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Introduction
The Negro in early Hollywood

Film Posters
Selected rare film posters

Moderntimes
Classic Film Pages

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Recommended Links

The Movies, Race, and Ethnicity
U C Berkley site on Black films, filmmakers, and actors

The Radio Hall of Fame
A nice page on Eddie Anderson

From Slavery to Stepin Fetchit
Great article on the history of black humor

The African American Registry
A nice article on Bill Bojangles Robinson

Princeton past and present
A good selection of links for Paul Robeson

Our Gang
Hal Roach 1922,

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Ernie Morrison (Sunshine), Jay R. Smith, Allen Clayton Hoskins (Farina), Mickey Daniels, Joe Cobb

Our Gang produced at the Hal Roach studio was unusual in that it showed absolutely no distinctions between the white or the black children. Neither had an advantage. Farina, third from left went on to becomes one of the 1920s most popular child stars.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Universal Pictures 1927

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George Siegmann, James B. Lowe

The fourth film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, it was the first to employ predominately black performers in black roles. Previous versions used white players in Blackface.

Hearts in Dixie
Twentieth Century-Fox 1929

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Stepin Fetchit, Bernice Pilot

Hearts in Dixie introduced the talented Stepin Fetchit to wider audiences. Most Black-Americans had a love-hate affection for him. A legitimate star, he went on to a long and successful career.

Hallelujah
MGM 1929

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Nina Mea McKinney, William Fountaine

An all-black cast, it was the first talking picture for King Vidor. Though it failed to soften the dubious image of Negroes, it did little to further their demise.

Melancohly Dame
Paramount Pictures 1929

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Jonquil Williams, Permanent Williams

One of Paramount’s early Christie Comedies that combined the unlikely writing duo of (White) Octavus Roy Cohen and (Black) Spencer Williams. Williams went on to write for and star as Andy, in the Amos ’n’ Andy TV series in the 1950s.

Check and Double Check
RKO 1930

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Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll

Full-scale Blackface, this was an attempt to cash in on the popular “Amos ’n’ Andy” radio show. This film actually included an appearance by Duke Ellington and his orchestra.

Arrowsmith
Samuel Goldwyn 1931

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Richard Bennett, Clarence Brooks, Ronald Colman

John Ford directed the Sinclair Lewis classic about a doctor, Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Coleman) who ventures to the West Indies in order to help fight Bubonic plague. The central figure is a dignified black doctor portrayed convincingly by Clarence Brooks.

The Emperor Jones
Cochran Productions (UK) 1933

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Paul Robeson, Harold Nicholas

Based on Eugene O’Neill’s play, it was the first film featuring a black star surrounded by a white supporting cast. In the 1930s Paul Robeson was the most sought after black actor in the world.

Carolina
Twentieth Century-Fox 1934

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Gertrude Howard, Stepin Fetchit, Unidentified

This film supposedly outraged black audiences. By now though, the multi-talented Stepin Fetchit was on his way to becoming one of the highest paid performers in Hollywood, black or white.

Imitation of Life
Universal Pictures 1934

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Louise Beavers, Claudette Colbert, Madame Sul-te-Wan (far left)

Taken from Fannie Hurst’s book, the sub-plot involves a beautiful light skinned black woman taking on one of the oldest racial dilemmas in America – the decision to "pass" across the line from black to white.

Operator 13
MGM 1934

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Marion Davies, Sam McDanial

Marion Davies convincing in Blackface plays a Union spy. MGM owned the franchise on Blackface, threatened only Warner Brothers, and Al Jolson.

So Red the Rose
Paramount Pictures 1935

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Daniel Haynes, Clarence Muse

Set during Reconstruction, this film deals with the conflict between two former slaves, the stately house servant (Daniel Haynes), and the hard-eyed field hand (Clarence Muse).

The Little Colonel
Twentieth Century-Fox 1935

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Lionel Barrymore, Bill Robinson

If black Americans seethed at Robinson’s company manners, they never-the-less relished his footwork.

Steamboat ’Round the Bend
Twentieth Century-Fox 1935

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Stepin Fetchit, Francis Ford, Will Rogers

In these films Stepin Fetchit’s persona supports a mossy romantic vision of Southern life and celebrates the close personal connections between the old bondmen and their masters.

Underworld
Micheaux Film Corporation 1936

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Oscar Polk, Bea Freeman

Black gangsters, black molls, black heavies – all acted like their white counterparts in such “white” race movies as “Little Ceasar, and Public Enemy”. Micheaux, though could never quite get there. It ran for only four days at New York’s Harlem Opera House.

Dark Manhattan
Randol-Cooper Productions 1937

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Ralph Cooper, Cleo Herndon

This was a superbly photographed film. It lent support to the notion that more would fellow. Unfortunately the skills and technologies necessary to compete with the majors were seriously deficient among the independents. Witness Micheaux’s filming in friends ill-lighted apartments and in shabby disused studios.

They Won't Forget
Warner Brothers 1937

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Clinton Rosemond, E. Alyn Warren, Clifford Souber

Mervyn Leroy directed this film version of the Ward Green novel about a lynching. Clinton Rosamond plays a terror-stricken janitor who is almost the accidental subject of the inquisition.

