Moreland in the 1946 film The Trap
|Born||September 3, 1902|
Monroe, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||September 28, 1973 (aged 71)|
|Resting place||Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Other names||Man Tan Moreland|
|Spouse(s)||Hazel Moreland (1 child)|
Mantan Moreland (September 3, 1902 – September 28, 1973) was an American actor and comedian most popular in the 1930s and 1940s.
Born in Monroe, Louisiana, to Frank, an old-time Dixieland bandleader, and Marcella, Moreland began acting by the time he was an adolescent; some sources say he ran away to join a minstrel show in 1910, at age eight, but his daughter told Moreland's biographer she doubts this date is correct; she and other sources agree it is more likely he left home when he was fourteen.
After "nearly ten years of working the small, small time", Moreland gained an opportunity in 1927 when he was hired as a comedian in Connie's Inn Frolics in Harlem. He next worked in the musical revue Blackbirds of 1928, which ran for 518 performances.
By the late 1920s, Moreland had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe. Initially, Moreland appeared in low-budget "race movies" aimed at African-American audiences, including One Dark Night (1939) with Bette Treadville, but as his comedic talents became recognized, he appeared in larger productions.
Monogram Pictures signed Moreland to appear opposite Frankie Darro in the studio's popular action pictures. Moreland, with his bulging eyes and cackling laugh, quickly became a favorite supporting player in Hollywood movies. He is perhaps best known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in Monogram's Charlie Chan series. At the height of his career, Moreland received steady work from major film studios, as well as from independent producers who starred Moreland in low-budget, all-black-cast comedies.
In 1940's Drums of the Desert, Moreland played a more serious role as the sergeant in charge of a squad of Senegalese Tirailleurs in French colonial Algeria alongside Ralph Byrd, known for appearing in Republic Pictures' Dick Tracy serials.
Moreland also toured America in vaudeville, making personal appearances in the nation's movie theaters. His straight man was Ben Carter, and they developed an excellent rapport and impeccable timing. Their "incomplete sentence" routines can be seen in two Charlie Chan pictures, The Scarlet Clue and Dark Alibi.
Moreland was offered fewer roles in the 1950s, when filmmakers began to reassess roles given to black actors. He was briefly considered as a possible addition to the Three Stooges when Shemp Howard died in 1955. Moreland returned to the stage and appeared in two all-black variety films in 1955, with Nipsey Russell standing in for Ben Carter as his straight man.
Later career and death
Moreland's last featured role was in the 1968 darkly humorous horror film Spider Baby (filmed in 1964), which was patterned after Universal's thrillers of the 1940s. After suffering a stroke in the early 1960s, Moreland took on a few minor comedic roles, working with Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley and Carl Reiner. He later partnered with Roosevelt Livingood to form the comedic team of Mantan and Livingood. Producing a number of recorded albums
- That's the Spirit (1933) as Night Watchman
- The Green Pastures (1936) as Angel Removing Hat (uncredited)
- Harlem on the Prairie (1937) as Mistletoe
- Spirit of Youth (1938) as Creighton 'Crickie' Fitzgibbons
- Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938) as Bill Blake
- Frontier Scout (1938) as Norris Family Butler
- Next Time I Marry (1938) as Tilby
- Gang Smashers (1938) as Gloomy
- There's Always a Woman (1939) as Porter (uncredited)
- Tell No Tales (1939) as Sport Black at the Wake (uncredited)
- Riders of the Frontier (1939) as Chappie (Cookie in credits)
- Irish Luck (1939) as Jefferson
- One Dark Night (1939) as Samson Brown
