Gail Fisher of 'Mannix' was the first black actor with a speaking part in a national commercial

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: June 19, 2020, 3:18PM

Image: The Everett Collection

Mannix was on the ropes at the end of its first season. The action series about a detective working for a high-tech agency called Intertect was not clicking with audiences. Desilu Productions and creator Bruce Geller made significant changes to the concept as the show headed into season two in the fall of 1968. Now, Joe Mannix was a private detective assisted by a trusty sidekick, Peggy Fair, played by Gail Fisher. 

Fisher may have joined Mannix in its second season, but her time on the show was a series of firsts. The New Jersey native and former model went on to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Drama and two Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress - Television Series. Fisher was the first black woman to win both trophies.

AP PhotoFisher accepts her Emmy trophy in 1970.

She was no stranger to breaking barriers.

Let's rewind her career a few years. Before she was portraying the secretarial role on Mannix, she was working as a real administrative assistant to talent manager John Levy, who represented icons such as Cannonball Adderley. Levy once asked her to "clean out" his files, and Fisher tossed them in the trash. No hard feelings — Fisher and Levy would become husband and wife.

A former cheerleader and beauty queen — she took home sashes for pageants like Miss Transit, Miss Black New Jersey and Miss Press Photographer — Fisher found work as a model as she studying acting on stage. She could be seen in print advertisements, like this one for Listerine in the mid-'60s.

Fisher got some breaks in commercial breaks on TV, too. She appeared in a commercial for the laundry detergent All. That might not seem like a significant historical achievement, but it is a massively important moment in television. Fisher would become the first black actor with a speaking part in a national advertising campaign.

Alas, we could find no recording of this historic commercial. Do you remember seeing it?