HELLO AMERICA!—I have been one of those fortunate ones to have spent most of my life in a place, an industry realizing my artistic, creative dreams. I have met and or worked with or around some of the most fascinating artists on many levels who have guided me on a continued path of survival. Stars like Bette Davis, Dan Daily, Agnes Moorhead, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Ethel Waters, Hazel Scott, Louis Armstrong, so many who have made a difference in my life.
Arriving in Hollywood from the east coast during the early 50s was quite a challenge, based on the laws dealing persons of color or even religion. If one traveled by car, there was a great chance, if you were a person of color, it might be difficult to find a convenient hotel or motel in which to sleep. The restrictions were enormous and quite apparent. Even though I had read about this kind of thing happening or heard others describing their respective experiences, it was, still difficult to place it properly within one’s own psychic.
For me, it was the horrifying experience of being attacked by the KKK while attending Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. When my dorm room was firebombed after being elected the first Afro-American as class president at the institution, reality hit heavy and strong. The real world I was forced in which to survive and heard discussed by those who experienced similar results, years before, rang loud and clear. Automatically I knew I had to put on my body armor in order to reach goals possibly not attempted previously by someone such as myself.
I was simply an 18-year-old kid from a place called Morton, located about 10 miles outside of Philadelphia. Even though there were social limitations and obvious bits of racial restrictions, they somehow didn’t circumvent my attempts to become an active part in radio or in television. When at the age of 13, I viewed the Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club Show (WIP-NBC), I managed to audition and quickly signed for the show (the only person of color on the show).
It was just as easy to get a positive nod when auditioning for the Stan Lee Broza Radio Show as well. The results were that I was seen on TV on Saturday and on Sunday on the Broza radio show for WCAU-CBS. Of course, my small community of Morton went nuts with excitement, they couldn’t believe it. The bottom line is during that innocent time of my early beginning, I didn’t allow any negative intrusions enter my thoughts or puncture dreams I fully believed could happen.
When meeting my dear friend Bette Davis for the first time, she said that no matter what, “if you know what you want and who you are, don’t allow any damn fool turn you in another direction. Simply move on and go for the gold!”
Marlon Brando noted that during the beginning of his career, there were those who complained it was difficult to hear or understand his dialog while on stage. However, he didn’t give a damn; he stayed with the soul of the character and eventually, his way and technique of bringing his characters to life caught on with thousands of other young actors. My friend James Dean simply explained that he simply went and did what he felt in the moment and didn’t worry about.
Since I was interested in acting, writing, directing, composing serious music I hungered to get close to all those who represented the best in those respective artistic areas. Ethel Waters, the fantastic star of Broadway and films, selected me to co-star with her in the revival of her hit play “Member of the Wedding,” simply laughed and suggested: “Honey, if you believe what you’re doing, just go out there and raise hell, give it all ya’ got. The audience will know if it’s real or not!”