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André De Shields

Stage actor, director, and choreographer André De Shields was born on January 12, 1946 in Dundalk, Maryland to Mary Gunther and John De Shields. He was raised in Baltimore, Maryland as the ninth of eleven children. De Shields obtained his high school diploma at Baltimore City College in 1964, and earned his B.A. degree in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970. In 1991, De Shields received his M.A. degree in African American studies from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

De Shields began his career in 1969 at Chicago’s Shubert Theatre in Tom O’Horgan’s production of Hair, The American Tribal-Love Rock Musical. In 1971, De Shields joined the Organic Theater Company and began performing in Wrap! in Chicago. In 1973, De Shields left the Organic Theater Company and became an associate choreographer for Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue the following year. In the late 1970s, De Shields began choreographing for Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street. He then went on to perform in many televised productions, including Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1982), Alice in Wonderland (1983), and Duke Ellington, The Music Lives On (1984). De Shields continued his work while holding professorships at New York University, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Michigan. In 2009, in honor of President Barack Obama’s election, Mr. De Shields created his solo performance, Frederick Douglass: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

De Shields received numerous awards, including three Chicago Joseph Jefferson Awards and nine AUDELCO Awards. In 1982, De Shields won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance for the NBC TV Special based on Ain’t Misbehavin’. In 2004, he received honorary doctorate of fine arts degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and from SUNY-Buffalo State. De Shields received a Village Voice OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance in 2007, and in 2009, he won the National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award. De Shields received a Distinguished Achievement Award from Fox Foundation Fellowship in 2012, a Making Waves Award from Florida Atlantic University in 2014, an Award for Excellence in The Arts from the theatre school at DePaul University in 2015, and a Pioneer of the Arts Award from Riant Theatre in 2016.

André De Shields was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 19, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.020

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/19/2016 |and| 9/22/2016

Last Name

De Shields

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Middle Name

Robin

Schools

New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study

John Hurst Elementary School No. 120

Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts

Baltimore City College

Wilmington College

University of Wisconsin-Madison

First Name

André

Birth City, State, Country

Dundalk

HM ID

DES04

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Maryland

Favorite Vacation Destination

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Favorite Quote

The Top Of One Mountain Is The Bottom Of The Next, So Keep Climbing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/12/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lima Beans

Short Description

Stage actor, director, and choreographer André De Shields (1946 - ) starred on Broadway in The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Play On!, The Full Monty, and Impressionism in addition to serving as director of numerous off-Broadway productions.

Employment

The Full Monty

Ain't Misbehavin

The Wiz

SUNY-Buffalo State College

CUNY- Hunter College

Gallatin School of Individualized Study

New York University School of Education, Health, Nursing and Arts Professions

Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts

Southern Methodist University

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Morehouse College

Favorite Color

Red

Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Actor and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson was born on November 24, 1956 in Lackawanna, New York to Alean Hudson and Ruben Santiago. He graduated from Lackawanna High School; and earned his B.A. degree in theatre from Binghamton University in 1978, and his M.F.A. degree from Wayne State University in 1982.

Santiago-Hudson first appeared in the 1988 film, Coming to America. He then played Captain Billy Cooper on the daytime drama Another World from 1990 to 1993. Santiago-Hudson made his Broadway debut as Buddy Bolden in Jelly’s Last Jam in 1992, and starred in August Wilson's Seven Guitars in 1995. He wrote the autobiographical play Lackawanna Blues in 2001, and adapted it into the award-winning 2005 HBO film of the same name. He co-starred opposite Phylicia Rashad in Gem of the Ocean on Broadway in 2004; and, in 2007, he starred in a PBS Nova documentary about the life of Percy Lavon Julian. From 2009 to 2011, he played Captain Roy Montgomery in ABC's Castle. Santiago-Hudson returned to Broadway to star in Stick Fly in 2011, and directed August Wilson’s JITNEY! on Broadway in 2017.

Santiago-Hudson’s other film credits include Bleeding Hearts, Blown Away, Domestic Disturbance, Which Way Home, The Devil’s Advocate, American Gangster, Mr. Brooks, Shaft, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Showtime’s Solomon and Sheba. He also made appearance on the television shows The Cosby Mysteries, New York Undercover, NYPD Blue, Touched by an Angel, The West Wing, Third Watch, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Showtime’s Billions, the TNT series Public Morals, and five episodes of Law & Order.

Santiago-Hudson received the 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Performer in Seven Guitars, and was awarded the 2006 Humanitas Prize in writing for the HBO film adaptation of his play Lackawanna Blues, and the 2009 NAACP Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award. In 2013, Santiago-Hudson won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Director, an Obie Award for Direction, and was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play for the Off-Broadway production of The Piano Lesson. In 2016, he won an Obie Award for Special Citations: Collaboration of the play Skeleton Crew. He also received an honorary doctorate of letters from Buffalo State College in 2006, and Wayne State University in 2015. In 2014, The Ruben Santiago-Hudson Fine Arts Learning Center was named in his honor in his hometown of Lackawanna, New York.

Santiago-Hudson and his wife, Jeannie Brittan, have two children: Trey and Lily, in addition to his two older sons: Broderick and Ruben III.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 8, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.005

Sex

Male

Interview Date

08/08/2016

Last Name

Santiago-Hudson

Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Lackawanna High School

State University of New York at Binghamton

Wayne State University

First Name

Ruben

Birth City, State, Country

Lackawanna

HM ID

SAN06

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Puerto Rico

Favorite Quote

Love Is Love.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

11/24/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Beans and Rice

Short Description

Actor and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson (1956- ) appeared in dozens of feature films, television dramas and Broadway plays. He wrote 2001’s Lackawanna Blues, an autobiographical play that he adapted to film in 2005, premiering on HBO.

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ruben Santiago-Hudson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about his mother's drug addiction

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his time with his mother and siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his surrogate mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ruben Sanitago-Hudson describes his father's migration to the United States

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his father's career on the railroad

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes the demographics of Lackawanna, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls growing up in a rooming house

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls a visit from social services

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes Lackawanna, New York and Buffalo, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls the influence of his surrogate parents

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the tenants of his surrogate mother's rooming house

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his surrogate mother's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his godmother

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the integration of Lackawanna High School in Lackawanna, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the mentorship of Robert Ambrogi

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the impact of integration on the black community in Lackawanna, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his godfather's political career

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the race riots at Lackawanna High School

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his struggles at the majority-white Lackawanna High School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about interracial dating at Lackawanna High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his two eldest sons

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the State University of New York at Binghamton

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his college mentors

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his suspension from the State University of New York at Binghamton

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his return to the State University of New York at Binghamton

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his early acting experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his acting experiences in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls performing in 'Native Son'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago recalls his academic experiences at Wayne State University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls receiving his master's degree

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls moving to New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his early acting career in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls auditioning for the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his roles with the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers providing for his children

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his experiences as a soap opera actor

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers auditioning for August Wilson

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls marrying his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson explains the origin of his twins' names

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his wife's career

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the black theater community

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls his role in 'Jelly's Last Jam'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers lessons from Gregory Hines

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson explains his choice of roles

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his approach to film roles

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls acting in August Wilson's 'Seven Guitars'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls starring on the television show 'Castle'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers his early directorial career

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about his film roles

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls creating the stage play 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers the first production of 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls performing 'Lackawanna Blues' in Hollywood

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the film adaptation of 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls the national response to 'Lackawanna Blues'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ruben Hudson-Santiago remembers a lesson from August Wilson

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes the legacy of his surrogate mother

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the influence of everyday life on his writing

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers directing 'Gem of the Ocean'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers directing August Wilson's plays, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls the obstacles to his production of 'Jitney'

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the preservation of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the interpretations of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes the cost of a Broadway production

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson remembers directing August Wilson's plays, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his directorial style

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls a lesson from his surrogate mother

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about his commitment to acting

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls directing 'The Piano Lesson,' pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls directing 'The Piano Lesson,' pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his play, 'Your Blues Ain't Sweet Like Mine'

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his creative inspiration

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his TED talk

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson shares his advice to young actors

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the importance of black theater

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about modern racism, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about modern racism, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his advice to a group of black construction workers

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about standing up for yourself, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about standing up for yourself, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson shares his advice to African American actors

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson talks about the current black television networks

