William Marshall (actor)

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William Marshall
William Marshall.jpg
Born William Horace Marshall
(1924-08-19)August 19, 1924
Gary, Indiana, U.S.
Died June 11, 2003(2003-06-11) (aged 78)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active 1952-2002
Children Claude Marshall (1954-2012)
Malcolm Juarez (1969-2005)
Gina Loring (b. 1978)
Tariq Marshall (b. 1986)

William Horace Marshall (August 19, 1924 – June 11, 2003) was an American actor, director, and opera singer. He is best known for his title role in the 1972 blaxploitation classic Blacula and its sequel Scream Blacula Scream (1973), as the "King of Cartoons" on the 1980s television show Pee-wee's Playhouse beginning with its second season, and an appearance on the original Star Trek television series. He had a commanding height of 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m),[1] as well as a deep bass voice.

Biography[edit]

Early life and career[edit]

Marshall was born in Gary, Indiana,[2] the son of Thelma (née Edwards) and Vereen Marshall, who was a dentist.[3] He attended New York University as an art student, but then trained for a theatre career at the Actors Studio, at the American Theatre Wing, and with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse.[4]

He made his Broadway debut in 1944 in Carmen Jones. Among his many other Broadway appearances, he understudied Boris Karloff as Captain Hook in Peter Pan in 1950, then played the leading role of De Lawd in the 1951 revival of The Green Pastures (a role he repeated in a BBC telecast of the play in 1958).[3][5] He performed in Shakespeare plays many times on the stage in the U.S. and Europe, including the title role in at least six productions of Othello. His Othello (which was later captured in a video production in 1981), was called by Harold Hobson of the London Sunday Times "the best Othello of our time,"[6] continuing:

"...nobler than [Godfrey] Tearle, more martial than [John] Gielgud, more poetic than [Frederick] Valk. From his first entry, slender and magnificently tall, framed in a high Byzantine arch, clad in white samite, mystic, wonderful, a figure of Arabian romance and grace, to his last plunging of the knife into his stomach, Mr Marshall rode without faltering the play's enormous rhetoric, and at the end the house rose to him."[7]

Marshall even played Othello in a jazz musical version, Catch My Soul, with Jerry Lee Lewis as Iago, in Los Angeles in 1968.[8] He also portrayed on stage Paul Robeson and Frederick Douglass. Marshall had researched Douglass's life for years and portrayed him on television in Frederick Douglass: Slave and Statesman, which he co-produced in 1983.[9]

Film and television career[edit]

Marshall's career on screen began in 1952 in Lydia Bailey as a Haitian leader. He followed that with a prominent role as Glycon, comrade and fellow gladiator to Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954). His demeanor, voice and stature gave him a wide range, though he was ill-suited for the subservient roles that many black actors of his generation were most frequently offered. He was Attorney General Edward Brooke in The Boston Strangler (1968) and a leader of the Mau-Mau uprising in Something of Value. He probably received the most notice for his role in the vampire film Blacula and its sequel Scream Blacula Scream. In later years, Marshall played the King of Cartoons on Pee-wee's Playhouse, replacing actor Gilbert Lewis, during the 1980s. (The character's catchphrase "Let...the cartoooon...begin!" became immensely popular.)

In the early 1950s, Marshall starred briefly in a series about black police officers, entitled Harlem Detective. The show was canceled when Marshall was named as a communist in the anti-communist newsletter Counterattack.[10] Nonetheless, Marshall managed to continue appearing in both television and films. Marshall is perhaps best remembered by television viewers for his role as the travelling opera singer Thomas Bowers on Bonanza. In 1964, he appeared, with actor Ivan Dixon, as the leader of a newly independent African nation and as a THRUSH agent in the first-season episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. entitled "The Vulcan Affair". He won two local Emmys for producing and performing in a PBS production, As Adam Early in the Morning, a poetical theatre piece originally performed on stage.[2] He also was featured in the popular series, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in an episode titled, "The Jar", with actors Pat Buttram and George Lindsey. Marshall also appeared on the British spy series Danger Man ("Deadline", 1962) and as Dr. Richard Daystrom in the Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer" (1968). In 1969, he had a special guest appearance as the character Amalek in an episode of The Wild Wild West entitled "The Night of the Egyptian Queen".

Later life and death[edit]

In addition to his acting and producing work, Marshall taught acting at various universities including University of California, Irvine and at the Mufandi Institute, an African-American arts and music institution in the Watts section of Los Angeles. He did similar work at Chicago's eta Creative Arts Foundation, which in 1992 named Marshall one of its Epic Men of the 20th century.[2]

Marshall was the unmarried partner for 42 years of Sylvia Gussin Jarrico, former wife of blacklisted screenwriter Paul Jarrico. Marshall died June 11, 2003, from complications arising from Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. He is survived by four children: sons Tariq, Malcolm, and Claude Marshall, and daughter, singer Gina Loring. The eulogies at his funeral were spoken by Sidney Poitier, Ivan Dixon, Paul Winfield, and Marla Gibbs.[11]

Marshall was considered, by many, to be a much underrated actor and one who never got his due. Actor and screenwriter Terek Puckett remarked that Marshall should have had a much more successful and larger screen career. Even saying that Marshall would have been a perfect choice for the role Thulsa Doom in Conan.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Long Beach Press-Telegram, May 26, 1952, p. 27
  2. ^ a b c William Marshall, 78, Stage, screen actor starred in `Blacula', Simone M. Sebastian, Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2003
  3. ^ a b William Marshall Biography (1924–2003)
  4. ^ CNN, June 17, 2003, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Movies/06/17/deaths.marshall.ap/index.html
  5. ^ Internet Broadway Database, http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=111101
  6. ^ Jet magazine, June 30, 2003
  7. ^ The (London) Independent, July 6, 2003
  8. ^ Christgau, Robert. Any Old Way You Choose It, ISBN 0-8154-1041-7
  9. ^ 1983 Peabody Awards entry form, Hargrett Library, University of Georgia
  10. ^ Caute, David. The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purges under Truman and Eisenhower, ISBN 0-671-24848-0
  11. ^ eXo News, July 9, 2003
  12. ^ Sound on Sight Lead Actors: The Overlooked and Underrated

External links[edit]