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

Denise Nicholas

Actress and fiction writer Denise Nicholas was born Donna Denise Nicholas on July 12th in Detroit, Michigan to Louise and Otto Nicholas. She grew up in Milan, Michigan, just south of Ann Arbor. After she graduated from Milan High School, she attended the University of Michigan. In 1963, she met Gilbert Moses, then a stage actor. The two married, and in 1964, Nicholas and Moses moved to Jackson, Mississippi.

Nicholas joined Moses’ Free Southern Theater and with a small troupe of actors performed significant plays for rural African-American audiences many of whom had never seen live theater before. They toured Ossie Davis’ Purlie Victorious, Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot as well as an Evening of Poetry and Song. Their production of In White America toured not only in Mississippi and Louisiana, but also in New York City. In 1965, the theater company moved its base of operations to New Orleans, Louisiana. Nicholas separated from Moses and the two were divorced in 1966.

Nicholas then moved to New York City and, in 1967, was one of the first members of the famous Negro Ensemble Company. She studied with dance instructor Louis Johnson and voice instructor Kristin Linklater and performed in a production of German dramatist Peter Weiss’ Song for Lusitanian Bogey. The following year, she acted in a number of plays with the company, including Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Kongi’s Harvest and Daddy Goodness. That same year, Nicholas was cast in her first television role, as a character on the ABC-TV series It Takes a Thief, an action-adventure series that aired until 1970.

In 1969, she was cast as “Liz McIntyre” on the popular television series Room 222, about an American history class at Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles, California. The following year, she was nominated for an Emmy Award and two Golden Globes for her work on Room 222. Nicholas also received four NAACP Image Awards during her career. In 1972, she was cast in Blacula, a blaxploitation horror movie based on Dracula with William Marshall playing the title character. Throughout the 1970s, she continued to take prominent roles in films, including a series of movies with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby that included 1975’s Let’s Do It Again and 1977’s A Piece of the Action.

In 1981, she married Jim Hill, a Los Angeles sportscaster with KCBS-TV. In the early 1980s, she continued working on the stage, and was featured in Voices of Our People: In Celebration of Black Poetry for PBS. In 1987, Nicholas earned her B.A. degree in drama from the University of Southern California, and began teaching at the college that same year. In 1988, she returned to television, starring in In the Heat of the Night as Harriet DeLong, and in 1991 began writing for the program as well. In 1990, Nicholas again starred alongside Bill Cosby in Ghost Dad.

In 2005, Nicholas’ first novel, Freshwater Road, was published to widespread critical acclaim. New York Newsday called it, “perhaps the best work of fiction about the Civil Rights Movement.” In 2006, the novel won the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Debut Fiction. That same year, the book won the American Library Association’s Black Caucus Award for Debut Fiction.

Denise Nicholas was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 19, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.177

Sex

Female

Interview Date

5/19/2007 |and| 5/21/2007

Last Name

Nicholas

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Milan High School

University of Michigan

University of Southern California

Thirkell Elementary School

Fanny E. Wingert Elementary School

Pattengill Elementary School

Milan Middle School

National High School Institution

University of California, Los Angeles

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Evenings

First Name

Denise

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

NIC03

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $1,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Southern France

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

7/12/1944

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Actress and fiction writer Denise Nicholas (1944 - ) was one of the first members of the Negro Ensemble Company. Her film and television credits include Let's Do It Again, Room 222 and the television version of In The Heat of the Night.

Employment

J. Walter Thompson

Free Southern Theater

Negro Ensemble Company

Room 222 (Television Program)

Delete

Let's Do It Again

A Piece of Action

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:816,12:1632,28:3570,51:19800,289:20322,297:22932,328:23541,349:27021,406:28239,419:30414,450:31284,457:31632,462:33030,468:33302,473:33574,478:34458,495:35070,506:37518,568:38470,585:38878,592:44961,680:45366,686:46743,709:47148,715:47715,724:53370,793:53795,799:58140,860:63061,879:63559,888:66796,935:67128,940:67709,952:68788,965:76726,1035:79830,1071:80800,1103:81673,1113:85659,1133:86044,1139:86352,1144:86737,1153:87122,1159:87738,1169:89906,1185:90350,1192:96978,1275:97914,1296:98538,1306:99552,1326:100800,1342:101502,1354:103764,1387:105636,1434:106806,1441:107118,1446:113660,1505:115638,1531:116412,1542:117874,1557:120712,1588:132252,1717:138344,1791:143246,1881:143934,1899:145740,1930:146514,1940:147116,1956:147890,1967:151970,1978:152530,1986:152850,1991:155650,2041:159145,2086:159520,2092:160570,2108:174780,2327:177160,2372:177755,2380:178180,2386:179795,2418:182030,2424:182960,2435:185378,2468:188348,2496:190402,2531:191550,2556$0,0:480,6:864,11:1344,17:1728,22:4032,46:4608,54:4992,59:6144,122:6528,127:13248,276:13920,301:17952,341:24960,388:25260,393:27510,440:31110,521:31560,528:32310,539:32910,550:33285,556:36435,605:40430,616:41172,635:42444,652:42868,657:48594,707:48964,713:50148,741:50666,750:51480,776:52590,835:55994,888:56586,898:59842,964:60360,972:62580,1050:63468,1069:74103,1164:75720,1196:80802,1312:81803,1326:85807,1398:87424,1434:91874,1443:92170,1448:93428,1493:93724,1498:97350,1610:104232,1785:110380,1835:110870,1843:115490,1949:116190,1966:116680,1974:116960,1979:119480,2042:119760,2047:121650,2086:122000,2092:124450,2156:134770,2273:135810,2291:140295,2400:140555,2405:141465,2419:142375,2438:142635,2443:143545,2462:143805,2471:144065,2476:145495,2533:145820,2543:146470,2555:150720,2580:151232,2590:151552,2596:153728,2633:156672,2718:157248,2728:160424,2746:160794,2752:161534,2764:162644,2783:163310,2793:165456,2827:165900,2841:167084,2874:169110,2882
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Denise Nicholas' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas describes her mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas describes her mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas remembers her childhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas describes the sights and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes the sounds of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas remembers the holidays with her family

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas recalls her parents' discipline

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas remembers her early education

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes her early interests

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas recalls her parents' divorce

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas describes her move to Milan, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her experiences in Milan, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes her involvement in social organizations

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her family's perspective on black hair

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers her father

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas remembers her father's work as a numbers runner

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes her early interest in politics

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas describes her decision to move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas remembers meeting her first husband, Gilbert Moses

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her interest in theater

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas recalls her marriage to Gilbert Moses

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Denise Nicholas describes the founding of the Free Southern Theater in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas remembers the Free Southern Theater's production of 'In White America'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her experiences of racial discrimination in the South

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas recalls the Free Southern Theater's production of 'Waiting for Godot'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her experiences with the Free Southern Theater

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas recalls the Free Southern Theater's move to New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas remembers the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas describes her separation from Gilbert Moses

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas remembers interacting with the White Citizens' Council

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas describes her return to New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes her start in New York City theater companies

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas recalls her voice lessons with Kristin Linklater

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers the Negro Ensemble Company's first season

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas describes the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas recalls her decision to leave the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas remembers auditioning for 'Room 222'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas recalls her move to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her experiences on the set of 'Room 222'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas talks about African American television writers

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon the success of 'Room 222'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers African American representation on television

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas remembers her press tours for 'Room 222'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes the business of being a television personality

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas describes her Golden Globe Award nominations

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas remembers the cast and crew of 'Room 222'

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas describes her parents' opinion of her acting career

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas remembers starring in 'Blacula'

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Denise Nicholas remembers filming 'Let's Do It Again'

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Denise Nicholas describes the plot of 'Let's Do It Again'

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Denise Nicholas remembers 'Mr. Ricco' and 'A Piece of the Action'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas remembers performing with the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas remembers the 'Song of the Lusitanian Bogey'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas remembers Michael A. Schultz and Douglas Turner Ward

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas talks about the success of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas describes the management of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her transition to screen acting, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her transition to screen acting, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas remembers her audition for 'In the Heat of the Night'

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas remembers earning her bachelor's degree

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Denise Nicholas recalls writing for 'In the Heat of the Night'

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas remembers Carroll O'Connor

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her role as a writer on 'In the Heat of the Night'

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her character's marriage in 'In the Heat of the Night'

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas talks about her marriages

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas recalls her marriage to Bill Withers

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Denise Nicholas remembers her sister's death

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Denise Nicholas talks about her involvement with writing workshops

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Denise Nicholas recalls publishing her book, 'Freshwater Road'

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her writing career

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Denise Nicholas describes the male characters of her book, 'Freshwater Road'

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Denise Nicholas describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Denise Nicholas describes her advice for aspiring actors

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Denise Nicholas reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Denise Nicholas narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$2

DAStory

8$7

DATitle
Denise Nicholas remembers interacting with the White Citizens' Council
Denise Nicholas describes her move to Milan, Michigan
Transcript
What is the time period for Free Southern Theater? Would you say, you know having started in 1964 and then you know what is when we look at the height of the theater?$$Well I think the height of it was '65 [1965], '66 [1966] you know and, and maybe '67 [1967]. I was gone by '67 [1967]. I left in September of 1966 to go to New York [New York], but they kept the theater together and actually I think they were touring into the '70s [1970s]. I don't know I lost touch with them because I was so focused on what I had to do in New York.$$Okay. But when you look at the theater, what do people consider seminal and very important about the work that was done during that period?$$I think that we got--that we a small group of people, brought, created and built and brought theater to people who never seen theater before in Mississippi--in the rural South and I think that it--you used the expression guerilla theater and there was that feel about it as well. It was dangerous. It was oftentimes euphoric, the experiences, in Indianola, Mississippi, we performed 'In White America' [Martin Duberman] at a community center. We had a, a phone call from the White Citizens' Council via The Nation magazine and they said they wanted to come and see the performance. So twenty-five members of the White Citizens' Council came to the performance. We were in the theater, in the community center looking out the window, the townspeople, black people were coming and everybody was getting seated. We looked out the window and there was this caravan of cars, all with white men and stingy brim hats coming up the road, and they parked and they came in and they sat in the back of the performance area. They didn't say a word to anybody. We were terrified, terrified. We performed and we did a knockout performance of 'In White America' and then they were interviewed afterwards by The Nation magazine, and the piece that ran in the magazine basically said that their reason for coming was because they wanted to see if the Free Southern Theater was in fact Communist inspired and they had deduced after seeing the play that in fact (laughter) we were all a bunch of little Communists running around the South. It was so insane, so insane, but it was one of those moments where you're standing on the stage and you look out and the enemy, people who are just as soon see you dead are sitting there watching you perform. So we had these adrenaline pumping kinds of experiences all through the time that I was with the, with the theater. I mean just one after the other.$Let's talk about your stepfather and even the time of your parents [Louise Jones Burgen and Otto Nicholas, Sr.], you know your mother remarrying. Do you--how did she meet her--you know your--do you know that (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I don't know.$$Do you know--can you give his name?$$Yes, his name was, he's deceased, Robert Burgen. He's from--$$Can you spell that?$$B-U-R-G-E-N. He's from a very old Detroit [Michigan] family. His sister, my Aunt Finette [ph.], as I said earlier was a guidance counselor in the public schools of Detroit. I don't know how they met or how their dating process is when I was into my own little world then. I do know that once they married, I stayed in Detroit for a while with my Aunt Ruby [ph.] and back and forth with my aunt and my grandparents [Waddy Nicholas and Samuel Nicholas] and then eventually moved with them, they had moved to Milan, Michigan, because my stepfather was the head of probation and parole at the federal prison [Federal Correctional Institution, Milan] in Milan, Michigan, and they moved there and my sister [Michele Burgen] was born. They settled in and then I went--my mother wanted all of her children, the three of us to be together. My brother [Otto Nicholas, Jr.] did not wanna go out there. He wanted to stay in Detroit, so he stayed at grandparents' house and I fought to stay in Detroit, but I was too young and then she brought me out there. So I ended up going to high school [Milan High School] in Milan and that last year of junior high [Milan Junior High School, Milan, Michigan].$$Was that hard since you loved your brother so much?$$It was very hard. It was very hard (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay. So--$$So every weekend I was skedaddled off to Detroit to be with him and, and you know now it started out as every weekend, but I must say as I settled into it and settled into school out there, the school, my schoolwork demanded that I stay and do you know because I was on college prep track so I had to work.$$So now, how far is Milan from--$$It's only about thirty-five miles, about fifteen miles south of Ann Arbor [Michigan], it's not any big trip.$$And your father was--your stepfather was doing what?$$Head of probation and parole at the federal prison there.$$Okay. So, so that was the main employer you think out there?$$Yes and it still is. Although there's some new industries moving there, I was just there to do a book event and the high school inducted me into the high school hall of fame [Academic Hall of Fame] and so I was there and driving all around and the prison is still the major thing, but there is I think a Toyota company factory [Toyota Technical Center, Saline, Michigan] coming in and some other companies coming in and the space between Ann Arbor and Milan is shrinking because of the development of Ann Arbor kind of reaching out to its (air quotes) suburbs.

Adam Wade

Adam Wade was born Patrick Henry Wade on March 17, 1935 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Pauline Simpson and Henry Oliver Wade, Jr. Wade was raised by his grandparents in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood and graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1952. He went on to attend Virginia State College, but married his high school sweetheart and soon left school in order to support his young family.

Wade started singing while still in high school. In 1958, he got his first opportunity to record for the Coed Records label in New York City. Two years later, he moved to New York full-time, and within six months, he was singing at the city’s most prestigious club, the Copacabana. Wade’s first hit, “Ruby,” was released that same year. He had three top ten singles in 1961: “Take Good Care of Her,” “The Writing on the Wall” and “As If I Didn’t Know.” Wade had less success after moving over to Epic Records later that year. In the late 1960s, he shifted his focus to acting. Wade began doing commercials and voice-over work. In 1970, he starred in the film Wanderlove. Wade had a number of supporting roles in films in the early 1970s, and he began to be featured on television, in soaps like The Guiding Light and black-oriented sitcoms like Sanford & Son and Good Times.

In 1975, Wade began hosting the television game show Musical Chairs, becoming the first black game show host. In 1978, he restarted his recording career. Wade also starred in an all-black production of Guys and Dolls in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1983, Wade and his wife, Jeree Wade, started their own production company called SONGBIRD’S UNLIMITED PRODUCTIONS. They have produced many African American historical revues, including the off Broadway musical, Shades of Harlem which opened at the Village Gate in New York in 1983 and recently stopped touring in 2005. In the 1980s and 1990s, Wade continued to appear regularly on stage and screen including an episode of Hill Street Blues. In April of 2007, Wade began the national tour of the hit Broadway play, The Color Purple, playing the role of “Old Mister Johnson”. Wade has also taken turns as a director, writer and producer. He has received Audelco and Clio Awards for his work.

