Leslie Uggams was known for her role as Kizzy Reynolds in the television miniseries “Roots.” The mother and grandmother has been married for 56 years to her Australian husband.
Their marriage was one of the rare high-profile interracial marriages in Hollywood. They were married at a time when interracial marriages were illegal in some parts of the United States.
Even though her husband, Grahame Pratt, was not an American, the couple still received a lot of hate mail. Here’s a look into Leslie Uggams’s life and marriage.
Leslie Uggams and Grahame Pratt at The Opening Night Arrivals for “Sylvia” on October 27, 2015, in New York (left), Leslie Uggams, Grahame Pratt, and 4-year-old Daughter Danielle on February 01, 1975, in Sydney | Photo: Getty Images
Born May 25, 1943, Leslie Marian Uggams is an American actress and singer whose parents were performers. Uggams attended the Professional Children’s School of New York and Juilliard.
Her aunt encouraged her musical training, and she was in show business as a child in 1951. Her first T.V. appearance was in the situation-comedy series “Beulah.”
In 1951, she was a featured performer at the famed Apollo Theater. By the time she was ten, she had made a record for MGM. However, it wasn’t until 1958 that T.V. audiences recognized her as an upcoming teen talent.
Portrait of Leslie Uggams in 1950 | Photo: Getty Images
She was on the musical quiz show series “Name That Tune,” where Record Producer Mitch Miller noticed and hired her for “Sing Along With Mitch.”
Uggams’s records “One More Sunrise” and “House Built on Sand” made Billboard magazine’s charts. In 1967, Uggams made her Broadway debut when she starred in “Hallelujah, Baby!”
She won a Theater World Award and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical. By 1969, she had her television variety show “The Leslie Uggams Show.”
She became the first Black woman to host a variety show and the second African-American since “The Nat King Cole Show” of the mid-1950s.
In 1977, she had a lead role in the miniseries “Roots,” where she played Kunta Kinte’s daughter, Kizzy. This role brought her an Emmy Award nomination.
She received another Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress when she played Lilian Rogers Parks in the 1979 miniseries “Backstairs at the White House.”
She was back on Broadway in the 1980s. In 1982 she appeared in the revue “Blues in the Night,” Jerry Herman’s “Jerry’s Girls” in 1985, and in “Anything Goes” in 1989.
She has also made guest appearances on television programs such as “I Spy,” “Family Guy,” “The Muppet Show,” “Hollywood Squares,” “Magnum, P.I.,” and “The Love Boat.”
In 1972, she starred in “Skyjacked” and “Black Girl” while also starring in “Poor Pretty Eddie” in 1975. She was seen on the screens again in 1994 when she starred in “Sugar Hill” and in “Deadpool” in 2016.
Also, in 2016, she was seen in the hit Fox series “Empire” and appeared in the television film “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” In 2018, she was seen again in “Deadpool 2.”
Leslie Uggams at the screening of “The Apollo” on the opening night of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 24, 2019, in New York | Photo: Getty Images
Uggams has been happily married for 56 years to Australian Manager Grahame Pratt. Their union has been surrounded by hard work and a lot of professional success.
Uggams had already won a Tony Award when she met Pratt while touring. They became close friends after their first meeting in Sydney in 1963 at Chequers nightclub.
After she left Sydney, they did not see each other again for one year. Fortunately, he later regularly visited Uggams in the U.S., and she eventually fell in love with him.
After five months of official engagement, Pratt arrived in New York to meet Uggams’s family. His visit was an opportunity for Uggams to know if her family would accept him and not just tolerate him.
Her father immediately took to him while her mother doted him. Being Australian meant Pratt had no self-consciousness about racism.
He also fitted in easily with her friends because he liked them, and they also liked him. However, her aunt wanted her to settle for a nice Black man when she wanted to get married.
Although today interracial marriages are very common, this dynamic couple lived their courtship in the 1960s. Before they got married in 1965, Uggams feared that problems could arise.
She was also faced with three major issues. These included racial tensions in America, the fact that she would never abandon her job, and that Pratt would have to move from Australia to the USA for her.
She was also worried about having a good relationship with her mother-in-law. Pratt’s father died eight months before their marriage.
Uggams’s mother invited Pratt’s mother to New York, and they bonded well while having a spree. From that moment, she knew that the Pratt-Uggams alliance was special.
After much thought, Uggams decided to get married, no matter what adversities she had to face. She knew that it was a tremendous responsibility to take on a mixed marriage like theirs.
Throughout their marriage, they both continued to work. In addition to Uggams’s role in the miniseries “Roots,” she also appeared in various productions, both on television and in film.
Leslie Uggams and Grahame Pratt at The Apollo Theater’s 78th Season Of Amateur Night – Opening Night With Jennifer Holliday on February 1, 2012, in New York | Photo: Getty Images
Pratt had also worked on series and movies, including “Medical Center,” “Operation Delta Force 3: Clear Target,” and “Skyjacked.” Although her family gladly accepted Pratt, the couple who later permanently took root in New York continued to receive letters of hatred and discrimination.
When Uggams toured locations in the United States, she would get anonymous letters about being married to a white man. The letters were always addressed to Pratt and Uggams, and they were not pleasant to read.
Once when she was in Detroit, she had received a letter addressed to Pratt, and the writer wrote that they would have “polka-dot children.” However, getting hate mails like that didn’t frighten them.
Shortly after they got married, Uggams and Pratt lost a baby. But they knew that there was hope and they would have more children.
Uggams also wanted her children to be happy and not grow up with the hate mails she and Pratt had received. The couple later had the pleasure of conceiving two more children, Danielle in 1970 and Justice in 1976.
They raised their children together and have flourished through thick and thin. Uggams and Pratt have one grandchild, and Uggams once said she believes in having family close as they keep her grounded.
Although 56 years have passed, Uggams and Pratt are still a very close and loving couple. When asked the secret of their happy marriage, despite the hardships they faced, Uggams said:
“He’s smart and witty and fearless. We laugh all the time — but it ain’t always roses. We have fun together.”
Uggams also said they made it through the tough times because they could maintain a good mood. For them, the secret to their marriage is having fun!