Mantan Moreland

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Mantan Moreland
The Trap (1946) - Moreland & Mouse.jpg
Moreland in the 1946 film The Trap
Born(1902-09-03)September 3, 1902
DiedSeptember 28, 1973(1973-09-28) (aged 71)
Resting placeValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesMan Tan Moreland
Manton Moreland
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1933–1973
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.[1]

Early years[edit]

He was born in Monroe, Louisiana, to Frank, an old-time Dixieland bandleader, and Marcella.[2] 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,[2] but his daughter told Moreland's biographer she doubts this date is correct.[3] She and other sources agree it is more likely he left home when he was fourteen.[4]

Career[edit]

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.[5] He next worked in the musical revue Blackbirds of 1928, which ran for 518 performances.[5] By the late 1920s, Moreland had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe.

Following the death of Aubrey Lyles, the half of African American vaudeville act Miller and Lyles, in 1932, Flournoy Miller asked Moreland to be teamed up with him for personal appearances.[6] With Moreland, Miller would perform old comedy routines he had done with Lyles. The two would paired together for a one-reel short That’s the Spirit (1933) as a pair of night watchmen and for stage productions by Miller, Dixie Goes High Hat (1938) and Hollywood Revue (1939). Moreland would appeared in low-budget "race movies" aimed at African American audiences, including One Dark Night (1939) with Bette Treadville and Lucky Ghost (1941), Mr. Washington Goes to Town (1941) and Mantan Runs for Mayor (1946), again with Miller.[5]

As his comedic talents became recognized, Moreland appeared in larger productions. 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-African American-cast comedies. 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. 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. He is perhaps best known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in Monogram's Charlie Chan series.[5]

During the 1940s, he teamed up with Ben Carter as his straight man, touring America in vaudeville and making personal appearances in the nation's movie theaters. Moreland and Carter performed comedy routines the former learned when he became Flournoy Miller's understudy in the 1930s[7][5], including the famous "indefinite talk" routine, in which they would speak to one another, start a sentence only to be interrupted by the other, yet they understand each other perfectly.[8] They had developed an excellent rapport and impeccable timing. Their version of "indefinite talk" can be seen in two Charlie Chan pictures, The Scarlet Clue[note 1] and Dark Alibi.[note 2][9] The partnership lasted until Carter died in 1946.[10] Moreland and Nipsey Russell would performed this routine in two all-black variety films in 1955.

During the second half of the 1940s, the public attitudes toward the portrayals of African Americans in the cinema had changed. When filmmakers began to reassess roles given to black actors, Moreland's characterization in his film appearances was considered demeaning to the African-American community, resulting in him being offered fewer roles in the 1950s.[11][12] Financial difficulties forced Moreland to tour making personal appearances during the late 1940s and the early 1950s with Bud Harris, Tim Moore, Redd Foxx and Nipsey Russell as his straight men.[5][13]

Mantan's biographer, Michael Price, states Moreland was briefly considered as a possible addition to the Three Stooges. After Shemp Howard died of a sudden heart attack on November 22, 1955 at age 60, Moe Howard was said had been observing Moreland's act for years and offered Moreland a chance to join the act as the new "third stooge" at the behest of his late brother Shemp. Moreland was reported to be enthusiastic about the offer, but Columbia Pictures insisted on a comedian already under contract.[3] Joe Besser, one of a few comedians still making comedy shorts at the studio, was eventually recruited to join the act in 1956.[14]

Later career and death[edit]

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, which produced a number of recorded albums.

Moreland died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1973 in Hollywood, and is interred at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.[1][15]

Recognition[edit]

In 2004, Moreland was inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame.[16]

Selected filmography[edit]

Television

Recordings[edit]

  • That Ain't My Finger (Laff)
  • Elsie's Sportin' House (Laff)
  • Tribute to the Man (Laff)

Cultural references[edit]

Robert B. Parker makes an allusion to Moreland in Hush Money, one of his long-running series of Spenser novels.[17][non-primary source needed]

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 by Beastie Boys featured 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 mashed potatoes.

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael H. Price - Mantan the Funnyman (2007), a biography of Moreland

Footnotes[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ For an example of the "indefinite talk" routine, see The Scarlet Clue at 39 minutes 25 seconds.
  2. ^ For an example of the "indefinite talk" routine, see Dark Alibi at 19 minutes 25 seconds.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "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. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  2. ^ a b "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.
  3. ^ a b Price, Michael (2007). Mantan the Funnyman: The Life and Times of Mantan Moreland. Midnight Marquee Press. pp. 63, 207–208. ISBN 978-1-88766-470-7.
  4. ^ "M. Moreland, Charlie Chan Butler, Died." Pomona (CA) Progress-Bulletin, September 29, 1973, p. A-2.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville old & new: an encyclopedia of variety performances in America. Psychology Press. pp. 756–757, 792–794. ISBN 9780415938532. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  6. ^ Slide, Anthony (1994). The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Greenwood Press. p. 345. ISBN 978-1-61703-249-3.
  7. ^ "New York Show Whirl". The Afro-American. Baltimore. March 17, 1945. p. 8, Theatre Section.
  8. ^ Hill, Constance Valis (2010). Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-19022-538-4.
  9. ^ Dave Kehr (June 13, 2010). "Golly, Pop, You Always Get 'Em, Even on a Poverty Row Budget". The New York Times. p. AR12.
  10. ^ "Hundreds of Hollywood's Celebs Pay Final Tribute to Ben Carter". The Afro-American. Baltimore. December 28, 1946. p. 7.
  11. ^ Cripps, Thomas R. (1967). "The Death of Rastus: Negroes in American Films since 1945". Phylon (1960-). 28 (3): 267–275. doi:10.2307/273665. JSTOR 273665.
  12. ^ Thompson, Jennifer. "From Blackface to Blaxploitation: Representations Of African Americans In Film". Duke University Library. Duke University. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  13. ^ Boyd, Herb (2010). Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 351. ISBN 978-0-38549-279-9.
  14. ^ Maurer, Joan Howard; Jeff Lenburg; Greg Lenburg (2012) [1982]. The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Citadel Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-1-61374-074-3.
  15. ^ Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. Routledge. pp. 794. ISBN 978-0-415-93853-2.
  16. ^ "2004 Hall of Fame Inductee". National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. Archived from the original on 7 July 2017. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  17. ^ Parker, Robert B. Hush Money, page 12, New York: Putnam

External links[edit]