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Reuben Cannon

Producer and casting director Reuben Cannon was born on February 11, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in the Harold I. Ickes housing projects and attended Southeast City College.

Wanting to move into the entertainment industry, Cannon decided to try his luck in California. Dogged in his pursuit, Cannon went to film studios daily looking for work. After months of doing this, his perseverance paid off and Cannon was offered a job in the mailroom of Universal Studios on New Years Eve. Unbeknownst to him, the mailroom was the studio's executive training program, and thus a successful entertainment career began.

Cannon worked at Universal Studios from 1970 to 1978, eventually becoming a casting director. From 1977-1978, he served as Head of Television Casting for Warner Brothers. In 1978, he began his own casting agency, Reuben Cannon & Associates. As a casting director Cannon has been credited with launching the careers of many stars, including Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Bruce Willis, Michael J. Fox, and Whoopi Goldberg. His casting credits include: "Promised Land", "Touched by an Angel", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", "Desperado", "What's Love got To Do With It?", "The Color Purple", "Village of the Damned", "The Josephine Baker Story", "Moonlighting", and many others.

Cannon then moved into the realm of producing film and television in the 1980s. As a producer Cannon has made it a point to make movies about African Americans that are also financed by African Americans. His television producing credits include: "The Women of Brewster Place", "Amen", and many others. He has also produced his own films, including "Down on the Delta", "Get on the Bus", and "Dancing in September". Cannon has also worked as a producer on most of Tyler Perry's television shows and movies.

Accession Number

A2001.010

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/25/2001

Last Name

Cannon

Maker Category
Schools

Douglas Elementary School

Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School

Daniel Hale Elementary

Southeast City College

First Name

Reuben

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

CAN01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Anything is possible.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

2/11/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans, Rice

Short Description

Film casting director, television producer, and film producer Reuben Cannon (1946 - ) produced the films Down in the Delta and Get on the Bus.

Employment

Universal Studios

Warner Brothers

Reuben Cannon & Associates

Favorite Color

Gray

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Reuben Cannon interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Reuben Cannon's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Reuben Cannon remembers his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Reuben Cannon meets his father, Reuben Cannon, Sr.

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Reuben Cannon, Jr. witnesses his father's death

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Reuben Cannon befriends Warren Dur, a Chinese classmate

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Reuben Cannon learns an important lesson in multiculturalism

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Reuben Cannon discusses the Harold Ickes Housing Project, Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Reuben Cannon challenges his grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Reuben Cannon continues to battle his grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Reuben Cannon discusses his adventurous adolescence

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Reuben Cannon remembers the smells and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Reuben Cannon reveals his singing talents

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Reuben Cannon finds a pair of male mentors

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Reuben Cannon becomes a teenage father

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Reuben Cannon pursues the married life

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Reuben Cannon finds the inspiration to leave Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Reuben Cannon navigates the Universal Studios mailroom

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Reuben Cannon begins a career in the entertainment industry

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Reuben Cannon becomes an influential Hollywood casting director

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Reuben Cannon discusses his casting philosophies

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Reuben Cannon reveals his entrepreneurial spirit

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Reuben Cannon befriends Alex Haley in the casting of 'Roots II: The Next Generation'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Reuben Cannon characterizes Redd Foxx

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Reuben Cannon goes independent with Reuben Cannon & Associates

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Reuben Cannon takes interest in 'The Color Purple'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Reuben Cannon casts Oprah Winfrey in 'The Color Purple'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Reuben Cannon discusses the legal side of the entertainment industry

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Reuben Cannon discusses his experience with 'The Women of Brewster Place'

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Reuben Cannon embarks on a producing career

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Reuben Cannon discusses 'Down in the Delta' and 'Get on the Bus'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Reuben Cannon considers diversity in Hollywood

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Reuben Cannon considers his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Reuben Cannon names inspiring public figures

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Reuben Cannon imagines his father's and grandmother's reactions to his success