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his family

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$6

DAStory

10$1

DATitle
Ruben Santiago-Hudson describes his father's career on the railroad
Ruben Santiago-Hudson recalls creating the stage play 'Lackawanna Blues'
Transcript
So, he went to Florida, Chicago [Illinois], then Buffalo [New York] with Pedro [ph.], got that job. He had like three jobs he said before the week was over and he had to choose, so he chose the railroad. He liked the sound of the train, you know, and he--and that's where he spent his--he--and they never promoted him. He kept the same job. They gave him a raise, a little raise, but he said every year, they would bring a new young white guy in to be his boss and he would have to teach the guy how to be his boss. The guy would ask him to do something with a certain tool and he'd say, you know, "No, no, no--you don't--you don't--you don't do this like that. You, you take the--you hit with this? No, you don't move it. You, you don't (unclear), but if I move this, you--show you how to do it." And he--my father [Ruben Santiago] would show him and the guy would say, "Oh, okay, now I know," every other year. And I think what broke his heart more than anything 'cause he gave his life to the railroad and, you know, he wasn't one of them sit in the house kind of guys on the railroad, he was a track man. That means, anything going wrong with the track, you take care of it. So, in Buffalo in the winter when the track is supposed to switch so the train can go to the destination, when it get icy, it won't switch, so he had to make it switch. He had to go on there and thaw it, beat the track over, get it lined up, lock it in, and watch the train make that move, and then he can go back to--so, and that's what he did his whole, whole career. And he said the thing, the biggest thing that hurt him there, 'cause in the summer they would hire--if your kid was a college kid, the railroad would give you a job for the summer. You could work with your father, make five dollars, four dollars an hour, which was a lot of money in 1974, and they wouldn't--they never hired me. And he took me to his boss, to the big Penn Station--Penn, Penn Central--New York Central Railroad offices in Buffalo. It's, it's now abandoned, gorgeous building, took me up to the biggest boss up in an elevator and--, "This my son, you know, he, he go to college, he, he going to--he very smart, you know. He can working, too." They never hired me. He did it twice and they didn't hire me and that hurt him. And he never said anything until he was almost gone, you know, when he was like in his sixties, he admitted it to me. He said it hurt that they didn't hire me and they hired everybody else's son. Every white guy that brought his son got hired, but not me. And even--he even had me come to his job and meet him while he was working on the tracks, "Meet me at so and so," and I would meet him and took him--meet his foreman and say, "Put a word in for my son. He's good. He's in college." Never hired me, and that hurt him, you know.$I wanna talk about 'Lackawanna Blues' [Ruben Santiago-Hudson]. When did you start writing it?$$I started writing it--I tried--I tried to start writing it in, in college, but I wasn't sincere. I was afraid to expose a lot, so I, I put it away pretty fast. One of the teachers said I was the worst writer he had ever seen and I should forget about that, you know. It's like I should forget about Shakespeare [William Shakespeare]. I mean, the whole way is forget about it, forget about it, forget about it. You know, you never tell a kid that. So, I didn't write again, but I kept telling Nanny's [Rachel Crosby] stories, anybody that would listen, subway down the street. I just--even today, you know, I still tell Nanny's stories as you can tell in this interview. And I was telling it to Rosemarie Tichler and John Dias at The Public Theater [New York, New York] and George [HistoryMaker George C. Wolfe] was in charge of The Public, "You gotta go tell George." I said, "George has heard these stories." "You gotta go tell--just tell him the one you just told me." So, we go into George's office and I tell the story, George says, "Yeah." He says, you know, I'm tir- he said, "I'm tired of hearing these stories, you know. You need to go write them down." I said--you know, "They, they would probably be a great story and everybody need to hear and quit telling me and quit telling him." And I said, "Yeah, somebody gotta write it." He said, "Yeah, you," and walked out of the room. "I gotta go to this other meeting." And I'm like, we gotta get somebody to write this story. So, I think a week later, I got a commission from The Public Theater, a couple thousand dollars or something to write this play. So, I said, wow, I got accountability and responsibility, I gotta--I gotta do this thing. I just gotta find a writer. I'm not a writer. So, we hired a grad student from Columbia University [New York, New York] to transcribe what I was putting on the tape. They said, "What do you need?" I said, "A tape recorder, my harmonica, and a light in the room," and I just start telling stories into the mic- microphone and she typed them out and typed them out all wrong. If I say something, she would correct it. Like if I say something like I heard somebody say at the rooming house like heard them fool got drunk, cut each other throat. She would write I heard those fools had gotten drunk last night and cut each other's throats. No, heard them fool got drunk, cut each other throat last night. So, I had to start writing it to correct her, and that's how I started writing it.$$And this was about what time?$$This was--this was '90-something, '98 [1998], '90-something. And then my boy, Bill Sims, Jr., who did all the music, I called Bill Sims, I said, "Man, bring your guitar in here, man. I want you to play woodshed a little bit while I--while I do this monologue. I want you to hear this monologue." And Bill would come sit in that corner with his guitar and start playing. "Do that again, do that again, do that again." I would do it again and he would do a different thing to it. Or he would be playing and I say--and then I would pick up my harmonica and start playing, and we just start gluing it together, gluing it together. And I had a director who I brought in from Binghamton [State University of New York at Binghamton, Binghamton, New York], and George came to hear our first--my first pass at it, some of my stories with this director and he was a musical theater guy and he needed a break. He wanted a break. He had just moved to New York [New York] and he was a guy that I really liked at school, but we had fallen out and come back together. He was a director and they brought in from U--UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California], and he was teaching at Wagner College [Staten Island, New York]. Anyway, I brought him. He said, "Please, man, I want to get to The Public Theater. Please, I'll do anything. I'll direct the workshop, I'll do," George watched my first presentation. He said, "I need to see you in my office." I went to his office, he said, "What is that? This is not a musical comedy. This is the story of your life. What, what are you doing?" And I was like, "What do you mean?" He said, "Who, who is the director?" I said, "He's a guy I know." Well, he said, "Get him out of here. Get him out of here. Do your story. Quit playing at it. If you're gonna do your story, do your story." And I said, "All right," you know. So, he made me get real serious about it. So, I quit making everything comedy and let you laugh at the realities. If you laugh, you laughed at my characterizations or something, somebody might say--like, Ol' Po' Carl might say, "Your mama was a fine woman. Her lips was--she had the big pooty lips, look--lips was kind of like blue like she had been drinking black berry brandy," and you will laugh. Or Old Paul or, or, or, or Ol' Po' Carl would say, "Yeah, I went to New York, went up to the entire state building." You know, he was a (unclear) guy, so that would make you laugh instead of me joking everything. Just tell a story, the way it is. So, George kind of turned that around in me and Bill just got tighter and tighter. And then we brought in--George gave us a wonderful director, Loretta Greco to guide it. This is my story, but she--I needed a guiding eye, and she was a good guide for it.

Vernell Lillie

Founder and artistic director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre, Vernell Audrey Watson Lillie was born on May 11, 1931, in Hempstead, Texas. Lillie attended Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she earned her B.A. degree in speech and drama. In 1958, she completed a six year graduate study at Texas Southern University. She earned her M.A. degree in English from Carnegie Mellon University in 1971, and her D.A. degree in English from Carnegie Mellon University the following year.

In 1974, Lillie established the Kuntu Repertory Theatre with the intent to examine Black life from a sociopolitical-historical perspective. Lillie used drama to educate while entertaining. The theatre naturally developed into a supportive community for black writers, actors and artists. Since its establishment, the theatre has sponsored countless activities which highlight the African American community. Lillie has directed many productions including: The Buffalo Soldiers Plus One, Little Willie Armstrong Jones and Whispers Want to Holler.

Lillie has been the recipient of many prestigious awards including the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award; the Outstanding Award for Women in the Arts by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; and the 2003 Career Achievement in Education Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education.

Accession Number

A2008.108

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/15/2008

Last Name

Lillie

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Occupation
Schools

Phillis Wheatley High School

Crawford Elementary School

Dillard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Vernell

Birth City, State, Country

Hempstead

HM ID

LIL02

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Egypt

Favorite Quote

Did You Understand?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Pennsylvania

Birth Date

5/11/1931

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Pittsburgh

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Gumbo

Short Description

Stage director Vernell Lillie (1931 - ) was founder and artistic director of Kuntu Repertory Theatre, which produced drama that entertained while examining Black life from historical, social and political perspectives. She won the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding Award for Women in the Arts from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Employment

Julia C. Hester House

Phillis Wheatley High School

Kuntu Repertory Theatre

Favorite Color

Purple, White

Timing Pairs
0,0:3160,63:4661,83:7979,256:17956,313:18466,319:21730,362:22546,371:41160,587:41640,594:42216,602:45240,612:46284,628:50876,689:51716,704:52220,712:60884,805:63835,827:67197,865:67665,870:68250,876:69069,885:75629,934:76105,939:78850,954:88250,1003:89526,1016:92260,1030:109800,1187:117320,1239:120870,1283:127658,1330:133495,1379:136550,1397:138422,1454:147000,1531:147510,1538:151530,1571:152804,1588:174314,1727:178220,1752:178512,1757:179096,1767:179461,1773:180893,1788:183633,1810:202249,1978:225930,2192:234808,2283:235292,2288:235776,2293:257206,2481:258586,2556:271240,2619:271940,2632:286715,2762:291024,2775:292320,2791$0,0:354,10:1888,23:34332,340:40480,447:57960,608:62432,721:64408,761:85224,1011:85868,1020:89900,1029:91062,1052:102294,1250:113606,1370:118371,1411:118639,1416:119041,1424:123445,1471:124775,1498:131012,1563:135057,1598:139400,1663:142238,1726:142668,1732:145592,1772:146624,1804:147570,1818:152622,1838:155376,1897:156105,1907:156429,1912:157806,1943:159750,1981:160479,1994:164910,2028:165977,2040:166656,2048:174300,2126:181780,2200:185680,2231:188207,2245:200386,2368:203596,2425:207638,2505:208484,2516:211398,2562:219728,2606:223906,2671:229635,2753:232640,2770:233570,2782
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Vernell Lillie's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie lists her favorites

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

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

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie talks about the community in Brazos Bottom, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie remembers her maternal grandfather's home in Bellville, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Vernell Lillie recalls her childhood visits to Bellville, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Vernell Lillie describes her father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie describes her father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie talks about her family's education and occupations

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes her parents' professions

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie recalls how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Vernell Lillie recalls her childhood in Hempstead, Texas and Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie describes her experiences at Crawford Elementary School in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie recalls her teachers at Crawford Elementary School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes her involvement in the University Interscholastic League

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie recalls her early interest in theater

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie remembers the notable African American educators in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie recalls her teachers at Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie remembers participating in the I Speak for Democracy oratorical contest

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie recalls her early involvement with civil rights

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie describes the Sweatt v. Painter case of 1950

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie talks about the influence of her education on her life and career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie recalls Thurgood Marshall's speech during Sweatt v. Painter, 1950

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie describes her extracurricular activities at Phillis Wheatley High School

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Vernell Lillie describes her decision to pursue acting

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Vernell Lillie recalls her decision to attend Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Vernell Lillie talks about her parents' attitudes towards her theater career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Vernell Lillie recalls the productions at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Vernell Lillie describes her work at the Julia C. Hester House in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Vernell Lillie talks about her theater productions at Julie C. Hester House in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Vernell Lillie recalls the beginning of her teaching career at Houston's Phillis Wheatley High School

