Moses Gunn (October 2, 1929 – December 16, 1993) was an American actor. An Obie Award-winning stage player, he co-founded the Negro Ensemble Company in the 1960s. His 1962 Off-Broadway debut was in Jean Genet's The Blacks, and his Broadway debut was in A Hand is on the Gate, an evening of African-American poetry. He was nominated for a 1976 Tony Award as Best Actor (Play) for The Poison Tree and played Othello on Broadway in 1970.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Mary and George Gunn, he was the eldest of seven children. After his mother died, his family splintered. Moses left home and rode the railroad at just 12 years old. He returned to St. Louis and attended school while living at the home of Jewel Richie, his English teacher. He graduated from Tennessee State University after a stint in the army, then went to graduate school at Kansas University, gaining a masters degree. He taught briefly at Grambling College before attempting an acting career in NYC. He married Gwendolyn Mumma Landes in 1966, becoming stepfather to her daughter Kirsten Sarah Landes. They had a son, Justin Moses, in 1970 who became a musician and composer in the Copenhagen-based band, The Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co.
An authoritative black character actor of film and TV, Gunn also enjoyed a successful career on stage. He made his New York City stage debut in the original off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks (1962). He performed many Shakespearean roles in Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park, winning an Obie Award for his portrayal of Aaron in Titus Andronicus. He won a second Obie for his work in the NEC produced "First Breeze of Summer," which moved to Broadway. His much acclaimed performance as Othello at the Stratford, Connecticut, Shakespeare Festival was also moved to Broadway in 1970. Other Broadway plays in which Gunn performed are: "A Hand is on the Gate," "Twelfth Night," "I Have a Dream," and "The Poison Tree," for which he gained a Tony nomination for Best Actor. Gunn is perhaps best remembered in film for his portrayal of mobster Ellsworth Raymond "Bumpy" Jonas in the first two Shaft movies, and for his brief role of Booker T. Washington in the 1981 movie Ragtime, a performance which won him an NAACPImage Award. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1977 for his role in the TV mini-series Roots. He also costarred with Avery Brooks on the TV series A Man Called Hawk. Gunn also appeared in a multi-episode story arc as atheist shop owner Carl Dixon on the sitcomGood Times, as Joe Kagan on Little House on the Prairie, and as the character Moses Gage in the 1980s NBC drama Father Murphy. In 1989, Gunn appeared on two episodes of The Cosby Show as two different characters. He appeared in the fifth season episode "The Dead End Kids Meet Dr. Lotus" as the titular character Dr. Lotus and in the sixth season episode "Grampy and Nu Nu Visit the Huxtables", as Joe Kendall, Martin's (Joseph C. Phillips) father and Olivia's (Raven-Symoné) grandfather. His final performance was as murder suspect Risley Tucker in "Three Men and Adena", an award-winning episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. He died from complications of asthma in Guilford, Connecticut on December 16, 1993.