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Roscoe Lee Browne

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

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

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

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

Accession Number

A2005.234

Sex

Male

Interview Date

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

Last Name

Browne

Middle Name

Lee

Schools

Woodbury Jr-Sr High

Lincoln University

Columbia University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Roscoe

Birth City, State, Country

Woodbury

HM ID

BRO34

Favorite Season

Spring

Sponsor

The Marmon Group

State

New Jersey

Favorite Vacation Destination

New York, New York

Favorite Quote

Carpe Diem.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Birth Date

5/2/1922

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken (Pot Pie), Pudding (Corn)

Death Date

4/11/2007

Short Description

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

Employment

Schenley Import Corporation

New York Shakespeare Festival

The Actors Studio

Negro Ensemble Company

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Emerald Green

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DAStories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$7

DAStory

2$3

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