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Vernell Lillie talks about the first African American play she produced

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$8

DATitle
Vernell Lillie recalls Thurgood Marshall's speech during Sweatt v. Painter, 1950
Vernell Lillie talks about the first African American play she produced
Transcript
Can you give us a sense of what it was like to watch, to be in court when Thurgood Marshall was trying a case [Sweatt v. Painter, 1950]. I mean, do you have, can you kind of describe what took place (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, I can remember the physical something. Grover Sellers was kind of heavy and puffy face and it was sweltering hot and I don't remember which month it was, but it was hot in that courtroom. And Thurgood Marshall, and I think it must be my imagination because he had to have been hot too 'cause he was in a suit, but I swear in my memory and it must be what I want to remember, that he did not seem to have perspired at all. And he would start his speech talking in the kind of level and then he would come down and use a little piece of vernacular something, and it was just the most awesome something, and I'm telling you now, I have never been the same after experiencing him in that courtroom. I knew then and there that my life would forever be molding, changing, creating and understanding that whatever I have, it's my responsibility to give back. It, he was, it seems to me he was six feet tall. It was just, and it was the most flowing kind of process, and the thing that he had was dignity, not poking fun at anybody, but it was the cause that he was dealing with. You know, it was not making whites feel ashamed of themselves, it was presenting a case that this young man [Heman Marion Sweatt] had a right to have an education with the tax dollars, and so, that was another gift that I think, that I hope I acquired from him, because it is so easy to be arrogant and to be insulting, you know. And it was so very clear that somehow or another all he wanted to do was let that group there and the world know that these are human beings who are entitled to a quality education by your own state dollars that you're paying, and it was not a piece in which I need to ridicule you or be sarcastic toward you, and sharp tongued toward you that these are the facts as I see them, and these are the grounds from which I am stating what I am saying. And I hope, I hope, I really hope, but sometimes people will tell me I have a sharp tongue, but I do hope that I respect the personality. I don't have to agree with what you believe, but I need to know that when I am presenting to you that which I want, I don't have to demean you, because you are a product of whatever this society has structured, and you have somehow believed it, and I think that fortunately for me, I saw hardworking black men and women all my life from the time I was five years old and I saw them working, and working, and working, and then I saw them lose things and I still saw them maintain their dignity, and Thurgood Marshall just helped reinforce that. It's a wonderful world.$Now what, what year is this when you start teaching?$$Fifty-six [1956].$$Nineteen fifty-six [1956].$$Um-hm.$$Okay.$$And I stayed at Wheatley, I guess I stayed at Wheatley until I left in '69 [1969].$$Okay. Now when did--along the way did you start become more keenly, did you, well, at what point along the way did you start really drawing from black literature and culture?$$I gave an assignment in my class and I can't remember the little guy's name and he's dead now, and he came in, the assignment was Baraka's--Dante's "Inferno" ['The Divine Comedy,' Dante Alighieri].$$About what year is this now?$$Oh that's--$$Sixty-one [1961] (simultaneous)?$$--(simultaneous) it has to be somewhere around like '64ish [1964] or something, '65ish [1965], and demanding that I do a black play, and so he had, had gone to the library on his own, because I certainly didn't introduce Baraka's [Amiri Baraka] 'The Toilet' to him, and he wanted me to do 'The Toilet.'$$Well, that's in, in high school?$$I said, "I'm sorry I have two children that I have to help my husband educate, so I cannot produce Baraka's, 'The Toilet.'"$$'The Toilet' is pretty rough.$$So he kept harassing me. So then I did 'In White America' [Martin Duberman]. So he came back to me that night, he said, "I think you did a very fine job with it," he said, "but, you know, if you had been black and published this as a play, they would have told you that this is nothing but a collage of historical characters talking and moving through history. So now that you've seen whites on your stage, in 'White America,' why don't you do a black play?" And he said, "By the way, 'In White America' it's not any different from what you've been doing all along. You have been using those political collages and statements with your daughters as they are trying to get people to vote." He said, "So Duberman [Martin Duberman] has not done anything different from what you've been doing for the last ten years, dramatic collages and that's not a play. There's no structure in the traditional process that you taught me as a play, so why don't you do a play?" So I, that weekend after the play closed, I think I must have read twenty-five plays and the last one I picked up was guess what, 'Day of Absence' [Douglas Turner Ward] and 'Happy Ending' [Douglas Turner Ward], so that was my absolutely first black play that I produced.$$Now this is in, this is at Phillis Wheatley?$$This is at Phillis Wheatley High School [Houston, Texas], 'Day of Absence,' and that's the photograph that you see out there by my desk. That guy, Andrew, Michael Andrews [ph.], is still acting in D.C. [Washington, D.C.] and he was awesome.$$And this is a play by [HistoryMaker] Douglas Turner Ward.$$Douglas Turner Ward, and I have never since turned back.

Walter Mason, Jr.

Production manager, stage actor, stage director, and stage production manager Walter Mason, Jr. was born on January 26, 1926, in Detroit, Michigan. His mother, Joanna Columbus Mason, a school teacher, and his father, Walter Mason, Sr., a skilled laborer, reared Mason in a church and community-oriented environment. After graduating from Detroit’s Northwestern High School, Mason attended Wayne State University, where he earned his B.A degree in theater and business administration. Years later, Mason attended the Detroit College of Law while he continued to pursue a career in theater.

In a 1952 adaptation of Richard Wright’s book Native Son, he portrayed its chief character “Booker Thomas” at the World Stage in Detroit, Michigan. His theatrical performances include his role as “Othello” in seven separate productions of Othello and “Caliban” in two productions of The Tempest. Mason has also been an instrumental figure in notable Broadway productions such as Purlie Victorious and A Streetcar Named Desire. Beyond acting, Mason served as a producer, director and artist for The Good Book Sings on WJR Radio and appeared on WXYZ TV’s, Showtime at the Apollo as the master of ceremonies. He collaborated with choreographer, Alvin Ailey, in 1961 as the musical and production manager of African Holiday. Six years later, Mason became the production manager for The Emperor Jones, which starred actor James Earl Jones. Throughout his career, Mason has worked closely with many celebrities, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Jimmy Durante, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Ella Fitzgerald, Lola Falana, Jackie Gleason and Gladys Knight and the Pips. As a private speech and drama coach, Mason has worked with many public figures and film and television performers.

Mason served as an associate to the dean of Yale University School of Drama at both Yale and on Broadway. In 1983, Mason produced and directed a theatrical presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. featuring aspiring young actors from black colleges and universities for The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. The following year, Mason directed the production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Soldier’s Story, at Detroit’s Fisher Theater.

Mason is the entertainment director at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and the founder and artistic director of the Aldridge Theater Company, Inc.

Mason passed away on February 28, 2017 at age 91.

Accession Number

A2007.314

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/31/2007

Last Name

Mason

Schools

Northwestern High School

Wayne State University

Sampson Elementary School

Munger Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Walter

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

MAS05

Favorite Season

Fall, Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tahiti

Favorite Quote

Make It Happen.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nevada

Birth Date

1/26/1926

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Las Vegas

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ice Cream (Butter Pecan)

Death Date

2/28/2017

Short Description

Stage actor, production manager, stage director, and stage production manager Walter Mason, Jr. (1926 - 2017 ) was the entertainment director at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel and the founder and artistic director of the Aldridge Theater Company, Inc.

Employment

Detroit Art Institute

World Stage

Wayne State University

University of Detroit Mercy

Eugene O'Neill Foundation

Michigan Bell Telephone Company

Las Vegas Hilton (Hotel)

Ira Aldridge Theatre Co., Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:7234,206:7522,211:7810,216:10042,268:11338,290:11986,308:13930,361:14578,371:15226,382:16666,401:17170,409:18394,428:26952,468:34292,515:35060,522:58740,730:59152,735:83348,934:84164,943:84776,951:85184,956:85694,963:86408,971:92112,1019:97254,1060:100314,1118:100586,1123:101062,1132:106912,1201:107220,1206:110839,1283:119127,1376:133535,1485:133875,1490:135440,1498:139064,1528:145940,1600:146777,1612:160822,1777:172488,1822:187420,1969:209640,2087:219056,2256:222996,2283:223640,2292:224468,2304:225296,2314:225940,2323:230950,2334:231350,2340:233030,2372:235688,2389:246060,2482:251690,2547:253050,2555:253350,2560:267600,2639:268181,2651:273601,2680:276143,2692:276448,2702:276814,2709:282447,2729:290118,2792:290510,2797:291490,2808:292176,2817:301545,2867:304332,2875:304837,2881:305241,2886:306150,2901:317866,3053:318447,3067:322760,3109:333476,3177:337560,3196:359240,3440$0,0:8345,184:8800,190:25756,303:29150,311:30216,326:30544,331:37530,370:39280,381:40437,394:43463,433:46700,444:52340,513:57072,543:57564,548:60147,569:61254,580:61746,585:65566,602:66878,619:75264,658:78828,681:81670,694:84170,714:98640,837:99176,846:99444,851:103400,897:103832,904:119460,1064:120025,1070:130030,1131:130500,1141:134542,1185:135482,1196:136422,1209:136798,1214:140424,1235:140780,1240:141581,1250:142471,1261:143094,1270:143984,1281:144518,1288:152169,1354:154620,1377:155068,1382:156188,1392:157196,1399:158988,1414:159548,1420:163015,1438:163512,1447:163938,1454:165500,1475:165784,1484:166210,1491:166778,1504:171298,1531:171610,1536:172858,1550:177460,1682:177772,1687:178084,1692:180900,1706:187784,1750:191242,1775:193403,1780:194495,1793:194859,1798:195405,1805:197316,1859:200362,1870:202390,1882:205734,1893:206337,1904:206605,1909:213784,1973:214199,1980:214614,1986:218300,2001:221100,2021:224097,2053:224652,2059:227793,2075:228328,2081:228863,2087:231072,2100:236875,2147:237215,2152:255226,2348:255772,2357:262300,2429:262966,2436:268140,2479:275634,2551:276558,2566:277600,2578
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Walter Mason, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his father's personality and career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. talks about his grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the sights and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers the case of McGhee v. Sipes

