Probably best known for her role in the Deadpool series the Harlem-born singer and actress has had a successful career spanning seven decades.
But behind the scenes, her personal life could be the subject of a movie after she tied the knot with White Australian man Grahame Pratt in 1965 as their love affair throughout the ages has defied all the odds of interracial love...
Leslie was a talented singer and in 1953 when she was just 10 years old she made a record for MGM. Encouraged by her aunt singer Eloise Uggams she attended the Professional Children’s School of New York and prestigious New York music school Julliard.
But her musical career was only the start of her journey and by 1969 she had her own TV variety show “The Leslie Uggams Show”, the first network variety show to be hosted by a black person since “The Nat King Cole Show.”
But behind the scenes she had met and fallen in love with actor Grahame Pratt. After first meeting him at Professional Children’s School of New York, where they were both students, the couple then ran into each other while she was performing in Sydney during one of Leslie’s celebrity tours in Australia.
Leslie knew what the repercussions would be of dating a white man as she’d done so in her teens and her aunt had told her not to entertain the idea of a future with him.
“I remember the shock I got once when I was dating a white boy,” Leslie said in a 1967 interview with Ebony.
“He sent me a color picture of himself. I showed it to my aunt. He was a good looking boy with beautiful hair. I thought he was gorgeous. But my aunt took one look and started in to lecture me. ‘Well he’s alright, I suppose,’ she told me, ‘but only for dates, huh, honey? When you’re thinking of settling down for keeps you’ll make sure you marry a nice [Black] fella, won’t you?’”
After her chance meeting with Grahame Leslie said she kept seeing him.
“I found myself really falling for him, which was quite a thing for me to realize as I was only 21.”
When she left Australia it would be 12 months before she saw him again.
The two had fallen in love, despite Leslie’s reservations over her family’s reaction and what it would mean for the two of them as Grahame would have to move to the U.S. for Leslie’s career. They got engaged for 5 months and Grahame visited her in New York.
“Knowing my family’s ideas about mixed marriages I wanted to know, too, whether they would really accept Grahame and not just tolerate him,” she said. But Leslie had nothing to worry about as for Grahame being Australian had its advantages.
‘But of course we did get mail’
“He had none of the self-consciousness about the situation that a white American often has. He fitted in easily with all my friends…just because he liked them. And they certainly liked him, both the men and the girls.”
The two got married in 1965 and although didn’t encounter many of the racial issues that the rest of the U.S. was experiencing living in New York, Leslie said she still received hate mail over their union.
“It was not as hard as I expected it to be,” Leslie said of her marriage in an interview with PEOPLE. “I think the reason is that Grahame was not an American white man. But of course we did get mail.
“Sometimes when I go on tour through the States I get anonymous letters about being married to a white man,” Leslie revealed. “I remember I got one in Detroit of all places. It came to the club addressed to ‘The Little Negro Entertainer.’ They’re always addressed something like that and they’re not pleasant to read.”
Grahame became Leslie’s manager and the couple had two children Danielle, born in 1970, and son Justice, born in 1976.
By 1977, one year after their second child was born, Leslie had landed the lead role in the miniseries “Roots”, a part she received an Emmy nomination for her role as Kizzy. Two years later she starred as Lillian Rogers Parks in “Backstairs at the White House”, a miniseries for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Actress.
In 1996, she played the role of Rose Keefer on “All My Children” and in 1983 she received a Daytime Emmy Award as a host of the NBC game show “Fantasy.”
She also made guest appearances television programs such as “Family Guy” (as herself), “I Spy”, “Hollywood Squares”, “The Muppet -Leslie and Grahame are still together and very much in love 55 years later and as well as having two children they also have granddaughter Cassidy.And the secret to their happy union – Leslie said, “We laugh all the time — but it ain’t always roses. We have fun together.”