According to Little House on the Prairie actor Melisa Gilbert, famed actor Cicely Tyson was “extremely difficult” to work with during the filming of Sweet Justice, a TV show that debuted in 1994. In her memoir, Prairie Tale, Gilbert writes about her experience filming with the Sounder actor.
Melissa Gilbert blamed Cicely Tyson for delays on set
Gilbert and Tyson often worked long days while filming the 1994 legal drama. The Laura Ingalls actor blamed Tyson.
“My hours on Sweet Justice were often in the fourteen-to sixteen-hour range, excruciatingly long by any standard, and I blamed Cicely Tyson for the delays, as did everyone else in our otherwise outstanding cast,” she wrote in her 2009 memoir.
Gilbert described Tyson’s behavior on set as “extremely difficult.”
“She insisted everyone call her by her character’s name, though she never remembered the names of any of our characters,” wrote Gilbert. “She rarely knew her lines. One day she kept everyone waiting hours because she didn’t have the proper bra. Another time she slapped a director across the face. And still another time guest star Cotter Smith stormed off the set after a lengthy courtroom scene and fumed, ‘I’m never working with that woman again.’”
Melissa Gilbert ultimately blames Cicely Tyson for needing surgery
Gilbert went on to share another anecdote involving Tyson from their time on Sweet Justice.
“We had a giant makeup trailer where everyone gathered in the morning, listened to music, and drank coffee,” she wrote. “Cicely would come in, turn off the music, dump the coffee because she hated the smell of it, and then make us sit quietly while she got her makeup done.”
Gilbert felt Tyson “was out of control.”
“Because of her, I was unable to spend quality time with my family,” she wrote.
Gilbert writes that Tyson also insisted “on hiring a woman to help with wardrobe who was inexperienced.”
“I paid dearly for her lack of qualifications when she failed to wet me down properly for a scene when I was supposed to walk inside from a rainstorm,” she wrote. “My feet went out from under me, and I landed flat on my back and head.”
According to Gilbert, that fall caused damage to her neck that called for surgery years later.
‘I finally snapped’
Though Gilbert typically prides herself in being “a team player,” she “finally snapped.”
“I called NBC president Warren Littlefield and insisted he get a separate trailer for her and do something about the delays,” she wrote. “Having grown up with Michael Landon, one of the biggest stars in TV history, who insisted that no one get their own trailers or any other special treatment, I never understood Cicely’s divalike temperament.”
While Gilbert was bothered by Tyson’s early behavior on Sweet Justice, it wasn’t an issue for long. The show was only on the air for two seasons.
“Sweet Justice debuted the same year as Friends and ER,” wrote Gilbert. “Early on, it was pretty clear the show wasn’t going to make it, but we got in a full twenty-two episodes and I made some really great friends.”
Of course, there are always two sides to every story.
Tyson died in January 2021 at 96 years old. Throughout her decades-long career, she won and was nominated for several awards, including her nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in Sweet Justice.
“I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” her manager, Larry Thompson, said in a statement after Tyson died, as reported by Variety.
In Oct. 2020, Tyson came out with her own book, Just as I Am: A Memoir, where fans can learn her own perspective on her life in show business.
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