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D'urville Martin in 1974
February 11, 1939|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 28, 1984
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Inglewood Park Cemetery|
|Spouse(s)||Lillian Martin (19??-1984; his death)|
D'Urville Martin (February 11, 1939 – May 28, 1984) was an American actor and director in both film and television. He appeared in numerous 1970s movies in the blaxploitation genre of films. He also appeared in two unaired pilots of what would become All in the Family as Lionel Jefferson, the role was later played by Mike Evans. Born in New York City, Martin began his career in the mid-1960s, soon becoming a prominent recurring figure in the genre. Martin acted in several movies of the time, including Black Like Me and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Martin also directed films in his career, including Dolemite, starring Rudy Ray Moore.
D'Urville Martin was born in New York City in 1939. He was married to Lillian Martin until his death in 1984. He had two children while married. Martin had a hard-partying lifestyle while in New York, and traveled to Los Angeles numerous times, where he died at the age of 45 in 1984 from heart disease.
Black Like Me (1964) was a film based on the popular book by John Howard Griffin, telling of the true experiences of the author when he passed as a black man. John Horton, the main character, travels through the south meeting real African Americans, and being exposed first-hand to the plights and racism on blacks in the South. This film served as a strong civil rights work. Martin played a speaking line extra.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, was a film that made groundbreaking progress in its positive representation of the controversial subject of interracial marriage, which had been illegal in most of the United States. The film tells the story of Joanna Drayton, a white woman who falls in love with Dr. John Prentice. Martin plays Frankie in the movie.
Rosemary's Baby (1968) was a horror/drama/mystery movie about a young couple who have recently moved, and find themselves surrounded by odd neighbors and happenings. When the woman becomes pregnant without explanation, paranoia over her unborn child's safety ensues. Martin has a small role as Diego, the elevator operator in the couple's building, and one of the few characters entirely innocent and ignorant of the goings on. This film was one of Martin's more serious movies, and one of the few horror films in which he appeared.
The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972) is a movie where Fred Williamson as Nigger Charley escapes from being sold to a plantation owner along with Toby, played by D'Urville Martin, and another man. The three fugitives travel through the west, and are treated poorly. When they seek their freedom from the Old West, they are chased by a gang of white men on horseback, vowing to catch them. When the film ends, Martin as Toby asks, “Where shall we go now, Charley?” and is answered with: “Don't matter. Wherever we go, there's trouble waiting for us.” The film, following its success, had two sequels, The Soul of Nigger Charley and Boss Nigger.
Black Caesar (1973) was a film where Tommy Gibbs, a tough kid, aspires to be a criminal. In his early life, his leg is broken by a cop, and takes his vengeance throughout the rest of the movie. He initiates a hit on a Mob contract, gaining the attention of the Mafia. As he is accepted into the Mob family, he eventually starts a gang war which he wins. Martin plays Reverend Rufus in the movie. The film's sequel was Hell Up in Harlem.
Hammer (1972) was a film where B.J. Hammer is a boxer who rises up the ranks with help from the Mafia. However, Hammer doesn't realize that the help comes at a price: he is asked to throw a fight. Gangsters threaten to harm his girlfriend in an attempt to force him to go through with their plan. He eventually is forced to save his dignity of his girlfriend who has been kidnapped. This blaxploitation film was one of the many that popularized black cinema. Martin plays Sonny in the movie.
The Get-Man (1974) is a movie in which a police officer become obsessed with a sadistic killer called "The Zebra Killer", who has kidnapped his girlfriend, and he discoveries many murders along the way while tracking him down. Martin plays the pimp in the movie, showing his transition into more mainstream blaxploitation-style acting roles.
Martin directed the wildly popular movie Dolemite. Dolemite is a film where a pimp played by Rudy Ray Moore is set up by Willie Greene and the cops. They did so by planting drugs, stolen furs, and guns in his car's trunk so as to get him arrested. This gives him a 20-year sentence. However, one day, the warden and Queen B plan to get him out of jail. He then gets pardoned and released. This leads to the characters taking revenge on Willie Green and Mitchell for what they did to him. In the film, he has many sidekick girls backing him up, as they are karate warriors. Throughout the movie Dolemite attempts to regain his reputation through the streets, a common theme in blaxsploitation movies. Martin plays the villain, Willie Green, in addition to directing the movie. Dolemite shows D'Urville Martin as many-talented, as both director and actor. The movie implements the use of flashbacks, as Dolemite is jailed at the beginning of the movie, and remembers detectives examining the trunk of his car in which stolen fur coats and drugs are found in. This is made obvious to be a framing, but is in jail anyway. Willie Green is seen in the initial flashback as one of the people framing Dolemite. The movie inspired a sequel, The Human Tornado, that was not directed by D'Urville Martin and was released in 1976.
As a prominent supporting actor in blaxploitation movies, D'Urville Martin helped define the genre with all of its controversy. The later films of D'Urville Martin all fell into this category, and as time progressed, the popularity and controversy over these films increased. These films, following the lead of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, possessed certain attributes that are epitomized in Martin's movies. Among other things, stereotypes of the genre of movie were extremely prominent in all of his movies. For example, in The Get-Man, Martin plays a pimp. This common job for characters was one of the defining factors for these movies. In addition Martin takes on the job of both a hit man and drug dealer in his later movies. These films targeted black audiences across the country, but mainly those of the lower class. They were extremely popular with these audiences, but were wound in a complex affair with controversy. They were accused of stereotyping blacks, and as a result many called for the ending of the genre. Organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Urban League condemned these films, and formed the Coalition Against Blaxploitation. Eventually, with the support of many professionals in black film, media exposure forced the end of the genre by the late 1970s.
Directing Dolemite was Martin's career high. The film proved a good stereotype for blaxploitation movies in the era, and to this day remains one of the most popular. The movie still inspires spoofs today, such as in Black Dynamite (2009). Cultural historian Todd Boyd finds that Rudy Ray Moore's depiction of Dolemite is linked “to rappers like Snoop Dogg and the Notorious B.I.G., pointing out Rudy Ray Moore came up with the pronunciation "Biotch!" that Snoop made ubiquitous. Boyd notes how humorous it is Moore carries himself as a sex symbol, taking off his clothes to bed the fine-ass women who can't keep their hand off him.” 
- D'Urville Martin filmography, d-urville-martin.fullmoviereview.com; accessed November 1, 2014.
- IMDb synopsis of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, imdb.com; accessed November 1, 2014.
- IMDB synopsis of Rosemary's Baby, imdb.com; accessed November 1, 2014.
- imdb plot summary by Ali Jordana M/kungfulay19
- Greg Oguss's review of Todd Boyd's book A Guide to the Super Fly '70s: A connoisseur's Journey through the Fabulous Flix, Hip Sounds and Cool Vibes that Defined a Decade in the article "Stereotypes of a Black Male Misunderstood", 2007