A friend recently suggested that I might comment on the observation by him that few African Americans enjoy classic movies from the studio era. As a white woman, I hardly think I'm qualified to tackle this enormous subject, which has been eloquently discussed by such observers as Donald Bogle and other scholars. In addition to this, it occurs to me that with some notable exceptions, there would be little that contemporary African Americans wouldn't find painful viewing from the studio era.

Well, I was reminded recently of one Black actor whose groundbreaking legacy and distinctively thoughtful work—in whatever role he played, should be remembered by all who cherish classic movies and the artists and craftsmen who make them worth revisiting.

" /> A friend recently suggested that I might comment on the observation by him that few African Americans enjoy classic movies from the studio era. As a white woman, I hardly think I'm qualified to tackle this enormous subject, which has been eloquently discussed by such observers as Donald Bogle and other scholars. In addition to this, it occurs to me that with some notable exceptions, there would be little that contemporary African Americans wouldn't find painful viewing from the studio era.

Well, I was reminded recently of one Black actor whose groundbreaking legacy and distinctively thoughtful work—in whatever role he played, should be remembered by all who cherish classic movies and the artists and craftsmen who make them worth revisiting.

" /> A friend recently suggested that I might comment on the observation by him that few African Americans enjoy classic movies from the studio era. As a white woman, I hardly think I'm qualified to tackle this enormous subject, which has been eloquently discussed by such observers as Donald Bogle and other scholars. In addition to this, it occurs to me that with some notable exceptions, there would be little that contemporary African Americans wouldn't find painful viewing from the studio era.

Well, I was reminded recently of one Black actor whose groundbreaking legacy and distinctively thoughtful work—in whatever role he played, should be remembered by all who cherish classic movies and the artists and craftsmen who make them worth revisiting.

" />

James Edwards: “Someone Must Make a Stand”

A friend recently suggested that I might comment on the observation by him that few African Americans enjoy classic movies from the studio era. As a white woman, I hardly think I’m qualified to tackle this enormous subject, which has been eloquently discussed by such observers as Donald Bogle and other scholars. In addition to this, it occurs to me that with some notable exceptions, there would be little that contemporary African Americans wouldn’t find painful viewing from the studio era.

Well, I was reminded recently of one Black actor whose groundbreaking legacy and distinctively thoughtful work—in whatever role he played, should be remembered by all who cherish classic movies and the artists and craftsmen who make them worth revisiting. Perhaps this column will encourage at least one person to seek out his films.

One weekend about a month ago, I was watching an old movie called Fräulein (1958). As smoothly directed by old pro Henry Koster, the film is essentially a soapy tale documenting the privations and survival of a “good” German woman at the end of WWII and its aftermath. Starring a very reserved Mel Ferrer as an American officer who becomes involved with a young German woman, (Dana Wynter), it is a bit glossy despite the grim historical material of the story. Wynter‘s character suffers through near rape by Russian invaders and is almost forced into prostitution, though interestingly, this being the ’50s and Ms. Wynter being an actress remarkable for her composure, she remains quite prim and relatively unsullied throughout these desperate situations. The most engaging work in the movie is done by good actors in smaller roles, such as Ivan Triesault, Theodore Bikel and Helmut Dantine.

As my attention drifted and I was ruminating about possible imaginary recasting of the movie and wondering if it would’ve seemed better in black and white, my reverie was broken by a scene near the end of the film. Wynter‘s past encounter with a prostitution ring in Berlin has appeared on her criminal record, making her exodus from her defeated country less likely, despite Mel Ferrer‘s earnest expression of a desire to marry her. This nearly impossible obstacle to a “Hollywood ending” seemed to be one of the more realistic touches in the film, but for the appearance of an almost angelic U.S. serviceman disguised as a desk clerk shuffling papers among the ruins: James Edwards.

Mr. Edwards‘ slight of hand—deftly and surreptitiously removing the label of prostitute from the innocent and plaintive Miss Wynter‘s record—and then opening the door to her marriage & voyage to America with Mr. Ferrer—is completed in a few brief scenes. The part could’ve been played by anyone, but the casting of Edwards was one of the most fortuitous choices in this film. The fact that he is black lends a resonance to the scantily written part, but the way that he imbues the character with a dignified, reticent understanding helps make the end of this film much more moving than the previous 85 minutes would imply. We are shown the back of his head as he examines the records, and Edwards‘ face is almost always shown in profile in this small part, but as the catalyst for the denouement, he is a memorable figure of quiet but noticeable grace.

My interest piqued in this actor’s work, I checked the TCMb to review his biography, only to find it…blank. Or rather, as the message on that web page states: “No biographical information exists for this person.” That’s not quite true. Unfortunately, as I researched this article, I learned that this dearth of recognition is not unusual for James Edwards. He is unjustly forgotten by most.

Ask anyone over 30 about their memories of Sidney Poitier and they are likely to recall their first vivid impressions of him. Perhaps they can name his breakthrough film The Defiant Ones (1958), or In the Heat of the Night (1967), or—if they are really movie fans, the still searing No Way Out (1950). Bring up the name of James Edwards, however, and the reaction is much less likely to yield much recognition. A professional actor who appeared in movies for over 30 years, Mr. Edwards was a decade older than Mr. Poitier or Harry Belafonte, both of whose gifts, looks and timing were right for the social milieu of the late ’50s and ’60s. Edwards‘ groundbreaking work came just before the tide of social change began to crest, and the stardom of subsequent artists such as Poitier, Belafonte, and today’s contemporary actors such Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman have inadvertently helped to dim this earlier actors contributions.

Raised in the Jim Crow era in Indiana, James Edwards managed to gain a college education at Indiana and Northwestern University, earning a B.S. in 1938 for dramatics, though he never pursued dramatics until a near tragedy led back to this path. While serving in the Army as a lieutenant during World War II, Edwards was seriously wounded in combat. Army surgeons literally had to rebuild his face, (and they did a splendid job, since he was a very handsome man). During his long convalescence, his doctors recommended that he take elocution to help his speech after his surgery. This reacquaintance with dramatics led him back to his original interest in dramatics. By late 1945, his talent and his rebirth as a method-trained actor was obvious enough to gain him a role in the controversial Broadway hit directed by Elia Kazan, Deep Are the Roots, which tells of an interracial love affair between white ingenue Barbara Bel Geddes and a black man in the South.

Following this theatrical triumph, he was hired to make his screen debut in the noir classic, The Set-Up (1949), directed by Robert Wise. Interestingly, the film is based on a poem by Joseph Moncure March about a Black boxer. Since RKO didn’t believe that the audience would necessarily pay to see a movie about that topic, the central character became white, and gave Robert Ryan what may have been the role of his career.

James Edwards played Luther Hawkins, a young, single-minded fighter whose determination, self-discipline and untarnished hope that the fight game will be his ticket out of poverty is in sharp contrast to the washed-up boxer Robert Ryan. When Ryan looks at Edwards he sees himself as he once was. It is a small part, but as one of the crisply acted ensemble, James Edwards was distinctive—and not just because he was playing a part that endowed his character with considerable dignity and athletic skill. The intelligence and tension evident in his brief time on camera in The Set-Up were immediately obvious.

What might not have been clear at this point was that Edwards would excel at portraying characters under pressure, and very often engaged in warfare in actual combat and in inner struggles, (Mr. Edwards would appear in no less than 12 movies with wartime settings). He would personify flawed, mortal men whose experiences would often highlight the similarities among people more than their differences. Here was a man who was neither the traditional slow-witted Stepin Fetchit variety nor an extraordinary, almost magical figure, such as the earlier actor Rex Ingram or the almost tragically talented Paul Robeson would occasionally be allowed to portray on screen. One other thing that might not have been clear at this early stage of his career was Edwards‘ reluctance to compromise.

