Little in Blazing Saddles (1974)
|Born||Cleavon Jake Little
June 1, 1939
Chickasha, Oklahoma, United States
|Died||October 22, 1992
Sherman Oaks, California, United States
|Years active||1964 – 1992|
|Spouse(s)||Valerie Wiggins (1972 – 1974)|
In 1978, he played "The Prince of Darkness" in the radio station comedy FM, previously having played the role of radio personality Super Soul in the 1971 action film Vanishing Point. His later work included the 1984 film Toy Soldiers.
Little was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and was the brother of singer DeEtta Little, best known for her performance of "Gonna Fly Now", the main theme to Rocky. He grew up in California and attended college initially at San Diego City College, and then at San Diego State University where he earned a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts. After receiving a full scholarship to graduate school at Juilliard he moved to New York. After completing studies at Juilliard, Little trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Little made his professional debut in February 1967, appearing Off-Broadway at The Village Gate as the Muslim Witch in the original production of Barbara Garson's MacBird. This was followed by the role of Foxtrot in the original production of Bruce Jay Friedman's long-running play Scuba Duba which premiered in October 1967.
The following year, he made his first film appearance in a small uncredited role in What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, as well as his first television appearance as a guest star on two episodes of Felony Squad. A series of small roles followed in films such as John and Mary (1969) and Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970).
Little made his Broadway debut in 1969 as Lee Haines in John Sebastian and Murray Schisgal's musical Jimmy Shine with Dustin Hoffman in the title role. In 1971, he returned to Broadway to portray the title role in Ossie Davis's musical Purlie, for which he won a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
In 1971, Little was chosen to portray the blind radio personality Super Soul in the car-chase movie Vanishing Point. That same year, Little played Hawthorne Dooley in the pilot for The Waltons called "The Homecoming: A Christmas Story," helping John-Boy Walton search for his father. He also played a burglar in a 1971 episode of All in the Family titled "Edith Writes a Song".
Concurrently, he was cast as Sheriff Bart in the 1974 comedy film Blazing Saddles, after the studio rejected Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script. Studio execs were apparently nervous over Pryor's reputation as a racy comedian and thought Little would be a safer choice. This role earned him a BAFTA Award nomination as Most Promising Newcomer.
In 1975, Little returned to Broadway to portray the role of Lewis in the original production of Murray Schisgal's All Over Town under the direction of Dustin Hoffman. The following year, he appeared as Willy Stepp in the original production of Ronald Ribman's The Poison Tree at the Ambassador Theatre.
After Blazing Saddles, Little appeared in many less successful films, such as Greased Lightning, FM, High Risk, Scavenger Hunt, Jimmy the Kid, Surf II and Toy Soldiers. Little also made guest appearances on The Mod Squad, The Waltons, The Rookies, Police Story,The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, ABC Afterschool Specials, The Fall Guy, MacGyver, and ALF.
In 1988, Little returned to Broadway to appear as Midge in Herb Gardner's Tony Award-winning play I'm Not Rappaport, reuniting with Dear John star Judd Hirsch in New York and later on tour. The Broadway cast also featured Jace Alexander and Mercedes Ruehl.
Little was slated to star in the TV series Mr. Dugan, where he was to play a black Congressman, but that series was poorly received by real black Congressmen and was canceled before making it to air. In 1991, he replaced Frankie Faison as Ronald Freeman, a black dentist married to a white housewife, on the short-lived FOX sitcom True Colors. In 1991, He also appeared in the television series Bagdad Cafe, appearing in twelve episodes.
Later that year, Little was cast as a civil rights lawyer in the TV docudrama, Separate But Equal, starring Sidney Poitier, who portrayed the first black U. S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, NAACP lead attorney in the 1954 Supreme Court case desegregating public schools. He also appeared in the TV series MacGyver as Frank Colton, half of a bounty hunter brother duo.
Little's last appearance was a guest part on an episode of Tales from the Crypt. Often afflicted by ulcers and general stomach problems during his life, Little died of colorectal cancer on October 22, 1992 at the age of 53. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.
- "Cleavon Little Biography". filmreference. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
- "Biography: Cleavon Little". Allmovie. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
- "Cleavon Little Trivia". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
- "The 50th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (1989)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-06-07.
- "Cleavon Little, Award-Winning Actor, Dies at 53". New York Times. October 23, 1992. Retrieved 2010-10-28. "Cleavon Little, the actor best remembered for his role as a black sheriff hired to save a redneck town in Mel Brooks's 1974 comedy "Blazing Saddles," died yesterday at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 53 years old. He died of colon cancer, said David C. Pollick, his publicity agent in Los Angeles."
- Cleavon Little at Find a Grave
- Cleavon Little at the Internet Broadway Database
- Cleavon Little at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Cleavon Little at the Internet Movie Database