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

The Peggy Fair actress sure had a lot of firsts.

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?

Watch Mannix on MeTV!

Weeknights at 2 AM

*available in most MeTV markets
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

14 Comments

Post a comment
daDoctah 23 days ago
It's just a shame that when they reunited the stars of a certain Mannix episode on Diagnosis: Murder (Mike Connors as Mannix and guest-stars Julie Adams, Beverly Garland and Pernell Roberts) they didn't get Fisher to put in at least a cameo. The best they could do was have Joe mention to Dr Sloan that Peggy was still working for him.
JeanetteMitchell 24 days ago
I really love watching Mannix so much thay my husband thinks I'm in love with him. He can't understand why I wake up at 2 am to watch that show every morning. Everyone else has expressed my sentiments exactly about the show with the exception of my feelings for Peggy. The more I watch the reruns, the more I realize that Peggy was a brilliant actress. She was magnificently portrayed as a very intelligent and strong black woman, and that's what I love about her role. Too many times black people are portrayed as untelligent and are immediately killed in the first acts of the movie. Why do blacks or African Americans have to be the first ones killed in the movie? Anyway, Peggy is still an excellent role model for women of color and I'm thankful that the producers allowed her to be portrayed in such a significant role. She was more than his secretary. She was his assistant as her research skills helped him solve many cases. She was his friend, and was faithful to him whenever he was injured or incapacitated. I believed she loved him and he her. It was a perfect employer/employee relationship. For those who don't have dvr capabilities like me, you can also binge out on Mannix reruns on YouTube. So MeTv you need to bring Mannix to primetime or loose us to YouTube.
JERRY6 26 days ago
Mannix is one of my favorites , I have the complete series on dvd , still watch it on Me tv . Gail Fisher had great chemistry with Mike Conners , a beautiful talented lady .A shame drugs ruined her life
rs517878 26 days ago
I was 10 in 1967 ,and remember watching Mannix from gradeschool through highschool to 1975 and all us kids wanted to be like Mannix or Mike Connors ,Great Series and Great Actor Mike Connors may he rest in peace ! I will buy the series on Amazon today 8 seasons of Great Intertainment !
Pacificsun 28 days ago
I don't remember Ms. Fisher before Mannix. But wow, did she stand out in her Peggy Fair role! Which is exactly what Mannix (the show) needed. For characters to work well (like Mannix) they need to be compelling. Meaning somebody has to care about them. And that's what Ms. Fisher's role added, creating great chemistry. Mannix didn't go through as many women as did many other shows of that ilk. So the feminine contribution was important to offset Mannix' tough guy approach. Which he certainly had. A retrospective of Gail Fisher is long overdue (MeTV). I look forward to watching Mannix (it's worth DVR'ing) almost as much as Perry Mason. Keep them both running!!
Dlawson Pacificsun 27 days ago
I completely agree with you! I was delighted to find the show in repeats in my area and you are correct, the Gail Fisher brought about a great change in the show that really made it compelling. I vaguely recall the commercial and print ads, but I (and my friends!) were true fans of Mannix. Mike Connors was good looking and Gail Fisher was lovely, plus they both were good actors with excellent chemistry. And I, too, look forward to watching Mannix as much as Perry Mason!
robertabbott 28 days ago
Miss Fisher came to Savannah State University where she read some poetry to us in Kennedy Fine Arts Center. She still had that beauty and I believe the drug episode was behind her.
MrsPhilHarris 28 days ago
I always thought she was so beautiful.
TheDavBow3 28 days ago
Gail Fisher was stunning! A great actress. I never saw her on anything else before or after Mannix. I DVR Mannix because of the poor time slot. Mannix was a fond memory of my Dad and me lying on the thick carpeted floor watching TV 😊
Moody 28 days ago
She was great in Mannix. I wish MeTV would put it in a better time slot.
denny 28 days ago
Too bad she got hooked on drugs, that basically ended her acting career, I really like her on Mannix.
TheDavBow3 denny 28 days ago
Yeah, I heard that too. Sad.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?