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Billie Allen

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Information about Billie Allen

Profile image of Billie Allen

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Actress
Stage Director

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Royal Blue
Favorite Food:
Yankee Bean Soup With Meatballs
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
St. Martin
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
1/13/1925
Birth Location:
Richmond, Virginia

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Actress
Stage Director

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Royal Blue
Favorite Food:
Yankee Bean Soup With Meatballs
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
St. Martin
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
1/13/1925
Birth Location:
Richmond
See how Billie Allen is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Actor, dancer, director Billie Allen was born Wilhelmina Louise Allen on January 13, 1925 in Richmond, Virginia to Mamie Wimbush Allen and William Roswell Allen. Allen grew up in Richmond’s West End, attending Randolph Street School and Elba Elementary School before graduating from Armstrong High School in 1941. At Hampton University, Allen was inspired by Romare Bearden and mentored by Billie Davis. Drawn to show business, Allen moved to New York City in 1943 to take ballet classes and to study acting at the Lee Strasbourg Institute. Soon, Allen was dancing professionally and auditioning for stage roles.

In 1949, Allen was featured in the film Souls of Sin with Jimmy Wright and William Greaves. In 1953, Allen performed in the Broadway play, Take A Giant Step with Lou Gossett, Godfrey Cambridge and Lincoln Kilpatrick. She was cast as “WAC Billie” in five episodes of television’s Phil Silvers’ Show from 1955 to 1959. During this period, she also played Ada Chandler in the soap opera, The Edge of Night. In 1964, Allen was cast in Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse of a Negro, and in 1990, directed the play’s revival. She also portrayed “Vertel” in the movie Black Like Me in 1964 and appeared on stage in James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie. Since the 1960s, Allen was cast in a number of movies and television programs including Route 66, Car 54, Where Are You, The Wiz, Winter Kills, The Vernon Johns Story, Eddie Murphy Raw, and Law and Order. In the early 1980s, Allen directed the off-Broadway play Home featuring Samuel L. Jackson, and in 2001, she directed Saint Lucy’s Eyes starring Ruby Dee.

Allen was a founding member of the Women’s Project and Productions and served as a founding member and co-president of the League of Professional Theatre Women. In 1973, Allen with Morgan Freeman, Garland Lee Thompson and Clayton Riley founded Harlem’s Frank Silvera Writers’ Workshop. She interviewed Rosetta LeNoire, Julia Miles and Ruby Dee for the theatre archives of the Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, and in 1999 and 2000, served as a voting member of the Tony Awards nominating board. Allen married the late composer, Luther Henderson with whom she received the 2002 Audelco “VIV” Pioneer Awards. She had two children.

Allen passed away on December 29, 2015 at age 90.

See how Billie Allen is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Billie Allen's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Billie Allen lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Billie Allen describes her mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Billie Allen describes the women in her maternal family
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Billie Allen describes her mother's civil rights activism
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Billie Allen describes her mother's teaching career
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Billie Allen describes her father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Billie Allen describes her parents' involvement in African American society
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Billie Allen describes her parents' personalities
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Billie Allen describes her earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Billie Allen describes her siblings
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Billie Allen describes her family's move to Richmond, Virginia
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Billie Allen describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Billie Allen recalls her grade school experiences in Richmond, Virginia
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Billie Allen talks about the role of music in her childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Billie Allen describes her early activities in Richmond, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Billie Allen recalls the entertainers she admired
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Billie Allen remembers the release of 'Gone with the Wind'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Billie Allen remembers Armstrong High School in Richmond, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Billie Allen recalls her influential teachers at Armstrong High School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Billie Allen recalls the segregated transit system in Richmond, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Billie Allen describes her studies at Armstrong High School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Billie Allen remembers the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Billie Allen describes her social life at the Hampton Institute
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Billie Allen recalls her decision to move to New York City
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Billie Allen recalls the arts community in New York City
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Billie Allen recalls meeting African American actors in New York City
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Billie Allen recalls her first film role
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Billie Allen remembers training under Lee Strasberg
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Billie Allen talks about her role on 'The Phil Silvers Show'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Billie Allen recalls being cast in a soap commercial
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Billie Allen describes her role in 'The Edge of Night'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Billie Allen talks about the play 'Blues for Mister Charlie'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Billie Allen remembers acting in 'Funnyhouse of the Negro,' pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Billie Allen remembers acting in 'Funnyhouse of the Negro,' pt. 2
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Billie Allen talks about her career as an actress in New York
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Billie Allen recalls the Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Billie Allen talks about her screen acting career
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Billie Allen talks about her recent acting roles
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Billie Allen describes her organizational affiliations
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Billie Allen reflects upon the variety of her character roles
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Billie Allen talks about her plans for the future
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Billie Allen describes her hopes for the African American community
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Billie Allen reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Billie Allen talks about her family
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Billie Allen describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Billie Allen narrates her photographs, pt. 1
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Billie Allen narrates her photographs, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Billie Allen narrates her photographs, pt. 3