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Gunn in 1974
October 2, 1929|
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||December 16, 1993
Guilford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Gwendolyn Mumma Landes (1966–1993) (his death) (2 children)|
Moses Gunn (October 2, 1929 – December 16, 1993) was an American actor of stage and screen. An Obie Award-winning stage player, he co-founded the Negro Ensemble Company in the 1960s. His 1962 Off-Broadway debut was in Jean Genet's The Blacks, and his Broadway debut was in A Hand is on the Gate, an evening of African-American poetry. He was nominated for a 1976 Tony Award as Best Actor (Play) for The Poison Tree and played Othello on Broadway in 1970.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, of African descent the son of Mary and George Gunn, a labourer he was one of seven siblings. After his mother died, his family separated. Moses left home and rode the railroad at just 12 years old. He returned to St. Louis and attended school while living at the home of Jewel Richie, his English teacher. He graduated from Tennessee State University after serving in the United States Army, then went to graduate school at Kansas University, gaining a master's degree. He taught briefly at Grambling College before attempting an acting career in NYC. He married Gwendolyn Mumma Landes in 1966, becoming stepfather to her daughter Kirsten Sarah Landes. They had a son, Justin Moses, in 1970 who became a musician and composer in the Copenhagen-based band, "The Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co."
An authoritative black character actor of film and TV, Gunn also enjoyed a successful career on stage. He made his New York City stage debut in the original off-Broadway production of Jean Genet's The Blacks (1962). He performed many Shakespearean roles in Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park, winning an Obie Award for his portrayal of Aaron in Titus Andronicus. He won a second Obie for his work in the NEC produced First Breeze of Summer, which moved to Broadway. His acclaimed performance as Othello at the Stratford, Connecticut Shakespeare Festival moved to Broadway in 1970. Other Broadway plays in which Gunn performed are: A Hand is on the Gate, Twelfth Night, I Have a Dream, and The Poison Tree. He was nominated for a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor for the The Poison Tree.
He may be best remembered in film for his portrayal of mobster Ellsworth Raymond "Bumpy" Jonas in the first two Shaft movies, Booker T. Washington in the 1981 movie Ragtime, a performance which won him an NAACP Image Award, and as Cairon, the Childlike Empress' imperial physician, in the 1984 film The NeverEnding Story. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1977 for his role in the TV mini-series Roots. He also co-starred with Avery Brooks on the TV series A Man Called Hawk. Gunn appeared in six episodes as atheist shop owner Carl Dixon on Good Times, as boxer-turned-farmer Joe Kagan on Little House on the Prairie, and as "Moses Gage" in Father Murphy. In 1989, Gunn appeared in two episodes of The Cosby Show as two different characters. His final acting role was as murder suspect Risley Tucker in "Three Men and Adena", an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street.
He died from complications of asthma in Guilford, Connecticut on December 16, 1993. He was survived by his wife Gwendolyn, a son, Justin, of Guilford; a daughter, Kirsten Landes Mudd of Philadelphia, as well as a brother and three sisters.
Film / Television
- 1968 What's So Bad About Feeling Good? (uncredited)
- 1970 Carter's Army as Private Doc Hayes
- 1970 WUSA as Clotho
- 1970 The Great White Hope as Scipio
- 1971 Wild Rovers (1971) as Ben
- 1971 Shaft as Bumpy Jonas
- 1972 Eagle in a Cage as General Gourgaud
- 1972 The Hot Rock as Dr. Amusa
- 1972 Shaft's Big Score as Bumpy Jonas
- 1972 Haunts of the Very Rich as Seacrist
- 1973 Kung Fu as Isaac Montoya (episode, "The Stone")
- 1973 The Iceman Cometh as Joe Mott
- 1974 Amazing Grace as Welton J. Waters
- 1975 Cornbread, Earl and Me as Benjamin Blackwell
- 1975 Rollerball as Cletus
- 1975 Aaron Loves Angela as Ike
- 1977 Good Times as Carl Dixon
- 1977 Roots as Kintango
- 1978 Remember My Name (1978) as Pike
- 1980 The Ninth Configuration as Major Nammack
- 1981 Ragtime as Booker T. Washington
- 1982 Amityville II: The Possession as Detective Turner
- 1984 The NeverEnding Story as Cairon
- 1984 Firestarter as Dr. Herman Pynchot
- 1985 Certain Fury (1985) as Dr. Lewis Freeman
- 1986 Heartbreak Ridge as Staff Sergeant Webster
- 1987 Bates Motel as Henry Watson
- 1987 Leonard Part 6 (1987) as Giorgio Francozzi
- 1988 Dixie Lanes (1988) as Isaac
- 1989 Amen as Benjamin Tillman
- 1989 The Cosby Show as Joe Kendall / Dr. Lotus
- 1989 The Women of Brewster Place as Ben
- 1989 The Luckiest Man in the World (1989) (voice)
- 1990 Tales From The Crypt as Uncle Ezra in the episode, "Fitting Punishment"
- 1991 Perfect Harmony as Zeke
- 1993 Homicide: Life on the Street as Risley Tucker (final television appearance)
- Moses Gunn profile at The New York Times
- Charisse Jones (December 20, 1993). "Moses Gunn, 64, a Veteran Actor Honored for 'Ragtime' and 'Roots'". New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2015.