James Edwards had a leading man’s looks and was, in the words of his next employer, maverick producer Stanley Kramer, “an intelligent, cultivated actor with an excellent voice, and I was lucky to get him.” Home of the Brave(1949), based on Arthur Laurents‘ Broadway play about anti-Semitism in the Army, was made on a relative shoestring by Kramer, director Mark Robson and his production team under great secrecy, (and with the working title of “High Noon” several years before the same creative men made that film). Though it may be hard to believe now, the film aroused an enormous amount of enmity from segregationists at the time once it became known.
While screenwriter Carl Foreman used considerable artistic license to portray the tensions in a unit under fire in the Pacific by including a Black soldier within a white unit, the filmmakers felt justified to make this timely—if historically inaccurate film—within a year of Pres. Harry Truman’s order to integrate the armed services for the first time. Edwards role was that of young soldier who finds himself fighting the enemy and his comrades, and the emotional cost of this shatters his mind, leaving him psychosomatically paralyzed after holding in his arms his dying friend (Lloyd Bridges, who’s excellent as a “nice” guy who’s also a casual racist).

These events lead Edwards‘ character to Army shrink Jeff Corey, whose ministrations eventually enable the Edwards character to emerge to take life on once again, despite the knowledge that for many he will always be “outside the human race.” In an ending that many may now regard as pat, a likable white Army buddy Mingo (the sincere and simply wonderful Frank Lovejoy) offers Edwards a partnership in a bar as he leaves the hospital. One contemporary observer, Vincent Canby looking back at such endings of these films, forgave the movie and other “problem” movies of the period for their well-meaning niceties, mentioning that at the time, they had “an unself-conscious immediacy and honesty not available in history that has already been analyzed. These films are raw material. They don’t dissemble. Even their false pieties and easy platitudes are historically important and, in the best way, entertaining.”

Maybe that’s too neat, yet there is something about this movie, despite its low budget and sometimes awkwardly decent liberal attempts to grapple with the reality of racism and to show the human cost of it that is still deeply touching. As Lovejoy reads from one of his wife’s rhymes in a letter at one point in the movie, (which is actually a quote from poet Eve Merrimam), we’re reminded that an attempt to bridge the gaps between people has to start somewhere, and he reads:

Only we two, and yet our howling can
Encircle the world’s end.
Frightened, you are my only friend.

And frightened, we are everyone.
Someone must make a stand.
Coward, take my coward’s hand.

In playwright Arthur Laurents‘ words, underneath, “we are all the imperfect same.”

One of the reasons for this film’s still vivid power may lie in the brutal frankness of the all too familiar ugly language used, the conviction of all the actors to their characters, especially Steve Brodie in an utterly thankless role as a hateful bigot, and the performance of James Edwards. As Donald Bogle wrote in Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Simon & Schuster), it is Edward’s “tension, restlessness, sensitivity, and admirable attempt to connect to or at least understand a white world that has continually rejected him make this a fascinating movie character.”

Most significantly for audiences, it was one of the first times that African American audiences could come to a theatre and see a recognizable human being like them on screen. Many movie houses had to add extra showings of the film to accommodate the capacity crowds that came to see Home of the Brave (1949) in Black communities.

As Stanley Kramer recalled, the “initial public reaction to the picture was stupendous–complete and total acceptance.” Later, there would be the hate mail and threats that went with such a controversial film, but by and large, Kramer said, he kept a collection of letters and clippings that praised the complexity and courage shown by the movie, which was also a financial success, (and had been released prior to other race-themed films such as Pinky and Intruder in the Dust). One would think that t

his would have marked James Edwards emergence as a star, but as events proved, his career was marked by numerous inconsistencies.

There was also critical recognition for this film, and his performance was, as influential writer Bosley Crowther said in the New York Times review in 1949, “a finely tempered job, revealing the man’s inner torments from behind a frame of stoic dignity.” There would be a modicum of celebrity, some reported possible romances with ladies as different as Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge as well as some tainting of

his career by HUAC as a “fellow traveller” due to his involvement with blacklisted individuals in the theatre and in film, such as Carl Foreman.

Mr. Edwards also may not have endeared himself to the state department by his world tour with the Home of the Brave film, which included an alleged visit to Moscow during the frostiest years of the Cold War.

He would go on the appear in numerous films, working with some of the best directors in the medium at the time, from Sam Fuller in one of the first and most effective films about the Korean War, The Steel Helmet (1951) to Fred Zinnemann in Carson McCullers’ Member of the Wedding (1952) to Stanley Kubrick’s breakthrough indie in The Killing (1956) to Anthony Mann’s examination of Men in War (1957) to Lewis Milestone’s effective meditation on the futility of war in Pork Chop Hill (1959) to John Frankenheimer’s brilliant Cold War thriller in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) to his final appearance as the attentive, insightful valet to George C. Scott’s Patton (1970).

These films would contain flashes of his gift for thoughtful characterization, and his ability to suggest his character’s inner life with an economy of gesture would always make him noticeable, but none would ever match the scope of that first starring role. All of his best roles, even when relatively small, in many cases gave audiences a chance to see an African American as a human being who was often caught in an untenable situation, but who chose to attempt to persevere, mostly against the odds.

Though I’ve seen all of these, the one other role that is almost as memorable as Home of the Brave, was director Mark Robson’s Bright Victory(1951). Once again, Edwards, as he did in The Set-Up with Robert Ryan, supports a fine actor, Arthur Kennedy in one of that man’s best roles of career. Playing a black man who has been blinded, he and Kennedy meet in the Army hospital for blinded servicemen where they are being trained to adapt to their war injury. Kennedy ‘s character, a Southern native, not realizing that his new buddy is an African American, casually uses the N word in his presence. When the camera focuses on Edwards silently stricken face as he hears this word the actor underplays a mixture of his pain, disappointment, inner fury and acceptance of the reality of the insult without overt histrionics. I realize that this film is justifiably celebrated for Kennedy‘s great performance, but for me, it is worth seeing as well for the level of James Edwards‘ acting.

In between the medium size and occasional good parts that James Edwards found in movies and television during his life, he was also often,–too often–compelled by economics and lack of opportunity to playing small, even uncredited roles such as one of the Navy stewards in The Caine Mutiny (1954) or an African native guide in a Tarzan knockoff in the late ’50s to ) or a bit part as an undercover cop disguised as a dozing addict on a stair in Coogan’s Bluff (1968) his final appearance as the valet in Patton (1970). He brought his customary intelligence and alertness to this last role despite the fact that he played a servant. He would never live to see the film’s success, after succumbing to a massive heart attack at the age of 54, (though some sources would say 52).

The reasons for this relative ebbing away of his potential are numerous. While the timing of his career did not coincide with the demand for Black leading men that came later with the Civil Rights movement, there may also have been a reluctance on the actor’s part to take the kind of roles of the alleged “perfect Negro” as some have characterized the parts that Sidney Poitier took in such films as his Oscar winning Lilies of the Field (1963). While Edwards and Poitier both entered movies at the same time, it is possible that Poitier’s disarming manner was easier for audiences to relate to in that period. Perhaps too, Poitier was the more natural star, as his timely performance in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones would prove, while Edwards was simply a good, hardworking actor whose potential would find only fitful expression. One particularly astute observer of James Edwards‘ life at close range was fellow actor Woody Strode.