Over forty years after leaving college, Wade returned to school, earning his B.A. degree from Lehman College and his M.A. degree from Brooklyn College. He works as an adjunct professor of speech and theater at Long Island University and Bloomfield College.

Wade has been married to his wife, Jeree, for twenty-five years.

Adam Wade was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 27, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.168

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/27/2007

Last Name

Wade

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Westinghouse Academy

Lehman College

Brooklyn College

Virginia State University

John Morrow Elementary School

Larimer School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Adam

Birth City, State, Country

Pittsburgh

HM ID

WAD01

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica

Favorite Quote

Making Money Is A Habit And There's Nothing I Can Do About It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New Jersey

Birth Date

3/17/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

East Orange

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Creamed Cauliflower

Short Description

Actor, singer, and stage producer Adam Wade (1935 - ) was the first African American to host a game show on television, "Musical Chairs." Wade recorded hit singles as a singer and his television acting credits included, "Sanford & Son," and, "Good Times."

Employment

'The Color Purple'

Jonas Salk polio research team

Kauffmann's

Coed Records

Favorite Color

Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:820,10:4145,57:4680,68:7150,79:9760,117:11152,145:12196,167:13327,183:19936,257:20440,265:25336,396:26704,424:48466,773:51476,812:56970,832:57795,846:73890,1050:74210,1055:75090,1070:75490,1076:81600,1154:84311,1191:92821,1301:106503,1559:115830,1705:116850,1719:137349,1954:138384,1978:140970,1983$0,0:1650,18:3525,46:3975,58:4425,77:4800,83:21995,370:23660,386:26213,417:28670,428:42878,601:43170,606:51635,709:52963,729:53710,739:54208,748:66310,830:66850,837:78884,943:79572,952:82760,1000:83210,1008:84335,1098:84785,1106:89477,1152:90045,1161:97074,1306:105630,1404
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Adam Wade's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Adam Wade lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Adam Wade describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Adam Wade describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Adam Wade describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Adam Wade describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Adam Wade recalls lessons from his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Adam Wade describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Adam Wade describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Adam Wade recalls racial discrimination in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Adam Wade describes his involvement in civil rights protests

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Adam Wade describes his early pastimes

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Adam Wade recalls living in foster care

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Adam Wade remembers the entertainment of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Adam Wade remembers the Larimer School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Adam Wade describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Adam Wade describes the Negro League in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Adam Wade talks about basketball stars from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Adam Wade talks about basketball stars from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Adam Wade describes his athletic career at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Adam Wade describes his experiences at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Adam Wade describes his works experiences at Virginia State College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Adam Wade remembers his departure from Virginia State College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Adam Wade describes his position on Jonas Salk's polio research team

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Adam Wade describes his early singing career

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Adam Wade remembers his first records for Coed Records, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Adam Wade describes his early singles, 'Tell Her For Me' and 'Ruby'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Adam Wade describes his transition to acting

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Adam Wade recalls his first commercial role

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Adam Wade remembers his mentor, Adolph Caesar

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Adam Wade describes his stage acting career in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Adam Wade remembers his film credits, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Adam Wade remembers his film credits, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Adam Wade reflects upon his favorite acting roles

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Adam Wade recalls his audition for the host role on 'Musical Chairs'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Adam Wade remembers preparing for his role on 'Musical Chairs'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Adam Wade describes the premise of 'Musical Chairs'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Adam Wade remembers acting in the 'Uptown Saturday Night' television pilot

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Adam Wade describes his acting career in the 1980s

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Adam Wade describes his decision to return to college

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Adam Wade describes the Chicago production of 'The Color Purple,' pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Adam Wade describes the Chicago production of 'The Color Purple,' pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Adam Wade describes the Chicago production of 'The Color Purple,' pt. 3

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Adam Wade talks about his interest in writing

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Adam Wade describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Adam Wade reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Adam Wade reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Adam Wade talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Adam Wade describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Adam Wade narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$1

DAStory

4$7

DATitle
Adam Wade recalls his first commercial role
Adam Wade recalls lessons from his paternal grandfather
Transcript
And so, I worked all around the country and all over the world, you know. And, learning, and then I started studying acting, and then I got into commercials. With the commercials, at first, it was kind of redundantly bad, if that's an expression I can use. Because everywhere I went they would say, "Aren't you [HistoryMaker] Adam Wade the singer?" I would say, "Yes." They say, "Well, we're not looking for singers today." They would throw that in my face, you know (laughter). And, I thought, "Let me drag this guy down to the basement in the dark and see if I can dust him up or something (laughter)." But, finally, 'cause I was gonna qui- I was gonna, I was gonna quite, "That's it, I'm going to give this up." But, Vernee Watson [Vernee Watson-Johnson] who played the mother of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith, she was also studying with the Al Fann Theatrical Ensemble and she encouraged me to go. She said, "Just try one more week, and if nothing happens," and she said, "But, you should--don't give up today." And, I didn't. And, two days later I got my first commercial for Getty gasoline [Getty Oil].$$Okay.$$That was terrific, and the commercial was in the car in Central Park [New York, New York], late at night, kissing this girl in the backseat of the car. I said, "Man, this is wonderful, (laughter)."$$You got paid for it (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) You guy, you guys gonna pay me for this, you know. And, it was Laura Greene who is beautiful anyway (laughter). It was like, "Oh, my, my, my (laughter)."$$So, what year is this, is this--?$$That was in nineteen- I guess, '70 [1970].$$Nineteen seventy [1970]. So, you get paid to kiss Laura Greene in the back of a car.$$In the backseat of a convertible for Getty gasoline, my, my, my (laughter), life is grand. Yeah.$$Okay. So, this--did the rest, did more work follow?$$Yes. Actually, it's like anything else, once the door opens, you know, you step across the threshold and you're in the game, you know.$So, tell me this, when you think back on what people have told you, I guess, about your parents [Pauline Nelson Simpson and Henry Wade, Jr.] and reflect on your [paternal] grandparents [Helen Jones Wade and Henry Wade, Sr.], who do you think you take after the most?$$Probably my grandfather in a, in a lot of instances. My approach to work. My approach to business. My grandfather, he believed in independence. And, when I was eleven, he said, "I'm gonna show you what independence is." He said, "And, freedom in America, helps you become independent. But, you can only become independent if you can earn money." So, he said, "Starting now, this is what you gonna do." So, I got a paper route. I was able to shine shoes. I took groceries home for people. In the summertime, he taught me how to shape hedges, how to paint, how to change tires, change the oil in a car. And, it was just one, one thing right after another. But, I was twelve or thirteen years old, I always had money. And, when I went away to college [Virginia State College; Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia], it was just so much fun for me because right away I lined up people's cars that I would wash. I would babysit. I could wax the floors, wash the windows. I could sew on buttons. I could iron. You know, so, all these little things, my grandfather taught me along the way, you know, so I always made money, you know.

Lewis Myers

Actor and theatrical director Lou Myers was born Lewis Eddy Myers on September 26, 1935 in Laing, West Virginia. Myers was raised in nearby Cabin Creek by his mother, Dorothy Louise Brown Myers and his father, Otis Louis Myers, a mine worker fluent in German. Myers attended Wake Forest School and Washington High School. When his father died and his mother became ill, Myers moved to Cleveland, Ohio for work. There, he performed in Karamu Theatre’s junior department production of Take A Giant Step. Myers joined the United States Air Force in 1951 where he received his GED. Discharged in 1953, Myers entered West Virginia State University earning his B.A. degree in sociology.

Moving to New York City, Myers worked for the New York City Board of Education and the New York City Department of Recreation. He narrated the production, Negro Music In Vogue and performed as “the griot” with Dinizulu’s African Dance Company. In 1968, Myers auditioned for the Negro Ensemble Company’s production of Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show and was understudy to Louis Gossett, Jr. In 1976, Myers was cast in the Broadway production of Leslie Lee’s The First Breeze of Summer, which was later televised. He was featured in the original cast of most of August Wilson’s plays, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences and The Piano Lesson. Myers gained notoriety for his role as Mr. Gaines on The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World from 1988 to 1993. Among his myriad of movie credits are: Cobb (1994), Bulworth (1998), How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), Volcano (1997), The Fighting Temptations (2003), and Lackawanna Blues (2005).

Myers won an NAACP Image Award for his role as “Stool Pigeon” in the August Wilson play, King Hedley II. He has also won the off-Broadway Audelco Award for his role in the play, Fat Tuesday. In 2005, the Appalachian Education Initiative listed Myers as one of fifty “Outstanding Creative Artists” from the State of West Virginia and featured him in their coffee table book Art & Soul. Myers is the founder of the Tshaka Ensemble.
Myers has a grown son, Melvin Myers, a grandson and lives in Harlem where the neighborhood youth call him “Mr. Gaines.”

Myers was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 19, 2007.

Lou Myers passed away on February 20, 2013.

Accession Number

A2007.149

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/19/2007

Last Name

Myers

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Washington High School

Wake Forest School

West Virginia State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Lou

Birth City, State, Country

Laing

HM ID

MYE03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

West Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

So A Man Thinketh, So Is He.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

9/26/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Pinto Beans

Death Date

2/20/2013

Short Description

Actor Lewis Myers (1935 - 2013 ) was best known for his role as Mr. Gaines on the television sitcom, 'A Different World.' His theatre credits include 'The First Breeze of Summer' and 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.'

Employment

U.S. Air Force

Various

New York City Board of Education

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:924,19:1232,24:7623,175:8162,188:9856,252:27679,532:27984,538:28228,543:29082,564:29326,569:37900,717:66718,1172:87588,1492:94530,1609:110538,1888:124056,2144:124436,2150:136592,2313:137348,2338:141162,2409:146530,2520:147498,2534:152612,2567:156565,2644:161757,2708:162516,2725:167208,2934:175100,2970:187620,3204:188844,3249:209319,3706:210276,3732:210711,3738:211407,3747:225030,3898:228108,3958:229660,3966:231431,3997:236310,4074$90,0:16370,361:22484,403:22894,409:23550,419:26584,493:27650,513:30110,565:30520,571:35932,648:69274,1123:69604,1129:69934,1135:71580,1162:75575,1280:94582,1527:106530,1724:112710,1814:113331,1825:115194,1871:115884,1882:129124,2194:135245,2291:141349,2379:159428,2628:160788,2682:161060,2687:163304,2865:171013,3001:196682,3350:197366,3360:203736,3472:210491,3561:217058,3687:223072,3758:223552,3789:228408,3869:228652,3876:229994,3907:236130,4011
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lewis Myers' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lewis Myers lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lewis Myers describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lewis Myers describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lewis Myers describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lewis Myers describes his paternal ancestors' involvement in John Brown's slave rebellion

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lewis Myers describes his father's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lewis Myers describes his paternal family's relocation to West Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lewis Myers describes the coal mining industry in West Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lewis Myers recalls his father's social life

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lewis Myers describes his parents' personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lewis Myers describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lewis Myers describes the black troops' entertainment during World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lewis Myers describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lewis Myers remembers 'Silas Green from New Orleans'

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Lewis Myers recalls his father's work in the coal mines

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Lewis Myers talks about his father's early death

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lewis Myers talks about the role of religion in his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lewis Myers describes the role of music in his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lewis Myers remembers the Wake Forest School in Laing, West Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lewis Myers recalls Booker T. Washington High School in London, West Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lewis Myers remembers moving to Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lewis Myers describes his service in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lewis Myers remembers being stationed in Tachikawa, Japan

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Lewis Myers describes his decision to attend West Virginia State College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lewis Myers describes his projects with the Tshaka Ensemble

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lewis Myers introduces the members of the Tshaka Ensemble, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lewis Myers introduces the members of the Tshaka Ensemble, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lewis Myers describes the mission of the Tshaka Ensemble

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lewis Myers describes his experiences at West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lewis Myers remembers moving to New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lewis Myers talks about the start of his acting career

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lewis Myers recalls his introduction to August Wilson's plays

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lewis Myers talks about August Wilson's characters

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lewis Myers recalls acting in 'Fat Tuesday'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lewis Myers talks about acting on 'A Different World'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lewis Myers talks about his career in the film industry

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Lewis Myers talks about the racial discrimination in the film industry

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Lewis Myers describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Lewis Myers talks about the Harlem community in New York City

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Lewis Myers reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Lewis Myers reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Lewis Myers talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Lewis Myers describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$2