- The Man Who Wouldn't Talk (1940) as Robbins (uncredited)
- City of Chance (1940) as Anxious Man (uncredited)
- Chasing Trouble (1940) as Thomas H. Jefferson
- Millionaire Playboy (1940) as Bellhop
- Viva Cisco Kid (1940) as Memphis - The Cook (uncredited)
- Star Dust (1940) as George, Dining Car Steward (uncredited)
- Girl in 313 (1940) as Porter
- On the Spot (1940) as Jefferson White
- Maryland (1940) (uncredited)
- Pier 13 (1940) as Sam - Elevator Operator (uncredited)
- Laughing at Danger (1940) as Jefferson
- Up in the Air (1940) as Jeff
- While Thousands Cheer (1940) as Nash
- Drums of the Desert (1940) as Sergeant 'Blue' Williams
- Four Shall Die (1940) as Beefus - Touissant's Chauffeur
- Lady from Louisiana (1941) as Servant (uncredited)
- You're Out of Luck (1941) as Jeff Jefferson
- Sleepers West (1941) as Porter (uncredited)
- Footlight Fever (1941) as Willie Hamsure - Elevator Operator (uncredited)
- Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery (1941) as Roy
- Sign of the Wolf (1941) as Ben
- Mr. Washington Goes to Town (1941) as Schenectady Jones
- King of the Zombies (1941) as Jeff
- Hello, Sucker (1941) as Elevator Boy
- Bachelor Daddy (1941) as Club Janitor (uncredited)
- The Gang's All Here (1941) as Jefferson 'Jeff' Smith
- Cracked Nuts (1941) as Burgess
- Accent on Love (1941) as Prisoner in Courtroom (uncredited)
- Dressed to Kill (1941) as Rusty
- World Premiere (1941) as Train Porter (uncredited)
- Let's Go Collegiate (1941) as Jeff
- It Started with Eve (1941) as Railway Porter (uncredited)
- Birth of the Blues (1941) as Black Trumpet Player (uncredited)
- Marry the Boss's Daughter (1941) as Cook (uncredited)
- Up Jumped the Devil (1941) as Washington
- Freckles Comes Home (1942) as Jeff - the Hotel Porter
- Treat 'Em Rough (1942) as 'Snake-Eyes'
- Four Jacks and a Jill (1942) as Cicero - Wash Room Attendant (uncredited)
- Law of the Jungle (1942) as Jefferson 'Jeff' Jones
- Lucky Ghost (1942) as Washington
- Professor Creeps (1942) as Washington
- The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942) as Horatio B.Fitz Washington
- Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942) as Sam, the Nightclub Janitor (uncredited)
- Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942) as Lightnin'
- Footlight Serenade (1942) as Amos. Tommy's Dresser
- A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) as Porter (uncredited)
- Phantom Killer (1942) as Nicodemus
- Girl Trouble (1942) as Edward
- Eyes in the Night (1942) as Alistair
- The Palm Beach Story (1942) as Diner Waiter (uncredited)
- Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942) as Prentiss the Benedict Butler (uncredited)
- It Comes Up Love (1943) as Janitor (uncredited)
- Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943) as Eustace Smith
- Cabin in the Sky (1943) as First Idea Man
- Slightly Dangerous (1943) as Waiter at Swade's (uncredited)
- He Hired the Boss (1943) as Shoeshine Man (uncredited)
- Sarong Girl (1943) as Maxwell
- Hit the Ice (1943) as Porter with Snowshoes (uncredited)
- We've Never Been Licked (1943) as Willie
- Melody Parade (1943) as Skidmore
- Revenge of the Zombies (1943) as Jeff
- Hi'ya, Sailor (1943) as Sam
- You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith (1943) as Porter
- My Kingdom for a Cook (1943) as Train Porter (uncredited)
- Swing Fever (1943) as Woody, Nick's Valet (uncredited)
- She's for Me (1943) as Sam
- Chip Off the Old Block (1944) as Porter
- Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) as Birmingham Brown
- See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) as Porter on Train (uncredited)
- Moon Over Las Vegas (1944) as Porter
- Pin-Up Girl (1944) as Red Cap #2 (uncredited)
- This Is the Life (1944) as Porter (uncredited)
- The Chinese Cat (1944) as Birmingham Brown
- South of Dixie (1944) as The Porter
- Black Magic (1944) as Birmingham Brown
- Mystery of the River Boat (1944, serial) as Napoleon
- Bowery to Broadway (1944) as Alabam