Another actor who personified dignified stoicism in his many roles, Woody Strode wrote in his autobiography, “Goal Dust” that he’d been introduced to James Edwards in his agent’s office. The agent had encouraged Strode to see Edwards‘ finest role in his career, Home of the Brave (1949). To Strode, the film was “probably the finest job that had been done by a black actor in the motion pictures. Eventually, after appearing in several undemanding non-speaking parts in movies, in 1958, it was James Edwards who landed a good role in Pork Chop Hill. He then proceeded to talk a reluctant Woody Strode into trying out for a speaking part working with the prestigious Lewis Milestone on a film.

Strode, whose background as a great athlete had not entirely prepared him for the demands of acting, appreciated the generous help that Edwards also offered him on the set. Woody Strode appreciated his friend’s assistance and support, but when writing his memoirs, after a fine career which included appearances in classic films such as Sergeant Rutledge, Spartacus and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Strode knew that his opportunities might never have happened without his friend’s help, but he saw his mentor’s life clearly, writing that “Home of the Brave was the highlight of Jimmy Edwards’ movie career. There wasn’t much for him after that, and it broke his heart. He drank heavily, couldn’t control it, and died of a massive heart attack.”

“He got lulled to sleep by Hollywood because he thought he was an equal. He was a nice-looking black, dark, handsome and a great actor. He found out color was the whole thing. I had a personal relationship with Jimmy, and he warned me about becoming involved socially in Hollywood. He told me, ‘Woody, you’ll never be white. Don’t try to become part of their society.’ After seeing what happened to James Edwards, Strode concluded, “Look at the black actors. They’re starving to death. I’m not going to school to study, become an artist, and then fall apart.’ I never tried to take acting too seriously.”

In his essay “The Shadow and the Act”, African American writer Ralph Ellison described himself as a “frontier figure”, one who is allowed to seek out his destiny, make rash, “quixotic gestures” and approach the world as full of possibility, unhampered by categorical limitations such as race.

In a sense James Edwards‘ life was that of a pioneer, whose choices in forming his own identity may not have brought him the artistic gratification that all performers long for, but he made possible the careers of the Black actors who followed, including a Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman who took the path that he helped to clear of stereotypes.

Sources:

Bogle, Donald, Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, Random House, Inc., 2006.
Carroll, Diahann, Diahann: An Autobiography, Robson, 1986.
Hirsch, Foster, Otto Preminger, The Man Who Would Be King, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
Kramer, Stanley, Coffey, Thomas, A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: A Life in Hollywood, Harcourt Brace, 1997.
Strode, Woody, Young, Sam, Goal Dust: An Autobiography, Madison Books, 1990.


141 Responses James Edwards: “Someone Must Make a Stand”
Posted By Jeff : October 17, 2007 2:19 pm

An excellent overview of an actor who is rarely praised or discussed but in many ways paved the way for actors like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Even his small parts in Kubrick's THE KILLING and Frankenheimer's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE are vivid and stand out in one's memory.

Posted By Jeff : October 17, 2007 2:19 pm

An excellent overview of an actor who is rarely praised or discussed but in many ways paved the way for actors like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Even his small parts in Kubrick's THE KILLING and Frankenheimer's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE are vivid and stand out in one's memory.

Posted By Alan K. Rode : October 17, 2007 5:22 pm

I know a peer of Edwards who speaks of him most highly. Thanks for a great tribute to a trailblazing actor who needs to be remembered.

Posted By Alan K. Rode : October 17, 2007 5:22 pm

I know a peer of Edwards who speaks of him most highly. Thanks for a great tribute to a trailblazing actor who needs to be remembered.

Posted By RHS : October 17, 2007 6:34 pm

While Donald Bogle's work is pioneering in its scope, there is certainly room for other opinions on black actors in film.  I also think Bogle tends to ignore any evidence contrary to his thesis statement that blacks were unilaterally humiliated in servant and lackey roles.  In later life, Mantan Moreland was very vocal about the Civil Rights movement, for all the good that it did, having effectively killed his livelihoood… but all you'll read about that in Bogle is that Moreland was grateful for not having to play chauffeurs anymore.  Edwards' obituary in James Willis' Screen World annual brought me up short when I read it many years ago, being familiar with the actor but not knowing that he had died well before I ever saw him in anything.

Posted By RHS : October 17, 2007 6:34 pm

While Donald Bogle's work is pioneering in its scope, there is certainly room for other opinions on black actors in film.  I also think Bogle tends to ignore any evidence contrary to his thesis statement that blacks were unilaterally humiliated in servant and lackey roles.  In later life, Mantan Moreland was very vocal about the Civil Rights movement, for all the good that it did, having effectively killed his livelihoood… but all you'll read about that in Bogle is that Moreland was grateful for not having to play chauffeurs anymore.  Edwards' obituary in James Willis' Screen World annual brought me up short when I read it many years ago, being familiar with the actor but not knowing that he had died well before I ever saw him in anything.

Posted By Beyonce Welch : October 17, 2007 8:24 pm

Moira,Thank you very much for the excellent post.

Posted By Beyonce Welch : October 17, 2007 8:24 pm

Moira,Thank you very much for the excellent post.

Posted By MDR : October 18, 2007 1:41 pm

Another great article/exploration, Moira!  Although it's a below average biography, The Joe Louis Story (1953) features another terrific James Edwards performance (he plays the fighter's trainer/manager 'Chappie' Blackburn).  It was shown earlier this month on TCM as part of ther biopic spotlight.

Posted By MDR : October 18, 2007 1:41 pm

Another great article/exploration, Moira!  Although it's a below average biography, The Joe Louis Story (1953) features another terrific James Edwards performance (he plays the fighter's trainer/manager 'Chappie' Blackburn).  It was shown earlier this month on TCM as part of ther biopic spotlight.

Posted By Kyle In Hollywood : October 19, 2007 10:53 am

What a wonderful piece about a memorable actor.  Did I know the name of of James Edwards?  No.  But does my memory contain his scenes from The Manchurian Candidate?  Definitely and vividily.  After reading this, James Edwards is now not just a face/actor but a complete person.  Thanks for giving me that, Moira.  I am most grateful.  (And you've done Elvis Mitchell and Donald Bogle proud.)   Kyle In Hollywood

Posted By Kyle In Hollywood : October 19, 2007 10:53 am

What a wonderful piece about a memorable actor.  Did I know the name of of James Edwards?  No.  But does my memory contain his scenes from The Manchurian Candidate?  Definitely and vividily.  After reading this, James Edwards is now not just a face/actor but a complete person.  Thanks for giving me that, Moira.  I am most grateful.  (And you've done Elvis Mitchell and Donald Bogle proud.)   Kyle In Hollywood

Posted By Christy : October 19, 2007 10:10 pm

Thank you, Moira, for an insightful and compassionate post about Mr. Edwards. I can't wait for your next installment!

Posted By Christy : October 19, 2007 10:10 pm

Thank you, Moira, for an insightful and compassionate post about Mr. Edwards. I can't wait for your next installment!

Posted By Joe : October 22, 2007 2:42 pm

Moira, a splendid piece on the underrated actor James Edwards.I'll never forget his strong performance as Private Moss in "Home of the Brave", among other films that you mention.I had Mr. Edwards lined up for my 'In the Spotlight' thread on TCM and I'm glad I didn't get to it since your profile is a far superior homage to him.It's a shame he didn't ride the crest of the wave, and that he died much too young.Thank you, Moira.

Posted By Joe : October 22, 2007 2:42 pm

Moira, a splendid piece on the underrated actor James Edwards.I'll never forget his strong performance as Private Moss in "Home of the Brave", among other films that you mention.I had Mr. Edwards lined up for my 'In the Spotlight' thread on TCM and I'm glad I didn't get to it since your profile is a far superior homage to him.It's a shame he didn't ride the crest of the wave, and that he died much too young.Thank you, Moira.