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his schooling

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls transferring to Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his interests as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early awareness of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls enlisting in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the racial discrimination in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his introduction to theater at Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early theater roles, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his early theater roles, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. talks about his early theater training

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the Panorama of Progress program

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his radio series, 'The Good Book Sings'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his decision to enroll at the Detroit College of Law in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the arts community in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his performance in 'The Tempest'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls managing the production of 'Jazz Train'

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his opportunity to act in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers meeting Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers managing 'Free Sounds of '63'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his role in 'Free Sounds of '63'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers starring in 'Purlie Victorious'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. reflects upon his theater career

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Foundation in Waterford, Connecticut

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers working with Sammy Davis, Jr., pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes the misconceptions about Sammy Davis, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers managing a production of 'The Amen Corner'

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his difficulties with the Actors' Equity Association, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his difficulties with the Actors' Equity Association, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers working with Sammy Davis, Jr., pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls the Bicentennial Homecoming Festival in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls opening a restaurant in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers the Creative Express Theater Company

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers his work for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Walter Mason, Jr. remembers moving to Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Walter Mason, Jr. recalls his theatrical work at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his work at the West Las Vegas Arts Center in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Walter Mason, Jr. reflects upon his life and career

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his advice for aspiring artists

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Walter Mason, Jr. describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Walter Mason, Jr. shares a message to future generations

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Walter Mason, Jr. talks about the opportunities for artistic growth

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Walter Mason, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

4$6

DATitle
Walter Mason, Jr. describes the racial discrimination in the U.S. Air Force
Walter Mason, Jr. remembers working with Sammy Davis, Jr., pt. 1
Transcript
Did you face any racism in the air cadets [sic. U.S. Army Air Forces; U.S. Air Force]?$$Oh yes.$$Could you explain that a little bit more for us, and how that was? Because basically you were sheltered all your life away from it.$$Yes.$$Now you're in a, in a federal, national organization where there is no shelter. Could you explain that to us, please?$$And traveling around the country in various locales such as Dyersburg, Tennessee; Biloxi [Mississippi]; Lou- a field in Louisiana, you got a real dose of, of racial prejudice, and it had its effect on, on you. You ask questions, how can a bus driver take somebody a mile beyond their stop before he lets them off the bus? And that happened at Shreveport, Louisiana. And came into a major church there and slapped a woman's face, and came back and got on, in his bus seat and drove off, and nothing was done. Or in Shreveport, the allowance of soldiers to be told that they couldn't come to town with a Captain Crockett [ph.] of--who was in leadership in the police department. And he would have an ability to have the soldiers stick their head--, "Look at this piece of paper I have in my hand. Now, draw yourself in and come and look at this paper." And he'd draw, he'd have the soldier to look at the paper, and he'd roll up the window. And once he rolled the window up, catching him between the neck and the window, he'd--, "Didn't I tell you not to come into town? And don't let me catch you in this town." It was this kind of activity that you--whoa.$$Did this occur particularly with you, or did you see this happening?$$This, there was a situation where I had a .45 on, going to Texarkana to get a prisoner. And there was an older gentleman who came up to me and said, "You got business here, boy?" I said, "Yes, I've come to this town to take a prisoner back." "All right, boy, but don't let me see you getting into any mischief." And took his foot and kicked me. Now, I could have turned around as a militant soldier, but I didn't. I knew enough to measure my losses and to step away. And for that, I am grateful.$$So there was definitely a lot of--not just inside of the, itself--you--in your travels and your duties, even just even doing your duties, there were problems with racism?$$Oh yes. For example, there was a situation where it came to--I began writing for one of the military newspapers. And they had a habit of on Fridays draining the pool. They would allow the black soldiers to go into the pool--this was in Dyersburg, Tennessee. And they could swim on that Friday, but they would drain the pool as the soldiers were in the pool. And I wrote in my article that it was not on a Friday, you with your Purple Heart, got shuffled around. It was not on a Friday that Bill [ph.], you, with, in your transition from the European sector to the Asian sector, got strapped with an event like this. So, why should it be in the home of the brave and the land of the free that you're not allowed to go swimming? And the commander called me into his office and said, "Do you want us to print this?" I said, "Well, I wrote it in truth, and I expect you to print it in truth." Another week I received my papers to go to, I think it was--no, this was in Coffeyville, not Dyersburg. This is in Coffeyville, Kansas, to go to, to be transferred out. And the war [World War II, WWII] ended, and so that got wrapped up and nothing more was heard of it.$Sixty-four [1964], you play Pepper White in 'Golden Boy' [Clifford Odets and William Gibson]. Now tell us about 'Golden Boy.' What was very significant about that?$$Well, that's the Sammy Davis, Jr. show (laughter). 'Golden Boy,' written by, eventually written by Bill Gibson, was the piece that was earlier presented with John Garfield as a movie. And Sammy had an ability to take on this project and take on the abilities of a fighter, a boxer and a singer, with new lyrics by Strouse [Charles Strouse] and Adams [Lee Adams]. And I had just joined Sammy, and he offered me this opportunity, but first as just an actor to play Pepper White. I did not sign a run of the play contract. I signed it just as a regular actor. Run of the play, you get, as long as the play runs, you--$$You're in it.$$You're in it. Well, the writers selected that they write out the part of Pepper White. And that's part of, of creativity of the theater. So, they wrote the part of Pepper Adams out.$$Pepper White?$$Pepper White. And so then I was out of that, but I didn't worry about being out of the play. I just went my merry way. And later, it came to be that they were auditioning for a production manager, and they called me. And so I went back as a production manager, which is a higher rate of pay, and--$$Than the actor was (laughter)?$$Right. So, I came in that way. And when you're in with a superstar like Sammy Davis, you get to know him pretty well, and he gets to know you pretty well. And I think Sammy was one of the most misunderstood individuals in show business.$$Please explain. I was going to ask you, what was he like, what was his personality? But explain it from your perspective.$$Well, Sammy was a genuine giver. And I can understand why he had as many difficulties with people like the IRS [Internal Revenue Service], and so forth because he took on the belief, or disbelief, that money was money. It's all to be here to enjoy. We're here for such a short time. Get it, give it, enjoy it. That was his mantra. And don't worry about saving or doing other things. See somebody who needs--who has been wronged, help that person. [HistoryMaker] Maya Angelou was singing in 'Porgy and Bess' [George Gershwin] in her earlier years. They couldn't get a pair of shoes to fit her. Have some made. If the boat--the boat does not leave the dock unless it is first class. And that was Sammy's attitude toward everything. And I think that he had great appreciation for me, because he felt that he ran into somebody that was intellectually challenging.

John Beasley

Actor and theater founder John Beasley was born on June 26, 1943, in North Omaha, Nebraska, to Grace Virginia, Triplett and John Wilfred Beasley. Beasley’s neighbors included athletes Bob Gibson, Marlon Briscoe, Gale Sayers, Roger Sayers and Bob Boozer. Beasley’s maternal grandfather invented the brick of chili for Cuttahee Packing House. His parents separated and his father, an electrical contractor, moved to Chicago, Illinois. Beasley grew up at 24th and Lake near the Ritz Theatre and the Hotel Callahan. Beasley played football and was popular at Omaha Technical High School. He attended the University of Omaha from 1964 to 1968.

Beasley moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and after starting in the mailroom of WFIL-TV, he became assistant producer for a local children’s program called The World Around Us. Beasley worked on the waterfront, like Omaha’s Marlon Brando did in the movie of the same name. A small part in Germantown Theatre’s production of As You Like It started Beasley’s acting itch. From time to time, he studied and took classes and completed an internship in Minnesota with Don Cheadle. Beasley was cast in August Wilson’s early Goodman Theatre productions in Chicago; however, Beasley worked as a Union Pacific Railroad clerk for seven years before he decided to pursue acting as a full-time career. In his first year, Beasley’s dream to become an actor came true when he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey in the short lived television series Brewster Place, and his career took off from there. Beasley’s other film and television credits include The Apostle, Rudy, The General’s Daughter, The Sum of All Fears and Everwood.

Still living in his hometown of Omaha, Beasley enjoys teaching and directing at his newly established theater, The John Beasley Workshop at Center Stage. Beasley also keeps busy with junior golf and tennis programs and fundraisers for the American Heart Association. He and his wife have been married for over forty years and have two grown sons who are aspiring actors.

Accession Number

A2007.285

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2007

Last Name

Beasley

Schools

Omaha Technical High School

University of Nebraska-Omaha

Howard Kennedy Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Omaha

HM ID

BEA08

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Nebraska

Favorite Vacation Destination

Vancouver, British Columbia

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nebraska

Birth Date

6/26/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Omaha

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Meatloaf, Fish

Short Description

Actor, theater chief executive, and stage director John Beasley (1943 - ) appeared in several films and television shows, including the television series, 'Brewster Place,' in which he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey, and the films, 'Rudy,' 'The Mighty Ducks,' 'The Apostle,' 'The General's Daughter,' and, 'The Operator.'