DAStory

4$7

DATitle
Lewis Myers recalls acting in 'Fat Tuesday'
Lewis Myers remembers 'Silas Green from New Orleans'
Transcript
Now, have you ever been told that you're--offstage, you're a lot like the characters you play on stage, and it doesn't seem to be a lot of difference except you have, you can speak two or three different languages, you can read music. You do a lot of things that the characters can't do. But you do--your presentation is very much--$$Well, as an acting teacher, you know what I would tell my students is that you use yourself. You use your instrument and, "So a man thinketh, so is he." So when I'm playing another character, I think like that character. The body doesn't change. But my mind changes. I can't live that character. I can't even quote that character when I'm off stage. Sometimes, I don't even like the character or scared of him. I played one character that frightened me to death. His name was Whipping Sam. And he had one eye and a patch eye, and he tap danced, but he worked in a brothel. And his job was to (laughter) whip the girls for the madam, and keep 'em in line. And I played that character. He had a pinstriped suit and somebody had hit him in the eye and knocked his eye out, and he was one of them men like that. And I had fun with him on stage, but when the show was over, I was scared to put the clothes on. I took the clothes and put 'em in the back of my car to take 'em to the cleaner. I wouldn't even put 'em up in front with me. I put 'em in the back of the car (laughter) to get 'em cleaned. I was afraid of Whipping Sam. But I could play him.$$That's interesting. The character became so real to you that--$$I was scared of him. I wouldn't go near that character when I wasn't in the theater 'til the time to get ready to go on, I could go on and do Whipping Sam. I loved it. He tap danced and sang and he did it, but he had a dark side. And I had to play the dark side because it was a fun piece, but there was a dark side about him, and I felt it, and it creeped in. And I felt it.$$Oh, yeah, it had to be a dark side to him if his name was Whipping Sam, and his job was to keep people in line by whipping 'em.$$To keep people in line, and he had fun whipping 'em, but the one thing about him that he didn't hurt people. He didn't hurt the girls. The madam would pay him to go up there and whup 'em and straighten these country girls out. And he'd go up there and act like he was whipping 'em (laughter). He'd be hitting the, hitting the wall, making her think he was whipping 'em. So he was a nice guy, and I said, "Well, how could he be a brutal person if the girls liked him?" So that was a contradiction. My director said, he was a brute, he beat the girls, but the girls liked him. So why would they like him? So I--as a, as a person, I had to figure out with the character, why did they like him? They liked him because he really didn't beat 'em. He made the madam think he was beating them. He was upstairs doing something else.$$We're gonna leave that alone (laughter).$$We'll leave that alone (laughter). But he'd make the madam think he was beating 'em. So when they saw Sam coming, they say, "Oh, Sam." They were glad to see him. But he was one of them weird characters that I put in the back of my car.$$What play was this? What play was he in?$$It was called 'Fat Tuesday,' [Roger Furman and Dee Robinson] and I did it at, in New York City [New York, New York]. I did it with Roger Furman's theater [New Heritage Repertory Theatre; New Heritage Theatre Group]. It was theater group there.$$Okay.$$And I won the AUDELCO [Audience Development Committee, Inc.] award for playing that role, one of the first awards I've ever won.$$Okay, and AUDELCO is the (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) AUDELCO--$$That's the black audience.$$That's a black audience award for off-Broadway.$$Okay, did you know Hazel Joan Bryant?$$I knew her.$$Okay.$$And AUDELCO was started by Vivian Robinson, the AUDELCO award, and Mary [Mary B. Davis]. And I knew Hazel. She had a theater group. Michael Whitaker had a theater group. He was part of her thing, uh-huh. There were a lot of groups around.$When you would go to see 'Silas Green' ['Silas Green from New Orleans'], did you--did his show inspire you in any way to want to be a performer (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh, it was, it was a time that we felt so good 'cause here was a black-owned show, came in town, pitched up their tent, and it was ceremonial 'cause in the morning we would go down and watch them pitch their tent. And you had about twenty or thirty strong black men standing around this tent, getting ready to go to work. And this one great, big dude, he would stand on the side, and he would sort of lead the song. And when they got the, everything laid out, he would start singing. And he would hoot, and the tent would raise up, step-by-step, and he would sing 'em until it raised up to the big top.$$What would he sing?$$Like a work song. He would say "Ah, oop, ah, oop," and they'd pull on the robe every time he'd hump it, they'd pull on the rope, and the tent'd go, "Hoof," and he'd holler again, and they'd go, "Hoof," and the tent go up, "Hoof." And finally that tent was up to the top when it would fall in place, click. The band would start playing, and that was--the band would start playing then, and then we would run home and get ready 'cause the show was gonna be that night. But that was a ceremony. And then we would go down there and they'd put on a show that night, and in that big tent. And the whites would sit on one side, and the blacks would sit on another side, and straight down the middle, you had--this side was black and this side was white, and up on the ramps was white, up on the ramp that was black. But right down, that's the way it would be. And we'd be up in that place, packed up in there. And it would be a show, and everybody just had such a, everybody looked forward to it. All--the whites and blacks looked forward to it. I really didn't understand much about segregation at that time. I just looked up and saw that the whites was on one side, we was on another. But it wasn't no big thing to us because we didn't--we wasn't segregated. We just looked up and saw all the white folks on one side. Outside was that too, so it was separate, but we didn't feel like we was inferior. In fact, we felt good because the whole thing was owned, was black owned, that came in. So we felt good to show--and I remember one of the young ladies went off with the show, one young girl, one young lady fell in love with one of the musicians in the show.$$A white girl?$$No, this is an all-black show.$$All right (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And she left and, left with the show. We thought that was a big thing. And the next year, we were, we were anxious to see, when the show came back to town, that she was with the show. And, but she was with the show when it came back to town that next year. And now, she was not only with the show, but she was a dancer, and one of the main dancers. She had had a whole year under her belt, and she was the star of the show now.$$Okay, well, what was her name? Do you remember?$$I can't remember her name, but I remember--I'm looking at her face now. A beautiful, beautiful girl that went off and danced with the show. But I still--but I can remember myself--now, I must have been about ten years younger than she was, but I can remember myself having some kind of knowledge that I wanted to be in show business. And I was so proud of her going off with that show. But it wasn't quite what I wanted. Now, what did I know the difference? I didn't know any difference. But some way or another, I just--I thought it was cute that she was doing that, but I wasn't so impressed about her having a long future in it. Now, where did I get this information from as a kid, to think that it was a great deal that she was doing--with this show, that she was going away with, but it wasn't such a great deal either because, you know, what she gonna do for years later on. I don't know why I'm thinking that way. But I was correct.

Billie Allen

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.

Accession Number

A2007.142

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/16/2007

Last Name

Allen

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Armstrong High School

Elba Elementary School

Hampton University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Billie

Birth City, State, Country

Richmond

HM ID

ALL04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Virginia

Favorite Vacation Destination

St. Martin

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/13/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Yankee Bean Soup With Meatballs

Death Date

12/29/2015

Short Description

Actress and stage director Billie Allen (1925 - 2015 ) performed in The Wiz, Route 66, and Law and Order. Active in promoting the arts, Allen was a founding member of the Women's Project and Productions, and served as a founding member and co-president for the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Favorite Color

Royal Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:1300,42:1816,50:2246,56:8782,198:14456,251:20592,299:21450,316:21918,323:23166,350:23868,361:25194,373:25818,382:26676,394:27066,400:28626,438:29094,445:30264,462:30654,468:32214,496:35100,558:37908,610:38922,628:39234,633:39546,638:40326,651:41028,666:49442,682:60746,788:61038,793:69436,882:70228,916:79058,1083:79330,1088:82186,1136:82594,1144:83138,1155:84294,1189:96442,1310:96882,1316:114429,1571:114745,1576:116088,1607:116641,1615:117036,1621:117589,1631:118221,1641:118853,1647:119169,1652:119564,1662:132642,1756:133216,1764:134840,1769:136062,1785:136532,1791:137002,1797:139674,1823:142610,1844:147910,1884:159576,2054:159931,2060:161635,2081:162132,2089:169871,2243:178012,2356:197480,2597:198280,2613:202507,2648:202855,2653:203812,2666:211360,2732:211680,2737:212000,2742:214376,2803:214811,2809:218204,2849:219074,2859:220466,2876:226382,2963:226730,2968:227600,2980:228122,2987:228557,2994:229079,3001:235992,3053:236304,3060:237786,3080:239814,3117:240126,3122:240438,3127:242076,3150:244416,3196:244806,3202:245586,3214:245976,3220:247146,3237:247536,3243:247926,3249:257484,3332:257812,3337:260846,3385:262978,3421:263388,3427:266750,3525:267324,3533:268144,3548:268472,3553:269210,3564:270358,3581:270686,3586:275842,3597:277064,3609:283730,3670$0,0:195,2:715,13:975,18:1235,23:1495,28:1820,34:2405,44:7104,121:7440,126:13514,235:16156,252:18697,309:19005,314:19313,319:20160,334:20776,345:22470,396:23702,416:39760,632:40570,642:40930,647:42373,659:49516,778:51144,817:55170,870:57260,879:61076,908:63556,962:71498,1057:72389,1070:80110,1184:80490,1193:81440,1207:89488,1337:89944,1378:91768,1411:92604,1428:92908,1433:103223,1579:103769,1586:104133,1591:105680,1616:107591,1646:108137,1653:123884,1906:124232,1911:124928,1921:129017,1989:129365,1994:132730,2143:133900,2183:165790,2595:194815,2881:210100,3033:232374,3285:234108,3309:242473,3536:245230,3590
DAStories

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

5$4

DATitle
Billie Allen describes her mother's civil rights activism
Billie Allen recalls her first film role
Transcript
Now was your mother [Mamie Wimbush Allen] like an early member of the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]?$$Oh yes, oh yes and she, she was like the mentor to Gloster Current [Gloster B. Current]. And the Church of the Master, was that Jimmy--and we--the NAACP was a great part of my social life. As a matter of fact because we went to the national conventions every year. And, you know, that's where my social life was. I met other people my age, teenagers or children or whatever it was, and we kept in touch, and it was like a network. No matter where you went, you knew somebody. But we were made aware of the issues and the struggle and my mother, she said, "You are no breath- you are no better than the least of your brethren. And you may not look down, you may bring them up."$$Now what--is there a story behind how she became the--not that it's unnatural, but a lot of people aren't activist? Is there a story that--behind her activism (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Well I think that--it seems to me those women were born in what we call struggle. And they were aware of that--this is what we have to do this is why we are put here. And this is what we have to do. And you may be privileged 'cause your folks could read and went to college, but you have to share that. You have to share that. I don't know what incident in her life but I think it was just handed down. I know that it's a set--Atlanta [Georgia] was a very, very progressive city at that time. A lot of black-owned businesses, I mean, and homes and very enterprising. And they always bragged about that as a matter of fact, they said, "Oh well in Atlanta we owned everything." In Atlanta we had our pharmacists and so forth. And I thought that everybody had a black woman doctor if they wanted one because my birth was attended by a black woman doctor, Marie Jeanette Jones, we called her Dr. Janie. Can you imagine that, in 1925? It was amazing because of when I came through New York [New York] to work in the theater, I was doing improvisation. So I decided that my character wanted to be a doctor so, we--when we were being critiqued, the improvisation. This woman who was white she said, "Why couldn't you be something reasonable like a nurse or a secretary?" So she said, "There are no black doctors, there are no Negro doctors," then. And then I had to give her a little history lesson right there on the spot, you know. And tell her about Doctor Marie Jeanette Jones, who got her medical degree at Tufts [sic.] and practiced in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband who was also an M.D., Dr. Miles B. Jones. They practiced in tandem from that big stone mansion in the middle of town. And we were well attended (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) That's, that's--$$I think that was a decided advantage in my life because I never lacked for women heroes or black heroes. And you see during that time there were no hotels where Paul Robeson and Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, and all these people could stay when they came. When they did these concerts with--my mother belonged to this club called the treble clef music and book lovers club. And they met the first Thursday of every month, and these women would prepare a reading or piano solo or they would present Langston Hughes. Give him a book party, and he'd talk about this new book he had just written. Or Muriel Ryan [ph.] would come there, and that's where I met [HistoryMaker] Katherine Dunham and this is what they would do because they wanted to keep abreast of everything. And they wanted the children to appreciate our heritage and appreciate--$$Okay.$$--our lives.$I also got a call from this black filmmaker named Bill Alexander [William D. Alexander], who said he wanted me to act in this film, and I said, "But I'm not an actor, I'm a dancer." And he said, "No, everybody tells me that you would perfect." Well, what, no you don't have to audition. He said, "I got to make this film before, I think, the first of the year," and I had something to do with taxes or alimony or something. And he had to make this film, so I thought, oh, how much do I make? He said, "Seventy-five [dollars] for a day." I said, "Wow," you know, oh yeah, 'cause I was about making seventy [dollars] a week or something like that. So I decided to do it. And I said, but you must know, here's, here's the deal. I didn't have an agent 'cause he called me direct. I didn't know about agents so much. I said, "I will do it, but you have to pay me each day after we shoot, seventy-five dollars. And the day you don't pay me is the day you don't see me again the next day, it's finished." That's what we agreed to. So who was in the film? Jimmy Edwards [sic. Jimmy Wright] and Della Reese [sic.], a lot of people in this film. It was called 'Souls of Sin.' Well, it ended up in a warehouse in Tyler, Texas. It was stored away somewhere, and I thought, nobody's ever gonna see this film. Oh, I kept my job at Macy's [R.H. Macy and Co.; Macy's, Inc.] because my friends punched me in every day at the time clock. And I went over on my lunch hour and made a lot of noise so everybody'd see me. And then they'd punch me in for overtime, and I split my salary with them, I gave the half my salary. And so I had half my salary from Macy's plus seventy-five dollars a day from film. So I was rich when I went home, and my nieces who became filmmakers when they finished Harvard [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts] and Brown [Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island] were living in California. This is years after they went to see these, this black film festival. They started screaming, "That's Aunt Billie [HistoryMaker Billie Allen], oh my god, that's Aunt Billie." And they got on the phone, well this turned out to be a big cult thing, that (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) What's the name of the film again?$$'Souls of Sin.'$$'Souls of Sin.'$$Jimmy Edwards, you know who else was in it? What the name of--he's a filmmaker now. Carter, Terry Carter, Terry Carter [sic.]. I think that is, well he's in it, and it was hilarious. I never--I was always afraid to look at it, 'cause I hadn't studied yet. I was just doing it, and I think I was the only one that really got paid. The other people are interested in honing their craft and being, having a film. I was not an actor, I was not honing any craft. I was in debt (laughter) but it worked out. And it got me interested, then as a dancer, Elia Kazan came to see me dance in some show I was in, and auditioned me for 'Camino Real,' Tennessee Williams' play. Eli Wallach was--so I did all these things, improvisations with Eli Wallach, and I mean I was learning a lot and I didn't mind.$$Now about what year was this, this is about what year? Are the--like 'Souls of Sin.' What, about what year was that (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I'm trying to think--$$Can you--$$Before children, it was before children.$$Yeah 'cause you left Hampton [Hampton Institute; Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia], was it '44 [1944] or so?$$No, this was like the late '50s [sic.].$$Oh this late, we've already gotten late '50s [1950s]. Now, we're in the late '50s [1950s] now, yeah?$$I think so.

Marjorie Moon

Theatre producer and director Marjorie Moon was born on May 14, 1946, in Kokomo, Indiana. For over thirty years, Moon served as the President and Executive Director of the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, New York. Moon’s passion for theater began early as she spent time at the Karamu House Theater in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1964, Moon received her diploma from Collinwood High School; around the same time, she became one of the youngest members in the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra. In 1968, Moon earned her B.A. degree from Ohio University and went on to complete her studies at Temple University in 1970 with an M.A. degree.

Moon began her professional career teaching acting at Hampton University. Moving to New York in 1973, Moon became the Executive Director of the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn, a theatre that has provided African American playwrights, set-builders, and other creative individuals an arena to work and nurture their talents.

As a director, Moon has worked on several plays, including Weldon Irvine’s Young, Gifted and Broke, which ran for eight months and won four prestigious AUDELCO Awards. Moon also directed a production of Over Forty at the New Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia. As a producer, Moon produced more than 150 productions. In 1981, Inacent Black, a play originally produced at the Billie Holiday Theatre, opened on Broadway, starring Melba Moore.

Moon received several awards for her work in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. In 2005, the Billie Holiday Theatre received a $900,000 grant for its line-up of new plays.

Accession Number

A2007.030

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/25/2007

Last Name

Moon

Maker Category
Schools

Collinwood High School

Rosedale Elementary School

Ohio University

Temple University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Marjorie

Birth City, State, Country

Kokomo

HM ID

MOO09

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere

Favorite Quote

We Can Do It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

5/14/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Barbecue (Chicken)

Short Description

Stage director and stage producer Marjorie Moon (1946 - ) served as the president and executive director of the Billie Holiday Theatre, in addition to directing and producing several plays.