Posted By robinallison : October 30, 2007 12:58 am

i am delighted to read such a well-written and fascinating article on a very underrated though brilliant actor.  i remember James Edwards in many a film, however have never taken the time to investigate this actor.  as a black woman who is a enthusiatic fan of classic movies it has only been within the last year or so that i have decided to learn as much as i can about black actors from the studio era.  Thank you very much for encouraging this fan to delve more deeply!!   

Posted By robinallison : October 30, 2007 12:58 am

i am delighted to read such a well-written and fascinating article on a very underrated though brilliant actor.  i remember James Edwards in many a film, however have never taken the time to investigate this actor.  as a black woman who is a enthusiatic fan of classic movies it has only been within the last year or so that i have decided to learn as much as i can about black actors from the studio era.  Thank you very much for encouraging this fan to delve more deeply!!   

Posted By Vaughn : November 2, 2007 1:52 pm

 First black actor to play the role of a fighter pilot in a film. This was in the film Battle Hymn (1956). This was not done again until Iron Eagle (1986) with Lou Gossett . This should have been done sooner, given the World War II exploits of the "Tuskegee Aiman in Europe.  This film was very inspiring in more than one way!!!!  Pioneering actor who was among Hollywood's first – years ahead of Sidney Poitier – to crush the Stepin Fetchit stereotype of black males as shiftless illiterates. Although in some pictures Edwards would portray subservient characters (e.g. "General" George C. Scott's valet in 'Patton' (1970)), he delivered true dignity in his performances. He is especially remembered for his leading role in 'Home of the Brave' (1949).

Posted By Vaughn : November 2, 2007 1:52 pm

 First black actor to play the role of a fighter pilot in a film. This was in the film Battle Hymn (1956). This was not done again until Iron Eagle (1986) with Lou Gossett . This should have been done sooner, given the World War II exploits of the "Tuskegee Aiman in Europe.  This film was very inspiring in more than one way!!!!  Pioneering actor who was among Hollywood's first – years ahead of Sidney Poitier – to crush the Stepin Fetchit stereotype of black males as shiftless illiterates. Although in some pictures Edwards would portray subservient characters (e.g. "General" George C. Scott's valet in 'Patton' (1970)), he delivered true dignity in his performances. He is especially remembered for his leading role in 'Home of the Brave' (1949).

Posted By Greg : December 29, 2007 11:26 pm

This newsletter is available on-line from the city where James Edwards grew up just outside of Chicago:Hammond Historical Society Newsletter – February 2005James Edwards – Star of Film, Television and StageMr. Edwards  former Hammond, Indiana, resident is most remembered for his role in the 1949 movie Home of the Brave directed by Mark Robson. In the film Edwards played the part of Peter Moss for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. The Film Home of the Brave is noted as “Decades ahead of its time! Years before the (military) services are integrated, a black soldier is sent on patrol with an all white squad. More than just a story of racial tension in combat, this is a character study, a study of the true inner feelings of men and war, and bigotry that was and has been a James Edwards along with Lloyd Bridges take the acting honors, along with the entire cast for having the courage to take part in a film that was not well received in certain parts of the country.  Edwards was considered a pioneering actor, among the first black Hollywood actors to break the stereotype of black men being  portrayed as shiftless illiterates. He was years ahead of famed actor Sidney Poitier. In fact Edwards refused to accept any role that would depict or degrade a black man as “someone subhuman.”  Born on March 6, 1918 in Muncie, IN, Edwards moved with his family to Ames Street in Hammond. After attending Hammond Public Schools the young Edwards went on to attend Knoxville College and Northwestern University of Drama. Although he had homes in San Diego, CA and New York City, NY he never forgot about his childhood growing up in Hammond. Edwards suffered a heart attack at age 51 at his home in San Diego, California, on January 4, 1970. He was survived by his wife Leola and his daughter Eugia.  Here are a few of the many movies and television shows that Edwards appeared in. Films: Patton (1970), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Home of the Brave (1949) Guest TV appearances: Mannix, The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, Death Valley Days, Peter Gunn, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Source information & photo from the microfilms of The Hammond Times newspapers January 1970, also from imdb.com * Quoted from imdb.com on the internet.

Posted By Greg : December 29, 2007 11:26 pm

This newsletter is available on-line from the city where James Edwards grew up just outside of Chicago:Hammond Historical Society Newsletter – February 2005James Edwards – Star of Film, Television and StageMr. Edwards  former Hammond, Indiana, resident is most remembered for his role in the 1949 movie Home of the Brave directed by Mark Robson. In the film Edwards played the part of Peter Moss for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. The Film Home of the Brave is noted as “Decades ahead of its time! Years before the (military) services are integrated, a black soldier is sent on patrol with an all white squad. More than just a story of racial tension in combat, this is a character study, a study of the true inner feelings of men and war, and bigotry that was and has been a James Edwards along with Lloyd Bridges take the acting honors, along with the entire cast for having the courage to take part in a film that was not well received in certain parts of the country.  Edwards was considered a pioneering actor, among the first black Hollywood actors to break the stereotype of black men being  portrayed as shiftless illiterates. He was years ahead of famed actor Sidney Poitier. In fact Edwards refused to accept any role that would depict or degrade a black man as “someone subhuman.”  Born on March 6, 1918 in Muncie, IN, Edwards moved with his family to Ames Street in Hammond. After attending Hammond Public Schools the young Edwards went on to attend Knoxville College and Northwestern University of Drama. Although he had homes in San Diego, CA and New York City, NY he never forgot about his childhood growing up in Hammond. Edwards suffered a heart attack at age 51 at his home in San Diego, California, on January 4, 1970. He was survived by his wife Leola and his daughter Eugia.  Here are a few of the many movies and television shows that Edwards appeared in. Films: Patton (1970), Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Home of the Brave (1949) Guest TV appearances: Mannix, The Virginian, Dr. Kildare, Death Valley Days, Peter Gunn, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Source information & photo from the microfilms of The Hammond Times newspapers January 1970, also from imdb.com * Quoted from imdb.com on the internet.

Posted By Greg : December 30, 2007 12:25 am

James Edwards was buried in 1970 at Evergreen Cemetery in Hobart in Northwest Indiana near where he grew up.  His family lived in Hammond in the 1920's and 1930's.  Although this was the Jim Crow Era, the public schools he attended in Hammond were not segregated.  His tombstone indicates that he would have been only 51 when he died just shy of his 52nd birthday.  The date of his birth would have been confirmed by his family members.  There is a photo of it on-line here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7145761 Also, his obituary indicated he attended Knoxville College in Tennessee – not Indiana University.  Knoxville College is a private, church-related, liberal arts institution and historically African-American. He also attended Northwestern University.His daughter Eugia Edwards Morse had three children with Robert Morse; Aja, Syna, and Alixander.     

Posted By Greg : December 30, 2007 12:25 am

James Edwards was buried in 1970 at Evergreen Cemetery in Hobart in Northwest Indiana near where he grew up.  His family lived in Hammond in the 1920's and 1930's.  Although this was the Jim Crow Era, the public schools he attended in Hammond were not segregated.  His tombstone indicates that he would have been only 51 when he died just shy of his 52nd birthday.  The date of his birth would have been confirmed by his family members.  There is a photo of it on-line here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7145761 Also, his obituary indicated he attended Knoxville College in Tennessee – not Indiana University.  Knoxville College is a private, church-related, liberal arts institution and historically African-American. He also attended Northwestern University.His daughter Eugia Edwards Morse had three children with Robert Morse; Aja, Syna, and Alixander.     

Posted By Curtis Price : August 18, 2008 8:06 am

Thanks for the fine overview of an under-rated actor’s tragic life. Like Canada Lee had, James Edwards too deserves a full length biography.

