Pretty Peggy was practically the co-star of the detective drama starring Mike Connors as PI Joe Mannix. Gail played the bright and beautiful widowed secretary who boosted the ratings when she joined the cast.
More than a secretary, Peggy played an integral part of the agency, brainstorming with Joe; going undercover as a maid or a hooker to help him solve crimes.
Along with being a dependable employee, Peggy was a warm and trustworthy friend to Joe. In one episode, she nursed him while he suffered temporary blindness after getting shot. Working for Mannix was always a challenge; Peggy always seemed to get kidnapped or threatened.
Although Joe had a steady stream of beautiful women come and go, he was intent on remaining a bachelor, and Peggy was the one woman who was a constant presence in his life.
There was an occasional hint of romance between Peggy and Joe, but the relationship never developed, probably because CBS wouldn't allow an inter-racial affair.
CBS was initially reluctant to cast a black woman in Peggy's role, but Connors and producer Bruce Gellar stuck to their guns and insisted that Gail was the right actress. She later called it a "revolution in casting."
Gail was the second black actress cast as a regular character in an hour-long drama series -- Nichelle Nichols of "Star Trek" preceeded her by two years -- and was one of the most visible black faces on TV in the late 1960s-early 1970s.
"Certain people who had no knowledge of blacks have maybe learned something because of Peggy Fair," she said in a 1972 interview. "Blacks were pretty much alien objects on TV as recently as 10 years ago, and now we're people...I'm proud that I'm a part of that."
Everybody loved Peggy. The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page wrote, "Peggy was the bright girl from church who got that good job. The girl who was the first to get hired in a white guy's office, and if she didn't do well, nobody else was going to get hired."
Gail won Miss Black New Jersey as a teenager and spent two years studying under legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Working as a model, in 1960 she landed a ground breaking role for All laundry detergent - she became the first black to have speaking lines on a national TV commercial.
As she aspired to an acting career, she said, "My friends and family thought I was crazy. [They said] 'But, honey, there ain't any black actresses.'"
Gail won two Golden Globes and was nominated for an Emmy four straight years (1970-73), winning once. After "Mannix," Gail worked only occasionally. She died of kidney failure in 2000 at age 65.
Classic TV Beauties 1960s Countdown
GAIL FISHER as Peggy Fair in "Mannix"