Employment

Hampton Institute

Billie Holiday Theatre

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
0,0:1999,26:2363,31:2909,38:4183,98:5730,118:6367,127:8551,157:9279,166:12191,270:12555,275:13192,283:30090,518:30430,523:32215,555:32810,563:33150,568:33490,573:34765,597:35275,604:35615,609:38760,663:42460,673:44431,708:44723,713:48446,800:48884,807:58977,897:59253,902:63138,966:74282,1049:83276,1205:88800,1247:91922,1287:92287,1293:92725,1300:96375,1378:97397,1396:98200,1409:99003,1434:100317,1479:105949,1527:106730,1549:111842,1661:115381,1677:116051,1695:116453,1702:132055,1885:132790,1893:133210,1898:134155,1908:139741,1954:140009,1959:140277,1964:140880,1974:144431,2048:145034,2058:147100,2067:147867,2090:150794,2114:151478,2124:152314,2138:153074,2150:153378,2155:153682,2160:153986,2165:154898,2186:156646,2230:157330,2240:158698,2260:159078,2266:159458,2272:159990,2281:160446,2288:169030,2356:171172,2403:181600,2484:182230,2490:185470,2498:187390,2527:187710,2532:188270,2541:188750,2549:192990,2635:193310,2640:193950,2649:195070,2669:202656,2816:203415,2830:205899,2869:207072,2892:211695,2997:212178,3006:212523,3012:212799,3017:217348,3030:217924,3039:222604,3121:223900,3141:224476,3152:225412,3169:228724,3222:229156,3229:229444,3234:229948,3243:235490,3284:235866,3289:239626,3353:252920,3515:253268,3520:256052,3557:260666,3598:261550,3608:262502,3649:263046,3659:263658,3669:263930,3674:264270,3680:265426,3722:266378,3739:266990,3751:267942,3772:268758,3783:269030,3788:269506,3796:269846,3809:272838,3863:273110,3869:273722,3884:273994,3889:274402,3896:275422,3924:284195,4021:284870,4031:286081,4045:286649,4056:287217,4066:288708,4091:288992,4096:289702,4108:289986,4113:290412,4121:290696,4126:298432,4188:300310,4208$0,0:525,10:825,15:2925,61:3525,70:4350,82:5550,110:6225,120:6600,126:12300,256:14625,307:15000,313:15900,338:26000,440:26630,450:28800,491:29080,496:30130,518:34960,679:35380,687:35660,692:35940,697:36290,707:42656,807:44800,847:49423,952:49959,961:52907,1034:55051,1084:55386,1090:55989,1101:65614,1222:66787,1277:68719,1318:69271,1327:70168,1347:71410,1383:73756,1426:77965,1519:78724,1537:80311,1558:80725,1565:91530,1683:91850,1688:93450,1719:93770,1724:94170,1730:94570,1736:99130,1822:100010,1835:102650,1887:103850,1969:105530,1994:105930,2000:113709,2086:120790,2178:121155,2184:126265,2303:126849,2318:132766,2349:133096,2355:134614,2379:134878,2384:135340,2393:140496,2499:145084,2579:145528,2586:148710,2610:149394,2620:151142,2659:151522,2665:153802,2703:158970,2780:159730,2794:160034,2799:160338,2804:161022,2815:162390,2857:163074,2874:164974,2903:165354,2909:170178,2939:170724,2970:174312,3088:174936,3098:175716,3109:177354,3131:179460,3158:181722,3196:183516,3223:184530,3239:188274,3298:188742,3305:189132,3311:190692,3338:195460,3376:195835,3382:196210,3388:207080,3493:208016,3507:210752,3546:211040,3551:211760,3564:224216,3779:230350,3813:230622,3818:231234,3828:231710,3836:232662,3853:232934,3858:233682,3872:235150,3886
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Marjorie Moon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Marjorie Moon lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Marjorie Moon describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Marjorie Moon describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Marjorie Moon describes her father's career

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Marjorie Moon describes her paternal aunt

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Marjorie Moon talks about her parents' education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Marjorie Moon describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Marjorie Moon recalls attending churches in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Marjorie Moon recalls attending churches in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Marjorie Moon talks about her sister

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Marjorie Moon describes her childhood holidays

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Marjorie Moon remembers her exposure to theater at Rosedale Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Marjorie Moon describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Marjorie Moon recalls the development of her racial identity

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Marjorie Moon remembers playing the double bass in junior high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Marjorie Moon recalls playing double bass in the Cleveland Women's Orchestra

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Marjorie Moon remembers Collinwood High School in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Marjorie Moon remembers her bass audition for Ohio University

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Marjorie Moon recalls the African American actors at Cleveland's Karamu House

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Marjorie Moon describes her interest in psychology

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Marjorie Moon recalls the image of Emmett Till in Jet magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Marjorie Moon describes her experiences of discrimination in Athens, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Marjorie Moon recalls the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Marjorie Moon recalls her refusal to be cast in a stereotyped role at Ohio University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Marjorie Moon remembers her aspiration to become an actress

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Marjorie Moon recalls teaching at Hampton Institute

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Marjorie Moon remembers the murder of her brother-in-law

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Marjorie Moon recalls her decision to move to New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Marjorie Moon remembers her auditions in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Marjorie Moon recalls becoming the director of the Billy Holiday Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Marjorie Moon recalls directing 'Sunshine Loving' at the Billie Holiday Theatre

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Marjorie Moon talks about African American theater in the 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Marjorie Moon remembers directing 'Inacent Black and the Five Brothers'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Marjorie Moon recalls her Broadway production of 'Inacent Black and the Five Brothers'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Marjorie Moon remembers closing 'Inacent Black and the Five Brothers'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Marjorie Moon describes New York City's African American theater companies

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Marjorie Moon describes the Coalition of Theaters of Color

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Marjorie Moon describes actors who came out of the New York City theater community

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Marjorie Moon describes the role of the Billie Holiday Theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Marjorie Moon talks about African American stage technicians

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Marjorie Moon reflects upon her mission at the Billie Holiday Theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Marjorie Moon describes the planned renovations to the Billie Holiday Theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Marjorie Moon talks about the name of the Billie Holiday Theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Marjorie Moon talks about 'Free the Peoples'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Marjorie Moon talks about the playwrights whose work she staged

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Marjorie Moon describes the Billie Holiday Theatre's community programming

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Marjorie Moon talks about playwright T.R. Riggins

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Marjorie Moon talks about the community of Brooklyn, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Marjorie Moon describes the opportunities for African Americans on Broadway

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Marjorie Moon talks about Ramona King's play, 'Steal Away'

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Marjorie Moon reflects upon her career at the Billie Holiday Theatre

Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Marjorie Moon talks about nontraditional casting

Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Marjorie Moon shares her hopes for the Billie Holiday Theatre

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

5$6

DATitle
Marjorie Moon recalls the development of her racial identity
Marjorie Moon talks about the playwrights whose work she staged
Transcript
Before we move on to your high school years [at Collinwood High School, Cleveland, Ohio], can you tell me when it was that you remember either being told or becoming aware that you were black, in a sense that, you know, you're black (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh I know exactly when, I was six years old at Rosedale [Rosedale Elementary School, Cleveland, Ohio]. I had two friends, Rhonda [ph.] and Kenneth [ph.]. And every May 23rd, I'll wake up and say, "Oh Happy Birthday Rhonda and Kenneth." And--and they were white. And, so one day we were walking home from school. They lived two blocks from where I lived and so we could walk the same way. And about six really big guys, I think they were high schoolers. You know, when you're six years old, you don't have to be but so old to be bigger than what we were at the time. And they surrounded us. They surrounded us and it looked like they had a gun. I--I really didn't know what a real gun looked like, so. "Ah, okay. We'll keep the nigger, let's let these other two go. We'll keep the nigger." I got so happy, I got so happy, "Oh my name's Margie [HistoryMaker Marjorie Moon], I'm not nigger. My name's Margie. You got the wrong person." You know, and it was the oddest thing, and I was convinced they had the wrong person until they left. I mean, they--in other words I guess it was no fun for them because I was not intimidated, scared by what they were saying, because I thought they had the wrong person, you know. And then, Rhonda and Kenneth said to me as we were walking, as they left us and we walked on--continued to walk on, "You know, Margie we don't think of you as any different. You know, you--you've always been our friend, we don't--." I'm thinking, what are they talking about? And so I went home, "Mommy [Ruth Black Moon] what is a nigger?" Six years old. And the shame. I mean, my friends knew something about me that I didn't know. And--and mother also knew something about it and I'm--I'm not--I'm saying, my goodness, it--it makes you feel extremely insecure because there--there's something that--there's something about you and somehow you feel like it's just you when you're that young too, you know. And--and there's something about you. And the other thing that was really kind of--kind of horrible was that, my mother is very fair. And my father [William Moon] is a little browner then myself and oh, more, yeah browner than me. And so, then I began to get into the color thing. Just instantaneously, all of that began to seem to happen and I became aware of it. And it--it--it really is, it's unfortunate. It's a very negative thing.$$How did you become over the color thing, what--explain it to me?$$Well--$$That she was lighter, so she was better than he was because he was darker?$$Well, at least she was getting closer to the, to the color of choice obviously where that was favored. I mean, you know, what did I know? I mean, I'm trying to understand this and I'm not sure why she's like that and my father's different, you know. And--and my mother, in her family too, she has a--her older sister and she look alike, and then she has two very ebony other sisters. And so, I--I began to--to wonder what that was about. And her father [Frank Black] was very fair and had--when I see him he'd have this gray beard and this gray hair, and I thought he was Santa Claus. I mean, you know, I mean in other words he just--because he looked almost white. So, those things, you know, kids, it's amazing what they can think and, and starts germinating. That's why we gotta work with them when they are young and--and try to bring out questions they might have, because you never know what they're thinking and how they can be thinking wrong. But that was a real turning point, which obviously I remember it because there--there was, you know, there was that fear factor that was in there when they first surrounded us as children. And then I'm thinking, what do they mean, they don't see me as different because I had never seen myself as different. It's amazing that perception, that gets in your head and it can really do some damage. Yeah. So, yeah, I--I remember (laughter).$We didn't talk about, and I guess we should, sort of African American playwrights that you may have helped to cultivate their talents? I know you made--or you can just tell me some of the people you've worked with to help cultivate their talents.$$Okay. Well, Joyce Sylvester. She--she's been around for about five years in terms as a playwright and we've done all of her plays, which have been wonderful. She has a unique pulse to the community which is what we're really looking for. Well before that, Samm-Art Williams who wrote 'Home' and even received a Tony [Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre] nomination for 'Home.'$$Right, and 'Home' was what got you back on your feet after the Broadway?$$No, we didn't do 'Home' after that.$$No? Okay.$$No, no, no, no. We have not done 'Home' actually. But, we did two plays of his before he was even--we did his first productions period in New York [New York]. He hadn't been produced anywhere else before Billie Holiday Theatre [New York, New York]. So, and so, he went on, not only did he do 'Home' and got all of those awards and accolades, but he went on to Hollywood and became a television producer with 'Martin,' 'Hangin' with Mr. Cooper,' 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' ['The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'] and just on and on and on. And he's--he's a prolific writer. We've done plays of his since, but we were the first to do his. Another one, John, who's left is John Henry Redwood, wrote 'Old Settler' ['The Old Settler], and that was done in the city and that was also done by HBO and Debbie Allen and Phylicia, her sister, [HistoryMaker] Phylicia Rashad were the two older women in 'Old Settler.' And Debbie also directed it. Well, we did his very first play, which was 'Mark VIII:xxxvi' [John Henry Redwood] and we did that in 1986. He and his wife came to visit me and they said that they wanted to rent the theater [Billie Holiday Theatre, New York, New York]. And I don't know there was something that caught me about them and I said, "Well, why don't you let me read the play?" And so I did and it was about switching babies at birth. Now this had not been in the news at all, and there was a white family and black family. The white family was a senator and his wife, and the black family was a poor family. It was really, it was quite dynamic. It really--you heard about it a lot now, but back then you really hadn't. And so, we did it. It was the first time it had ever been produced and I'm very proud of that. And we produced a couple of others of his since then. And he's passed a couple years ago, but he was a wonderful writer. Weldon Irvine, I must've done about fifteen of his plays, musicals, 'Over Forty.' The book was by Celeste Walker, but Weldon wrote the lyrics and the music, and we took that around the country for a little bit. It was--it was truly wonderful, about women fearing becoming forty years old.$$It's called 'Over Forty' the title, yeah?$$'Over Forty,' yeah, yeah. And Cliff Roquemore, we did his 'Lotto' ['Lotto: Experience the Dream,' Cliff Roquemore] about a family in California winning ten thou- $10 million. A rags-to-riches story that the audience loved, course people love rags-to-riches stories all the time. Did a play that I was really proud to do and it was really quite poignant and dynamic, it's called 'Boochie' [Mari Evans], it was about child abuse. And it was about the--why a woman allowed her man to correct (air quotes), abuse her child. The psychological dynamics in that relationship that she felt that she was supporting him and she didn't wanna tear him down and she wanted to give him the authorization to be a constructive figure to her child in her child's life. And it was--it was dynamic. And--so, and we got to have discussions afterwards. It was a very important subject matter and I was very pleased to be able to do it.

Melvin Van Peebles

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.

Accession Number

A2006.100

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/9/2006

Last Name

Van Peebles

Schools

Ohio Wesleyan University

Thornton Township High School

University of Amsterdam

West Virginia State University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Melvin

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

VAN05

Favorite Season

None

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

California

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

8/21/1932

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Actor, film director, fiction writer, and playwright Melvin Van Peebles (1932 - ) was best known for his 1971 independent film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which was credited with helping start Hollywood's Blaxploitation era in the 1970s. He also wrote novels and two Broadway plays, and acted in several films.