Posted By Curtis Price : August 18, 2008 8:06 am

Thanks for the fine overview of an under-rated actor’s tragic life. Like Canada Lee had, James Edwards too deserves a full length biography.

Posted By pedro nieves : August 25, 2008 9:50 pm

Moira. What a insight into black movie stars. I watch Mr. Edwards in all those films. You brought to light what a star he was. I only wish Hollywood would know this. Thanks for a bit of history.

Pedro

Posted By pedro nieves : August 25, 2008 9:50 pm

Moira. What a insight into black movie stars. I watch Mr. Edwards in all those films. You brought to light what a star he was. I only wish Hollywood would know this. Thanks for a bit of history.

Pedro

Posted By Robert Coepland : September 1, 2008 11:47 am

Thanks for the fine mini-biography of a fine actor and great pioneer, James Edwards. I have always admired him and his work.

Posted By Robert Coepland : September 1, 2008 11:47 am

Thanks for the fine mini-biography of a fine actor and great pioneer, James Edwards. I have always admired him and his work.

Posted By moirafinnie : September 1, 2008 1:51 pm

Thanks so much for these recent responses to my attempt to piece together some of the mosaic of the unjustly forgotten James Edward‘s life and career. Perhaps you’ll be interested in this anecdote about the actor that I found recently.

When reading Foster Hirsch’s biography, “Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King” (Knopf), I came across a touching account indicating that during the pre-production work for Carmen Jones (1954), which eventually starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, a very young Diahann Carroll auditioned for the leading part in front of the intimidating director, Preminger. Performing tentatively, Carroll was asked by Preminger if she understood the part, which she explained was well beyond her experience. Ms. Carroll also was surprised that her kind and understanding partner in the scene at the tryout was James Edwards. Only a few years after making a remarkable film debut in Home of the Brave, Mr. Edwards was reduced to being “the back of the head” on camera for actresses auditioning for the plum parts in the film. Diahann Carroll also remembered that he was one of the most attractive men she’d ever met. She never forgot him.

James Edwards did not appear in any role in Carmen Jones. Ms. Carroll was given a supporting role closer to her ingenue experience in the film.

Posted By moirafinnie : September 1, 2008 1:51 pm

Thanks so much for these recent responses to my attempt to piece together some of the mosaic of the unjustly forgotten James Edward‘s life and career. Perhaps you’ll be interested in this anecdote about the actor that I found recently.

When reading Foster Hirsch’s biography, “Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King” (Knopf), I came across a touching account indicating that during the pre-production work for Carmen Jones (1954), which eventually starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, a very young Diahann Carroll auditioned for the leading part in front of the intimidating director, Preminger. Performing tentatively, Carroll was asked by Preminger if she understood the part, which she explained was well beyond her experience. Ms. Carroll also was surprised that her kind and understanding partner in the scene at the tryout was James Edwards. Only a few years after making a remarkable film debut in Home of the Brave, Mr. Edwards was reduced to being “the back of the head” on camera for actresses auditioning for the plum parts in the film. Diahann Carroll also remembered that he was one of the most attractive men she’d ever met. She never forgot him.

James Edwards did not appear in any role in Carmen Jones. Ms. Carroll was given a supporting role closer to her ingenue experience in the film.

Posted By Edward Avant : September 2, 2008 11:56 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how history is always misted when it comes to people of color. I can only wonder what Mr. edwards could have accomplished if he di not have to deal with the idiocy of racisim. I remember him in Patton but in honesty I did not see him as naything other than what I saw people of color protrayed as servants and laborers. After reading this piece I still am amazed at how things really are. Mr. Edwards you sound like you really undertood your craft and I wish you had been given the proper respect that you deserved for your mastery of your craft. I salute you and will look at all of your movies with a diffrent view and reverence. Thank you for your contributions and may god bless you:)

Posted By Edward Avant : September 2, 2008 11:56 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how history is always misted when it comes to people of color. I can only wonder what Mr. edwards could have accomplished if he di not have to deal with the idiocy of racisim. I remember him in Patton but in honesty I did not see him as naything other than what I saw people of color protrayed as servants and laborers. After reading this piece I still am amazed at how things really are. Mr. Edwards you sound like you really undertood your craft and I wish you had been given the proper respect that you deserved for your mastery of your craft. I salute you and will look at all of your movies with a diffrent view and reverence. Thank you for your contributions and may god bless you:)

Posted By Mona : September 4, 2008 1:49 am

I was hungry for information on James Edwards (and a decent photo.) You provided both. Thank You so very much.

Posted By Mona : September 4, 2008 1:49 am

I was hungry for information on James Edwards (and a decent photo.) You provided both. Thank You so very much.

Posted By Oso : September 12, 2008 12:01 am

I’m interested to know, after watching HBO’s “The Blacklist”, Lou Gossett Jr. indicates James Edwards had been blacklisted due to an affair he had with a Caucasian actress. Any information on this? I have not been able to find any information on this at all.

Posted By Oso : September 12, 2008 12:01 am

I’m interested to know, after watching HBO’s “The Blacklist”, Lou Gossett Jr. indicates James Edwards had been blacklisted due to an affair he had with a Caucasian actress. Any information on this? I have not been able to find any information on this at all.

Posted By Patrick Cullitom : September 22, 2008 4:49 pm

Awhile back, I found myself face-to-face with Quentin Tarantino as he was sort of being swept past me by an ocean of admirers. I shook his hand and congratulated him on the movie he had just premiered, Kill Bill One. I told him that if I ever had five minutes to talk with him I would talk about James Edwards in Steel Helmut.

“James Edwards? The black actor?”

I smiled, “Yeah. ”

Tarantino said “Marvelous actor!” and as the crowd swept us apart, he turned and looked over everybody’s heads and said again, “Marvelous actor!”

Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading some very nice things about James Edwards. A lady named Moira Finnie wrote a marvelous article about him called “Someone Must Make a Stand” (a quote from the movie “Home of the Brave”). I heard Donald Bogle call him “an unsung hero.” And in his commentary for “The Manchurian Candidate,” the late John Frankenheimer simply says when Edwards appears on the screen, “I’d wanted to work with Jimmy Edwards for years.”

More and more of his movies and television shows have shown up on dvd, and people are re-discovering the artistry of James Edwards. Marvelous actor!

I knew Jimmy Edwards very well. We were great friends the last five years of his life.

I met James Edwards when I auditioned for a play he was directing: Haiti by W. E. B. Du Bois. This was in January, 1965. He cast me in a good part, thinking I was older than I was.

After a rehearsal one night, a bunch of us were hanging out and talking under the marquee of the theater. I chanced to mention my uncle, Wallace Ford, and Edwards said, “Your uncle is Wally Ford?”

I said, “You know him? Did you guys work together?”

“You ask your uncle Wally if he knows James Edwards!” He went on,” Wally was in my first picture and he was wonderful to me. I’ve always loved him. I wrote a western called “Silent Thunder” and I wrote a part for Wally, the part of Waco. I sold it, it wound up being done as it Desilu Playhouse, they changed my script all around, but, there was still so much of Wally in the role of Waco that he got the part. You tell Wally Jimmy Edwards sends his love.”

Jim and I weren’t friends yet, but, from that moment I was accepted into his extended family.

Jim never showed me any favoritism, he was wonderful to all his actors in that cast. He taught all of us. He was always there for all of us. A few of the actors were his friends from earlier times. My friendship with James Edwards began the day that several of us actors and he took a truck over to the MGM Studios to pick up the sets and costumes which they were loaning to the production of Haiti.

