Leslie Uggams

Performer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her two-hour interview, Leslie Uggams describes her childhood growing up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan and how she began performing at the Apollo Theater at the age of nine. She talks about her appearances on early television shows including Beulah, The Milton Berle Show, and The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club throughout her childhood and teenage years, and being discovered by Mitch Miller on Name That Tune. She goes into detail about working with Mitch Miller on his show Sing Along with Mitch, including the pushback Miller got about having an African American performer on the show and how Miller stood behind her. For Sing Along with Mitch, Uggams also describes the filming process, including the fact that the cast lip-synced their songs. She describes television appearances through the 1960s and tells stories of The Leslie Uggams Show, which made her the first African American woman to headline her own variety series. She shares recollections of the performers she worked with from Frank Sinatra to Jimmy Durante. Uggams describes how she was cast as “Kizzy Reynolds” on Roots, and shares stories of the filming of the show, meeting Alex Haley, working with her castmates, and the on-going impact of the groundbreaking miniseries. She touches on later television appearances of the 80s and 90s before describing more recent acting gigs on The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie, Empire and in the 2016 film "Deadpool." She concludes by describing career highlights and regrets and giving advice to aspiring actresses. Adrienne Faillace conducted the interview on June 3, 2016 in New York, NY.

“I like to reinvent myself. I don’t like to do what I did 20 years ago. I like playing against what people think of me.”

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater at nine years-old, and working with Louis Armstrong
Leslie Uggams on doing a screen test for Roots and nearly not getting the part because the original old-age makeup was so bad
Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
Leslie Uggams on her appearance in "Deadpool"
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early influences; on performing at the Apollo Theater and on television variety shows as a child
On appearing on other television shows as a child; on recording her first album and working with Mitch Miller; on her work on Sing Along with Mitch
On becoming recognizable after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch; on discrimination she faced early in her career; on television appearances in the 1960s
On The Leslie Uggams Show and being the first African American woman to headline her own variety show; on working with Sammy Davis, Jr.
On working with various performers; on winning a Tony Award and performing at the Tonys; on acting on stage versus acting on television

Chapter 2

On being cast as "Kizzy" on Roots; on her relationship to "Kizzy"; on working with John Amos and Madge Sinclair on Roots
On the scene in Roots when her character, "Kizzy" is sold; on working with Roots castmates; on the rehearsal and filming process for Roots
On working with Richard Roundtree on Roots; on the impact of Roots; on the success and legacy of Roots
On Backstairs at the White House; on her game show Fantasy; on television appearances in the 70s and 80s; on appearing on The Good Wife and Nurse Jackie
On appearing on Empire; on her appearance in "Deadpool"; on her greatest career achievements and regrets; on advice to aspiring actresses
Shows

Backstairs at the White House

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Leslie Uggams on Backstairs at the White House
Leslie Uggams on her favorite scene in Backstairs at the White House

Beulah

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Beulah at six years-old

Cosby Show, The

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Cosby Show

Different World, A

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on A Different World

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show

Empire

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Empire

Fantasy

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Leslie Uggams on her game show Fantasy

Good Wife, The

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Good Wife

Hee Haw

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Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show being CBS' response to cancelling The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and her show being replaced by Hee Haw

I Spy

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on I Spy

Leslie Uggams Show, The

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Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
Leslie Uggams on the network's input on guests that appeared on The Leslie Uggams Show and the "Sugar Hill" segments on the show
Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show being CBS' response to cancelling The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and her show being replaced by Hee Haw
Leslie Uggams on the legacy of The Leslie Uggams Show

Milton Berle Show, The (1954-56)

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Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show as a child and her interactions with the performers and writers

Name That Tune

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Name That Tune as a teenager and how it led to her being discovered by Mitch Miller