Employment

United States Air Force

United States Postal Service

San Francisco Trolley Company

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
0,0:14305,154:20045,238:43130,609:78610,933:79042,940:81150,1052:86331,1111:100136,1234:100793,1244:101158,1250:110330,1345:110730,1351:131420,1498:132045,1505:132920,1513:146695,1606:166380,1872:167100,1879:177480,1970:179260,1996:194698,2256:214160,2512$0,0:4230,51:42258,659:42630,672:50047,732:54200,760:61546,907:72298,1056:74123,1149:83006,1293:83390,1315:90934,1403:97960,1448:126499,1743:131149,1896:150520,2076:174810,2428:214250,2749
DAStories

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$4

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Melvin Van Peebles remembers making his first films
Melvin Van Peebles describes his career setbacks in San Francisco
Transcript
I called the guy and I said, "Look, I want to make movies." He said, "Great. Is it going to be fiction or," he said, "what's the documentary going to be about?" I said, "I don't want to do a document, I want to make it fiction. I want stories." I said, "How long are movies, anyway? I've been going to movies all my life, triple features and everything else, but I never paid any attention." "Well, they're ninety minutes or a little longer." I said, "Well, how much is film?" He said, "Well, what're you going to shoot it in, in 16 or 35?" I said, "What's that?" He said, "16 or 35 millimeter." I said, "What's that?" I mean, I knew nothing. And he told me, he said, "I got a 16 millimeter camera. And if you want to do it, I'll do it with you. I won't charge you anything for the camera." "Okay." So, my first feature film that I shot turned out to be eleven minutes long. And I began to teach myself bit by bit, nobody taught me. Then I remember we got the first film, the first film I shot, projected on the wall. I said, "Wow, it's okay. The story's here, but it's not right yet." He said, "Of course not, you haven't edited it yet." "What's that?" I mean, that's the level--now film talk is ubiquitous. Everybody knows about this and all that. I never heard--he didn't talk film before. And anyway, I made those short films. And when I, well, first I asked the guy how much it would be. And he told me the price, and I calculated it. And at that time, you could make a feature film for $557; that was my calculation. Shit, no problem, fine. It was a lot of money, but still. But so, I remember the first day we were getting ready to shoot the film, and the guy's out there, "Okay, this is going to be scene four, take this, roll--." "Whoa, wait a minute, the film. Oh, don't use all the film." I had counted how much it costs for ninety minutes of film, period. That's what I counted, not knowing there was editing or this, or none of that. Then after that I said, "Okay, at least we got these shots, and it'll be a little shorter than I thought." The guy said, "Now we got to go to the laboratory and develop it." "Oh, so okay." He said, "No, no, no, no, no, you never touch the negative, you've got to make another print." "What!" (Laughter) In the meantime my wife [Maria Marx] is getting rocks in her jaws the size of Mount Rushmore [Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota]. I have to sell my car, et cetera (laughter). So, but I got it, I got them.$And then that's how I went into music. I couldn't afford any musicians, and all, I mean, musicians who were dependable. Everybody else, "Yeah, brother, I'll be there. Oh, man, you know, I got high last night and my old lady," blah, blah, blah. So I got disgusted, and that's when I numbered the keys on the piano and started picking out melodies. That's what happened. And then I made these little films and I took them down to Hollywood. And they looked at them and said, "Oh, you obviously can't be a director. You see, there's a snowfall in Kilimanjaro [Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania] this year, so therefore--," and blah, blah, blah. "And there're only so many wheels," and you know, all kinds of blah, blah, blah. So I decided that I couldn't--by that time, Mario [Mario Van Peebles] had a sister [Megan Van Peebles] and I had a family to feed, et cetera. So in the meantime, I'd gotten fired from the cable cars [in San Francisco, California], because the guy who runs the cable car said he didn't think--personally, he didn't think Negroes should read, let alone write. And when the book ['The Big Heart,' Melvin Van Peebles] was a success and complimentary to the cable cars, I got fired. I said, "What are you firing me for?" He said, "It looks like you're going to have, your profile fits the profile of someone who's going to have a big accident." They fired my ass. So anyway, what happened was, I go to work to the Negro university, that is, the post office. And ironically, the post office was called the Rincon Annex [Rincon Annex Post Office, San Francisco, California], where--I mean the irony just won't quit, you know what I mean. So I say, "Okay." So then I say, well, I have to go to my second love. And Sputnik [Sputnik 1], the first little Russian satellite had just gone up. You know, the beatniks were really not called beatniks. They were originally called beats, and then the N-I-K was added afterwards. That's what we called the beat generation, and then later on they became beatniks, in honor of Sputnik. So I felt that the future, one of the secure business futures, was going to be in the calculation of trajectories, to keep these things up, which is called celestial mechanics. And the best place for celestial mechanics at that time was Holland [the Netherlands]. So I had the G.I. Bill [Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944], I write to Holland, and I say, "Hey, I'm coming early to brush up on the language," and they accepted me. And on my way to Holland, I came to New York [New York] and took a boat, Mario and Maria [Maria Marx] and Megan and myself, to Holland. I took these three films that I had, and leased them to a little art house, to a film distributor, and went to Europe.

Harry J. Lennix

Actor Harry J. Lennix was born the last of three children in Chicago, Illinois, on November 16, 1964, to Harry and Lillian Lennix. He grew up in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, the youngest of three siblings, and was raised by a single mother. His father died when Lennix was only two years old. Lennix attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary where he studied to become a Dominican priest. He did well in school, and upon graduation attended Northwestern University.

At Northwestern University, Lennix became interested in theater. He majored in acting and directing and was a member of For Members Only, an African American student organization at Northwestern. He was also awarded the School of Communications’ Sandra Singer Scholarship for talented theater students. After graduation, Lennix spent eight years teaching in Chicago Public Schools, although he began to perform in prominent Chicago theaters, including the Goodman and Steppenwolf Theatres.

Lennix's acting career began to take off in the late 1980s. His first film role was in 1989’s The Package, filmed on location in Chicago. Lennix continued working in theater, and the following year, he won an Obie award for his portrayal of Malcolm X in The Meeting. After relocating to New York City, Lennix performed in the play Titus Andronicus. He would reprise this role when the play became a film (Titus) in 1999. Lennix received both a Tree of Life Award from the NAACP and a Golden Satellite Award from the International Press Academy for his performance in that film. Lennix’s film and television credits are numerous. He has had significant roles in movies such as Ray, Love and Basketball, Get on the Bus, Barbershop 2: Back in Business and The Matrix: Revolutions, among others. His television credits included a major role on NBC’s acclaimed series Commander in Chief as well as parts in E.R., Diagnosis Murder and House, M.D..

Lennix is known for playing stern and stoic characters. He joined forces with Goodman Theatre director Chuck Smith to form Legacy Productions. The company has performed plays throughout the country. Although he resides in Los Angeles, Lennix is on the board of advisors at Chicago’s Goodman Theater, and continues to work as a stage actor, including a role in 2005 in the play Permanent Collection.

Accession Number

A2006.057

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/1/2006 |and| 5/3/2018

Last Name

Lennix

Middle Name

J.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Myra Bradwell Communications Arts & Sciences Elementary School

St. Bride Elementary School

Quigley Preparatory Seminary South

Northwestern University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Harry

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

LEN01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cancun, Mexico, Australia

Favorite Quote

It Is Worth More To Have A Little Bit Of Something You Love, Than A Lot Of Something You Don't Care About.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

11/16/1964

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Italian, Japanese Food

Short Description

Stage actor and film actor Harry J. Lennix (1964 - ) received both a Tree of Life Award from the NAACP and a Golden Satellite Award from the International Press Academy for his performance as Aaron in the film, 'Titus'. He founded Legacy Productions with Goodman Theatre director Chuck Smith, and serves on the advisory board of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.

Employment

Actor

Favorite Color

Burgundy, Gold

Timing Pairs
0,0:10304,213:13916,323:26102,530:26517,536:30916,617:48490,810:57968,941:58320,946:63248,1023:71892,1121:75840,1238:92901,1393:93225,1398:93792,1406:97032,1525:112600,1603:112908,1608:117913,1779:122071,1865:127230,1990:133725,2042:134320,2050:135425,2067:138529,2091:139330,2107:142356,2179:144670,2210:154310,2280:190054,2721:190524,2727:195486,2785:200480,2873:200830,2879:203630,2952:212950,3052:214721,3099:215414,3109:219482,3174:220193,3184:237229,3311:237574,3317:238126,3328:247850,3384:248170,3389:248490,3394:249050,3403:249850,3414:251210,3436:252330,3456:254810,3501:255210,3512:256570,3532:257290,3576:257770,3583:258090,3588:263162,3630:263834,3639:266354,3700:267026,3709:279916,3919:283414,3968:289350,4051:289774,4058:296730,4083:297747,4093:298764,4123:299442,4146:299894,4151:306815,4218:307495,4231:309195,4254:310215,4274:313105,4325:324830,4400:328380,4460:329100,4466$0,0:12146,251:17380,271:98200,1180
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Harry J. Lennix's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix describes his family's background working on plantations

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix describes his Native American heritage

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix describes the slave rebellions in America and Haiti

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix describes his mother's childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix describes his mother's childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix describes his mother's family and her move to Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix describes his father and uncle

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix describes his siblings, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix describes his siblings, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix describes his premature birth and childhood illness

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix describes his earliest memories of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his elementary school teachers and friends, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his elementary school teachers and friends, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix describes his childhood aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix recalls his acting roles in elementary school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix recalls the actors and actresses who influenced him

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix describes his affinity for languages

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix describes his decision to attend Northwestern University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix recalls his decision to pursue acting

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his freshman year at Northwestern University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his first year at Northwestern University, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix describes his siblings' college experiences

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his first year at Northwestern University, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix describes his mother's life while he was in college

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his sophomore year at Northwestern University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix remembers performing in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix recalls Northwestern University's SummerStage festival

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix describes his junior year at Northwestern University

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his confidence as a young actor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his courses at Northwestern University

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix describes the politics of Chicago and Northwestern University

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his family's opinion of his acting career

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix describes his senior year at Northwestern University

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Slating of Harry J. Lennix' interview, session 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix remembers the Summer Academic Workshop at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix talks about prominent professors at Northwestern University

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix recalls the 1970s arts scene in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix recalls the black theatres in Chicago in the 1970s

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix remembers seeing his first professional play, 'Fiorello!'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix recalls his first professional theatrical roles

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix talks about black theater and colorblind casting

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his first film roles in 'The Package' and 'A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story'

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Harry J. Lennix talks about being cast in 'The Five Heartbeats'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix recalls making 'The Five Heartbeats'

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix talks about dance and vocal techniques for actors

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon the differences between stage and film acting

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers the voices of prominent black actors and singers

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix describes how new media platforms have reduced actors' compensation

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix remembers substitute teaching in Chicago Public Schools

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix recalls his interest in the Nation of Islam

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix remembers the demographics of Chicago's South Shore neighborhood during his childhood

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon the Nation of Islam's contributions

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix talks about his relationship to the Nation of Islam

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix talks about his connections to the North Side and South Side of Chicago

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his move to New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix describes his role as Aaron the Moor in 'Titus Andronicus'

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix talks about playing Othello

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix describes the cultural impact of 'Othello'

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon the impact of race on his career

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix recalls touring Jeff Stetson's play 'The Meeting'

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Harry J. Lennix remembers the play 'When Chickens Come Home To Roost'

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix recalls working with Spike Lee in the mid-1990s

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix describes his approach to playing Malcolm X

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix talks about the assassination of Malcom X

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers the movie 'Get on the Bus'

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix recalls the television shows 'ER' and 'Diagnosis Murder'

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix remembers his television roles in the late 1990s

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix recalls his roles at the Goodman Theater in late 1990s Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix talks about the 2000 film 'Love and Basketball'

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix recalls performing in 'Cymbeline' in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - Harry J. Lennix remembers learning about Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. for 'Keep the Faith, Baby'

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.'s legacy

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon the range of characters he has played

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix talks about filming 'The Matrix Reloaded' and 'The Matrix Revolutions' in 2003

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his interest in directing and producing

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers filming 'The Human Stain' in 2003

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix describes his role in the 2005 film 'Chrystal'

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix talks about Taylor Hackford's directing style

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix recalls filming 'Barbershop 2: Back in Business' and 'Suspect Zero'

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix talks about his process as an actor

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix describes his perspective on improvisation

Tape: 10 Story: 10 - Harry J. Lennix describes the premise of Thomas Gibbons' play 'Permanent Collection'

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix talks about the NAACP Image Awards' selection process

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix describes his 2007 production of 'Macbeth' in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix talks about his character in August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix remembers playwright August Wilson

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix recalls his relationship with August Wilson

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his early community in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix recalls the Broadway run of 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix describes his roles in '24' and 'Resurrecting the Champ'

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix talks about his support for Hillary Rodham Clinton

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Harry J. Lennix talks about the portrayal of fictional black presidents

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Harry J. Lennix remembers directing his first film, 'Fly Like Mercury'

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Harry J. Lennix recalls working with Joss Whedon on the television show 'Dollhouse'

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Harry J. Lennix talks about watching his own films

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Harry J. Lennix remembers being cast on 'The Blacklist'

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Harry J. Lennix describes the impact of online streaming on the film industry

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Harry J. Lennix talks about his projects as a producer

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his life

Tape: 12 Story: 9 - Harry J. Lennix describes his plans for 'Revival!' and black faith-based media

Tape: 12 Story: 10 - Harry J. Lennix talks about the film 'Black Panther'

Tape: 12 Story: 11 - Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his favorite role, Jay Gatsby in 'The Great Gatsby'

Tape: 12 Story: 12 - Harry J. Lennix describes his advice to young black actors

Tape: 12 Story: 13 - Harry J. Lennix describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