That day, Jimmy and I talked movies and theater and cowboys as we went through the prop and costume departments of MGM, borrowing whatever we needed for the play. This was before MGM had sold off anything. A lot of the larger set pieces were on the back lot so we had to walk and drive around the Andy Hardy Street, the Meet Me in St. Louis street, the train station from the Bandwagon, the Showboat. It was quite a day for all of us.

Soon after, I mentioned to some of the guys that I was auditioning for a very big agency, GAC. Jimmy was with GAC at that time. He told me to come by his house to work the scene. He coached me and I made a strong impression and they signed me. Now, I was friends with Edwards, his wife Everdinne, and their baby, Eugia.

One day, I showed up at rehearsal with a production photo from “the Set Up,” Jimmy’s first movie, and both he and Wally Ford were in the shot. I actually wanted to keep it. Only brought it in for show and tell. But Jim really loved it and I gave it to him. A little later, he asked me if I thought I could find any other stills of him from his pictures. He showed me a scrapbook he was putting together for his little girl. One evening, we were hanging out and baby sitting Eugia and he ran through his movie credits as I wrote down the titles.

As he went down the list, I was stunned at the number of absolutely world-class, top directors he had worked with. Zinneman, Kubrick, Wise, Frankenheimer, Milestone, Minnelli, Robson, Dymytrik, Sam Fuller. I could go on. I think that at that time, I had only seen a few of his movies: “The Caine Mutiny,” “the Killing,” “Home of the Brave” and “Steel Helmet.” I was 10 when I saw “Caine Mutiny” and 13 when I saw “The Killing” in the movie theaters. “Home of the Brave” showed up on television fairly often in the late ’50s and early ’60s and I found myself watching it every time it was on. This was before I ever knew Edwards.

Looking back, I believe Edwards was as brilliant an actor as Brando and Clift. Imagine, if you can, that after Marlon made his film debut in “The Men” and Clift appeared in “The Search,” that they, like Edwards, never played anything else but supporting roles for the rest of their careers. That they never played romantic characters in romantic relationships. Still, Edwards always made the most of what he was given. He brought his heart and soul to every role he played. And he was one of the most splendid exponents of what they call “the method.” Not to say he was a product of the Actors Studio. He had never been part of the Studio. But, he was part of the postwar movement toward realism and Kazan had directed him in “Deep are the Roots.” In fact, Edwards had assistant stage managed that play under Kazan before taking over the lead for the national tour.

Like many of Jimmy Edwards’ well-meaning friends, I took umbrage at roles that I thought were not good enough for him like the mess steward in “Caine Mutiny.” Jimmy would have none of it. That character was as real a guy to him as Peter Moss in “Home of the Brave,” or the main character in Genet’s “The Blacks” on stage. He brought the same life to all his roles. All his characterizations were thoughtful, had depth and flesh and blood. The mess steward had a name. It was Whitaker and to hear Jimmy talk about that role you would have thought the whole movie was about Whitaker. Same heartfelt approach to everything he did.

There was more than that. A friend, Joel Oliansky, who had seen Edwards star in “Nat Turner” in New York around ’53, told me, “He was solid electricity.” Joel later wrote a part for Jimmy in his play “Bedford Forrest” and had the thrill of seeing Jimmy play the role in a production at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre. And, according to Joel, he was solid electricity then, too.

For years, Jimmy and some fellow actors took plays to churches. One of the ones they did was Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit,” a play about hell. In this hell, this play, the people never blink their eyes. And Jimmy didn’t blink within eyesight of the audience for the two hours he was onstage. He had that kind of concentration.

Jimmy Edwards would do anything to help a friend. Actually, Jimmy would do whatever he could for anyone but he would go to hell and back for a friend.

He was a workaholic. He was a talented writer. During the five years I knew him, he was always writing. He doctored scripts and wrote treatments at Wolper Productions the last couple of years of his life. He taught acting. He directed and acted in plays. Acted on TV and in films. He worked as he lived, intensely.

I compared James Edwards with Brando and Clift. He actually reminded me more of John Barrymore and Errol Flynn. Jimmy had an intoxicating effect on women and they on him. Like Barrymore and Flynn, Edwards was also an alcoholic. Back in those days, so many of the people who worked in Hollywood were hard drinking World War Two veterans, that Jimmy didn’t particularly stand out. At least not to me. The guys might say he was a drinker (the women might say he was a drunk). Honestly, in those days, alcohol fueled a good portion of the movie industry. He also reminds me of Barrymore and Flynn because they were great actors, each revolutionary in his way.

Six weeks before Jimmie died, he stopped drinking—on a dime, cold turkey. Many of his friends saw him during those weeks. He was so at peace. He looked young and healthy. Bud Moss, his agent, thought things were going to break for him. I thought he might get that Oscar he was robbed of— you know, a great supporting role in a hit film. My God, what an actor he was. It could have happened.

George Scott got nominated for best actor for Patton just after Jim died. He spurned the nomination, of course, but told the L.A. Times, “Maybe I’ll accept the Oscar in James Edwards’ name. He deserved the Oscar 20 years ago and Sidney Poitier knows it.”

I have a thousand James Edwards stories—maybe more— but I will tell two. The first took place on the movie lot which had been Republic and was Four-Star at the time. Jimmy was guest starring on a show called Amos Burke Secret Agent which starred Gene Barry. Edwards was playing a CIA man working under cover as a shoeshine stand owner (and operator). The camera and lights and crew were just starting their move over to the shoeshine stand set and Jim and Gene walked over to the set and started running their lines. Gene sat in the chair and Jimmy slapped polish on his shoes with his hand. A tour group of French film buffs happened by as Jimmy was getting into it, poppin’ the rag and all, and Gene, Jimmy, and I (who happened to be visiting) heard one say, “My God, is that James Edwards? Shining SHOES?”

Maybe, in a way, it wasn’t really funny, but we laughed. I laughed just now thinking about it.

The other story isn’t funny at all. The day Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was very distraught. He was a particular hero of mine. I worried about the future. I went by the Wolper building on the Sunset Strip and walked up to the third floor where Jim was writing in a little cubbyhole they had given him. I said, “How you doing?”

He answered, “Fine. How about you?” he told me to sit down while he finished writing the page he was on. I let him work. Then he began to chat and I realized he hadn’t heard. I said, “You haven’t heard the news.” He said, “No, what?” and I told him.

We sat there in silence. I had walked in stunned and now he was too. He threw down his pencil and said, “I can’t work anymore.” Then, he picked his pencil up and said, “No, I’m going to keep working. That’s what he’d want me to do.”

He tried to write some more but couldn’t and asked me if I’d give him a lift home. He, Everdinne and Eugia were living at the Monticeto Hotel, which was always full of actors, mostly from New York. As we pulled up to the hotel, the news was playing Martin Luther King’s last speech. We sat there and heard Dr. King saying, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

By the end of that year, I was in Vietnam. I got a couple of wonderful letters from Edwards. They were positive and uplifting. He was like that. He wrote that war is evil, we know that, but that mankind was still working its way toward the good. He told me to look through the evil and find the good. He wrote, “Forget the past, kid, it’s over. Don’t tried to figure the future, you can’t. The only acceptable time is now. If you are alive at all, you are in eternity— now.” That was just the kind of methody actor advice I needed.

It is 38 years since James Edwards died and it still seems to me as if it happened yesterday. I can still hear Everdinne’s voice telling me, “Patrick, Jimmie died this evening.” When I got that call on January 4th, 1970, I had only been back from Vietnam three months. It had been a tough couple of years for me. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, a year in Vietnam and then, Jimmy died.

Jimmy’s family and friends were all devastated.

I talked with Jim a great deal about acting. I discussed some of his roles with him. I watched “Home of the Brave” and “the Manchurian candidate” on TV with him. I rented “Member of the Wedding” on 16 mm and ran it for some fellow student actors and Jimmy came by and watched it with us.