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

3$8

DATitle
Reuben Cannon begins a career in the entertainment industry
Reuben Cannon discusses 'Down in the Delta' and 'Get on the Bus'
Transcript
A position became available in the casting department [of Universal Studios, Los Angeles, California], to be a trainee in the casting--to be a casting director--to become a trainee. I was interviewed by a man named Ralph Winters. And whenever you interview for a position at the studio, three mail boys go up, you know. They interview three of you. And you're supposed to bring in three references. People who can speak to--speak to your character. The competition was Jay Heifetz. His father was a legend. So he had lots of letters of reference. John David, you know, his father was, you know, married to Angie Dickinson, and just, and you know--. Burt Bacharach was married to Angie Dickinson. So he had letters from Angie Dickinson. And I decided to go in on the strength of my character. 'Cause who am I gonna take? Hawk [homeless man/mentor from Chicago, Illinois]. To have a letter from Hawk, you know? A letter from Robert Lee and, you know, and people I grew--you know. Rather than--I didn't know anyone here. I'd been here, at that point, not even six months, seven months. Po' Bill [former steel mill co-worker, Chicago, Illinois] could speak about my character. But I had--if it was about casting, if it was about actors--. I'd been around actors. I knew more about theater than these guys and I decided to go on the strength of that. So I sat in front of Ralph Winters who was the head of casting for Universal Studios. And he said, "I've seen you deliver mail here 'cause you're in this department. And, you know, everyone in this department likes you. And you're a very impressive young man." He said, "Do you know your date of birth." I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you know what time you were born?" And it so happened I had my--'cause I didn't have a California driver's license. I had my birth certificate shipped out and I had it miniaturized. So I said, "No, but I have my, you know--" And I took out my date of birth, he started drawing these circles. He was into astrology. And he said, "Oh, you're an Aquarian." I said, "Yeah." And he says--then he looked and says, "Why aren't you in a monastery?" And I said, "'Cause I have--you know, I believe my ministry will be here in entertainment." He says, "You know, if I had career ambitions, I would have to hire one of the other two boys. But for the first time in my career, I'm gonna do what's fair and what's right. I'm gonna retire in three years so I can afford to do what's fair and what's right. I'm gonna hire you." And he hired me. I became the first black casting director trainee in the history of Hollywood [motion picture industry] and went from being an assistant to then his secretary, then ultimately became--I became a casting director. And stayed at Universal for seven years. And was offered to be head of casting for Warner Brothers. I went over to Warner Bros. [Studios] I did 'Roots II' ('The Next Generation'). And being--but once again, I'm from Chicago [Illinois], so after nine years of working two different studios and having a reputation in town as being a very good casting director--. By the way, also--the, you know--. So being the first, I got tired of being referred to the first, so I brought in the second, my secretary. When I went to Warner Brothers I brought in Eileen Knight who became the second black casting director. And there is now maybe eight. And seven have come through my office.$Now you--what--talk about the two other times then.$$The other situation was--so 'Down in'--'Get on the Bus' was the first film I produced. The second was 'Down in the Delta'. And that was a script that had been around for three years. A prize-winning script, it had been sitting on the shelf. But movies are made because they're very often talent-driven. You have to attach some element to--property to get the studios interested. And because of the way Hollywood is structured, there isn't a black actress today or wasn't at that time that could get this movie green lit. But there are other ways to generate heat around properties, I believe. So when the script was brought to me, I sent it to my friend Maya Angelou. And Maya read it, liked it, and said she would direct it. So now we had a world-class storyteller, you know. And if filmmaking is eighty percent writing and casting, I'm comfortable--we had a good script. I'm comfortable with the cast. It turns out Maya is a film student. I mean she's a graduate of the Swedish Film Academy and has directed documentaries. And we didn't know this 'til we all flew down. We met with her and she agreed to direct it. And with that, Wesley [Snipes] came on board with his company and Alfre [Woodard] . And the movie was financed by Showtime. And then we sold it to Miramax. So we had within a window. So it was a unique arrangement, whereby we had sixty days from the time we finished the movie to find a theatrical distributor. And Miramax came on board and took it out theatrically. And it didn't do great at the box office. But it's doing great in video.$$Now the other incident.$$The other film was a--Reggie Bythewood, who wrote 'Get on the Bus,' wrote a wonderful movie called 'Dancing in September.' And once again there Reggie came in with the initial funding, with the first $300,000 and a wonderful script. And when people come to me with--who are willing to bet on themselves. I mean, you have to--you know. And the script was so well written that I took on like an impossible task to produce the movie and raise the rest of the money. And we knew it would be about a million dollars to finish--to make this movie. And we--so that was like Labor Day I got the script. And we started shooting in October. And I just called on friends again. I called on Danny Glover and Robert--Donna and Robert Guillaume, Abe Thompson. Friends I didn't even know--people I knew, who had--you know, who knew of me. And we made a wonderful movie. And we sold that movie to HBO [Home Box Office] for double the price. And once again gave the investors back their initial investment plus twenty-three percent interest and profit within the first thirteen months. And I'm using that model over and over. Because what it does is, it empowers you. You don't have to wait. You know, you have a script, you know. And you have a creative team now. And I say to producers, I mean I say to writers and directors, "Look, I'm not a studio yet. But if you wanna come and make a movie and execute the vision that you originally conceived, this is the place. We may have creative differences. But we won't have any cultural differences." Which very often was at the heart of the studio process. And so the next film where--I'm doing is with Gary Hardwick who wrote and directed '[The] Brothers.' We'll do it--we're using the same model as 'Get on the Bus' and 'Dancing in September.' And I'll continue doing these one-offs. The ultimate dream is to not just do one-offs, but to create a film fund to be able to do multiple films and create a consistent flow of films, that's independently financed. And--that are made without compromise.$$You know, that's really a fascinating sort of model there.