Rose McClendon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rose McClendon
Rose McClendon as Serena in Porgy (1927)
Rosalie Virginia Scott

(1884-08-27)August 27, 1884
DiedJuly 12, 1936(1936-07-12) (aged 51)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeMount Hope Cemetery (Hastings-on-Hudson)
Henry Pruden McClendon
(m. 1904)

Rose McClendon (August 27, 1884 – July 12, 1936) was a leading African-American Broadway actress of the 1920s. A founder of the Negro People's Theatre, she guided the creation of the Federal Theatre Project's African American theatre units nationwide and briefly co-directed the New York Negro Theater Unit.


McClendon, second from right, at the opening of Macbeth (April 14, 1936)

Rose McClendon was born as Rosalie Virginia Scott in Greenville, South Carolina, and as a child relocated to New York City. She started acting in church plays in her youth. She became a professional actress in her thirties, after winning a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Art.

At age 20 she was married to Dr. Henry Pruden McClendon, a chiropractor.[1]

Her first notable role came in Deep River, a "native opera with jazz", in 1926. In addition to acting, she also directed several plays at the Harlem Experimental Theatre. She appeared in the 1927 Pulitzer Prize-winning play In Abraham's Bosom by Paul Green. In 1931, she was in another Paul Green play on Broadway, The House of Connelly, which was the first production by the Group Theatre, directed by Lee Strasberg. She drew critical praise for her portrayal of Phyllis in Annie Nathan Meyer's Black Souls at Broadway's Provincetown Playhouse in 1932.[2]

McClendon was a contemporary of Paul Robeson, Ethel Barrymore, Lynn Fontanne and Langston Hughes, who created a character for her in his 1935 play, Mulatto.

As a showcase for McClendon, Countee Cullen adapted Euripides' tragedy Medea, working with producer John Houseman, composer Virgil Thomson and production designer Chick Austin.[3]: 128–129  Although the sets and costumes had been ready for months, by the end of 1934 McClendon had fallen ill and the project was never realized.[3]: 143 

Her talent extended to directing as well as acting. In 1935 she co-founded, with Dick Campbell, the Negro People's Theatre in Harlem.[4] More than 4,000 people attended its first production, an adaptation of Clifford Odets' Waiting for Lefty, and the group was organized in permanent form in June.[5]

The Negro People's Theatre directly inspired the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project,[6] which was created in 1935 under McClendon's supervision.[7]: 59  Under her guidance units were created in Seattle, Hartford, Philadelphia, Newark, Los Angeles, Boston, Raleigh, Birmingham, San Francisco and Chicago as well as New York. She served as liaison to numerous organizations and individuals who became involved in the Federal Theatre Project, including Harry Edward, Carlton Moss and Edna Thomas. McClendon advised national director Hallie Flanagan that the project should begin under experienced direction and selected John Houseman to co-direct the unit.[7]: 62–63 [3]: 179 

In December 1935, McClendon was forced to leave the cast of Langston Hughes's Mulatto after she became critically ill with pleurisy.[8] McClendon was to have portrayed Lady Macbeth in Orson Welles's Federal Theatre Project production of Macbeth (1936), but due to her continuing illness Edna Thomas played the role.[9]: 102  Her condition later developed into pneumonia, and McClendon died at her home on July 12, 1936.[6]


After McClendon's death in 1936, Dick Campbell, her Negro People's Theater co-founder, formed the Rose McClendon Players in her honor.[4][1]

In 1946, Carl Van Vechten established the Rose McClendon Memorial Collection of Photographs of Celebrated Negroes at Howard University.[10]: 5  The collection is held in the prints and photographs department of Moorland–Spingarn Research Center.[10]: 6 

In 1950, the estate of McClendon's husband donated her scrapbooks to the New York Public Library. Two volumes dated 1916–34 include newspaper and magazine articles and reviews, programs, letters, telegrams and photographs.[1]

In 2021, a biopic titled Voodoo Macbeth, produced by the USC School of Cinematic Arts and chronicling the creation of the New York Negro Unit 1936 production of Macbeth co-directed by McClendon, premiered at the Pan-African Film Festival. The film stars Inger Tudor as McClendon.

Select theatre credits[edit]

Date Title Role Notes
1919–20 Justice Professional debut[1]
1924 Roseanne [1]
October 4–30, 1926 Deep River Octavie Imperial Theatre, New York[11]
December 30, 1926–June 1927 In Abraham's Bosom Goldie McAllister Provincetown Playhouse, New York[12]
September 6–November 1927 In Abraham's Bosom Goldie McAllister Provincetown Playhouse, New York[13]
October 10, 1927–August 1928 Porgy Serena Guild Theatre, New York[14]
1928–29 Porgy Serena Tour including nine weeks in Chicago, six weeks in London, and performances in Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Washington, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and cities in the northwestern United States and Canada[1]
September 13–October 1929 Porgy Serena Martin Beck Theatre, New York[15]
October 14, 1929 – January 1930 Porgy Serena National tour[16][17]
September 28–December 1931 The House of Connelly Big Sue Martin Beck Theatre, New York[18]
January 7–January 1932 Never No More Mammy Hudson Theatre, New York[19]
March 30–April 1932 Black Souls Phyllis Provincetown Playhouse, New York[20]
April 4–April 1932 Brain Sweat Carrie Washington Longacre Theatre, New York[21]
October 2–October 1934 Roll, Sweet Chariot Sudie Wilson Cort Theatre, New York[22]
March 14–16, 1935[3]: 154–157  Panic Old Woman Imperial Theatre, New York[23]
October 24–December 5, 1935[8] Mulatto Cora Lewis Vanderbilt Theatre, New York[24]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Rose McClendon Scrapbooks". Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. Retrieved March 3, 2015.
  2. ^ "Rose McClendon Rises to Heights in Black Souls". New York American. March 31, 1932.
  3. ^ a b c d Houseman, John (1972). Run-Through: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21034-3.
  4. ^ a b Wintz, Cary D.; Finkelman, Paul, eds. (2012). "Campbell, Dick". Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Routledge. ISBN 9781135455361.
  5. ^ McClendon, Rose (June 30, 1935). "As To a New Negro Stage". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b "Rose McClendon, 51, Negro Actress, Dies". The New York Times. July 14, 1936.
  7. ^ a b Flanagan, Hallie (1965). Arena: The History of the Federal Theatre. New York: Benjamin Blom, reprint edition [1940]. OCLC 855945294.
  8. ^ a b "Rose McClendon Ill". The New York Times. December 9, 1935.
  9. ^ Leaming, Barbara (1985). Orson Welles, A Biography. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-618-15446-3.
  10. ^ a b Miller, W. Henry (1986). "Carl Van Vechten Collection, Coll. 142, Finding Aid". Moorland–Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  11. ^ "Deep River". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  12. ^ "In Abraham's Bosom". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  13. ^ "In Abraham's Bosom". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  14. ^ "Porgy". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  15. ^ "Porgy". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  16. ^ "'Porgy' Returns to Fords, Baltimore, After Scoring Triumph in London". Denton Journal. Denton, Maryland. October 12, 1929. p. 4.
  17. ^ "Players in 'Porgy', Which Comes to Garrick Monday". The Capital Times. January 5, 1930. p. 6.
  18. ^ "The House of Connelly". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  19. ^ "Never No More". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  20. ^ "Black Souls". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  21. ^ "Brain Sweat". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  22. ^ "Roll, Sweet Chariot". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  23. ^ "Panic". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  24. ^ "Mulatto". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 8, 2015.

External links[edit]