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The year was 1959 and a young model and actress by the name of Cicely Tyson was taking on her first Broadway play in Jolly’s Progress as an understudy to Eartha Kitt. A whopping 54 years later and the actress just won a Tony Award this month for her role in A Trip to Bountiful. To this day, Tyson can recount her first Broadway experience like it was yesterday, and how it introduced her to one of her great friends, the late Eartha Kitt. But their friendship didn’t begin so smoothly back then as she explained to The New York Times:

“Well, it was my first. I was young in every respect. I was understudy to Eartha Kitt and I was terrified of her because she never said a word to me. She never spoke to me one time. So I just assumed she just didn’t know I was there. But I had heard stories about celebrities and their understudies and the animosity that develops between the two of them for reasons unbeknownst to me.

One day I was standing outside of her dressing room, and she was having a conversation with someone and I heard her scream, “WHO? CICELY? SHE’S FANTASTIC!” I didn’t even know she even knew my name. Later on of course we became great friends. That was my initial introduction to being on Broadway.

Now after 30 years of being away, I’m having the time of my life. I have the gift of having one of the most incredible roles ever written for a woman, especially an elder woman, and I’m just loving every moment.

Cicely and Eartha. That must have been epic. And to think that Cicely thought Eartha didn’t like her and they wound up being great friends. We can all learn from these legendary sistas!

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