Moses Gunn

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Moses Gunn
Moses Gunn in 1974
Born(1929-10-02)October 2, 1929
DiedDecember 16, 1993(1993-12-16) (aged 64)
Years active1962–1993
Gwendolyn Mumma Landes
(m. 1966)

Moses Gunn (October 2, 1929 – December 16, 1993)[1] was an American actor of stage and screen. An Obie Award-winning stage player, he is an alumnus of the Negro Ensemble Company.[2] His 1962 off-Broadway debut was in Jean Genet's The Blacks,[2] and his Broadway debut was in A Hand is on the Gate, an evening of African-American poetry. He was nominated for the 1976 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance in The Poison Tree,[3] and he also played Othello on Broadway in 1970. For his screen performances, Gunn is best known for his roles as Clotho in WUSA (1970), Bumpy Jonas in Shaft (1971) and Joe on Little House on the Prairie (1977-1981).

Early life, family and education[edit]

Gunn was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the son of Mary and George Gunn, a laborer, and 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, where he became a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity Rho Psi chapter. After serving in the United States Army, he attended graduate school at the University of Kansas, earning a master's degree. He taught briefly at Grambling College before attempting an acting career in New York City.


A character actor of film and television, 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.[4][5]

Gunn won a second Obie for his work in the NEC produced First Breeze of Summer, which moved to Broadway.[6][5] His acclaimed performance as Othello at the Stratford, Connecticut Shakespeare Festival moved to Broadway in 1970.

Other Broadway plays in which Gunn performed were: A Hand is on the Gate, Twelfth Night, I Have a Dream, and The Poison Tree. He received a 1976 Tony Award nomination for Best Actor for The Poison Tree.[3]

In 1991, he toured in a production of Athol Fugard's "My Children! My Africa!" the role of Mr. M, which included a run at Baltimore's Center Stage Theater.[7]

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's imperial physician, in the 1984 film The NeverEnding Story. He was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1977 for his role in the television mini-series Roots. He also co-starred with Avery Brooks on the television series A Man Called Hawk. Gunn appeared as atheist shop owner Carl Dixon in six episodes of 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.[2]

Personal life and death[edit]

Gunn married Gwendolyn Mumma Landes in 1966, becoming stepfather to her daughter Kirsten Sarah Landes. In 1970, they had a son, Justin, who became a musician and composer in the Copenhagen-based band, The Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co.

Gunn died from complications of asthma in Guilford, Connecticut on December 16, 1993, aged 64.[8]

Film and television[edit]


  1. ^ "Moses Gunn Memorial". The New York Times. January 10, 1994. p. B8. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Jones, Charisse (December 20, 1993). "Moses Gunn, 64, a Veteran Actor Honored for 'Ragtime' and 'Roots'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Nominations / 1976 / Actor (Leading Role - Play)". 1976. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  4. ^ "1968 Obie Award Winners". Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Milestones: Died: Moses Gunn". Time. November 3, 2005. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  6. ^ "1975 Obie Award Winners". Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  7. ^ Rousuck, J. Wynn (November 29, 1991). "Fugard's pen is a persuasive sword in 'My Children! My Africa!'". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved June 2, 2020.
  8. ^ "Actor Moses Gunn dead at 64". December 20, 1993. Retrieved August 5, 2019.

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