7$7

DATitle
Harry J. Lennix recalls the actors and actresses who influenced him
Harry J. Lennix reflects upon his first year at Northwestern University, pt. 2
Transcript
Sophomore year [at Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Chicago, Illinois], some friends of mine were auditioning for the play, and I saw a bunch of girls that were auditioning for the play, too. These girls were from surrounding sister schools, like Elizabeth Seton [Elizabeth Seton High School, South Holland, Illinois], Mother McAuley [Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School, Chicago, Illinois] and you know, Our Lady of Peace [Our Lady of Peace Catholic School, Chicago, Illinois], and things. And I auditioned, and I got a small part in it. It was 'Guys and Dolls,' and the priest, his name was Father Robert Bridge [Robert Emmett Bridge]. He was a librarian, but was a lover of the theater. He put me in it and I sang a song and met some wonderful people, and just fell in love with this life, with this thing. I saw, on some snowy day when everybody couldn't get there, I saw 'Guys and Dolls,' the movie, and I remember at that same time I had read a book by Mario Puzo, called 'The Godfather.' And I had seen that at the Cheltenham Theatre [Chicago, Illinois], you know, where we would go watch movies with that big box of popcorn. And I couldn't believe, I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that that was the same guy from 'The Godfather' that was in this 'Guys and Dolls' thing. Not Sinatra [Frank Sinatra], but Marlon Brando. And I became fascinated with Brando, and I just started watching everything I could. I would get the movie--the TV Guide every week. This was before, you know, VCRs and all that stuff. And I would find Brando movies, and then I would read about him, from books in the library. I would even find out about the people he liked, you know, and watch those movies. I would watch Olivier [Laurence Olivier] and Alec Guinness, and then from Guinness I would watch people like Charlie Laughton [Charles Laughton], and from Laughton, I would watch people like Robert Donat, and Peter O'Toole, and Richard Burton. You know, like there were all these tangential lines, these connecting threads of amazing performers. And then, you know, we were reading in high school, 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry], and I saw this guy, this Sidney Poitier guy, and I thought that he was amazing, just amazing. And Paul Newman, and Ivan Dixon, and you know there were these amazing actors, wonderful actors, and wonderful actresses, like Bette Davis and Piper Laurie, and Eva Marie Saint, and Kim Hunter and Vivien Leigh, the Hepburns [Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn], you know, just like amazing actors.$$Right, right.$$And Cicely Tyson, I remember seeing the 'Autobiography of Jane Pittman' ['The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman'], and I remember her in this tour de force performance. But there was also a guy who played a small role in it, and they were trying to get people to move off the plantation and settle in other places. And some people were trying to get them to stay, and this young black man, this actor, said, "There's lots of places we can go, there's gold in California." And I remember him saying that and thinking, "He's a wonderful actor."$$Right.$$And that's the only line that he had. He was a wonderful actor, and authentic, and just real. And this thing, this 'Roots' thing came on man. And I was shocked at that story. I had never heard that story in the Catholic schools. I didn't know that.$$So they were making a tremendous impact.$$Yeah, actors were opening up the world for me, through theater and movies and books. We were opening up--my mother [Lillian Vines Lennix], like I said, always read books. And she read things like you know Reader's Digest. I remember I would thumb through Reader's Digest or National Geographic or the encyclopedias that she would buy. When I was a kid like in the fifth, sixth, seventh grade, I would read the encyclopedia. I was fascinated, it was like, Nicolaus Copernicus and people like that, and Isaac Newton, the fundamentals laws of physics and, you know, it was watching things like 'Nova' with Carl Sagan. It was just a wonderful, open, insane, limitless world out there.$$Right.$$And actors were like, they were like cowboys. You know, they were like, they could rope the thing together and they could put a lasso around it and could yield and yank it back. They were able to do--the actors in the theaters and movies can, can for a little while reign in the radical wild universe that we live in. And they can tell a story.$We are still in our freshman year there at Northwestern [Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois] and what was that freshman year like?$$Freshman year was, it too was, was you know, I call my childhood Gothic. This was pure Russian Romanticism. This was (laughter) this was Rachmaninoff [Sergei Rachmaninoff], my freshman year. It was Tchaikovsky [Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky], it was insane, it was a whirlwind of information, of academic excellence, of challenge, of sometimes physical duress. Because of the requirements of being a theater major, you had to do a certain amount of crew. Those hours could be grueling. And, you had to get your coursework done and you had to do the work study, and you had social life, such as it was. And I was a shy boy, and wanted desperately to have a girlfriend, and I managed from time to time to get a smooch in from here and there. So, you know, you just, as I look back at that boy, I have tremendous affection for him and for his innocence, and how humble and a little over his head he was. But that the kid had some moxie (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) He had guts.$$He had some guts. And, and I like him, I like that kid.

Robert Hooks

Distinguished actor Robert Hooks was born Bobby Dean Hooks on April 18, 1937, in Washington, D.C. He was the youngest of five children. Hooks’ father died while working on a railroad track. His mother supported the family by working as a seamstress. Hooks attended Stevens Elementary School. He performed in his first play, The Pirates of Penzance, at the age of nine. After graduating from Francis Junior High School, Hooks attended Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C. His mother remarried and moved the family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Hooks attended his first integrated school at West Philadelphia High School. Hooks soon joined the drama club and began acting in plays by such authors as William Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett.

Hooks moved to New York City in 1959 to become an actor. That year, he debuted as Bobby Dean Hooks in a touring production of Raisin in the Sun. He made his Broadway debut in 1960 in Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, and became well known for his role as Clay in LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka's Dutchman in 1964. With this play, Hooks became known as Robert Hooks. Also in 1964, Hooks formed the Group Theater Workshop, offering training in the arts to underprivileged youth. In 1967, Hooks founded The Negro Ensemble Company with Douglas Turner Ward and Gerald Krone. This important theater company has gone on to produce plays by Peter Weiss, Derek Walcott, Wole Soyinka, and many other playwrights.

His television career began in 1963 with the role of a police detective on the television series East Side/West Side. Hooks’ television career spans over forty years. Some of his other television series credits include The White Shadow, Trapper John M.D., WKRP in Cincinnati, Sister Sister, M.A.N.T.I.S., The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, A Different World, Clueless, Diagnosis Murder, and Seinfeld. Hooks starred in several made-for-TV movies throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. His television movie credits include Carter's Army (1970), Two for the Money (1972), A Woman Called Moses (1978), Madame X (1981), Words by Heart (1985), Appearances (1990), and Abandoned and Deceived (1995).

Hooks passed down his passion for acting to his sons, Kevin Hooks and Eric Hooks. Kevin Hooks is also a film director, and cast his father in two of his films: Passenger 57 (1992) and Fled (1996). Hooks’ other film credits include Airport '77 (1977) and Posse (1993).

Accession Number

A2005.270

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/4/2005 |and| 3/30/2006 |and| 11/21/2006

Last Name

Hooks

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Armstrong Technical School

Stevens Elementary School

Francis Junior High School

Francis-Stevens Education Campus

West Philadelphia High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

HOO04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Laguna Beach, California

Favorite Quote

What's Up?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

4/18/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fruit, Vegetables, Fish

Short Description

Stage producer and actor Robert Hooks (1937 - ) founded the Group Theater Workshop and The Negro Ensemble Company with Douglas Turner Ward and Gerald Krone. The father of film director Kevin Hooks, his theater credits include 'Raisin in the Sun' and 'Dutchman'; he also appeared in many films and television productions over his forty year career.

Favorite Color

Gray, Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:1997,26:3563,57:3998,63:5216,74:9392,120:9827,126:42935,450:44448,478:45071,525:47741,566:49521,599:51212,620:56295,647:58122,672:62559,776:65082,820:76139,956:76818,967:92698,1135:93652,1147:94712,1162:101624,1242:102345,1251:103169,1261:104611,1279:105126,1285:105641,1292:106465,1302:118442,1445:120492,1466:121968,1483:127216,1598:128118,1610:129020,1624:129758,1637:137790,1679:138138,1684:140139,1737:140835,1745:142401,1769:146142,1825:146577,1831:149187,1868:150057,1885:151014,1898:155340,1906:156213,1918:158704,1946:164008,2057:164554,2065:164944,2071:168930,2097$0,0:350,16:2846,52:19719,263:21021,281:22416,294:39149,514:39786,523:42061,558:47526,622:48023,630:50400,651:54267,674:55043,684:57565,721:62988,777:64116,792:64680,799:69414,811:71668,840:74790,860:75225,866:75747,876:76356,888:80184,946:83055,985:83664,993:84969,1013:85317,1018:89400,1031:89716,1036:91849,1102:95167,1165:96273,1188:96984,1198:97458,1205:98880,1238:101961,1287:102277,1292:103146,1307:115101,1375:117103,1407:117467,1412:120457,1428:123459,1478:126224,1523:130490,1605:132781,1651:135388,1701:135704,1706:136415,1718:139022,1756:139338,1761:145250,1779:147070,1798:149350,1811:149630,1816:150900,1822:151220,1828:151796,1839:152308,1848:156800,1888:160486,1933:163299,1978:172304,2075:174006,2100:176670,2152:177188,2199:180666,2247:180962,2252:189476,2389:190160,2399:196962,2485:197322,2491:198546,2511:202362,2652:204378,2696:209505,2736:210015,2744:210610,2752:211460,2765:215874,2806:216978,2838:217714,2845:218174,2851:220100,2856:221270,2882:223064,2917:226106,2979:227042,2991:227354,2996:227822,3004:231603,3033:232170,3044:232485,3050:234858,3066:237120,3094:237729,3102:238599,3113:239904,3130:244420,3172:244973,3181:245842,3197:246395,3205:248212,3225:248923,3236:249476,3244:251260,3256:251640,3262:251944,3267:253312,3285:253996,3296:256700,3316:257295,3324:258060,3335:259930,3367:260355,3373:263086,3390:263770,3400:264074,3405:265062,3421:265366,3426:267570,3462:268178,3471:274782,3544:275744,3561:276114,3567:276410,3572:278160,3580
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Hooks' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about the street he was raised on, Newport Place, Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about his mother's work as a seamstress

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about being bit by a rat when he was seven years old

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Hooks talks about his experience at Stevens Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Hooks talks about acting in his first play, 'The Pirates of Penzance'

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Robert Hooks talks about being in his first play when he was nine years old

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about falling in love with the stage at nine years old

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about what he did for fun as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks describes his junior and high school education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about going for a joy ride in a car

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about getting into a fight while in a receiving home for juvenile delinquents for three days

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about his stepfather and step-siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about his experience at West Philadelphia High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about having a crush on his drama teacher at West Philadelphia High School

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about his first child, Cecelia Ann

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Robert Hooks talks about being shut out of his second daughter, Michelle's, life

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about his teachers at West Philadelphia High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about enjoying jazz in high school and his high school classmate HistoryMaker McCoy Tyner

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about studying at the Bessie V. Hicks School of Drama in Philadelphia from 1957 to 1958

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about seeing 'A Raisin in the Sun' for the first time

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about his first night in New York City, staying in a YMCA and visiting Birdland

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about his first experiences in Harlem, New York in 1959

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about multiple jobs he had when he first moved to New York City in 1959

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about meeting Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X in 1960

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about auditioning for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about people he met while acting in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about his political activities

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about his first wife Yvonne and his sons Kevin and Eric

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks tells the story of how HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Ward took over the role of Walter Lee Younger, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks tells the story of how HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Ward took over the role of Walter Lee Younger, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about Claudia McNeil

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about visiting black communities all across the country while on the road with 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about getting a role in the play 'A Taste of Honey'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about 'Voices of Our People'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about performing in front of his family and friends in Washington, D.C. in 'A Taste of Honey'

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about his first time singing on Broadway in 'A Taste of Honey'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about joining the cast of 'The Blacks'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about the plot of 'The Blacks' and the playwright Jean Genet

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks describes the plot of 'Dutchman' by Amiri Baraka

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about fundraising to support civil rights efforts in the South

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about beginning to work with young people in his community, Chelsea, New York, and teaching them about theater

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about the formation of the Group Theater Workshop

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Robert Hooks talks about HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Howard's plays 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about producing HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Ward's two plays, 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks acts out the plot of HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Ward's play 'Happy Ending'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks compares the work of HistoryMaker Douglas Turner Ward and Amiri Baraka

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about the formation of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about the leadership of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about the success of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about raising money for the Civil Rights Movement with his celebrity friends

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about his friendship with HistoryMaker Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about acting in his first movie 'Sweet Love Bitter' which debuted in 1967, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about acting in his first movie 'Sweet Love Bitter,' which debuted in 1967, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about meeting Harold Curlman, one of the founders of Group Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about getting a phone call from Otto Preminger to act in 'Hurry Sundown'

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about being shot at while filming the movie 'Hurry Sundown' in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about being kicked out of a restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana while filming 'Hurry Sundown'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about having the N-word written on his door while filming 'Hurry Sundown' in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about the plays he acted in during the 1960s

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about his admiration for Sidney Poitier

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about the beginning of his television career

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about being approached to star in the television series 'N.Y.P.D.'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about meeting Whoopi Goldberg when she was young

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about playing Henry the Fifth in the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1965

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about the Group Theater Workshop performing a showcase based on Gwendolyn Brooks' poem 'We Real Cool'

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about actress Ellen Holly

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about director Joseph Papp

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about his busy schedule during the late 1960s

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about raising his son Kevin Hooks

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about moving back to Washington, D.C.

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Robert Hooks talks about beginning a community theater company in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about the need for an African American theater company in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about recruiting Vantile Whitfield as the artistic director for the D.C. Black Repertory Company

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about the first play the D.C. Black Repertory Company performed and Lynn Whitfield

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about Ed Murphy, an important benefactor of the D.C. Black Repertory Company

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about the type of audience the D.C. Black Repertory Company attracted

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about leaving the D.C. Black Repertory Company and moving to California in 1977

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about the early career of his son Kevin Hooks

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about his son Kevin Hooks' success as a director

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about the current projects he is working on, 2006

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about the reasons Hollywood only tells certain types of stories about the African American community, pt.1

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about the reasons Hollywood only tells certain types of stories about the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks reflects on the reasons it is a struggle to produce good films about the African American experience

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about his experience struggling to convince influential African Americans in Hollywood to read his scripts

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Robert Hooks talks about the obstacles in Hollywood for independent African American filmmakers

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Robert Hooks talks about independent African American filmmakers finding alternative ways to complete their projects

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Robert Hooks talks about his idea for a cooperative African American production company

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - Robert Hooks talks about African Americans in Hollywood not using their leverage to help other African Americans

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Robert Hooks talks about his tribute to playwright Lonne Elder III

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Robert Hooks talks about his favorite movies in which he has acted

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Robert Hooks talks about his favorite plays in which he has acted

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Robert Hooks talks about the highlights of his career

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Robert Hooks talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$2

