Spotlight: Tracee Ellis Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross-1Being the offspring of a famous entertainer — especially an iconic one — is a blessing in some senses and a severe challenge in others.

Many fall by the wayside in their attempt to find their own place and space. But a select few others — such as Michael Douglas, son of the great actor Kirk Douglas — succeed admirably.

The connection can open doors, but once those doors are open, so much is expected of these sons and daughters, and the comparisons, more often than not, are relentless and discouraging.

Tracee Ellis Ross, whose mother, as the world knows, is the legendary Diana Ross, has come along nicely in her pursuit of a career in show business. The latest project is the new ABC sitcom “Black-ish,” also featuring Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne.

THIS SERIES comes after Ross’ lead role on “Girlfriends,” the sitcom that aired on UPN from Sept. 11, 2000 to Feb. 11, 2008. Her co-stars were Golden Brooks, Jill Marie Jones, Persia White and Reggie Hayes.

The actress, who has come to be best known for comedic roles, although she is adept at serious drama as well, adopted the name Ross for show business purposes. She was born Tracee Joy Silberstein. Her father is Jewish and works as Bob Ellis as an artist manager. Among his clients was Billy Preston.

One of the things Tracee Ellis Ross has in her favor is the fact that she is not a singer, so there can be no comparisons in that department. But that doesn’t mean finding her own way was easy.

“Because of my unique experience as my mom’s child, the beginning of my journey was more about me trying to figure out who I was on my own,” she said. “My mom is one of the greatest moms and so supportive of all of her children and of us being who we are, not who she wanted us to be.”

ROSS WAS educated at the Dalton School in Manhattan, the Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland and Brown University, an Ivy League college in Providence, Rhode Island, graduating in 1994 with a degree in theatre.

However, she did not immediately go into theatre work. Instead, having a sense of style akin to that of her mother, she worked in the fashion industry as a model and as a writer for New York and Mirabella magazines.

But when the time was right, Ross went full-speed-ahead into seeking acting jobs.

Although she appeared in an independent film, “Far Harbor,” hosted a pop culture TV magazine series titled “The Dish” on the Lifetime network, appeared in the made for television movie “Race Against Fear: A Moment of Truth,” and appeared in the film “Hanging Up” with Diane Keaton, and more, it was “Girlfriends” that sent her career to the next level and made hers a name that was familiar to many thousands of television viewers.

ON “GIRLFRIENDS,” Ross was Joan Clayton, a highly successful lawyer and sometimes slightly neurotic woman who always seemed to have trouble making relationships work, though there was no lack of trying.

For her work on “Girlfriends” Ross received 11 NAACP Image Award nominations in the Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series category. She won twice. She also took home a BET Comedy Awards trophy.

“Girlfriends” opened the door to appearances on such shows as “CSI: Crime Investigation” and “Private Practice,” as well as “Reed Between the Lines,” a series that aired on BET. It was about two professionals who married, and between them had three children. The show focused on balancing career and family, and the challenges and fun of a blended family.

Ross was Dr. Carla Reed, a psychologist, and her husband, a professor, was played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner. After a short run it was canceled after Ross suddenly, and without explanation, left the show.

INTERESTINGLY, after her departure she said she loved and believed in the show and would consider returning to it. Apparently much went on that the public knew nothing about.

Ross, who is also a producer, says that despite being on television, in movies and modeling, she was shy at one time.

“My turning point came when I let my hair go naturally,” she said. “When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time on my hair.”

She also sees to it that her private life remains private.

“I don’t really talk about my personal life,” she said. “It’s a strange, funny and weird thing. Sometimes you have a conversation with someone and the paparazzi snap a picture of you and people decide you’re dating. If I tried to respond to everything people say, I would be up all night.”

And Ross is not troubled by the fact that next month she turns 42, saying with a laugh, “I used to think 40 was old, but now I think it’s hot!”


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