Hollywood Of Inclusion If Lucky!

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Leon Issac Kennedy, Michael St. John and Marla Gibbs.

HELLO AMERICA!—There has always been people of “inclusion” existing in the entertainment industry. I know because I was one of those young hopefuls who was lucky enough to have the door of opportunity opened to me continually through the years even before arriving in Hollywood. While attending college in Richmond, Indiana and attacked by the KKK, it was the wise decision by the Dean of the college to have me attend the University of Southern California (U.S.C) and its music department introduced me to the world of music in a very serious way.

Dr. William Hurt selected me to sing for Dmitri Shostakovich, the famed Russian composer visiting our country and later along with Marilyn Horne to sing for President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Hollywood Bowl. In my opinion, there were numerous other extremely gifted singers in the department, but he chose me for the honor. I was and still am extremely grateful for his interest and support.

Because of the training received at U.S.C. it prepared me even more for very challenging opportunities as an actor, professionally. When performing in the amazing musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” the legendary actress Ethel Waters approached me to co-star with her in her Tony award-winning Broadway play “Member of the Wedding.” That led to my performing with Oscar-winning actress Shirley Booth in her Broadway hit “The Desk Set.”

Again, good things happened because of people who saw something in me and didn’t hesitate to invite me to join them in one of their special performing productions. For the most part my casting had nothing to do with color or race; it was purely based on talent and what I could possibly bring to the production itself. Yes, I was damn lucky!

As for writing, it was the same kind of opportunity, the journey was similar. Because of Nick Stewart and a Miss Todeska in the Human Resources Department at CBS, I was approached as the first person of color to be hired in the radio script department. I was able to meet and work with the likes of Lionel Barrymore, Agnus Moorehead, Marie Wilson, C.B. DeMille and tons of other legendary artists during the early 1950s. Watching them perform was like being a member of a master class of actors. Again, it was the process of inclusion that made it possible for me to have a front seat to this kind of professionalism.

Since those early days, my inclusion continued involving Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Vincent Minnelli, Glen Ford, Richard Zanuck, Jr, Otto Preminger, Marlon Brando, James Dean and the list goes on and on. The bottom line is that INCLUSION is such an American possibility more than anything else.

People travel here from around the world to be given an opportunity to flower, to grow, to feel free enough to express who they really are. It’s not only about race but religion and every other off-center existence which make some people uncomfortable. This is why I have such a tremendous respect and love for my life and time in Hollywood because there has always been someone who was willing to take a chance on me; that is something I believe most of us want.