He told me about working in the Federal Theater when he was still in his teens. After the war, he seriously pursued acting. I believe he told me that his first professional job was as the chair pusher in “the Skin of our Teeth.” I don’t know if it was the very next thing that he did, but, he starred in an all black production of “Death Takes a Holiday.” At some point thereafter, he assistant stage managed “Deep Are the Roots” which was directed by Elia Kazan. He also understudied the lead and when the play went on tour, he took over the part. His leading lady was Gene Kelly’s wife, Betsy Blair.

There were various racist incidents on the tour. In Minneapolis, there was a problem with local politicians who didn’t want see an interracial cast on the local stage. I think that’s what Jim said it was. The mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey, was a complete anti-racist and, like Jim, a strict integrationist. Humphrey defended the production, came to see it, and visited with the cast. Jimmy always loved him. Jim met a lot of people on that tour including Einstein.

When deep are the roots played the El Capitan Theater, this is not the theater on Hollywood Boulevard. In those days, the current El Capitan was called the Paramount and the theater that later became the Hollywood Palace was the El Capitan, Jimmy stayed in Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair’s guest house. He was signed by an agent named Lee Kramer, who was Stanley Kramer’s brother.

Jim’s first film was “the Set Up” directed by Robert Wise. My uncle, Wally Ford, was in Jimmy’s first big shot. Wally is a dressing room attendant and Jimmy is a young fighter who is on his way up. Wally is taping Jim’s hands and Jim, as Luther Hawkins, is telling him what he’s going to do after he wins this fight.

When I told my uncle Wally that Jimmy Edwards sent his love and told him I was working for Jim in a play, Wally spoke with great affection of Edwards then said, “I shouldn’t tell you this, but, Jimmy was scared to death that first day. We started working with each other and it got good. He relaxed.”

Jimmy told me it was true. He was terrified and Wally got him laughing, and he and Wally grooved in his first shot in his first film. My uncle, Wallace Ford, was one of the most anti-racist human beings I ever knew. He told me that the greatest black actor he had worked with was Charles Gilpen, the actor who created the role of O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones.” Wally had worked with him in John Drinkwater’s “Abraham Lincoln.” When he told me that Gilpen had to enter the theater through the basement door and dress and make up in the theater basement, Wally’s eyes welled with tears. Later that year, he teared up when he told me, “A black man is going to win the Academy Award tonight.”

He was talking about Sidney Poitier.

Wally co-starred in one of Sydney’s movies: a “Patch of Blue.” Wally also co-starred in a movie with Paul Robeson in which he and Robeson enjoy an on-screen relationship that is way ahead of its time. They are almost doing a black and white Hope and Crosby. The movie was Jericho. Henry Wilcoxin was in it too and he and Wally proved they were good guys. No racist would have appeared in that picture in those bigoted, separate but equal, Jim Crow times.

When Jimmy told me that his second movie was a film called “Manhandled,” I told him I’d never seen it. He ran through the cast for me, Dorothy Lamour and Alan Napier were in it ,he said. And he ran through the plot. He played a butler. He talked about the scene where the police interrogate him. I only mention this because from his description of the character he played, I assumed he had much more screen time than it turned out he had. Really, it was only a line or two. Much as a method actor such as Jimmy might want to be a star, he was always much more concerned about the inner life of a character. As always with his characterizations, that butler was a real human being.

Edwards next film was “Home of the Brave.” It turns out to be the film he was born to make, the role that was his destiny. He was intensely proud of it. I know that because I watched it with him and he just delighted in his fellow actors performances and Tiompkin’s score and the points the movie made. We were watching “Home of the Brave” on television in 1966 when things were changing. He didn’t allude to the social and political pressures that were placed on him at that time. He just enjoyed the film.

At the time that James Edwards was one of the most dynamic young actors in the world, while he worked a lot, the racists, the segregationists, and the anti-communists were always hot on his heels. I think perhaps the culmination of that was what occurred during the production of “Red Ball Express.” Jimmy was co-starring in the movie with Jeff Chandler when he was called to testify before the HUAC. Jim refused to testify saying, through his lawyer, that he had never been a member of the Communist Party and felt he could contribute nothing through his testimony. He had been on “Red Ball Express” for three weeks. Immediately following his rebuff of the HUAC, he was fired from the picture and replaced over the weekend with Sidney Poitier.

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to whether Edwards was fired before or after he began filming. He had been in front of the camera for three weeks on and off and those scenes had to be reshot with Sidney. I found this out after Jim died. That time he had been running through his screen credits for me chronologically. he included “Red Ball Express.” I said, “You were in Red Ball Express?” and he chuckled that gravelly chuckle of his and said, “Oh I was in “Red Ball Express.” Next time that movie was on TV, I scoured it for any sign of Jimmy. He wasn’t there. He never alluded to the reason he wasn’t there.

I believe that the HUAC had nothing on James Edwards politically. He was absolutely a patriotic American. I am positive, though, that the committee was out to destroy him for being an integrationist. And they could destroy him just for being Jimmy. I believe that Jim made the right move in ducking the committee, but, the results were devastating to his career. He belonged to the NAACP and to CORE which were generally regarded back then as organizations which were subversive to the American way.

Everywhere Jim went, in Hollywood and in other places, he was the first black person many people had ever seen in their neighborhoods and their workplaces in something other than a subservient job. I can’t tell you how true this was. Lloyd Bridges was telling Robert Hays about the political climate in the ’50s. Lloyd was blacklisted because he had belonged to the West Coast Group Theater. Anyway, he told Hays that he actually lived in a fairly hip neighborhood up in Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood hills. “But,” he told Hays, “When I had a black friend come to dinner, the neighbors called the police. My friend was an actor, driving a nice car, but the well-meaning neighbors, sensing trouble, called the cops.” The actor friend was Jim.

The shocking thing is that when Jim and I were friends in the ’60s, that was still true. When Jim and his family moved to Laurel Canyon in 1965, they were the first black family that had ever lived in that neighborhood. And Laurel Canyon was a pretty hip place or was supposed to be.

Jim’s work in “Bright Victory” and in “Member of the Wedding” has been written about (finally) but I would just add that in each of those roles, Jim is that guy he’s playing. One’s a blinded war hero and one is a musician who likes to make music, get a little high, and who hates the repressive society that is smothering him. I would just like to add that one night Jim was hanging out with me and a few other actors and I asked about how he had played a blind man, had he used contact lenses?

He told us that Arthur Kennedy used contacts (Jim called him Johnny Kennedy) and that he had tried them but they hurt too much. He approached it a different way. He used his senses, but, not his sight. Well, he did it for us. Jesus, it was wonderful. He was the finest actor I ever saw.

Jim always wanted to write and direct. He did write for movies and television and he directed many stage productions, but, one of his main ambitions was to direct in film. At one time, Otto Preminger made James Edwards his protege and they worked together on “Carmen Jones.” Among his other assignments, Jimmy played opposite the actresses who were screen tested. Preminger got nasty. He invariably did. He spoke to Jimmy in a way which was completely unacceptable to Jimmy. So, Jimmy grabbed a camera handle and chased him around the set. The apprenticeship was over.

There were other projects that didn’t come to pass, at least not for Jimmy. Over a period of three years, Jim played what was to become the Sidney Poitier role in “the Defiant Ones” for various potential backers and in workshopping the script. Joe Mankewicz put Jimmy on a stipend and told him to build himself up to two hundred pounds. He wanted Jim to play Cleopatra’s closest advisor—in Shaw’s play the character is Apollodorus. Jim worked out for three months and got up to 200. Solid muscle from head to toe. Mankewicz had him strip down to gym shorts for the Fox execs. Everybody seemed to love the idea of Jim in the role. Then, the word came down. The producers didn’t want a negro that close to Liz. Everybody got rich on that picture while Jimmy doctored scripts and did guest stars.

