Nick Stewart as Lightnin' on Amos 'n' Andy television show, 1951.
|Born||Horace Winfred Stewart
March 15, 1910
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||December 18, 2000
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
(m. 1941-2000; his death)
Nick Stewart (March 15, 1910 – December 18, 2000) was an American television and film actor. Stewart was best known for his role as Lightnin' (Willie Jefferson) on the Amos and Andy television series, and, until his death in 2000, was the last surviving major cast member of that show.
Nick Stewart was born Horace Winfred Stewart in New York City, to Joseph (March 2, 1888 – July 1976) and Albertha Stewart, who were recent immigrants from the Caribbean. He began his show business career as a dancer at the Cotton Club and Hoofers Club. Stewart also was a veteran of Broadway shows, having created a comedic character he called "Nicodemus" and playing that role in Swingin' the Dream and Louisiana Purchase, as well as in the film Go West, Young Man. Stewart also performed comedy as a cast member of the Rudy Vallée radio show in 1941. Other acting credits include the 1936 movie Go West Young Man, the voice of Br'er Bear in the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South, (as well as in the spin-off Disney attraction Splash Mountain (Coincidentally, he is the only voice actor in that attraction to reprise his role from the film, as James Baskett and Johnny Lee, the original voices of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit had died, and were replaced by Jess Harnell), and Willy-Willy on the television series Ramar of the Jungle. Also in 1954, Stewart had an important role in The Reign of Amelika Joe presented by Fireside Theatre. He also won a comedy role in White Christmas.
He was originally offered the role of Calhoun the lawyer, which he turned down. (After his refusal, it went to Johnny Lee, who had the role on radio since 1949.) Soon Gosden and Correll were back on the telephone, this time offering Stewart the role of Lightnin' on the television show. Nick Stewart accepted the role with one idea in mind: to make enough money to be able to open his own theater where African Americans would not be typecast as maids and porters. In 1987, Doris McMillon devoted an entire week of her nightly talk show, On the Line with, to a discussion of the documentary Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy, and the issues surrounding the shows. Nick Stewart was one of the participants, discussing the show and his role in it.
Ebony Showcase Theatre
He and his wife, Edna Stewart, also founded Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase Theatre, which provided a venue for numerous black performers, including John Amos, Nichelle Nichols and Isabel Sanford.
Founded in 1950, and first located on Crenshaw Boulevard, then at Washington and Jefferson boulevards in Los Angeles, Stewart filled the seats with quality productions. The couple did all remodeling of the building themselves, with the help of salvaged lumber from the CBS Television City construction site. Stewart hosted a variety show called Ebony Showcase Presents on KTTV from the theatre in 1953. Because CBS believed Nick Stewart's work with his theater was impairing his ability to perform on Amos 'n' Andy, he was notified that his contract would not be renewed; this was shortly before the decision to take the show off the air. By 1964, the Ebony Showcase had grown and moved again, this time to the Metro Theater near Washington and La Brea. Around this time, Nick Stewart wrote his own musical called Carnival Island. In 1973, Nick and Edna Stewart were honored by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley and the California Museum of Science and Industry's Advisory Board for their work with the Ebony Showcase theatre. During his years in vaudeville, Stewart and Milton Berle often worked together; Berle was a frequent visitor to the Ebony Showcase.
The Stewarts lost the theatre building in 1992 and it was later demolished. The couple used two homes they owned as collateral for a loan meant to save the theatre; both were lost. One of the issues which led to the theatre's financial problems was a Los Angeles law requiring all older brick buildings to meet current earthquake standards.
He died of natural causes in Los Angeles, California on December 18, 2000 at age 90, a week after attending the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Performing Arts Center named for Los Angeles politician Nate Holden which was built on the site where the Ebony Showcase stood.
