Gertrude Jeannette, NYC Cab Driver Who Became a Broadway Actor, Dies at 103

Jeannette amassed six Broadway credits over the course of her career.

Gertrude Jeanette's New York City cab driver's license.
The New York City cab license of Gertrude Jeannette (spelled correctly here), who later became a Broadway actor.

Gertrude Jeannette, a trailblazer among New York City's female cab drivers who later became an actor with multiple Broadway and off-Broadway credits, has died at the age of 103, according to published reports.

Born Gertrude Hadley on November 28, 1914, in Urbana, Arkansas, Hadley met her husband, heavyweight prizefighter Joe Jeannette, on her prom night. Thirty-five years her senior, he proposed at the end of the night, and she initially resisted. They eloped to New York in 1933. In 1935, Jeannette became the first woman to receive a motorcycle license in New York City, and joined her husband's motorcycle club in the early 1940s. She passed the cab driver's test in 1942 and became the first licensed female cab driver in New York City.

Jeannette used her earnings to enroll in a speech class at the American Negro Theatre to help correct a stammer. She studied alongside actors including Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis, and made her stage debut in a 1945 production of Our Town. Her first Broadway appearance, in Lost in the Stars, came in 1949, and she continued to drive a cab until then.

On Broadway, Jeannette appeared in The Long Dream, Nobody Loves an Albatross, The Amen Corner, The Skin of Our Teeth, and Vieux Carré. On-screen, her credits include Cotton Comes to Harlem, Shaft, and Black Girl, among others. In 1979, she founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. players (Harlem Artist's Development League Especially for You). Also a playwright and director, she acted into her 80s, and retired from directing at the age of 98.

Jeannette is predeceased by her husband, who died in 1956, and their son, who died at the age of 5 in 1940. She is survived by 10 nephews and 6 nieces.