James Franklin Baskett
February 16, 1904
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||July 9, 1948 (aged 44)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Crown Hill Cemetery (Indianapolis, Indiana)|
|Family||Bill Cobbs (second cousin)|
In recognition of his portrayal of the famous black storyteller he was given an Honorary Academy Award, making him the first black male performer to receive an Oscar. Despite his leading role, Baskett was not considered for a competitive Academy Award for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor.
Baskett studied pharmacology as a young man but gave it up to pursue an acting career. He first moved to New York City, New York where he joined up with Bill 'Mr. Bojangles' Robinson. Using the name Jimmie Baskette, he appeared with Louis Armstrong on Broadway in the 1929 black musical revue "Hot Chocolates" and in several all-black New York films, including Harlem is Heaven (1932).
He later moved to Los Angeles, California and had a supporting role in the film Straight to Heaven (1939), starring Nina Mae McKinney. In 1941, he voiced Fats Crow in the animated Disney film Dumbo, and also had bit parts in several B movies, including that of Lazarus in Revenge of the Zombies (1943), a porter in The Heavenly Body (1944) and native tribal leader Orbon in Jungle Queen (1945). From 1944 until 1948, he was part of the cast of the Amos 'n' Andy Show live radio program as lawyer Gabby Gibson.
In 1945, he auditioned for a bit part voicing one of the animals in the new Disney feature film Song of the South (1946), based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. Walt Disney was impressed with Baskett's talent and hired him on the spot for the lead role of Uncle Remus. Baskett was also given the voice role of Brer Fox, one of the film's animated antagonists, and also filled in as the main animated protagonist, Brer Rabbit, in one sequence. This was one of the first Hollywood portrayals of a black actor as a non-comic character in a leading role in a film meant for general audiences.
Although Baskett was occasionally criticized for accepting such a "demeaning" role (most of his acting credits were that of African-American stereotypes), his acting was almost universally praised, and columnist Hedda Hopper, along with Walt Disney, was one of the many journalists and personalities who declared that he should receive an Academy Award for his work.
Academy Honorary Award
Illness and death
Baskett had been in poor health during the filming of Song of the South due to diabetes and he suffered a heart attack in December 1946 shortly after the film's release. His health continued to decline, and he was often unable to attend the Amos 'n' Andy radio show he was on, missing almost half of the 1947–1948 season. On July 9, 1948, during the show's summer hiatus, James Baskett died at his home of heart failure resulting from diabetes at age 44. He was survived by his wife Margaret and his mother Elizabeth. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
|1932||Harlem Is Heaven||Money Johnson||Film debut; credited as Jimmy Baskette|
|1933||20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang||Vocalist||Uncredited|
|1938||Gone Harlem||unknown||Credited as Jimmie Baskette|
|1938||Policy Man||unknown||Credited as Jimmie Baskette|
|1939||Straight to Heaven||First Detective|
|1941||Dumbo||Fats Crow (voice)||Uncredited|
|1943||Revenge of the Zombies||Lazarus||Alternative title: The Corpse Vanished|
|1944||The Heavenly Body||Porter||Uncredited|
|1945||Jungle Queen||Orbon||Credited as Jim Basquette|
|1946||Song of the South||(final film roles)|
- Murfin, Patrick (March 21, 2013). "An Oscar for Uncle Remus". Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
- As Jim Korkis notes, "Song of the South came out in 1946 and there was no balance of media images... African American performers often portrayed comic roles where their characters were described as lazy, slow-witted, easily scared or flustered, subservient and worse. That image was what the American public was seeing and accepting as the norm for African Americans." Jim Korkis, "The Sad Song of the South", USA Today (accessed 24 August 2013)
- In a 15 October 1946 article in the Atlanta Constitution, columnist Harold Martin noted that to bring Baskett to Atlanta, where he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities, "would cause him many embarrassments, for his feelings are the same as any man's." The modern claim that no Atlanta hotel would give Baskett accommodation is false: there were several black-owned hotels in Atlanta at the time, including the Savoy and the McKay. Atlanta's Black-Owned Hotels: A History.
- Bayor, Ronald H. (1988). "Roads to Racial Segregation: Atlanta in the Twentieth Century". Journal of Urban History. 15 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1177/009614428801500101. S2CID 144988189.
- Mitchell, Dawn (February 22, 2019). "Indianapolis actor famous for 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah' was groundbreaking Oscars recipient". The Indianapolis Star. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
- Cohen, Karl F. (2004). Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-7864-2032-2.
- Brayton, Tim (February 11, 2015). "Black History Month: Song of the South's Forgotten Oscar". The Film Experience. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
- Auchmutey, Jim (November 12, 2006). "Finding Uncle Remus". accessatlanta.com. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2008.
- Bodenhamer, David J.; Barrows, Robert Graham; Vanderstel, David Gordon, eds. (1994). The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. p. 485. ISBN 978-0-253-31222-8.