Nurse Jackie

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Nurse Jackie

Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club, The

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club

Roots

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Leslie Uggams on being cast as "Kizzy" on Roots
Leslie Uggams on meeting Alex Haley on the set of Roots
Leslie Uggams on making the character of "Kizzy" in Roots her own
Leslie Uggams on working with John Amos on Roots and her character, "Kizzy's" relationship with Amos' character, "Kunta Kinte"
Leslie Uggams on the scene in Roots where her character, "Kizzy" visits her father's grave
Leslie Uggams on working with Madge Sinclair, who played her mother on Roots
Leslie Uggams on filming the scene in Roots when her character, "Kizzy" is sold
Leslie Uggams on working with Sandy Duncan on Roots and the relationship between their characters
Leslie Uggams on the scene in Roots where her character, "Kizzy" meets Sandy Duncan's character, "Missy Anne" later in life and "Kizzy" spits in "Missy Anne's" cup
Leslie Uggams on working with Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs on Roots
Leslie Uggams on working with Chuck Connors on Roots
Leslie Uggams on working with Ben Vereen on Roots
Leslie Uggams on the rehearsal and filming process on Roots
Leslie Uggams on working with Richard Roundtree on Roots
Leslie Uggams on her relationship with her Roots character, "Kizzy"
Leslie Uggams on the 2016 remake of Roots and the impact of Roots when it aired in 1977
Leslie Uggams on Alex Haley's involvement in the filming of Roots
Leslie Uggams on the Roots directors she worked with and her interactions with executive producer David L. Wolper and producer Stan Margulies
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
Leslie Uggams on the legacy of Roots

Sing Along with Mitch

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Leslie Uggams on her relationship with Mitch Miller and working with him on Sing Along with Mitch
Leslie Uggams on Sing Along with Mitch and the performers lip-syncing on the show
Leslie Uggams on the wardrobe and makeup for Sing Along with Mitch
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch Miller and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
Leslie Uggams on the barriers she broke on Sing Along with Mitch and being the first African American woman appearing weekly on a variety show

Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The

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Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show being CBS' response to cancelling The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and her show being replaced by Hee Haw

Your Show of Shows

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show as a child and her interactions with the performers and writers
Topics

Advice

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Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress

Civil Rights Movement

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Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Leslie Uggams on the importance of music in her childhood

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club as a child and not being allowed to win a car on the show because an African American boy had already won one on the show
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
Leslie Uggams on discrimination she faced early in her career and barriers she broke down by appearing on Sing Along with Mitch
Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement
Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history

Emmy Awards

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Leslie Uggams on winning a Daytime Emmy for Fantasy

Fame and Celebrity

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Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight

First Big Break

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Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater when she was nine years-old
Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows

Historic Events and Social Change

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Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement

Memorable Moments on Television

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Leslie Uggams on her relationship with her Roots character, "Kizzy" and on the impact of Roots around the world
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
Leslie Uggams on the impact of Roots when it aired in 1977

Minorities

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club as a child and not being allowed to win a car on the show because an African American boy had already won one on the show
Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her
Leslie Uggams on discrimination she faced early in her career and barriers she broke down by appearing on Sing Along with Mitch
Leslie Uggams on the role television played in the Civil Rights Movement
Leslie Uggams on how The Leslie Uggams Show came about and her efforts to have a diverse crew and writing staff
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Leslie Uggams on the importance of music in her childhood
Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater when she was nine years-old
Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
Leslie Uggams on winning a Tony Award and performing at the Tonys

Pop Culture

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Leslie Uggams on getting recognized on the street after appearing on Sing Along with Mitch and the extra pressure she felt as an African American woman in the spotlight

Television Industry

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Leslie Uggams on how the industry has changed during the course of her career
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress

We Considered

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Leslie Uggams on her relationship with her Roots character, "Kizzy" and on the impact of Roots around the world
Leslie Uggams on the impact of Roots when it aired in 1977
Leslie Uggams on the success of Roots and what it taught Americans about their own history
Professions

