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Woody Strode
Born Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode
July 25, 1914(1914-07-25)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died December 31, 1994 (aged 80)
Glendora, California, U.S.
Occupation Sportsman
Years active 1941–1994
Spouse(s) Princess Luukialuana "Luana" Kalaeloa (1941 - 1980; er death)
Tina Strode (1982 - 1994; his death)

Woodrow Wilson Woolwine "Woody" Strode (July 25, 1914 – December 31, 1994) was a decathlete and football star before finding even greater fame as a pioneering African-American film actor. He was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best supporting actor for his role in Spartacus in 1960. He served in the US Army during World War II.


Early life and athletic career

Strode was born in Los Angeles, California. He attended college at UCLA. Strode was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans. His world class decathlon capabilities were spearheaded by a fifty foot plus shot put (when the world record was fifty seven feet) and a six-four high jump (world record at time was 6-10). Strode posed for a nude portrait, part of Hubert Stowitts's acclaimed exhibition of athletic portraits shown at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (although the inclusion of black and Jewish athletes caused the Nazis to close the exhibit).[1]

Strode, Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson starred on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, in which they made up three of the four backfield players.[2] Along with Ray Bartlett, there were four African-Americans playing for the Bruins, when only a few dozen at all played on other college football teams.[3] They played eventual conference and national champion USC to a 0-0 tie with the 1940 Rose Bowl on the line. It was the first UCLA-USC rivalry football game with national implications.

Professional football

Strode and fellow UCLA alumnus Kenny Washington were two of the first African-Americans to play in the National Football League, playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 1946.[4] UCLA teammate Jackie Robinson would go on to break the color barrier in Major League baseball (in fact, all three had played in the professional Pacific Coast Professional Football League earlier in the decade). In 1948 and 1949, he played for the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Interprovincial Football Union. He also spent a few years in professional wrestling, wrestling the likes of Gorgeous George.

Acting career

Woody Stode in Spartacus (1960)

As an actor, he was noted for film roles that contrasted with the stereotypes of the time. He was 6' 4" (1.93 m) tall. He is probably best remembered for his brief Golden Globe-nominated role in Spartacus (1960) as the Ethiopian gladiator Draba, in which he fights Kirk Douglas to the death.

Strode made his screen debut in 1941 in Sundown, but became more active in the 1950s, in roles of increasing depth. He played dual roles (billed as "Woodrow Strode") in The Ten Commandments (1956) as an Ethiopian king as well as a slave, and in 1959 portrayed the cowardly Private Franklin in Pork Chop Hill.

He became a close friend of director John Ford, who gave him the title role in Sergeant Rutledge (1960) as a member of the Ninth Cavalry falsely accused of rape and murder; he would later appear in smaller roles in Ford's later films Two Rode Together (1961) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Strode was one of the last friends of legendary director John Ford. He came to visit Ford while the director was feuding with the Hollywood film studios. A studio head called as the two were talking and Ford said "Tell him I'm busy, sitting here with my good friend Woody Strode."

Strode played memorable villains opposite three screen Tarzans. In 1958, he appeared as Ramo opposite Gordon Scott in Tarzan's Fight for Life. In 1963, he was cast opposite Jock Mahoney's Tarzan as both the dying leader of an unnamed Asian country and that leader's unsavory brother, Khan, in Tarzan's Three Challenges. In the late 1960s, he appeared in several episodes of the Ron Ely Tarzan television series.

Strode played a heroic sailor on a sinking ship in the 1960 film The Last Voyage. In 1966 he landed a major starring role in The Professionals, a major box-office success which (almost) established him as a major star. Another notable part was as a gunslinger in the opening sequence of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968); after this, he would appear in several other spaghetti Westerns of lesser quality. His starring role as a thinly disguised Patrice Lumumba in Seduto alla sua destra (released in the U.S. as Black Jesus) garnered Strode a great deal of press at the time, but the film is largely forgotten now, despite his impressive performance. He remained a visible character actor throughout the '70s and '80s, and has become widely regarded (along with Sidney Poitier and Brock Peters) as one of the most important black film actors of his time. His last film was The Quick and the Dead (1995).

Personal life

Strode was the son of a Creek-Blackfoot-black father and a black-Cherokee mother.[5] His first wife was Princess Luukialuana Kalaeloa (aka Luana Strode), a descendant of Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii. They were married until her death in 1980.[6] Strode was a dedicated martial artist under the direction of Frank Landers in the art of SeishinDo Kenpo.[7]


Strode died of lung cancer on December 31, 1994, in Glendora, California, aged 80. He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Pop culture references



  • Strode wrote an autobiography entitled Goal Dust (ISBN 0-8191-7680-X).


  1. ^ Stowitts, Hubert Julian. American champions; fifty portraits of American athletes by Stowitts, Tiergartenstrasse 21a, Berlin, 9.-15. September 1936, unter dem Protektorat des Amerikanischen Botschafters und Mitwirkung der Vereinigung Carl Schurz, anlässlich der XI. Olympiade, special sport exhibition. Stowitts, 1936
  3. ^ Encyclopeǣia Brittanica article on Kenny Washington
  4. ^ NFL 2001 Record and Fact Book, Workman Publishing Co, New York,NY, ISBN 0-7611-2480-2, p. 280
  5. ^ Woody Strode, Goal Dust, Madison Books, 1990, ISBN 0-8191-7680-X, pp. 1-3)
  6. ^ Woody Strode, Goal Dust, Madison Books, 1990, ISBN 0-8191-7680-X, p. 78
  7. ^ Fighting Stars Magazine - July 1978

External links

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