DATape

4$6

DAStory

2$4

DATitle
Robert Hooks talks about people he met while acting in 'A Raisin in the Sun'
Robert Hooks talks about the formation of the Negro Ensemble Company
Transcript
Not off Broadway, it's on Broadway.$$On Broadway. Now I start rehearsals with the understudy, Ja'net Dubois, or Jene-- Janet Dubois at the time. Ja'net Dubois, Frances Williams, the great old actress who was Claudia McNeil's understudy. Ja'net was understudying Ruby and Diana Sands. Frances Williams was understudying Claudia McNeil, and Ed Hall was understudying the other two guys. And Ed was I guess just happy being an understudy 'cause he should have taken over that role when Lou [HM Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr.] left. I don't know why, but I was happy that he didn't. So now all of a sudden I look in the case in front of the Booth Theater on Forty-Seventh Street, 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] starring Claudia McNeil, 'cause Sidney [Poitier] had gone. And [HM] Ossie Davis was playing the role that Sidney played. So now here I am up there with Claudia McNeil, Ossie Davis, [HM] Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon. Ivan had gone, so I guess Ed was in the show. Ed had taken over Ivan's role.$$Okay.$$And so there I am, Bobby Dean Hooks on the card at the Booth Theater. I'm in heaven, I'm in heaven. That was my first Broadway play and now I'm on Broadway and now I'm in the mix. Now [James] Jimmy Baldwin throws a party for Diana Sands who's going with a friend of Jimmy's [James Baldwin] and the play is a big hit. Lorraine Hansberry comes to the rehearsal and we get to talk and she--I get to talk to her about this character that I'm playing that she created. And so now I'm in the mix with Lorraine Hansberry. And then Jimmy Baldwin, I'm over at Jimmy's house for a party and for dinner. And Jimmy Baldwin and I become good buddies. It's just I'm in heaven, I'm in absolute heaven. And the play is selling to sell-out--is playing to sell-out audiences, standing room only. And we're actually you know, it's--the play is only gonna be on Broadway for another five or six months. Then it's gonna be over. But we're still playing to, to standing room only houses; amazing. Now I'm on--I'm in the play and I'm playing every night on Broadway.$$Right.$Now the--during that transition from the kids doing that 'Happy Ending' [Douglas Turner Ward], to professional actors doing it, the name, the Negro Ensemble was created.$$The N.E.C. [Negro Ensemble Company].$$NEC.$$Right. What happened was the plays opened, big success, big hit, selling out, constantly selling out. The biggest hit, you know, since 'The Blacks' [Jean Genet]. The biggest hit since 'The Blacks'$$Right.$$Well so now Douglas [HM Douglas Turner Ward] got the great reviews. Douglas was asked to write an article. Now he's the fair haired playwright, you know. The New York Times asked him to write an article about theater, black theater. Well Douglas wrote the article and it was scathing. It was called 'Theater in American for Whites Only.' Big, big article in the Sunday Times. And because of that article, now we're in the plays, we're doing the play, eight performances a week and we get a call. I'm producing the play, Gerry Krone, Gerald Krone is the company manager, he and his wife Dorothy Olim were company managers for me. I had brought them on because I had met them when we did 'Dutchman' [Amiri Baraka].$$Right.$$They were handling 'Dutchman' as well. We became friends. So when I produced the play, naturally I went to Dorothy and Gerry. So they came on as the production managers, right. And now Douglas Turner Ward writes the article for the Times. And the Ford Foundation, now remember at the time the streets were--I mean the youngsters and the streets--blacks were just creating havoc.$$Right.$$And you know it was right after the riots. It still was unsettled. Harlem was, you know, half burned down.$$Right.$$You know, the--they were trying to find some way to kind of quell this situation. So the Ford Foundation called Douglas, Gerry and myself in to talk about doing something, creating something to you know, 'cause Douglas's article spoke to the urgency of a autonomous black theater company.$$Right.$$So they said give us, bring us a proposal and we'll fund it. So Douglas and Gerry and I sat in the Orquidea, which was a very popular restaurant one block from the St. Mark's playhouse, which is where we were housed.$$Right.$$That's where 'The Blacks' was, and that's where now we were doing 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence' [Douglas Turner Ward]. So it was home to us. The, the Orquidea was our restaurant. It was a wonderful Russian owned restaurant, Russian lady named Mushka [ph.] owned it. Well we would go there after the shows and people would go there after the shows. The N.Y.U. [New York University, New York, New York] theater people would come in. It was a theater crowd kind of thing. We sat there and on a tablecloth in the Orquidea, we designed what we thought would be the perfect theater company. It had to have longevity, it had to--we had to have a three year space in order to make it work. It just couldn't throw some money in there and try to build a theater company. We had to plan it for some kind of longevity.$$Okay.$$So we put together a three year program of theater, of actor, of, of a theater company, a resident theater company for the first time ever.$$Right.$$Where we would pay them, actors, equity salaries. A company of fifteen actors. We would have workshops for all aspects of theater, producing, acting, directing, choreography, dancers, we had a dance company. And we presented this proposal to the Ford Foundation. We called it The Negro Ensemble Company. And they loved the proposal. And volia! A million and a half dollars for that three year program.

Roscoe Lee Browne

Tony and Emmy award winning theatre, film and television actor Roscoe Lee Browne was born on May 2, 1922 in Woodbury, New Jersey. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania until 1942, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he graduated from Lincoln in 1946. During this time, he studied French through Middlebury College's summer language program. He received his master's degree from Columbia University, then taught briefly at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Browne also found success as an athlete, winning two American indoor championships and setting records in the 800 meters, and winning the 1951 world championship. After a knee injury hampered his athletic career, Browne worked as the national sales representative for Schenley Import Corporation.

He began his acting career with a small role in a 1956 New York Shakespeare Festival production of 'Julius Caesar.' Soon thereafter, Browne became an understudy for Ossie Davis’ performance in 'Purlie Victorious.' Although Browne played the character of Archibald in 'The Blacks,' a play that launched numerous other African American stars, Browne’s career did not take off until his 1963 performance in the off-Broadway play 'Benito Cereno.' He would reprise this role again in both 1965 and 1976. In 1966, Browne performed his own poetry while directing 'An Evening of Negro Poetry and Folk Music.' Browne continued to work actively in theater throughout much of his career, performing August Wilson’s 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone' in 1989 and giving a Tony Award-winning performance in the August Wilson play 'Two Trains Running' in 1992.

Browne also worked in a variety of films, whether as a character actor (in 'Superfly' and 'Uptown Saturday Night') or as a voiceover performer (as the narrator of 'Babe' and 'Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties'). His television career was prolific and diverse. He received an Emmy award for his recurring role as Dr. Foster on 'The Cosby Show,' a nomination for 'Barney Miller,' and achieved critical acclaim for his work on 'All in the Family' and 'Soap.' His list of television credits included performances in 'Law and Order,' 'E.R.,' 'Will and Grace' and 'New York Undercover.' He also did voiceover work for numerous cartoons, including animated versions of 'Batman' and 'Spiderman.' In addition to his work as a performer, Roscoe Lee Browne wrote short stories, plays, worked as a musical director and was a gifted poet.

Browne passed away on April 11, 2007 at age 81.

Accession Number

A2005.234

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/5/2005 |and| 3/30/2006

Last Name

Browne

Middle Name

Lee

Schools

Woodbury Jr-Sr High

Lincoln University

Columbia University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Roscoe

Birth City, State, Country

Woodbury

HM ID

BRO34

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

The Marmon Group

State

New Jersey

Favorite Vacation Destination

New York, New York

Favorite Quote

Carpe Diem.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

5/2/1922

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chicken (Pot Pie), Pudding (Corn)

Death Date

4/11/2007

Short Description

Stage actor, film actor, and television actor Roscoe Lee Browne (1922 - 2007 ) won Tony and Emmy awards for his work. His film and television credits included, 'The Cosby Show,' 'Uptown Saturday Night,' 'Babe,' 'All In The Family,' and 'Law and Order.'

Employment

Schenley Import Corporation

New York Shakespeare Festival

The Actors Studio

Negro Ensemble Company

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Emerald Green

Timing Pairs
0,0:6072,89:12410,189:12778,194:35450,438:38362,481:40728,510:52152,619:63400,801:68350,895:72949,936:77768,984:79144,1004:84910,1061:101376,1355:101880,1362:102216,1367:103896,1405:116392,1619:123325,1708:123650,1714:124365,1728:132680,1850:134500,1885:134780,1890:136670,1926:139960,1935:141858,1965:144194,1990:147333,2066:147625,2071:148866,2093:161630,2368:174613,2490:192014,2722:193080,2736:210095,2944:217834,3080:219325,3172:231480,3282:232943,3353:241770,3514:242426,3523:249315,3699:252315,3765:252990,3789:260040,3956:260415,3962:261015,3971:271787,4141:276477,4249:276745,4254:279830,4264:281040,4278$0,0:474,25:1647,66:6063,211:11928,375:23700,550:29641,666:37730,803:38170,809:39754,836:53036,972:53692,994:56398,1037:59678,1102:67442,1188:71009,1286:71237,1291:89940,1528:92180,1683:92580,1689:94260,1714:95380,1738:99852,1758:100593,1799:107340,1879:118361,2065:118847,2072:123116,2126:125729,2185:129193,2198:130770,2225:131517,2236:144516,2476:144826,2482:156212,2668:166116,2816:172040,2856:175160,2932:176120,3048:176600,3055:186530,3219
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Roscoe Lee Browne's interview, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Slating of Roscoe Lee Browne's interview, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his mother's ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne lists his father's siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne talks about the spelling of his last name, Browne

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Roscoe Lee Browne recounts how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls reading his father's letters to his mother

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his brother, Sylvanus Browne, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his father's ministry

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers meeting Marian Anderson

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls his introduction to Lincoln University

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls working at Lincoln University's Vail Memorial Library, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls working at Lincoln University's Vail Memorial Library, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls his time at Woodbury Junior-Senior High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls trying out for his high school's mile relay team

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his activities at Lincoln University

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls traveling south as a college student, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls traveling south as a college student, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls a leadership conference at Lincoln University, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls a leadership conference at Lincoln University, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers enlisting in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls recruiting runners while serving in the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls serving in the Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls serving in the Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls the death of his best friend in World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Roscoe Lee Browne talks about Harrison Dillard

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his return to Lincoln University after World War II

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne talks about Kwame Nkrumah

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls his track participation in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls moving to New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls meeting Charles "Honi" Coles and Dinah Washington in Harlem

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne talks about Roscoe C. Brown

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls trying out for the Olympics in 1948, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls trying out for the Olympics in 1948, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers setting track records in Europe

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers injuring his knee

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers his brother's meniscus surgery

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls working for Schenley Import Corporation, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls working for Schenley Import Corporation, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers meeting Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers how his transition to acting began

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls his friends' reactions to his ambition to act

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his transition to acting

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers acting in the New York Shakespeare Festival

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers leaving Schenley Import Corporation, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his early theater career, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'The Blacks' and 'Benito Cereno'

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls controversy about 'The Blacks'

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'Dream on Monkey Mountain' with the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers revealing his acting ambition, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers revealing his acting ambition, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls auditioning for the New York Shakespeare Festival

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls being cast in 'Julius Caesar,' pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls being cast in 'Julius Caesar,' pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers leaving Schenley Import Corporation, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his early theater career

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'Taming of the Shrew' and 'Romeo and Juliet'

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls being cast as Aaron the Moor in 'Titus Andronicus'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes acting in 'Titus Andronicus'

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers his early theater reviews

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls George Plimpton and understudying for William Marshall

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes his formal acting training

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers Stella Adler and Mark Rydell

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls performing in 'Bohikee Creek,' pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls performing in 'Bohikee Creek,' pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls meeting Stella Adler after writing 'Song'

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls being elected to The Actors Studio

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls developing his theater network at The Actors Studio

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers acting in 'Benito Cereno'

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls auditioning for 'The Blacks: A Clown Show'

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls deciding to act in 'The Blacks'

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls obtaining an Actors' Equity Association membership, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls obtaining an Actors' Equity Association membership, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'The Blacks' and 'Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright'

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers Sarah Cunningham and John Randolph

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls 'The Blacks' touring company, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls 'The Blacks' touring company, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'General Seeger'

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'Dark of the Moon' and 'The Cool World,' pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne recalls acting in 'Dark of the Moon' and 'The Cool World,' pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers acting in a play by Maria Irene Fornes

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers acting in 'The Ballad of the Sad Cafe'

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes 'An Evening of Negro Poetry and Folk Music,' pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Roscoe Lee Browne describes 'An Evening of Negro Poetry and Folk Music,' pt. 2

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers going to Los Angeles, California, pt. 1

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers going to Los Angeles, California, pt. 2

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Roscoe Lee Browne remembers his transition to Hollywood

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$7

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Roscoe Lee Browne remembers setting track records in Europe
Roscoe Lee Browne remembers acting in the New York Shakespeare Festival
Transcript
So we're now into 1952.$$Right.$$And in '51 [1951] I had been the best in the world, 800 meters. I did it in Paris [France] at the Stade Jean-Bouin. It wasn't a particularly outrageously fast time. It was just the best of the year--$$Right.$$--all over the (laughter) world. It was 149-something, although I had run faster than that in the next year--no, that same year in, in Austria, in Vienna. It was 149-something, point 2. And then I was challenged by Elmar Brugh [ph.] because he was after all the European 1500 and 800 meter champion that year. So I had come from behind to beat him that day. I was just back in the rock. And the Americans say, "Ross [HistoryMaker Roscoe Lee Browne], go get the lead out, come on." And I came around the--and won it. So he challenged me on, on the, over the PA system. I mean the, the reporters came to the mics and said to him in French, of course, 'cause he's French, "What's that like?" And he said, "Well, I, I really am 1500 meters," he said in French. "And I'd like to challenge Monsieur Browne to a thousand meter race." And then they brought the mic to me to--they start to translate, and I said, "Mais non, je comprends." And I said, "Perhaps," in French, I said, "Perhaps Monsieur Elmar Brugh does not know that I am the American 1000-yard champion twice," I said. I said, "What's a few little tiny meters to me?" (Laughter) And so the race is on. We went to the track [Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir], Colombes [France], Colombes, right.$$Okay. And this was late (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And that was like--$$--nineteen fifty-one [1951]?$$This is '51 [1951].$$Okay.$$So it's there like a week or two weeks later. And there are other people in the race from around the world, but I do win it. And I set an Americans--it's called American citizens, 'cause nobody runs a thousand meters. It's, it's not a race anywhere, so it was called American citizens championship and record. The record that I had broken that day was Glenn Cunningham's, 'cause he was a miler.$$Right.$$But he ran this thing there for these people in France and Paris at Colombes, is the name of the track. So, my friend, Mal Whitfield, years later we were--he's living in my apartment in New York [New York]. And I ask, 'cause he knows I would never open anything personal, never, never, never. I said, "What is that little book?" He said, "That little book?" "Yeah, yeah." I said, "It's not the chicks," 'cause I knew it's, I knew which book he kept the names of girls. He said, "Well, anytime any of you, particularly you, go to Europe or anywhere and set a record I write it down there." 'Cause you know, we're in the same event--$$Right, right.$$--except he would not run thousands. Indoors, Malvin was, he had won the indoor 600 [meters] when I won the indoor 1000 [meters]. But we both were 800 meter runners, half-milers. I said, "And you're going after them?" Well, I had three somewhere in Europe. He went to these tiny little towns and broke them and, 'cause he knows me better than most people. He knew that once I heard about it, I would laugh my (laughter) head off. It's only one he's never found, and it's too late because we both can't run anymore. But it's too late. I, I told him recently, "You never found the one in Oberhausen [Germany]." He said, "Do you have a record?" I said, "I have a track record in Oberhausen." I said, "You found Ludwigshafen [Germany], and you went to that track, Colombes, and broke what was my American citizens record," (laughter). And I think I have one somewhere else. I'm not sure (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay. That's--$$But you know, nobody--$$--still standing?$$Nobody has it then. It's not even a record that says I won it or something.$$Right. But that record is still there.$$I guess it's still there--$$Yeah, yeah.$$--maybe in Dublin [Ireland].$$Right.$$It's, it used to be my proudest boast that I was twice the Irish national champion, because you know, track works the same way as tennis, for example. The American U.S. Open [U.S. Open Tennis Championships, New York, New York] tennis champion this year is Roger Federer from Switzerland.$$Right.$$It's the same thing in track. If you run it, you are that country's open champion.$Well, this is the second time you've done this in your life. The first time was: I'm gonna run track and beat everyone else out there (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yes, only because he [Arthur "Ted" Browne] said, "Gosh, mom [Lovie Usher Browne], can't he do nothing yet?" And then, "Wouldn't you know he'd go out for a foreign sport," (laughter).$$All right.$$And I knew that day, and I just went and did it. But any rate, so I read it. I did not presume to think that I could act, but I knew I knew the literature already. I'd taught some of that in, at Lincoln [Lincoln University, Lincoln University, Pennsylvania].$$Right.$$And so I went down there. The next day was Saturday, and I went there. And I'd do you my whole audition, but that would outrage the world. But, by six p.m. I had my first professional job. And the first words that Joseph Papp said to me after the director had me read and whatever, and I realized this, this must be Papp. I had not heard of him. All of theater knew his name.$$Right.$$But I knew nothing. And, but (unclear), he was just sitting in the back in this audition. And there were a lot of actors there to audition. It was in a little church [Emmanuel Presbyterian Church] down the Lower East Side [New York, New York]. And he just came down, and he looked at me. He says, "You're new to me." I said--he said, "Well, you're new to me. How long have you been an actor?" Meaning, why have I not seen you?$$Right.$$I said, "Well, I've been an actor for twelve hours, but I have no intention of bearing any torches." And he broke up laughing, and he said, "No, you're good. You love words." He said, "You see"--these were his exact words: "Shakespeare is a whole world, and you're part of it." And I stayed there, and he said, "Okay," and I said, "Thank you." He says, "I'm Joe Papp," just like that.$$And that play was that he--$$'Julius Caesar' [William Shakespeare].$$'Julius Caesar.'$$I was the Soothsayer--$$Okay.$$Because I'd not acted, you know--and Soothsayer in the first half and Pindarus in the second half. And he loved it when (unclear), they continued doing plays and I'd say, "Joseph, there's no role here for anything." I said, "Petruchio's servant something, anything, some, one of those little hangers-on." Well, I was a hanger-on, and, and it was, it, it made Colleen Dewhurst this 'Taming of the Shrew' ['The Taming of the Shrew,' William Shakespeare]. And, and Jack Cannon, who was one of the great people, he threw an absolutely made up fit. He came--we were all there sitting in the park [Central Park, New York, New York], or on the Lower East Side, 'cause we began the Lower East because the park wasn't ready yet to put down those chairs and just build a stage. He said, "Can you beat that?" And he's just cussing. He was a most marvelous curser. You really knew that he had invented all the words. He said, "They like me all right. And they raved about Colleen." He said, "Roscoe [HistoryMaker Roscoe Lee Browne] doesn't have a line in it." And they talked about how this marvelous guy moved through (laughter) the--and it was I, and we laughed ourselves silly.$$Now--$$Colleen says, "All you gotta do, darling, is walk."