- The Jade Mask (1945) as Birmingham Brown
- The Scarlet Clue (1945) as Birmingham Brown
- The Shanghai Cobra (1945) as Birmingham Brown
- Captain Tugboat Annie (1945) as Pinto
- She Wouldn't Say Yes (1945) as porter (uncredited)
- The Spider (1945) as Henry
- Mantan Messes Up (1946) as Mantan
- Riverboat Rhythm (1946) as Mantan
- Dark Alibi (1946) as Birmingham Brown
- Shadows Over Chinatown (1946) as Birmingham Brown
- The Trap (1946) as Birmingham Brown
- Tall, Tan, and Terrific (1946) as Mantan Moreland
- Mantan Runs for Mayor (1946)
- The Chinese Ring (1947) as Birmingham Brown
- Ebony Parade (1947) as Mantan
- What a Guy (1948)
- Docks of New Orleans (1948) as Birmingham Brown
- Best Man Wins (1948) as Ice Cream Vendor (uncredited)
- Shanghai Chest (1948) as Birmingham Brown
- The Golden Eye (1948) as Birmingham Brown
- The Feathered Serpent (1948) as Birmingham Brown
- The Return of Mandy's Husband (1948)
- She's Too Mean for Me (1948)
- Come On, Cowboy! (1948)
- Sky Dragon (1949) as Birmingham Brown
- Rock 'n' Roll Revue (1955) as Himself
- Basin Street Revue (1956) as Himself
- The Patsy (1964) as Barbershop Porter (uncredited)
- Alvarez Kelly (1966) as Bartender (uncredited)
- Enter Laughing (1967) as Subway Rider
- Spider Baby (1968) as Messenger
- The Comic (1969) as Passerby at Billy's Funeral (uncredited)
- Watermelon Man (1970) as counterman
- The Biscuit Eater (1972) as Waiter
- The Young Nurses (1973) as Old man (final film role)
- 1957 Hallmark Hall of Fame (1 episode)
- 1969 Julia (1 episode)
- 1970 The Bill Cosby Show (1 episode)
- 1970 Adam-12 (1 episode)
- That Ain't My Finger (Laff)
- Elsie's Sportin' House (Laff)
- Tribute to the Man (Laff)
Bamboozled, a 2000 film directed by Spike Lee, centers around a fictional television show called "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show" featuring stereotypes of minstrel theater and starring a tap dancing character, played by Savion Glover, named Mantan.
B-Boys Makin with the Freak Freak, a song performed by Beastie Boys on their 1994 album Ill Communication, samples a line from Mantan's comedy album, That Ain’t My Finger referencing a bit about a party and the mashed potatoes.
- Michael H. Price - Mantan the Funnyman (2007), a biography of Moreland
- "Moreland, Actor Is Dead At 72. Played in Chan Films and in Black 'Codot'". The New York Times. September 29, 1973. Retrieved 2014-10-30.
Mantan Moreland, the comedian who played the chauffeur Birmingham Brown in the Charlie Chan movies, died today at the age of 72.
- "Charlie Chan's Right-Hand Man - The Eyes Have It". Washington Afro-American. Washington, D.C. February 26, 1957. p. 5, Afro Magazine Section. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
- quoted by Michael H. Price and Josh Alan Friedman. Mantan the Funnyman. Midnight Marquee Press, 2007, p. 63.
- "M. Moreland, Charlie Chan Butler, Died." Pomona (CA) Progress-Bulletin, September 29, 1973, p. A-2.
- Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. Psychology Press. pp. 792–793. ISBN 9780415938532. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
- Dave Kehr (June 13, 2010). "Golly, Pop, You Always Get 'Em, Even on a Poverty Row Budget". The New York Times. p. AR12.
- Thompson, Jennifer. "From Blackface to Blaxploitation: Representations Of African Americans In Film". Duke University Library. Duke University. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
- Disclosed by Moe Howard in a 1971 interview with film historian Michael H. Price, cited in Price's 2007 biography of Moreland, Mantan the Funnyman, from Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore.
- Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. Routledge. p. 794. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.
- "2004 Hall of Fame Inductee". National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
- Parker, Robert B. Hush Money, page 12, New York: Putnam
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