Cicely Tyson’s Columbus connection: Local woman remembers screen legend

Local News

(Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Columbus, Ga. ( WRBL) – Legendary actress Cicely Tyson died Jan. 28, 2021. One Columbus local remembers her legacy and connection to the Fountain City.

Carol Gertjegeders was just a child when her mother, Ophelia DeVore Mitchell, opened a charm school in 1946 in New York City. Her charm school, Grace Del Marco Models, was a stepping stone for black women who wanted to be in the entertainment industry.

Actresses and models like Diahanna Carroll, Helen Williams and Cicely Tyson all got their start at at Grace Del Marco.

Tyson started as a model for the charm school before she became an award-winning actress.

In 1955 Tyson appeared on the cover of Ebony magazine wearing an afro, which was unusual for black women to do during that time period. The magazine cover gave Tyson the jumpstart she needed in her acting career.

Tyson booked her first movie role just from appearing on the cover of Ebony Magazine. Even though her career was taking off, Tyson remained humble.

“She always showed respect, I do remember that and that’s so nice because sometimes if people if they have some sort of publicity they try to ride above you. She never did that with us, she was always very friendly and very welcoming and I appreciated that,” Gertjegeders said.

Tyson’s debut in her first movie gave the charm even more exposure. The actress went on to continue her career, starring in over 27 movies and TV shows that would earn her countless awards. The last film Tyson starred in was Tyler Perry’s “A Fall from Grace” where she played an old lady who was kidnapped from her home.

Tyson left a huge impact on those in the black community, inspiring them with each role she took on. Before Tyson’s death, she kept in close contact with Mitchell. The actress’s death came as a surprise to Gertjegeders. She says not only did Tyson leave an impact on those in the black community, but she impacted her life as well.

“We were hoping that she would live a few more years, it kind of saddened our hearts and to see that we were going to lose her. She also blazed some trails for others to follow too. Because at one time it was very difficult in Hollywood quote-unquote to even be in certain movies but she certainly opened the doors,” Gertjegerdes said.

After jumpstarting many careers in New York City, Mitchell moved to Columbus, Ga., with her five children and remarried. In the early 70’s Mitchell became the owner and publisher of The Columbus Times newspaper.

Mitchell also produced several TV shows, including her own, called the ” Ophelia DeVore Show” which became one of the longest running shows on cable TV. Not only did Mitchell open doors for Black actresses and models, she also paved the way for modern day talk show host.

Grace Del Marco Models charm school has closed down, but Gertjedgers believes there is a possibility of reopening the school in the near future.

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