The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center is currently the home of the Ebony Repertory Theatre, a newly formed Equity company, which is also the operator of the 400-seat facility. For the past year, the ERT has successful brought diverse professional performing arts to the Mid-City Community and greater Los Angeles, making the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center Los Angeles's newest cultural destination.
- McLeod, Elizabeth. "Amos 'n' Andy In Person". McLeod, Elizabeth. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
- Widener, Daniel, ed. (2010). Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles. Duke University Press. p. 384. ISBN 0-8223-4679-6. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Willis, John; Hodges, Ben; Lynch, Tom, eds. (2004). Theatre World Volume 57 - 2000-2001: Special Tony Honor Edition Paperback. Applause Books. p. 364. ISBN 1-55783-521-7. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Pfeffer, Murray L. "My Harlem Reverie". nfo.net. Retrieved 22 October 2010.
- Staggs, Sam, ed. (2009). Born to Be Hurt: The Untold Story of Imitation of Life. St. Martin's Press. p. 432. ISBN 0-312-37336-8. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Hill, Errol G.; Hatch, James V., eds. (2003). A History of African American Theatre (Cambridge Studies in American Theatre and Drama). Cambridge University Press. p. 632. ISBN 0-521-62443-6. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Louvish, Simon, ed. (2007). Mae West: It Ain't No Sin. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 512. ISBN 0-312-37562-X. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- MacDonald, J. Fred. "Don't Touch That Dial! radio programming in American life, 1920-1960". jfredmacdonald.com. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
- 'Amos 'n' Andy' TV Show Star Nick Stewart, Who Played Lightnin', Dies. Jet. 8 January 2001. Retrieved 28 September 2001.
- "Theater Gossip". The Evening Independent. 30 January 1947. Retrieved 11 November 2010.
- Fearn-Burns, Kathleen, ed. (2005). Historical Dictionary of African-American Television (Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts). The Scarecrow Press. p. 584. ISBN 0-8108-5335-3. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
- James Edwards Stars In All-Negro TV Drama. Jet. 14 October 1954. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
- People. Jet. 29 October 1953. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
- Sterling, Christopher H., ed. (2003). Encyclopedia of Radio 3-Volume Set. Routledge. p. 1696. ISBN 1-57958-249-4. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Stewart, Edna. "Memories of Nick Stewart's Incredible Life". Amosandy.com. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
- Teague, Frances, ed. (2006). Shakespeare and the American Popular Stage. Cambridge University Press. p. 232. ISBN 0-521-86187-X. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Los Angeles. Black World. April 1974. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
- MacDonald, J. Fred. "Blacks and White TV, African Americans in Television Since 1948". jfredmacdonald.com. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
- Whatever happened to The Amos 'n' Andy Cast?. Ebony. July 1973. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
- "Nick Stewart, Co-founder of the historic Ebony Showcase Theatre". Ebony Showcase. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- "Ebony Showcase Presents". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- MacMinn, Aleene (2 July 1992). "Stage". LA Times. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- "Judge Backs CRA on Ebony Showcase Theater". LA Times. 10 July 1997. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- Boyer, Edward J. (1 February 1993). "Ebony Theater Tries to Keep Final Curtain From Coming Down". LA Times. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- Lota, Louinn (3 December 1992). "Theater nourishes independent shows". Daily News. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
- Legendary Black Stars Forecast Bright Future Despite Detours In TV, Movies and Theatres. Jet. 28 August 1995. Retrieved 8 March 2011.
- Ramos, George (12 December 2000). "Groundbreaking for Theater Center Marred by Protest". LA Times. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- Braxton, Greg (10 October 2008). "They're on a mission possible". LA Times. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
- "Nate Holden Performing Arts Center". Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Retrieved 28 September 2010.
- LA Times Obituary December 21, 2000
- Nick Stewart Playbill Obituary December 22, 2000
- Nick Stewart at the Internet Movie Database
- African American Registry
- An Ebony Showcase Theatre Tribute Page
- Some information about the demolition of the buildings