Friday, January 2, 2015

William Marshall Shakespeare's Vampire Cartoon King


I don't remember what year it was, but it wwas around 1990 and I was working at the Valley Plaza Posal Finance Station in North Hollywood, California as Supervisor. I happened to look up from my desk and standing in front of one of the window clerks was a very distinquished looking Afro-American gentlemen whom I immediately recognized. He was actor William Marshall and if his six foot five inch frame hadn't gotten my notice his distinctive voice did. I walked up to Mr. Marshall and introduced myself adding how I had enjoyed him in a live performance of Shakespeare's "Othello". The actor was surprized that I knew him, but more so that I had seen "Othello". Should you be familiar with Meredith Willson's musicial "The Music Man" than you know from his setting and song that Gary, Indiana was the most boring town in the world and people from Iowa the most opinionated in WIlson's opinion, lol. So of course William Horace Marshall was born there on August 19, 1924. His mother was Thelma Edwards and his father Vereen Marshall. Who to fit into the small town image Wilson painted was a dentist.At least one William Marshall's parents was part Cherokee Indian. Which came from the fact that many freed slaves after the Civil War were accepted by and married into Native American Indian tribes. William Marshall was also the counsin of fellow Afro-American actor Paul Winfield. William Horace Marshall's first love was art and and after his graduation fromGovernors State University. Marshall moved from the midwest to attend New York State University and study in that field. I cannot locate the exact event that made the young man change his career goal, but at some point he joined The Actors Studio.

The young Marshall would continue his acting education at both The Theater Wing and the Neighborhood Playhouse under Sanford Meisner.Where he would learn the non Method acting alternative to the instruction he received from Lee Strassburg at the Actor's Studio. As a Result William Marshall became a more rounded actor than other of his comtemporaries. IMDb wrote this description of Marshall: "Dynamic African American leading man and character actor William Marshall trained in Grand Opera, Broadway and Shakespeare." Marshall was something different in an actor at the time and because of this I am breaking my biography into three sections: Legitimate Theater, Motion Pictures and Television. LEGITIMATE THEATER APPEARANCES William Marshall joined the cast of "Carmen Jones" on Broadway in 1944 as the male lead Joe. Oscar Hammerstein II took the music from Georges Bizset's 1874 opera "Carmen" and wrote lyrics to it setting this modern World War 2 Opera in an African American setting with an all black cast.Of interest when the motion picture version was made Marshall was considered for the part, but it went to singer Harry Belafonte opposite singer Dorthy Dandridge in the title role of the Otto Preminger 1954 film. Of further interest is that both Belafonte and Dandridge's singing voices were dubbed by opera trained singers, because it was considered that theirs were not sufficient for the two roles. Whereas, Marshall's would not have been. "Carmen Jones" was followed on November 3, 1948 by "Set My People Free". A play about a true 19th Century Negro uprising in Chareston, South Carolina that was aborted. This original play only ran through the 27th as it couldn't find an audience. The following year found Marshall in the cast of "Lost in the Stars" described as a musical tragedy. The music was by Kurt Weill and the lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. It was based upon South African Alan Paton's 1948 novel "Cry the Beloved Country". Which would be made into a 1951 film starring Sidney Poitier in his second screen credited role. 1950 found William Marshall playing part of the crew in a revival of the musical "Peter Pan". He was also the understudy for Boris Karloff who played Captain Hook. This was followed in 1951 with Marshall playing "De Lawd" aka: "God" in a revival of the 1930 Pulitzer Prize winning play "The Green Pastures".The following year found William Marshall in his first motion picture appearance. Over the years Marshall would also portray Singer Paul Roebson and Frederick Douglas.As Roebson Marshall sang some of his standards and I would have loved to hear his version of "Ole Man River". MOTION PICTURE WORK On June 2, 1952 William Marshall appeared in his first motion picture "Lydia Bailey". Afilm based upon an historical novel by Kenneth Roberts who had written "The Northwest Passage", The motion picture starred Dale Robertson and Anne Francis with Marshall at fourth billing behind Charles Kovin. This film would be followed two years later in 1954 with Marshall receiving eight billing in 20th Century Fox's star studded big budgeted sequel to the first Cinemascope film "The Robe". The motion picture "Demetrius and the Gladiators" starred Victor Mature continuing his role from the first film. In 1957 William Marshall played the man doing the manipulations behind the scenes of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. The film "Something of Value" starred Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter and Sidney Poitier. Around these movies Marshall began also to appear on television.

Television work would be Marshall's primary source of income until 1968. When he would appear in the Rod Taylor action film "The Hell with Heroes" followed immediately as real life Attorney General Edward W. Brooke in "The Boston Strangler". More television appearanceswould dominate William Marshall's workload until Blackplotation came about and he was about to become a cult vampire in 1972.

"Blacula" was a tale about an 18th Century African Prince and his Queen who run afoul of Count Dracula. Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and locks him in his coffin for all eternity. Switch to present day 1972 Los Angeles were his coffin is found in an estate purchased by two interior decorators who of course unchain it and open it. Just as Christopher Lee made such an impact in 1958 as "Dracula" for Hammer Fims. William Marshall's "Blacula" would spin off a sequel the following year "Scream Blacula, Scream" and a rash of Blackpotation Horror films such as "Blackenstein" and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hype". The movie has a terrific rhythm and blues soundtrack that became a best seller and the film crossed racial lines. It was also the first Horror film to receive a Saturn Award in that category. The first film featured future television actress Denise Nicholas and the second co-starred up and coming Afro-American actress Pam Grier. TELEVISION WORK In 1981 all three venues of William Marshall's work came together, Legitimate Theater, Motion Pictures and Television. Marshall was in a made for television movie of "Othello" which he had played six times on stage.The London critic Harold Hobson of the Sunday Times compared the American's stage performance to three major British actors with these words: "...nobler than (Godfrey) Tearle and more martial than (John) Gielgud, more poetic than (Frederick) Valk. From his first enty, slender and magnificently tall, framed in a high Bzytantine Arch, clad in white samite, mystic, wonderful, a figure of Arabian romance and grace, to his last plunging the knife in his stomach, Mr. Marshall rode without faltering the plays enormous rhetoric, at the end the house rose to him." Some of the television shows William Marshall appeared on were Patrick McGoohan's "Danger Man" from 1960-1962 and then the revamped series with McGoohan from 1964-1966 "Secret Agent". He had guest shots of "Rawhide", "Bonanza" and "Daniel Boone". Along with series I have forgotten existed like "The Doctors and Nurses" in 1964 and "Captain David Grief" in 1959. For a short time William Marshall was a regular reoccurring character as Dr. Richard Daystrom on the original "Star Trek" He also made two appearances on TV's "The Man from Uncle", five appears on "Tarzan" and guest starred on many other series between 1953 and 1993. One last of those forgotten early television shows was 1953's "Harlem Detective" with an all African American cast.The show was cancelled when an anti-Communist newsletter accused William Marshall of being a Communist Party Member. Apparently this accusation went nowhere.


However, most television viewers remember William Marshall for his role as "The King of Cartoons" on Paul Rebuens "Pee-wee's Playhouse" in 1986.


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