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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

Maker Category
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
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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.