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Mantan Moreland
Born September 3, 1902(1902-09-03)
Monroe, Louisiana
Died September 28, 1973 (aged 71)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Other name(s) Man Tan Moreland
Manton Moreland
Moreland
Occupation Actor
Years active 1933-1973

Mantan Moreland (September 3, 1902 - September 28, 1973) was an American actor most popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of his roles are now considered to be controversial, as he often played a superstitious, easily frightened manservant, ready to flee at the first sign of danger. However, these roles were a minor part of Moreland's prolific career, which included many early all-black films as well as dozens of mainstream comedies, mysteries and horror movies.

Contents

Career

Born in Monroe, Louisiana, Moreland began acting by the time he was an adolescent, reportedly running away to join the circus. By the late 1920s, he had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe. Initially, Moreland appeared in low-budget "race movies" aimed at African-American audiences, but as his comedic talents came to be recognized, he received roles in larger productions.

Monogram Pictures signed Moreland to appear opposite Frankie Darro in the studio's popular action pictures. Moreland, with his bulging eyes and cackling laugh, quickly became a favorite supporting player in Hollywood movies. He is perhaps best known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in Monogram's Charlie Chan series. At the height of his career, Moreland received steady work from major film studios, as well as from independent producers who starred Moreland in low-budget, all-black-cast comedies.

Moreland also toured America in vaudeville, making personal appearances in the nation's movie theaters. His straight man was Ben Carter, and they developed an excellent rapport and impeccable timing. Their "incomplete sentence" routines can be seen in two Charlie Chan pictures, The Scarlet Clue and Dark Alibi.

Moreland was offered fewer roles in the 1950s, when filmmakers began to reassess roles given to black actors. He was briefly considered as a possible addition to the Three Stooges when Shemp Howard died in 1955. This prospect was disclosed by Moe Howard in a 1971 interview with film historian Michael H. Price, cited in Price's 2007 biography of Moreland, Mantan the Funnyman, from Midnight Marquee Press of Baltimore. Moreland returned to the stage and appeared in two all-black variety films in 1955, with Nipsey Russell standing in for Ben Carter as his straight man.

Later career and death

Moreland's last featured role was in the 1964 darkly humorous horror film Spider Baby, which was patterned after Universal's thrillers of the 1940s. After suffering a stroke in the early 1960s, Moreland took on a few minor comedic roles, working with the likes of Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley and Carl Reiner.

Moreland died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1973 in Hollywood.[1] He was buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.

Selected filmography

Film
Year Film Role Notes
1933 That's the Spirit Night watchman Credited as Moreland
1936 The Green Pastures Angel Removing Hat Uncredited
1937 Harlem on the Prairie Alternative title: Bad Man of Harlem
1938 Two-Gun Man from Harlem Bill Blake
1939 One Dark Night Samson Brown
1940 Chasing Trouble Jefferson
1941 You're Out of Luck Jeff Jefferson
1941 Let's Go Collegiate Jeff
1942 Lucky Ghost Washington Delaware Jones
1943 Cabin in the Sky First Idea Man
1944 Charlie Chan in the Secret Service Birmingham Brown
1945 The Scarlet Clue Birmingham Brown
1946 Mantan Messes Up Mantan
1947 Ebony Parade Mantan
1948 The Feathered Serpent Birmingham Brown
1949 The Sky Dragon Birmingham Brown Alternative title: Charlie Chan and the Sky Dragon
1964 The Patsy Barbershop Porter Uncredited
1966 Alvarez Kelly Bartender Uncredited
1967 Enter Laughing Subway Rider
1968 Spider Baby Messenger Alternative title: Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told
1970 Watermelon Man Counterman
1972 The Biscuit Eater Waiter
1973 The Young Nurses Old Man Credited as Man Tan Moreland
Television
Year Title Role Notes
1957 Hallmark Hall of Fame 1 episode
1969 Julia Henry James 1 episode
1970 The Bill Cosby Show Uncle Dewey 1 episode
Adam-12 Philip Richards 1 episode

Stage performances

  • Blackbirds (1928)
  • Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1930 (1930)
  • Singin' the Blues (1931)
  • Blackberries of 1932 (1932)
  • Yeah-Man (1932)
  • Shuffle Along of 1933 (1933)
  • Waiting for Godot (1957)

Recordings

  • That Ain't My Finger (Laff)
  • Elsie's Sportin' House (Laff)
  • Tribute to the Man (Laff)

Cultural references

The lyrics of The Coasters' 1963 song "Bad Detective" are sung from the first-person perspective of Birmingham Brown, Mantan Moreland's character in the Charlie Chan movie series.

On the Beastie Boys album Ill Communication, a Moreland sample was used in the song "B-Boys makin' with the Freak Freak". The sample was "Shit, if this is gonna be that kind of party, I'm gonna stick my dick in the mashed potatoes", which is the punchline to a joke about a French girl's misunderstanding of a certain obscene word. Audio collage artist Wayne Butane has used the same sample numerous times in his work.

Robert B. Parker makes an allusion to Moreland in Hush Money, one of his long running series of Spenser novels.[2]

In the Spike Lee film Bamboozled two characters recreate Moreland's "Incomplete Sentence" routine.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Cullen, Frank; Hackman, Florence; McNeilly, Donald (2007). Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America. Routledge. pp. 794. ISBN 0-415-93853-8.  
  2. ^ Parker, Robert B. Hush Money, page 12, New York: Putnam

References

5. Price, Michael, "Mantan the Funnyman", 2006, Baltimore, Md., USA, Midnight Marquee Press.

External links

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