Golden Globe four times she became the first black actress to win that award. She won it twice, deservedly so. And she couldn't get another TV gig? For whatever reason Gail Fisher virtually disappeared from TV after Mannix was cancelled in 1975.

She developed a troubled personal life - bad marriages and drugs, no doubt fueled by the industry's lack of interest. She made headlines in 1978 when she was busted for possession of pot and coke and for using an illegal phone device.

She was an actress with grace and style at a time when you could count on one hand the number of women of color who had ever had an important role on a network television show. Gail Fisher died in 2000 of kidney failure, she was 65.