Actress

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Leslie Uggams on studying acting as a child and later on with Stella Adler
Leslie Uggams on performing on stage versus performing on television
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress

Performers

View Profession
Leslie Uggams on singing on television shows as a child and when she began to seriously studying singing
Leslie Uggams on studying acting as a child and later on with Stella Adler
Leslie Uggams on performing on stage versus performing on television
Leslie Uggams on what she loves about performing
Leslie Uggams on her favorite songs in her repertoire
Leslie Uggams on advice to an aspiring actress
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Leslie Uggams appearing on Beulah at six years-old
Leslie Uggams on appearing on I Spy
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Cosby Show
Leslie Uggams on appearing on A Different World

Drama Series

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Good Wife
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Nurse Jackie
Leslie Uggams on appearing on Empire

Game Shows

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Name That Tune as a teenager
Leslie Uggams on her game show Fantasy

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
Leslie Uggams on appearing Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show as a child and her interactions with the performers and writers
Leslie Uggams on her work on Sing Along with Mitch
Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
Leslie Uggams on The Leslie Uggams Show

Reality TV

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

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Leslie Uggams on Roots
Leslie Uggams on Backstairs at the White House
People

Stella Adler

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Leslie Uggams on studying acting with Stella Adler

John Amos

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Leslie Uggams on working with John Amos on Roots and her character, "Kizzy's" relationship with Amos' character, "Kunta Kinte"

Louis Armstrong

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Leslie Uggams on how she began performing at the Apollo Theater at nine years-old, and working with Louis Armstrong

Milton Berle

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Leslie Uggams on getting her start in television as a child on The Milton Berle Show and other variety shows
Leslie Uggams on an interaction between her mother and Milton Berle's mother on the set of The Milton Berle Show

Johnny Carson

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Leslie Uggams on working with Johnny Carson

Chuck Connors

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Leslie Uggams on working with Chuck Connors on Roots and filming the scene when his character, "Tom Moore" rapes her character, "Kizzy"

Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Leslie Uggams on working with Sammy Davis, Jr.

Sandy Duncan

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Leslie Uggams on working with Sandy Duncan on Roots and the relationship between their characters

Jimmy Durante

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Leslie Uggams on working with Jimmy Durante

Alex Haley

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Leslie Uggams on meeting Alex Haley on the set of Roots
Leslie Uggams on Alex Haley's involvement in the filming of Roots

Stan Margulies

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Leslie Uggams on her interactions with David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies, the executive producer and producer of Roots

Peter Marshall

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Leslie Uggams on co-hosting Fantasy with Peter Marshall

Dean Martin

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Leslie Uggams on working with Dean Martin

Bob McGrath

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Leslie Uggams on working with Bob McGrath on Sing Along with Mitch and later reuniting with him on Sesame Street

Mitch Miller

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on Name That Tune as a teenager and how it led to her being discovered by Mitch Miller and recording an album with him
Leslie Uggams on her relationship with Mitch Miller and appearing on Sing Along with Mitch
Leslie Uggams on what it was like to work with Mitch Miller and the last time Miller saw her perform
Leslie Uggams on Sing Along with Mitch and the performers lip-syncing on the show
Leslie Uggams on the pushback from the network to her being on Sing Along with Mitch because she was African American and how Mitch Miller stood up for her

Richard Roundtree

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Leslie Uggams on working with Richard Roundtree on Roots and filming a particularly tense scene

Frank Sinatra

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Leslie Uggams on working with Frank Sinatra

Madge Sinclair

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Leslie Uggams on working with Madge Sinclair, who played her mother on Roots

Ben Vereen

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Leslie Uggams on working with Ben Vereen on Roots and the scene where her character, "Kizzy" tells his character, "Chicken George" that "Tom Moore" (Chuck Connors) is his father

Flip Wilson

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Leslie Uggams on working with Flip Wilson

David L. Wolper

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Leslie Uggams on her interactions with David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies, the executive producer and producer of Roots

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