Broken Strings
Goldberg-Randol Productions 1940

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Stymie Beard, Clarence Muse

Clarence Muse plays a classical violinist, whose damaged hands are repaired, with money raised by a Jazz band. “My heart belongs to the masters, but look what Swing has done for me”.

Buck Benny Rides Again
Paramount Pictures 1940

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Eddie Anderson, Theresa Harris, Ernest Whitman

Eddie Anderson, a veteran of vaudeville and radio’s Rochester was extremely popular with black audiences. A 1942 poll disclosed that Tarzan movies, Lena Horne, Eddie Anderson, and Hattie McDanial were tops among black-Americans.

Love Thy Neighbor
Paramount Pictures 1940

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Theresa Harris, Eddie Anderson

Like most “Hollywood Negroes” Eddie Anderson believed the pejorative comedic view suggested on the screen was the way the mainstream liked to view the black community. “My roles though fiction, are actually culled from a life I know”, he mused.

Bahama Passage
Paramount Pictures 1941

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Dorothy Dandridge, Sterling Hayden

This was the fifth film for Dorothy Dandridge. A child actress, she made her screen debut in The Marx Brothers classic “A Night at the Opera”. A gifted singer and actress, she died tragically at age 42.

Belle Starr
Twentieth Century-Fox 1941

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Gene Tierney, Louise Beavers

The story of a Post Civil-war Southern women who like Scarlet O’Hara tries to resume the old ways. When it fails, she turns to Mammy Lou (Louis Beavers), the staunch symbol of home and sustenance.

Blossoms in the Dust
MGM 1941

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Clinton Rosamond, Walter Pidgion, Greer Garson

A film about the founding of a state orphanage in Texas. Clinton Rosamond is allowed to express his anxieties about, “the river bottom where the poor white trash live“.

High Sierra
Warner Brothers 1941

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Willie Best

>Willie Best out of Mississippi, created himself in the image of Stepin Fetchit and was allotted equal condemnation. He enjoyed a long successful career in motion pictures and later in television.

Lady From Louisiana
Republic Pictures 1941

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Dorothy Dandridge, Ona Munson

This story is about a Mississippi gamblers daughter and his shyster lawyer’s interest in her. A strange potboiler, that finds Miss Dandridge in a “younger sister” type role. Dorothy Dandridge keeps Lady From Louisiana out of the B film class.

In This Our Life
Warner Brothers 1942

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George Brent, Ernest Anderson, Bette Davis

John Huston directed this Ellen Glasgows plotter about a selfish scheming woman (Davis), who implicates black law student Ernest Anderson in a hit-and-run accident. Hattie McDaniel also stars.

Star Spangled Rhythm
Paramount 1942

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Eddie Anderson, Katharine Dunham

The story of a Paramount studio doorman who pretends he’s a big producer. It culminates in an impromptu show featuring almost everybody on the Paramount payroll. A glimpse of wartime Hollywood.

Flesh and Fantasy
Universal Pictures 1943

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Betty Field, Peter Lawford, Clinton Rosamond

Made to cash in on the success of Tales of Manhattan. It failed to generate the interest of it’s superior predecessor.

Cabin in the Sky
MGM 1943

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Ethel Watters, Butterfly McQueen, Kenneth Spencer, Clinton Rosamond

Film version of Lynn Root’s musical about a gambling husband who is reformed by a dream of his own death. Effectively directed by Vincente Minnelli. It contained the Oscar nominated song, “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe”.

The Heat’s On
Columbia Pictures 1943

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Hazel Scott

Miss Scott was undoubtedly one of the good people James Agee meant when he wrote, “A stale-ale musical in which a lot of good people apathetically support the almost equally apathetic Mea West”.

Stormy Weather
Twentieth Century-Fox 1943

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Bill Robinson, Lena Horne, Ernest Whitman

The Story is lightly based on Bill Robinson's life. A black newspaper headlined this fine effort, NO BANDANNAS IN “STORMY WEATHER”. It was a fast-forward for Darryl Zanuck and Twentieth Century-Fox.

Broadway Rhythm
MGM 1944

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Lena Horne

Originally it was to be called the "Broadway Melody of 1944". This dance sequence was one its few liberating attainments. Eddie Anderson also starred.

Home In Indiana
Twentieth Century-Fox 1944

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Willie Best, Lon McAllister

This was the twenty-fifth film for Best. Though not a sterling moment, he did fair better here. The talented actor-comedian died prematurely at age 46.

Lifeboat
Twentieth Century-Fox 1944

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Henry Hull, Canada Lee

One of Hitchcock's tightest, it's about the survivors from a torpedoed passenger ship. Darryl Zannuck agonized about making Canada Lee's character an "assistant steward". Lee did however have a prominent role.

Body and Soul
Enterprise Productions 1947

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Canada Lee

Abraham Polonsky received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay about the seamy side of the boxing world. Lee is outstanding as an end-of-the-line champion. Expertly directed by Robert Rossen.

Home of the Brave
Stanley Kramer 1949

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James Edwards, Lloyd Bridges, Steve Brodie

One of the first Hollywood films to deal openly with the subject anti-Negro bias. Edwards is a wounded soldier who is befriended after a fashion by boyhood mate Lloyd Bridges. A preview of Stanley Kramer's essence.