Employment

Various

WFIL-TV

Union Pacific Railroad

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Beasley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Beasley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Beasley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Beasley remembers his parents' separation

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers his neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his early activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls the television programs of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his decision to play football

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Beasley recalls playing football at Omaha University in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers his teammate, Marlin Briscoe

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John Beasley remembers Howard Kennedy Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - John Beasley describes his early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls the Ritz Theater in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Beasley recalls the music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Beasley remembers Technical High School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to the arts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Beasley remembers the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his theater involvement at Technical High School

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his decision to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Beasley talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John Beasley recalls moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to screen acting

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Beasley describes his training as an actor

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls his first opportunity to sign with an agent

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Beasley talks about his early acting career in the Midwest

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Beasley talks about his film and stage acting roles

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about acting in August Wilson's plays

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Beasley talks about the challenges of acting in the Midwest

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers acting in 'The Apostle' with Robert Duvall

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls the success of 'The Apostle'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his transition to acting in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Beasley talks about being a character actor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes the acting community in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Beasley talks about African American theater companies

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his plans for the future

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

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John Beasley reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John Beasley reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John Beasley talks about his favorite acting roles

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - John Beasley describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$6

DATitle
John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'
John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska
Transcript
Few months later, my agent in Minneapolis [Minnesota] calls, says, "You remember Jane Brody?" I said, "Yeah, I remember Jane, you know, I auditioned for her at the, at your office up there." And so she says, "Well Jane wants to know if you would be interested in coming into Chicago [Illinois] to audition." And I just remembered reading in the USA Today, Oprah Winfrey was going to do a TV series called 'Brewster Place' based on 'The Women of Brewster Place,' and I thought, wow, that'll be a great, you know, great opportunity for some Chicago actors. And so she calls me into Chicago to audition for 'Brewster Place,' and I go in there and I meet [HistoryMaker] Reuben Cannon who had, I had worked for before, and it was a long process and they had me in there several times and then eventually they bring me in to read with Oprah Winfrey and I remember sitting in this cast, you know, office and Oprah Winfrey comes up the steps with her aide, with an aide, and they go in this room, you know, she doesn't give me an eye contact or anything, she goes in the room and so I go in and I do this and, you know, I do this audition, I know I'm good, I know I'm good and so after I, when I get ready to leave, I say to Oprah, I said, incidentally, I said, "Judy [Judy Beasley] says hi." So she says, "Who's Judy?" I said, "She's my wife." So, "Oh, tell her I said hi." So, eventually they called me in to screen test with Oprah, and so they give me this mail uniform, I don't wear a ring today, they give me this mail, I'm the mail carrier, he's a mail carrier, so I'm, so the master props man, he comes around he says, "So what, you need anything?" I said, I said, "Yeah," I said, "a mailman always has keys so I'm going to need some keys and, oh, I need a wedding band 'cause Reuben says that he's probably married and has a couple of kids." And I'm thinking, damn, you know, 'cause if I can have some kind of a relationship with Oprah's character, you know, that would mean that I'd be in it a lot more and I think it'd mean more to me, you know, but hey, I'm just happy to get a job. So we're sitting there while they're waiting and Oprah's sitting there and I'm sitting across from her and I'm just looking at Oprah and I'm giving her eye contact and she's looking at me and so eventually Oprah says, "So, how's the family?" And so, I figure okay, you know, I'd done some selling in my days and I know that in a situation like that, the first person that speaks loses. So now I get a little bolder and Oprah, I hope she never, she'll never see this, and so I get a little bolder and so I said, Oprah, I said to Oprah, I said, "Oprah," I said, "so where'd you study acting," I said, "because I really loved you in 'The Color Purple.'" And she says, "I never studied." I said, "Well," I said, "well, don't mess up 'cause this is my big chance," and so Reuben cracks up and Oprah's like, is this nigger for real (laughter)? I mean, you know, so, but I think it had to impress her because we're sitting there and as we go along a little further, Oprah looks down at the ring and she says, "You know, I don't think Mr. Willie is married," and I said, "You know what Oprah, I don't think he is either (laughter)." And so I got the job, I got the job as her love interest. We did eleven episodes. ABC didn't want it, it was a half an hour, half an hour dramedy, something like that, like 'Frank's Place,' very innovative, you know. 'Frank's Place' was an incredible show.$$Right, right.$$I thought it was one of the best shows not to make it on TV and, but this was, 'Brewster Place' was sort of like that, you know, and we were breaking grounds. ABC didn't want it but they wanted Oprah Winfrey so they gave her a shot, you know, and they kept moving it around, you know. You know, they would show two weeks and then the next week it wouldn't be on and then they would move it around again to different nights and they really knew how to program it to fail and so it never made it but I had my experience with Oprah Winfrey. A wonderful woman, I might add, she really is, you know and I felt that she looked out for me while I was there. There would be times, I came on as a recurring character and wound up having more episodes than some of the regulars and because Oprah would be, you know, they'd be at a table read and Oprah would say, "Well that sounds like something Mr. Willie would say," and the next thing I know I'd be getting a call, you know, "You're going to be working this week," you know. So--$$So, did they shoot that in Chicago or--$$We shot it in Chicago, yeah. Worked out of Chicago and it was a great time, it was a great time--$Now tell us about how, about the theater, I guess. We need to talk about that.$$You know, the theater, it used to be, the theater that I run is called, the John Beasley Theater [John Beasley Theater and Workshop, Omaha, Nebraska], and it's only because the people that owned the building at that time wanted to name it after me. I didn't want my name on it. I don't need my name on a building or anything like that, I know who I am and, but I was, I was working with some underprivileged kids in the projects over in South Omaha [Omaha, Nebraska] and the Center Stage [Center Stage Theater, Omaha, Nebraska] is one of the theaters I came up on, you know. We used to do a lot of good things there, had a good reputation, it was a black theater, only minority theater in the state, and it had been closed for about three years and they asked me if I would want to do something in the theater and I thought, well, no, I definitely don't want to be a busi- I'm not a businessman, I'm not a, my head's not there and I was working with a young lady who wanted to, to get into acting and I'd always told her that, you know, I would work with her at one point or another. She's, was fifty years old at that time and finally I said, listen, we'll do, I'll do something with you. So, I got the, I got 'Fences' by August Wilson and I gave her the role of Linda [sic.], and I said, "Study this," and I started working with her. She came along to the point where I thought, let me put some other people around her. So I put some people around her and the next thing I knew, we had enough for the cast for 'Fences,' and so I decided, okay, I'll do this over there and, you know, we'll do the show. So after that, it was owned by Omaha public housing [Omaha Housing Authority] and they, the council decided, the board decided to name the theater after me and, and now I'm stuck with, you know, running this theater, you know, and, because my name's on it, you know, I want to make it successful. So we started out doing three plays a year, four and five, and, and I've been with the--because I landed 'Everwood,' I was able to support this theater, you know, on my own, you know, with my own money and I've done that, I've done that up to the early part of this year, you know, when I decided that it's just, it's not good business, you know. I'm using my retirement money to run this damn thing and I don't know that Omaha [Nebraska] appreciates it, you know. And so it was a matter of, you know, the theater either making it on its own or, you know, we're just getting out of it, you know. 'Cause I never really wanted to run a theater but I've changed a lot of lives in here, in Omaha, and gotten peoples in the theater that never would have been there because we didn't have a large base to grow from, I'm normally training people and we would, we typecast a lot, you know. If you look like or act like you, this character that I'm looking for, you know, bring you in there and teach you how to be yourself, you know, and, again, it's in being in the moment, teaching them what I do, and just learning how to be real and if I can teach them how to be themselves, you know, we've got it made, you know, and I've turned out some pretty good actors and I've got a couple that I'm really proud of.$$What are their names? Some of the--$$Really proud of. Andre McGraw is one of them. He was in that first cast of 'Fences' and he played my son, and this guy, you know, he wasn't a very good reader but he really wanted to do this and, but once he got the words down, he was, he did really well. But he was in love. He had a girlfriend who lived in Kansas City [Missouri], and he was always on the phone with her and he, he was, you know, it was a distraction and one time I was on stage with him and I give his cue and there's no Andre and I'm waiting out there ad-libbing and this stuff. I finally go offstage and I see him, he's out there talking on the phone to his girlfriend. So I got on him about that. Then one Sunday we were getting ready to perform, he calls me from the highway, he's on his way back from Kansas City and, so I had to delay the show and he got in there and I finally, I said, "He'll never work in my theater again, never again." We were doing a play called, 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] and Andre called me, he said, "Mr. Beasley [HistoryMaker John Beasley]," he says, "listen, I know you, you know, that you took a chance on me, and I'm sorry and I, you know--I won't give you any problems, I really want to do this." So I said, "All right, Andre," I said, "you know, I'm going to bring you back in," I said, "but if you mess up," I said, "that's it, you're through with me." I brought him in and he was the surprise of that show. He was just, did a fantastic job. So my son, Tyrone [Tyrone Beasley], who directs for me, and I were, we're looking for a lead for 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' [August Wilson] and this character is, you know, is, it's a pretty strong character. And so, the only person we could think of was Andre and, you know, I talk--we can do this, he can do this.

Kenny Leon

Theatrical and television director and actor Kenny Leon was born Kenneth Leroy Leon on February 10, 1956, in Tallahassee, Florida, to Annie Ruth and Leroy Leon. The oldest of five siblings, Leon’s family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, when he was nine years old. At Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Leon got involved in the federal government’s Upward Bound Program which encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. In 1978, Leon graduated from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, with his B.A. degree in political science. He attended Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles for a brief period before returning to Atlanta.

In 1979, Leon returned to Atlanta to try his hand at theater. He soon became a member of the Academy Theater in Atlanta where he worked as an actor and director. Often times, Leon would run outreach programs at prisons and schools; one such play was performed entirely by the homeless. All of the profits from the homeless-cast play were contributed to local homeless shelters. In 1988, after years of touring and directing across the country, Leon was offered a job as associate artistic director at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. By 1990, he was the senior artistic director and would lead the company for the next ten years. By selecting a wide range of multicultural plays for the theater, Leon increased the minority attendance and the national reputation of the Alliance, and quintupled the endowment.