Charles "Chuck" Smith

Theatrical director Chuck Smith was born Charles Norman Smith on March 7, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois to Charles P. and Amanda Smith. Smith attended Kozminski Elementary School and at age twelve, saw his aunt in a production of The Monkey’s Paw staged by the black Skyloft Players. Smith graduated from Parker High School in 1956 and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After his service in the Marines, Smith took a job with the United States Post Office, and in 1963, he won a role in the Dramatic Arts Guild’s production of McAdam and Eve. In 1970, he landed his first paying role in the Goodman Theatre’s production of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Smith studied theatre at Loop College, then Governor’s State University, while working as a computer programmer for the Illinois Department of Public Aid. He earned his B.A. degree in theatre in 1984.

Influenced by veteran Chicago playwright Ted Ward, Smith became involved with the Experimental Black Actors Guild or X-BAG, Kuumba Theatre, eta Creative Arts Foundation and other independent black theatres in the 1960s. In 1982, he was awarded the Paul Robeson Award by the Black Theatre Alliance of Chicago. Smith began teaching at Columbia College in 1983, and in 1984, he co-founded the Chicago Theatre Company with Douglas Alan Mann as an Actors Equity company. In 1991, Smith received a grant from Arts Midwest to study larger venues and touring, and since 1992, he has been a Goodman Theatre Artistic Associate. Smith’s directorial credits include The Gift Horse, The Amen Corner, A Raisin in the Sun, Blues for an Alabama Sky, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and A Christmas Carol for the Goodman Theatre. He has also directed Master Harold and the Boys, Home, and Dame Lorraine for Victory Gardens Theatre. Smith directed Playboy of the West Indies for Congo Square Theatre, The Temple for eta and The Last Season for Robey Theatre. After directing The Meeting, Smith with actors Harry Lennix and Gregory Alan-Williams formed the touring company, Legacy Productions.

Smith won a Chicago Emmy Award for NBC’s Crime of Innocence. He also won an Emmy for his theatrical direction of Fast Break to Glory. In 1997, he received the Award of Merit from the Black Theatre Alliance. Smith, a long time board member of the African American Arts Alliance, spends time offering career advice and workshops to aspiring actors and directors.

Smith lives on Chicago’s South Side and has one daughter, Michele.

Accession Number

A2005.167

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/18/2005

Last Name

Smith

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

N.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Paul Robeson High School

Charles Kozminski Elementary Community Academy

Hyde Park Academy High School

University of Illinois at Navy Pier

Governor's State University

Harold Washington College

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

First Name

Charles "Chuck"

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

SMI09

Favorite Season

Fall

Sponsor

Mesirow Financial

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Canada

Favorite Quote

Cool.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

3/7/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Catfish

Short Description

Theater director Charles "Chuck" Smith (1938 - ) co-founded the Chicago Theatre Company. His productions include The Amen Corner, A Raisin In the Sun, & The Meeting. Smith won a Chicago Emmy Award for NBC's Crime of Innocence and for his theatrical direction of Fast Break to Glory.

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
0,0:2754,47:18468,305:19107,317:33908,594:38434,695:43690,808:70710,1284:80996,1372:84740,1444:87908,1615:109502,1862:109830,1867:114832,1956:116554,2041:126066,2158:126886,2169:142302,2485:145355,2522:146633,2560:153307,2711:154727,2743:155224,2753:155508,2758:161276,2777:166032,2938:180260,3078$0,0:6202,134:13042,303:30562,461:33958,503:34480,510:35263,525:39156,551:52178,676:66615,836:69340,861:72828,927:73631,939:84026,1152:92018,1277:98789,1364:99659,1447:102182,1524:104270,1567:104618,1572:104966,1577:113290,1675:113586,1793:127930,2030:129910,2052:138108,2143:147366,2364:154089,2493:156195,2534:165366,2725:191477,3064:195284,3130:199143,3153:200492,3180:203048,3200:203403,3206:205036,3261:252371,3997:254240,4019
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles "Chuck" Smith's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his mother's family and growing up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers his childhood in the Ida B. Wells Homes in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his parents' separation and his relationship with his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith shares his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers moving from the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois to Hyde Park while in seventh grade

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers transferring from Hyde Park High School to Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith remembers seeing his aunt in a production of "The Monkey's Paw" performed by the Skyloft Players

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his experiences in the a cappella choir at Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his experiences living in Japan and his leaving the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his beginning involvement in theatre with the Dramatic Art Guild in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his first acting role and studying drama at Loop College in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his experiences as a computer programmer with the Cook County Department of Public Aid

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls joining X-BAG, the Experimental Black Actors Guild, in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls meeting Chicago playwright Theodore Ward

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith shares the philosophy of theater of playwright Theodore Ward

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the time commitment required in the theater

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about some of his productions with X-BAG, the Experimental Black Actors Guild

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about Chicago's black theaters in the early 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the professional quality of X-BAG, the Experimental Black Actors Guild

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about environment for black theater in Chicago, Illinois during the 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes receiving his degree from Governors State University in University Park, Illinois in 1977

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith comments on his directing career after leaving X-BAG Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about Chicago's Off-Loop theater scene in the 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his first paid theater job

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his professional theater career

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the difference between union and non-union theater companies in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the strength of the theater scene in Chicago, Illinois, particularly for African American theater

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the opportunities available for actors in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls that start of his teaching at Columbia College Chicago in Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls leaving the Illinois Department of Public Aid to work in theater full-time

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes transitioning from acting to directing

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his relationship with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his relationship with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the three Tony-winning theater companies in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the history of performing August Wilson plays at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his current projects to promote African American theater in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the supportive theater community in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his philosophy of directing, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his philosophy of directing, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Charles "Chuck" Smith reflects upon his regrets and the need for a black commercial theater venue

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his family's pride in his career

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Charles "Chuck" Smith reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his daughter's support of his career

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about the African American Arts Alliance in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Charles "Chuck" Smith talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Charles "Chuck" Smith describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Charles "Chuck" Smith narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Charles "Chuck" Smith recalls his first acting role and studying drama at Loop College in Chicago, Illinois
Charles "Chuck" Smith describes the beginning of his professional theater career
Transcript
So anyway, I learned, I learned, I learned the part, went on, and went on stage, had a performance, and they were laughing at me. And I say, you know, I feel, feeling inside said, "This is not gonna work. These people are laughing. I'm really, really, bad," you know. So, intermission, I said, "Yeah, this is not working. I'll finish this, but this is the last time I'm gonna do this. 'Cause, you know, these people are laughing at me." They says, "Naw Chuck, they're not laughing at you. They're laughing at your character, you know. I had, I mean, I didn't, I didn't get any of this stuff, you know. I said, "Yeah, yeah, right. Yeah, Okay." So, the show was over and we go out for curtain call, everybody--they go out, take their little bows, then somebody else come they take the--but then, I went out there, didn't everybody--a huge roar, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, and then that was it. I was, I was gone after that, you know, so.$$Hooked (simultaneously).$$It's all over. Yeah, it was all over.$$That's what actors want.$$Yeah.$$Applause (laughter).$$(Laughter). Yeah, see I've been--See, I didn't even realize that I was an actor, you know. But, you know.$$So, what kinda role, what was it?$$It was a role of a wa--the play was called "McAdam and Eve." And, I played the part of a wayward reverend. A female skirt chasing reverend.$$Now, that's really a stretch to play a reverend like that, isn't it?$$Yeah. Yeah. (Laughter) You know, yeah. And, this is the first time I had been on stage, and it worked, you know, it worked. I did, I mean, I realized that it was just--and, over the course of the--I stayed with the Dramatic Art Guild for quite some time. And, over those years I, you know, I realized I just had a natural thing for it, you know, you know. I had never studied acting or anything like that. Again, the closest thing--the voice, the voice thing I had was, you know, in high school [Parker High School in Chicago, Illinois] with Mr. [Eugene] Pence. So, I was able to project. When they talk about projecting your voice, I know exactly how to do that. So, that helped. But, everything else was natural ability. And then, while at Dramatic Art Guild I said, "You know, this might be something, why don't you learn this. Go to school and learn this stuff," you know. And, so that's what I did. I went and studied at Loop College [now Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago, Illinois]. Studied drama, along with some other things that I was dealing with at the time, like Data Processing. I was a computer programmer.$$Yeah. That's a little bit--now, did you have any idea in those days, that you could earn a living as you--$$No. Naw, naw, that was, that wasn't even on the radar screen, you know.$$So, it's avocational kinda thing?$$Yeah. Yeah. But, I just knew that there was more to it than what they were doing down there. And, that if I wanted to move any, you know, go further, that I would have to learn more, you know. And, so that's exactly what I did, you know.$You were gonna tell an Ira Rogers story.$$Yeah, Ira Rogers. Yeah. "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail," Christopher Walken playing the lead, Ira Rogers playing the runaway slave, the play being--the play was directed by Patrick Henry, founder of the Free Street Theater, okay. Great. And, the play was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. [Edwin] Lee; same people who wrote "Inherit the Wind," okay.$$Wow.$$And, in the play, this runaway slave makes it up north, runs into [Henry David] Thoreau at Walden Pond and is so impressed with Thoreau he says, "I'll be your salve," okay. Ira Rogers went to the writers and said, "Look, there ain't no way a brother gonna escape slavery, make it up the free--make it up North and then give his, his freedom away, just give it away." The writers heard this. They heard it and changed the text. That impressed me with Ira Rogers right there, you know. 'Cause he--he says, "Now, this is not good. This wouldn't happen." But, then they listened to him, you know. And, they changed it. I said, "Woah," you know. Now, I'm a novice. I mean, this is 19--, this is the winter of 1970. I've just been in this business, you know, first time at something like on this level at the Goodman [Theatre in Chicago, Illinois], you know, never, you know, been in, in this environment at all, you know. I'm just used to Loop College [now Harold Washington College, City Colleges of Chicago, Illinois] at the time and also--this even before X-BAG [Experimental Black Actors Guild], I'm used to Dramatic Art Guild, you know. So, when this happened, I just, I fell in love with Ira Rogers, you know. Because, he knew, you know, and, you know, I agree with him. I said, "Yeah," I be--but, I wasn't gonna say nothing. I'm not gonna lose this job. That's what I'm thinking. But anyway,--$$Now, that's a good story, that's a good story, 'cause Ira, yeah, he's a character (simultaneously).$$Yeah (laughter), yeah. But, Ira, Ira hated the role, he hated the role. So, I went on a lot. But, that was, that was my first paid professional job, "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" at the Goodman. And, right after the Goodman, I heard about Kingston Mines [Theater Company in Chicago, Illinois] so I sent them my, my stuff and the Kingston Mines asked me to come over and be in their next show. Which is the show that was gonna follow "Grease." And, that's when I became involved in that and that whole Lincoln Avenue environment, you know. And, Andre De Shields, I mean, he was, he was dynamite then, you know. He's, you know, he's a regular Broadway actor now. Everybody knows--he originated the role of the "Wiz." But, and many other roles, Broadway roles. But, back then, he was just a, he was a, he was an actor with the Organic Theater [Company in Chicago, Illinois]. But, that was the sort of the genesis of what, one of the genesis of what we know now as the Off-Loop Theater Movement, you know. I went back, went back to Dramatic Art Guild, got hooked up with X-BAG, the [James Theodore] Ted Ward, the Ted Ward situation. And, then went back in the '70s [1970s], went back to school. And then, and after, after directing the pieces at Governors State University [in University Park, Illinois], and at Loop College, got the job at, at Victory Gardens [Theater], the director's job at Victory Gardens. "Eden" was nominated. My production of "Eden" at Victory Gardens was nominated for four [Joseph] Jefferson Awards. The Jefferson are the Chicago Tony's. Best Production, Best Director, and two nom--and two of my actors were nominated, okay. And, we didn't win anything. But, it was, it was an impressive beginning, you know, if I say so myself. I was impressed. I hadn't--it took me years to get another nomination. But, you know, I still think back on those days, you know, our first time out in professional theater. When I say professional, I mean, Union, Equity Theater. I used, there were union actors in my production. And, that was my beginning.