The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Melvin Van Peebles

Share on Social Media

Information about Melvin Van Peebles

Profile image of Melvin Van Peebles

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Actor
Film Director
Fiction Writer
Playwright

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
None
Favorite Vacation Spot:
California
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
8/21/1932
Birth Location:
Chicago, Illinois

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Actor
Film Director
Fiction Writer
Playwright

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
None
Favorite Vacation Spot:
California
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
8/21/1932
Birth Location:
Chicago
See how Melvin Van Peebles is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Filmmaker, author, and actor Melvin Van Peebles was born on August 21, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois. Growing up during World War II, he spent his adolescence with his father, a tailor. Van Peebles graduated from Township High School in Phoenix, Illinois, in 1949 and spent a year at West Virginia State College before transferring to Ohio Wesleyan University where he earned his B.A. degree in English literature in 1953.

During the late 1950s, Van Peebles served three and a half years as a flight navigator in the United States Air Force. After the military, he lived briefly in Mexico and San Francisco where he wrote his first book, The Big Heart, which was about the life of San Francisco’s cable cars and their drivers. Moving to the Netherlands, he studied at the Dutch National Theatre before moving to France in the early 1960s. During this time, Van Peebles wrote several published novels in French, including La Permission in 1967. He filmed this story under the title, The Story of the Three-Day Pass, and it was selected as the French entry in the 1968 San Francisco Film Festival. It earned critical acclaim, which helped him obtain a studio contract with Columbia Pictures. In 1969, Van Peebles returned to the U.S. to direct and score his first Hollywood film Watermelon Man. The film was released in 1970, followed by his independent feature Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, probably his best known work. Some of his other films include Don’t Play Us Cheap in 1973, Identity Crisis in 1989, Gang in Blue in 1996 and Le Conte du ventre plein in 2000.

As a playwright and composer, Van Peebles wrote two Broadway hit plays: Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death in 1971 and Don’t Play Us Cheap in 1972, for which he earned a Tony Award nomination. As an actor, Van Peebles has appeared in several films including Robert Altman’s O.C. and Stiggs in 1987 and Mario Van Peebles’ Panther in 1995, which he also wrote and co-produced. In 2005, Van Peebles was the subject of a documentary entitled How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It). He has been honored with numerous awards, including a Grammy and a Drama Desk Award. He received the Children’s Live-Action Humanitas Prize for The Day They Came to Arrest the Book in 1987, and in 1999, he was awarded the Chicago Underground Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Van Peebles resides in New York City.

See how Melvin Van Peebles is related to other HistoryMakers
Loading...
Click Here To Explore The Archive Today!
  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Melvin Van Peebles' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Melvin Van Peebles lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls growing up in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his parents' family backgrounds
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his father's tailor shop in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Melvin Van Peebles describes work experiences from his childhood in Chicago
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his sexual relationships as a teenager, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his sexual relationships as a teenager, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls his African Methodist Episcopal upbringing, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls his African Methodist Episcopal upbringing, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls the impact of moving to Phoenix, Illinois
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls lessons from his father
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his experiences at West Virginia State College
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his experiences at Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Melvin Van Peebles remembers his first experience of racial discrimination
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls being ostracized at Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Melvin Van Peebles describes joining the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls segregation in the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Melvin Van Peebles talks about how he became interested in the arts
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his decision to leave the U.S. Air Force
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls pursuing relationships with black and white women
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls the birth of his son, Mario Van Peebles
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls moving to San Francisco, California
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Melvin Van Peebles recalls writing about San Francisco's cable cars
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Melvin Van Peebles remembers making his first films
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Melvin Van Peebles describes his career setbacks in San Francisco