In 2002, after leaving the Alliance, Leon founded his own theater company in Atlanta, the True Colors Theater Company, which focused on promulgating and preserving Negro-American theatrical classics. Leon has continued to make waves in the theater world outside of Atlanta. In 2004, he directed his first Broadway play, reviving Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun for which he cast hip hop mogul, Sean Combs in the role of Walter Lee Younger; in 2007, Leon directed a television adaptation of the play. Between 2004 and 2007, Leon directed the world and Broadway premieres of August Wilson’s final two plays, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf; he also directed the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s first opera, Margaret Garner. While he continues to ensure the success of True Colors, Leon plans to put together all of August Wilson’s ten plays at the Kennedy Center as a tribute to the deceased playwright.

Leon was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 9, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.250

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/9/2007

Last Name

Leon

Schools

Northeast High School

Clark Atlanta University

Campbell Park Elementary School

John Hopkins Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Kenny

Birth City, State, Country

Tallahassee

HM ID

LEO02

Favorite Season

None

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Africa

Favorite Quote

All You Have Is Your Time And Talent. Use Them Wisely.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

2/10/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Stage director and theater chief executive Kenny Leon (1956 - ) was the artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and the founder of the True Colors Theatre Company. Leon's directorial achievements included the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun; productions of an assortment of August Wilson’s plays; and the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s first opera, Margaret Garner.

Employment

Academy Theater

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

Alliance Theatre

True Colors Theatre Company

Favorite Color

Blue, Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kenny Leon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon remembers being raised by his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon recalls moving to St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon describes his grade school experiences in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon remembers celebrating the holidays

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon talks about segregation in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon remembers Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Kenny Leon recalls his early interest in acting

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Kenny Leon talks about the Upward Bound program

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon recalls his decision to attend Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon recalls the start of his acting career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon remembers the Civil Rights Movement in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon describes the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon talks about his community theater programs

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon recalls his theater experiences in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon remembers working with the Center Stage Theater in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon recalls working for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon remembers August Wilson, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon remembers August Wilson, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon talks about his tenure at the Alliance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon recalls diversifying Alliance Theatre's staff and programming

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon talks about theatre directors

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon recalls leaving the Alliance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon remembers founding the True Colors Theatre Company

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'A Raisin in the Sun,' pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'A Raisin in the Sun,' pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon talks about the directors of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon remembers his directorial vision for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon recalls directing August Wilson's 'Gem of the Ocean'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon remembers directing August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon talks about directing 'Margaret Garner'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon describes the True Colors Theatre Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'The Wiz'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon talks about his Tony Award nominations

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon describes August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon describes the playwrights he admires

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon describes his plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Kenny Leon recalls the start of his acting career
Kenny Leon remembers founding the True Colors Theatre Company
Transcript
And at that time, I was a political science major and sort of a drama minor, you know what I mean, all of my electives were in theater, but I was preparing to go to law school, because that's when my mom [Annie Wilson Holtzclaw] said, "You're a first generation college student--you're going to be a minister or you're going to be a lawyer, or you're going to do something that they know." And then I went to law school for, you know, for like that long. And when I left, I went to law school in L.A. [Los Angeles, California]--Southwestern University School of Law [Southwestern Law School], and I left there and came back to Florida for a minute. I said, I can't live in Florida, so I came back to Atlanta [Georgia], and when I came back to Atlanta, I had an audition for the Academy of Music and Theater [sic. Academy Theatre], and this guy, Frank Wittow who died last year--he was a great friend of mine, he had this company that would do plays in prisons and in the school system, and I got a job doing that, working improvisationally through theatre to create plays, and then also doing it in legitimate plays, like, you know, 'Richard III' [William Shakespeare] and 'Hamlet' [William Shakespeare]. At the end of that year, he said, "Okay, so you want to come back and work for me for two hundred dollars a week, or do you want to go back to law school?" So, I was like, "Ah, I think I like this." And, at that time, I was also starting to do television commercials, because I looked a certain way at a certain time, and my mother, who was a dietician in Florida--I think she was concerned about, "Is he going to make a living," or whatever, and she was watching television with one of her patients and she said, "That's my son, that's my son." She said, "Oh, he does commercials, oh he can make a million dollars." I was like, really? So, at that point, she said "Okay, I understand, you know, okay, I understand."$$What was your first commercial?$$It was an Aaron [Aaron's, Inc.] rent furniture television commercial, and there was a thing about a man was working so hard that he was not spending any time with his mother. And at the end of the commercial, she would take this, her purse and hit the man in the stomach, and I was the man. And, so it was like a really cute, funny commercial.$I had no idea I was going to start another theater company, but then Riley Temple [HistoryMaker Riley K. Temple], who is the head of the Arena Stage board in D.C. [Washington, D.C.], and Chris Manos [Christopher B. Manos], who is the head of Theater of the Stars in Atlanta [Georgia], they both independently tried to talk me into starting a national black theater company. And I was like, why would I want to do that, I want to--you know. And, at the same time I got my first opportunity to direct 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] on Broadway with P. Diddy [Sean Combs; P. Diddy] and [HistoryMaker] Phylicia Rashad, so I wanted to do more of that, but you know, the weight of these two men saying, we need a national black theater company--so, I went into the room and said okay, if I had to do a theater company, what would it look like, you know? What would a national black theater look like? And to me, it would look like a theater that was all-inclusive of all people, because I wanted everyone--I didn't want to do a black theater for black people. I wanted to honor black theater, but in the midst of the broader community. So, I was like wow, if I can figure out a way to do that, it would be great. So, what I decided to do was to--at the center of the work, to do African American classics, which those plays--those are the plays that no one's doing. You know, if you're in the Alliance Theatre or the Arena Stage, or the Goodman Theatre [Chicago, Illinois], you're not doing plays by James Baldwin and Les Lee [Leslie Lee], and Zora Neale Hurston. You're not doing that, so I was like, wow, as soon as a black writer dies, that's it, you know. Their work don't get--that's it. So, and if you read James Baldwin or Langston Hughes, you're like, that was some great work. Or if you read Lorraine Hansberry's other work other than 'Raisin in the Sun,' that was some great work. And you got all these new generations of people that will never know these people, and these people were great Americans. So I was like wow, if True Colors [True Colors Theatre Company] can be the company that embrace that work--because if you're these other large regional theaters--you're only going to do the hottest thing that just left New York [New York] or just getting ready to go to New York, because it's about making your money, but you only got one space for diversity, you're only going to do one black play and one Hispanic play, so they couldn't do it. So, I was like, if we did that, that would be something no one else is doing. But, to be different, I don't want to just do all black plays, but then, let's flip that model because the model for most American theater is to do all Anglo-American work at the center. Right? And then they just diversify one or two spots on the edges for other people. So, it's like, I don't know, let's put the classics in the center, and then we'll do three or four plays by everybody else, because I'm not racist, I'm not sexist. And that's when I said that's what I would do if I was running the theater. So, Chris Manos said, "Here's fifty thousand dollars, start it." So, I was like, "Well, you know I'm not going to be able to spend all my time there because I've got to develop myself as a director." He said, "You don't need to, you just need to get it going. You need to be the inspiration, you need to be the vision for it." So, I went around the country and I asked these great people like Zelda Fichandler and all these people, and Zelda ran--you know, she started the regional theater movement--she started the Arena Stage about fifty years ago. So, I talked to all these people--Ben Cameron, and these people said, "Look--," Woodie King [HistoryMaker Woodie King, Jr.], who's a great pioneer of the black theater movement. So I talked to black folks, white folks--I talked to the great [HistoryMaker] Lloyd Richards just before he died, I talked to August Wilson, and they said, "Look, the reason these black--," and at the same time you got to remember black theaters in the last fifteen years were dying, so you had these large theaters that were trying to diversify, and they were getting a lot of funding to do that, but they were only putting in one play, one play. And then you had the black theaters that wasn't getting--they weren't getting enough money, and they were dying. So, now you have a problem in America. You don't have culturally specific theaters and you don't have the large theaters doing enough of the work--that can't do enough of the work. So, it's like wow. So we started this company to do that.$$And the name of the company? True Colors?$$True Colors Theatre, which means, you know, I promised myself to always be in pursuit of truth and clarity, and that's truth and clarity about life, about who we are. So, every play is an effort to shed some light on the truth as we know it. And sometimes that can be in a comedy, sometimes that can be in a musical, sometimes that can be in a drama.

Ricardo Khan

Ricardo Mohamed Khan was born on November 4, 1951, in Washington, D.C., to Mustapha and Jacqueline Khan, a doctor from Trinidad and an American nurse. Khan was raised in Camden, New Jersey. In 1968, as a high school student, he went on a class trip to Broadway and saw an all-black cast perform Hello, Dolly. The trip inspired him to become active in his high school’s drama program, and the next year, he attended Rutgers University, where he studied psychology and theater. Khan earned his B.A. degree in 1973 and his M.F.A. degree in 1977, both from Rutgers University.

Khan and one of his graduate school classmates, L. Kenneth Richardson, were frustrated by the limited opportunities for African Americans in theater; they wanted roles that went beyond conventional stereotypes. In 1978, they came up with the idea for the Crossroads Theatre Company as a place to promote black theater and black artists. With help from Eric Krebs of the nearby George Street Playhouse and a government grant, the company became a reality; its first theater was the second floor of an old factory in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The Crossroads Theatre Company presented their first world premier, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show by Don Evans in 1981. In 1986, with the premiere of The Colored Museum, Crossroads was established as a distinguished regional company. The next year, Khan and Richardson launched a $1 million campaign to build a new playhouse, though Richardson left the group before the new stage was completed in 1991.

In the following years, the Crossroads Theatre Company became increasingly well-regarded; in a famous 1996 speech, playwright August Wilson described it as a role model for black theaters. Khan won a number of personal awards as well, including induction into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni; an honorary doctorate from his alma mater; and the New Jersey Governor’s Award. In 1999, the Crossroads Theatre Company received the Tony Award for the Best Regional Theater.

