Tracee Ellis Ross is early, as she usually is — “Being prompt is very serious,” she says — when I meet her on West 57th Street. She’s wearing her favorite vintage jeans, a greenish Yohji Yamamoto duster she’s had for a while, and brand-new Prada platform brogues. She’s chatting animatedly on her phone with her father, Bob Ellis Silberstein, the gallant young music manager her mother, Diana Ross, married in 1971 after her epic relationship with Motown founder Berry Gordy became suffocatingly complicated. But that tumult ended long ago, and today her dad is a semi-retired 71-year-old who is, right now, telling his daughter about his morning bike ride in Central Park, followed by a walk with his dogs, Tupac and Snoop Dogg.
I don’t mind waiting. Even watching the star of ABC’s Black-ish talking on the phone on the sidewalk is fun: Ross is antic and expressive, unable to not perform. I keep thinking of her turn on Sesame Street when she did a bit about the letter B — introducing bear, banana, basketball, and Big Bird with Muppety, pop-eyed delight. Dad update over, we walk down the block to the Wayfarer, a bilevel restaurant that seeks to evoke a kind of vaguely Vegas Rat Pack swank. And Ross notices the picture first, at the top of the stairs: “See?” she says, when she spots her mother-as-icon among photos of JFK, the hippie crowd at Woodstock, and a Playboy Bunny. She thinks it’s probably from Mahogany.
Then the waitress arrives, and Ross squeals. “Your hair looks so dang cute!”
“Thank you!” says the server, who has twisted it up in a casual, boyish blonde side-knot. Ross orders mint green tea, which comes in a mug with a walrus drawn on it, which she also finds cute, and adds self-consciously: “I actually made that sound!” (That squeal.)
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