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Clarence Muse
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    (October 14, 1889-October 13, 1979)
    Born in Baltimore, Maryland
    African-American actor, screenwriter, producer, and director
    Began his career as an opera singer, minstrel performer and vaudeville comedian
    Composed songs, wrote plays/sketches; widely considered a pioneer in the 'black theatre and cinema' movement
    Founder of the Harlem Lafayette Theatre and a member of the Lafayette Players
    Acted for over sixty years, appearing in more than 150 films
    Collaborated with movie producer Robert Levy on productions that helped black actors to gain prominence and respect
    Reportedly was once one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood
    Selected filmography includes 'Hearts in Dixie,' 'Way Down South,' 'Broken Earth,' 'My Favorite Brunette,' 'Spirit of Youth,' 'San Diego, I Love You,' 'Shadow of a Doubt,' 'My Forbidden Past,' 'Porgy and Bess,' 'Buck and the Preacher,' 'The World's Greatest Athlete,' 'Car Wash,' and 'The Black Stallion'
    Regularly appeared on Disney's TV miniseries based on the life of Francis Marion, 'The Swamp Fox' (1959-61)
    Co-wrote, directed, produced, and acted in 'Harlem He'en' which was performed at the Hollywood Bowl
    Co-wrote a song for Nina Mae McKinney, 'Sleepy Time Down South,' which was later adapted by Louis Armstrong as a famous signature number
    Also composed the songs 'Liberty Road,' 'Lazy Rain,' 'Magic Lover,' and 'Alleyway of My Dreams'
    He performed a Vaudeville act wearing 'whiteface.'
    He did a Frank Buck 'jungle safari' movie.
    He looked like Dick Gregory for the latter half of his career.
    He lost out to Dooley Wilson for the part of Sam the Piano Man in 'Casablanca.'
    His consolation prize was getting to play Sam in the weekly 1950s miniseries of the same name.
    He was criticized for calling for better treatment of black performers but openly defending The Amos 'N Andy Show, which originated as a blackface minstrel routine.
    His web bios are frequently tagged with the vague assertion that he was 'the first African-American to star in a film' (the point is never elaborated on, but that's pretty debatable).
    He and Rex Ingram both played the same role of Jim in different adaptations of 'Huck Finn' eight years between each other. Ingram's newer version with Mickey Rooney received most of the attention and raves (Ingram would be just one of several black trailblazers to overshadow Clarence).
    He liked to make ornery witticisms about modern-day issues in his later years (e.g. joking about the space program 'whites used to say that picking up rocks was a job for Ni__rs, but look at 'em now!')
    British critic Peter Noble compared his dramatic skills as a character actor to Lionel Barrymore, Hume Cronyn, and Frank Morgan.
    He received an international law degree from Dickinson College (1911).
    He admitted to concealing the fact that he had a law degree to get stage work.
    Years after his prime, the term 'Clarence Muse parts' was used by producers to describe the type of stock character parts he played.
    He was the first black person to direct a Broadway show, 'Run Little Chillun,' as part of the Federal Theater program (1943).
    Previously, he had overseen the Lafayette Theatre's staging of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,' telling the press that the story was relevant to the black experience because 'black men too have been split creatures inhabiting one body.'
    He received an honorary doctorate from Bishop College in Dallas, Texas (1972).
    Part of his defense of 'Amos 'N' Andy' was that the show allowed black actors to portray white-collar roles, such as bankers, doctors and judges.
    He was among the very first inductees to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, along with Gordon Parks (1973).
    He was active with local school initiatives; often making appearances at elementary schools or high schools to lecture about black history and filmmaking.
    While he probably wasn't the 'first black person to ever star in a movie,' he had a leading role opposite Stepin Fetchit in 'Hearts of Dixie,' the first all-black movie musical (and first all-black 'talkie' of any genre).
    He and Langston Hughes co-wrote the script for 'Way Down South,' which has been praised for tackling racial issues in a more even-handed manner than other films of its time.
    He died just one day before his 90th birthday and on the same day that his last movie was released.
    So beloved as a character actor was he, that he and fellow black trailblazer Ivan Dixon were singled out for memorable cameos in the 1970s blockbuster, 'Car Wash,' perhaps the first all-black musical to gain mainstream popularity since 1943's 'Stormy Weather.'

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair

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