However, lingering financial problems forced the company to make major cutbacks. In 2000, Khan went on sabbatical, traveling in Trinidad and later in Africa. That same year, Crossroads had to close for a season; the next year, it was able to mount a few shows, and it has gradually built back up since. In 2003, Khan returned to his role as artistic director, and in 2008 the Crossroads Theatre Company celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.

Accession Number

A2007.238

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/14/2007

Last Name

Khan

Maker Category
Schools

Friends Select School

Moorestown Friends School

Plymouth Meeting Friends School

Cherry Hill High - West

Rutgers University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Ricardo

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

KHA01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Believe. Hold Fast To Dreams.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

11/4/1951

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Lobster

Short Description

Stage director and artistic director Ricardo Khan (1951 - ) co-founded and was the artistic director of the Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey.

Employment

Self Employed

Crossroads Theatre

Comprehensive Employment and Training Act

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:2366,120:4004,172:10054,252:15164,365:15456,370:20795,453:30675,583:30935,588:31325,598:40120,708:46423,744:59669,980:79076,1133:84666,1221:90652,1261:91240,1270:95104,1367:97120,1407:115540,1580:139416,1909:142242,1933:142758,1947:143102,1961:148216,2017:149968,2054:150333,2060:156495,2208:163220,2252:163645,2258:168444,2296:168899,2302:169718,2314:176907,2429:178636,2452:182367,2504:187600,2526:190142,2577:190798,2586:195612,2643:198337,2672:211046,2839:211426,2844:214232,2879:215798,2900:217364,2927:217799,2933:220235,2968:220670,2974:225214,3015:229890,3064:230265,3070:230565,3075:239086,3173:245424,3229:245928,3236:253312,3350:257118,3403:257726,3412:261070,3471:261754,3490:262438,3506:264946,3555:265554,3564:266770,3585:267378,3594:273735,3629:274246,3642:275560,3669:276217,3680:280816,3776:281619,3790:282057,3797:282641,3806:283444,3827:283882,3834:284466,3843:297418,3982:298170,3991$0,0:36038,518:35910,524:36533,533:38224,559:40340,567:42468,610:51470,678:52388,689:54160,713:64090,763:83340,971:87806,1010:88884,1044:94182,1141:95367,1160:106510,1352:107266,1363:109030,1396:110710,1428:117885,1508:126115,1580:126510,1586:127063,1594:127458,1600:127774,1605:130144,1662:132040,1704:132751,1714:133699,1728:135358,1755:139150,1822:139782,1831:141283,1885:141757,1892:143653,1935:163869,2197:164562,2208:165332,2228:167873,2278:172270,2317
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ricardo Khan's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes his mother's personality and influence

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his families' businesses

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes his parents' education at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ricardo Khan describes how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ricardo Khan recalls his father's medical residency in Norristown, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan's mother remembers her professors at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan describes his father's personality and career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan lists his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan remembers moving frequently during his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ricardo Khan remembers his mother's civic involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ricardo Khan describes his education in Quaker schools

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ricardo Khan describes his experiences of discrimination at the Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan remembers the Friends Select School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan describes the music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan recalls the televisions programs of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan remembers the Moorestown Friends School in Moorestown, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan recalls Cherry Hill High School West in Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan remembers the all-black Broadway production of 'Hello, Dolly!'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan remembers his first role as a director

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan remembers the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan recalls his theatrical involvement at Cherry Hill High School West in Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes his decision to attend Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan recalls his theater involvement in Camden and New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his experiences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan recalls his decision to attend the Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan recalls Broadway's African American productions

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan remembers the New Federal Theater in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan describes the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan remembers founding the Crossroads Theatre Company

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan recalls naming his theater company

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes the mission of the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's opening season

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's audiences

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroad Theatre's awards

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan remembers his directorial influences

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan recalls his production of 'The Darker Face of the Earth'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's production of 'Jitney'

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's financial difficulties, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan describes the Crossroads Theatre's financial difficulties, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan remembers his departure from the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ricardo Khan talks about the closure of the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ricardo Khan describes Crossroad Theatre's funding

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ricardo Khan reflects upon the challenges facing black theater companies

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ricardo Khan describes his return to the Crossroads Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Ricardo Khan reflects upon his reasons for leaving the Crossroad Theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Ricardo Khan describes his hopes for the African American theater community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ricardo Khan narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ricardo Khan narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Ricardo Khan remembers the all-black Broadway production of 'Hello, Dolly!'
Ricardo Khan remembers founding the Crossroads Theatre Company
Transcript
So you're a junior in high school [Cherry Hill High School West, Cherry Hill, New Jersey] at this point?$$Yeah.$$And so you're in 'Funny Girl' [Isobel Lennart] in this, in this performance?$$That's right.$$And so where are you performing?$$In the high school. It was a (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, I thought it was like a downtown audition.$$No, it was the high school musical--$$I understand. I understand.$$It was the high school musical, and that was the weirdest thing for me. It was like you're going to be a guy in the dancing, words going to get out (laughter). But I just turned it around, I said, oh my god, I love this, I could do this. So that year Benny [Benny White (ph.)] and I were in this musical, 'Funny Girl,' and I'm more into--I tend to like acting, but he always loved dance. But his mother, her name was Peggy White [ph.], god bless her soul, she would always prior to this take us out to see plays, like community theater and stuff like that. There were these things in the Camden [New Jersey] area called the music fairs where there's this big tent and underneath the tent they had seats and they had professional summer stock shows that would come through, musicals and things. She would always take us to these things. Also in Jack and Jill [Jack and Jill of America, Inc.], which is where, we would always go out to these shows and functions and every month was something different. One month it may be to go skiing, one month it may be to--one month we sat with a Black Panther who taught us things about movement at that time and one month in that junior year in 1968, the trip was to go to a Broadway show. Now, none of us had ever gone to a Broadway show before. We lived there in Camden and in Cherry Hill [New Jersey] and we went, got on the bus and it drove us up. All these Jack and Jillers to see a show on Broadway, 'Hello, Dolly!' [Michael Stewart], and what was remarkable about it, we didn't really know anything about it, was when we got in there, 'Hello, Dolly!' had become a big hit. It was produced by David Merrick and Carol Channing, the people that had made it famous. It won all these Tony Awards [Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre] but when we got there it was an all-black cast. Pearl Bailey was the lead and Cab Calloway. Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway and an all-black cast of 'Hello, Dolly!' of all things, 'Hello, Dolly!,' which has nothing to do with our culture at all. It was based on 'The Matchmaker' [Thornton Wilder], it was incredible but it was amazing that we were there doing it. All of sudden Broadway which is the center of theater in the world and the best show on Broadway at the time that we could be that, that we could be the best, no, no, no. Unbelievable what that did to us, these kids who hopped on a bus in Camden, New Jersey to come up to New York City [New York, New York] to see a show on Broadway and look up there and see that these people up there look just like us. Never ever could I come up with the words that properly describe this impact. But there was one thing that happened even more powerful and that was that at the end of the play we get back on the bus to go back to Camden and we're on the bus and a couple of the people from the play--from the show come out onto the bus and look at us kids and say, "You know what, we just wanted to thank you for coming." These guys, they were in this Broadway show and they came onto our bus to thank us for coming and then we asked them questions, they answered us back and all of a sudden there was a dialogue between us and these Broadway people who looked like us. I think that was the most powerful thing for me because it showed me that it doesn't matter how big you are, it doesn't matter how big you are, how bright your star is. Always remember where you came from, always remember that part of your role is excellence on stage or in film or whatever you're pursuing but the other part is to give back and I learned that that day.$But I had a meeting right after that with a friend of mine who by that time was working at CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act], and he gave me the ins and outs of it. I applied, sent in a grant through the George Street Playhouse [New Brunswick, New Jersey] because we needed an umbrella organization; George Street said they'd do it. I wrote the grant, we put it in through George Street, they did some talking, I did some talking, we got a grant for basically--what came up to about $230,000 in 1978 to start what was called the ethnic theater project because we weren't allowed to use the word black (laughter). We got $230,000 and we were allowed to hire about twenty two people with that money. Actors, administrators, production people, public relations, everybody we needed to start a black theater in New Brunswick [New Jersey]. We found this little hole in a wall place it used to be a sewing factory. Half of the second floor was available, it had been vacant for a long time, we got in there, we got the money--the CETA money. The first thing we did was we had to renovate, and while we were renovating we were doing workshops. We sent workshops out in the communities the same way I learned how to do it in that other CETA project, we did it here 'cause I figure you know what, we needed to break down the barriers between the community, which at that time was primarily black and Hispanic, and theater which was formal to them. We also wanted to break down the barriers between the traditional theater going audience which is predominantly white and the black theater which they didn't think they could be a part of. So that's what the workshops are for, we went out and we did workshops everywhere to teach whatever we could to people and let them know we're here. Then we did an open house and fourteen people showed up and then we did it again and I think twenty people showed up, and then we finally were ready to rehearse a show, and now this is in 1979, early part of it. The first show we did was 'First Breeze of Summer' ['The First Breeze of Summer'] written Leslie Lee and we did that show and of course because we had that funding from CETA, we didn't have to charge for tickets, it was all free, and it was a big, big hit and that was what started the Crossroads Theatre Company.

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

United States

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

United States

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
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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.

Maurice Hines, Jr.

Choreographer, dancer, actor and director Maurice Robert Hines, Jr. was born on December 13, 1943 in New York City. His parents were Alma Hines and Maurice Hines, Sr. He is the brother of the late jazz tap dancer and actor, Gregory Hines. A graduate of Jose Quintanos School for Young Professionals, Hines began studying tap dancing in New York City at age five at the Henry LeTang Dance Studio in 1948. LeTang realized his pupil’s gift for dance and began choreographing numbers tailored for Hines and his younger brother Gregory.

In 1954, when Hines was 10 years old, he and Gregory appeared in the Broadway musical comedy The Girl in Pink Tights. Following in the footsteps of the famed Nicholas brothers, they soon began appearing on stage throughout the country. They toured as the opening act for such headliners as Lionel Hampton and Gypsy Rose Lee. Their father joined the act as a drummer, and the threesome became known as Hines, Hines & Dad, performing to rave reviews in New York, Las Vegas and Europe. They made television appearances on The Pearl Bailey Show, Hollywood Palace and appeared 35 times on The Tonight Show.

In 1973, Hines began his solo career singing and dancing as Nathan Detroit in the hit musical National Touring Company of Guys and Dolls with Debbie Allen and Richard Roundtree. After his performance, Hines created a sensation in the hit Broadway musical Eubie, which opened at the Ambassador Theatre in New York on September 20, 1978 and closed October 7, 1979. The show also starred his brother Gregory and was choreographed by Henry LeTang. In 1981, Hines returned to Broadway with his performance in Bring Back Birdie with Chita Rivera. That same year, he also appeared in Sophisticated Ladies.

Turning his talents to the big screen, Hines made his film debut in 1984, in Francis Ford Coppola’s Cotton Club and during that same time with Mercedes Ellington formed Ballet Tap USA, a dance company. In 1986, he conceived, directed, choreographed, and starred in the musical Uptown…It’s Hot!. The show played for seventeen sold-out weeks in Atlantic City before moving to Broadway where Hines received a Tony Award nomination as Best Actor in a Musical. He went on to direct several theater productions including the National Tour of the musical Harlem Suite with leading ladies Jennifer Holiday, Stephanie Mills and Melba Moore and internationally the musical Havana Night in Cuba.

In 2006, Hines collaborated on a new Broadway dance musical, Hot Feet, with Maurice White, the creator of the renown R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire and also released a jazz album, To Nat King Cole with Love.

Hines resides in New York City.

Hines was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 9, 2007.

Accession Number

A2006.154

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/8/2006 |and| 1/9/2007

Last Name

Hines

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Maurice

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

HIN02

Favorite Season

Christmas

Sponsor

Carol H. Williams Advertising

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Gotcha!

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/13/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken, Fish

Short Description

Choreographer, entertainer, and stage director Maurice Hines, Jr. (1943 - ) received a Tony Award for his performance in 'Uptown...It's Hot!'

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Black

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Maurice Hines, Jr. interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls walking with his brother on Harlem's Lenox Avenue

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his and his brother's first dance lessons

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls the start of his father's drumming career

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his early performances at New York City's Apollo Theater

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his childhood in New York City's Harlem neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes the role of religion in his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his family

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his maternal uncle paying for his dance lessons

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls seeing the Nicholas brothers for the first time

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's performances with Shirley Temple

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers African American tap dancers

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers Harlem's dance culture in the 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers his early dance training

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his first Broadway role

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his mother acting as his business manager

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his experiences of discrimination in Miami, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Maurice Hines, Jr. how African American artists were received in Europe

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls the formation of Hines, Hines and Dad

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers Johnny Carson's support

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes the changes in the entertainment industry

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers working with Ella Fitzgerald

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls opening for Ella Fitzgerald in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers meeting Tallulah Bankhead in Las Vegas, Nevada

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls portraying Nathan Detroit in 'Guys and Dolls'

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his and his brother's career changes

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls the end of his act with his brother, Gregory Hines

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers performing in 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about the importance of respect

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his early choreography

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls performing with his brother in 'Eubie!'

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers acting with his brother in 'The Cotton Club'

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers collaborating with Maurice White on 'Hot Feet'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes the reviews of his musical, 'Hot Feet'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. shares his perspective on Broadway critics

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes the challenges of choreography

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about the success of 'Hot Feet'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his and his brother's styles of tap dance

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls choreographing the music video for Quincy Jones' 'I'll Be Good to You'

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Slating Maurice Hines, Jr.'s interview, session 2

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about choreographer Michael Peters

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls working with his brother on 'The Cotton Club'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his nightclub circuit in the Catskill Mountains

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his return to the entertainment business

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers New York City's cabaret nightclubs

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls replacing his brother in 'Sophisticated Ladies'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his style of tap choreography

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about his show, 'Uptown... It's Hot'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about racial discrimination on Broadway

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers marketing his musical, 'Hot Feet'

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls the impact of his Tony Award nomination

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about African American performers in Broadway shows

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers working with the stars of 'Dreamgirls'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his choreographic work in Cuba and the Dominican Republic

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers choreographing for the Rockettes

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls musicals featuring Savion Glover and Gregory Hines

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. reflects upon the changes in dance training

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Maurice Hines, Jr. reflects upon his experiences as an actor

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers his transition to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about African American dance company directors

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his project, 'Yo Alice'

Tape: 6 Story: 11 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about his style of choreography

Tape: 6 Story: 12 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remembers 'Jelly's Last Jam' and 'Pippin'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about his mentor, Joe Layton, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about his mentor, Joe Layton, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes the history of African American dancers

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about his collaboration with Maurice White

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. remember his brother, Gregory Hines' death

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. reflects upon the changes in show business

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about his daughter

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about the development of his spirituality

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Maurice Hines, Jr. reflects upon his career

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his early challenges as an entertainer

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Maurice Hines, Jr. reflects upon his mother's support for his career

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes his recent projects

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes the importance of stage presence

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Maurice Hines, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Maurice Hines, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

8$4

DATitle
Maurice Hines, Jr. recalls his early performances at New York City's Apollo Theater
Maurice Hines, Jr. talks about the success of 'Hot Feet'
Transcript
How old were you when you--?$$When we started traveling? Oh, we were eight and ten when all of a sudden we hit it big. Because we got with this great teacher, Henry LeTang. And Henry took us to see--I'll tell you the punch line of the story--to see this lady at the Apollo Theater [New York, New York] because he wanted us to get on the 'Amateur Night' ['Amateur Night at the Apollo']. So, we went to--upstairs, and she looked at us and she said, "Yeah, they're cute. So--but don't put them on the show, because they're cute, they'll win because they're cute." And she didn't know we really could dance. And Henry said, "Okay, do whatever you want." And I asked her, I said, "Well, what do you do?" And she said, "Well, I'm a comedian on the regular show." So, she said, "Well you go out and see the regular show" because the 'Amateur Night' was after the regular show, in between the two shows in the evening. So, we go out there and we sit in the front. She, obviously she was the, she was the star because they made seats for us. And at the end of the show when the star comes out, it was Dinah Washington. And I--she came on singing 'Blue Gardenia.' And I said, "Oh," and I remember saying--because she said she was a comedian. And of course, the place went crazy, it was Dinah Washington singing. So, then she said--we went on the show, and she stood in the wings. She said, "Henry LeTang, they really can dance." She said, "They should have been on." He said, "Well, I didn't want to tell you that, because you just thought they were cute." So, we were doing flips and dips, like the Nicholas brothers [HistoryMaker Fayard Nicholas and Harold Nicholas]. She said, "Okay, I'll tell you what. Put 'em on next week with Ruth," meaning Ruth Brown. So, that was 1955. And that was the first time we ever worked the Apollo Theater, and we worked it fifteen times. They would have us every other week. And, and we worked, oh, we worked with (unclear)--the Spaniels, (unclear) there was Lar- Larry Williams, 'Bony Maronie.' We worked it with everybody. And we did one great show. It was a wonderful show with the Four Aces, Gregory [Gregory Hines] and I, The Hines Kids, [HistoryMaker] Diahann Carroll, and Nipsey Russell. It was a great show, it was a great show. And I'm still friends with Diahann to this day.$$Are any of those shows on tape?$$No, they did not tape them. The only thing are pictures--that great photographer, he did this kind of picture with pictures around it, with one in a circle, which I have.$So, they forced me. And when I was looking--and, oh, this wonderful story. When I was doing the end, the end of the ballet "Faces"--it's called "Faces" when all the dancers dance. I look over, and I see Maurice White like wiping his face. I thought, you know, he'd been there all day and he was tired. I thought he was just wiping his eyes. And he was crying. I asked his manager, I said, "Herb [Herb Powell], what's--is Maurice okay?" He said, "Yeah. He never thought that his music would inspire dancing like this." See, that's the humbleness of the man. And I, I got choked up, I did. Because I wanted him to be happy. He was, he was the one I really wanted to please. I mean, I want Maurice White to say, "It's okay." But he said more than that. He can't wait to do it again, he can't wait, you know.$$Well, you exceeded the Joffrey Ballet. Remember when they did their little Prince thing ['Billboards'], and they did all that stuff to Prince music (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Oh, yes, yes.$$And I thought that was great, until I saw 'Hot Feet' [Heru Ptah]. And I'm like, this is how it should be done.$$Well, that's an honor, that's an honor.$$This is how it should be done.$$Because I adore Joffrey Ballet. So, that's an honor that you said that, and I'm very pleased you said it. Because I di- thought that they--but this is--that's me up there. Everyone that saw it--all the dancers, all the dancers that came--all my buddies that know me from 'Jelly's Last Jam' [George C. Wolfe], and 'Guys and Dolls,' Debbie Allen said, "Maurice [HistoryMaker Maurice Hines, Jr.], that's you up there. That's how you dance, you know." That's it. So, now, with me getting in it, now there'll be some tap in it. Because [HistoryMaker] Louis Johnson said, "You cannot get in this show and not tap. Now, they're going to want you to tap. You can do all that other jazz stuff. But you--." I'll be part of the ballet. I'm going to do, I'm going to change the ballet, and I'm going to dance more in it with Vivian [Vivian Nixon].