I saw James Edwards act several times. The most memorable was a scene in an episode of Mannix, a Paramount TV series about a private detective played by Michael Connors. I had been home from Vietnam about two weeks and I had by no means stopped shaking, but, it was time to see Jimmy and I called the number I had for Everdinne in San Diego. It was great to hear her voice. She knew I was back– my mother had called her when she knew I was coming home. She told me Jimmy was in town, on the Paramount lot.

I drove over to Paramount and told the guard at the gate I was just back from Vietnam and I wanted to surprise my best friend who was working on Mannix. This was September, 1969, and the guy let me go on the lot. I slipped into the sound stage and onto the set. Jimmy and I had a joyful reunion and he introduced me to Corey Allen, who was directing. I had not met Corey, but, Jimmy had spoken of him many times. I knew of him from his many acting roles, particularly “Buz” in “Rebel Without a Cause.” He and Jimmy went back a long way. At one point, they produced two one-act plays at a theater in Hollywood. Corey directed Jimmy in one and Jimmy directed Corey in the other.

It was getting close to time to shoot a long, rather difficult, master shot. It was melodrama of the first order. Mannix has been shot, nicked in the head, and it has caused him to go blind. Jimmy played a therapist who has come to the detective’s apartment to teach him to navigate in darkness. Jim and Michael Connors played this difficult scene with breathtaking power and grace. Everyone on the set applauded spontaneously when Corey said, “Cut.”

I said to Corey, “I’ve been at war for a year. I’ve wondered would it would be like when I returned to the movie business. So I stumbled on to this set to greet a friend just in time to see the most beautifully executed master take I’ve ever seen. This was my welcome home.” Jimmy was standing there. He was proud. He and Mike Connors had nailed it. Corey said, “Come on. You’ve got to tell Mike,” and he took me over to tell Mike what I had told him.

That was just about the last time James Edwards acted. And I had gotten back from Vietnam in just time to see it. Ten years later, I found myself auditioning for the role of a murder victim in a movie of the week pilot which Corey Allen was directing. I reminded him of that day. It meant as much to him as it did to me. I got the part and when I came on to the set, Corey walked up to me and said, “We’re working together at last,” and shook my hand.

Back around that time, I found myself working with Gene Evans. I told him the same thing I had told George C. Scott: “I was a friend of Jimmy Edwards. In fact, I can honestly say he loved me as much as he loved you.” and Gene said, as George had, “I loved him.”

I think Jimmy is kind of a patron saint to some aficionados of method acting. I mean, we can watch Edwards in all these diverse roles, bringing life, giving words on paper flesh and blood to live in for a while. Flesh, blood, heart and soul; there they are, those people he played. And it’s there in everything he did. In Moira Finnie’s wonderful article about Jim on the Movie Morlocks website, Miss Finnie mentions that Edwards played a messenger in a Tarzan knockoff in the ’50s. Actually, if I am thinking of the same movie, it actually is a Tarzan movie, but, Jim isn’t playing a a messenger. He is playing the most Methody, in the moment, flesh and blood, near Shakespearean witch doctor you ever saw.

It doesn’t matter what the movie or television show happens to be, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s any good or not. If Edwards is in it, he will deliver, and those of us who have an almost religious attachment to the acting values exemplified by James Edwards and some of his contemporaries can take delight in it.

Posted By Patrick Cullitom : September 22, 2008 4:49 pm

Awhile back, I found myself face-to-face with Quentin Tarantino as he was sort of being swept past me by an ocean of admirers. I shook his hand and congratulated him on the movie he had just premiered, Kill Bill One. I told him that if I ever had five minutes to talk with him I would talk about James Edwards in Steel Helmut.

“James Edwards? The black actor?”

I smiled, “Yeah. ”

Tarantino said “Marvelous actor!” and as the crowd swept us apart, he turned and looked over everybody’s heads and said again, “Marvelous actor!”

Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading some very nice things about James Edwards. A lady named Moira Finnie wrote a marvelous article about him called “Someone Must Make a Stand” (a quote from the movie “Home of the Brave”). I heard Donald Bogle call him “an unsung hero.” And in his commentary for “The Manchurian Candidate,” the late John Frankenheimer simply says when Edwards appears on the screen, “I’d wanted to work with Jimmy Edwards for years.”

More and more of his movies and television shows have shown up on dvd, and people are re-discovering the artistry of James Edwards. Marvelous actor!

I knew Jimmy Edwards very well. We were great friends the last five years of his life.

I met James Edwards when I auditioned for a play he was directing: Haiti by W. E. B. Du Bois. This was in January, 1965. He cast me in a good part, thinking I was older than I was.

After a rehearsal one night, a bunch of us were hanging out and talking under the marquee of the theater. I chanced to mention my uncle, Wallace Ford, and Edwards said, “Your uncle is Wally Ford?”

I said, “You know him? Did you guys work together?”

“You ask your uncle Wally if he knows James Edwards!” He went on,” Wally was in my first picture and he was wonderful to me. I’ve always loved him. I wrote a western called “Silent Thunder” and I wrote a part for Wally, the part of Waco. I sold it, it wound up being done as it Desilu Playhouse, they changed my script all around, but, there was still so much of Wally in the role of Waco that he got the part. You tell Wally Jimmy Edwards sends his love.”

Jim and I weren’t friends yet, but, from that moment I was accepted into his extended family.

Jim never showed me any favoritism, he was wonderful to all his actors in that cast. He taught all of us. He was always there for all of us. A few of the actors were his friends from earlier times. My friendship with James Edwards began the day that several of us actors and he took a truck over to the MGM Studios to pick up the sets and costumes which they were loaning to the production of Haiti.

That day, Jimmy and I talked movies and theater and cowboys as we went through the prop and costume departments of MGM, borrowing whatever we needed for the play. This was before MGM had sold off anything. A lot of the larger set pieces were on the back lot so we had to walk and drive around the Andy Hardy Street, the Meet Me in St. Louis street, the train station from the Bandwagon, the Showboat. It was quite a day for all of us.

Soon after, I mentioned to some of the guys that I was auditioning for a very big agency, GAC. Jimmy was with GAC at that time. He told me to come by his house to work the scene. He coached me and I made a strong impression and they signed me. Now, I was friends with Edwards, his wife Everdinne, and their baby, Eugia.

One day, I showed up at rehearsal with a production photo from “the Set Up,” Jimmy’s first movie, and both he and Wally Ford were in the shot. I actually wanted to keep it. Only brought it in for show and tell. But Jim really loved it and I gave it to him. A little later, he asked me if I thought I could find any other stills of him from his pictures. He showed me a scrapbook he was putting together for his little girl. One evening, we were hanging out and baby sitting Eugia and he ran through his movie credits as I wrote down the titles.

As he went down the list, I was stunned at the number of absolutely world-class, top directors he had worked with. Zinneman, Kubrick, Wise, Frankenheimer, Milestone, Minnelli, Robson, Dymytrik, Sam Fuller. I could go on. I think that at that time, I had only seen a few of his movies: “The Caine Mutiny,” “the Killing,” “Home of the Brave” and “Steel Helmet.” I was 10 when I saw “Caine Mutiny” and 13 when I saw “The Killing” in the movie theaters. “Home of the Brave” showed up on television fairly often in the late ’50s and early ’60s and I found myself watching it every time it was on. This was before I ever knew Edwards.

Looking back, I believe Edwards was as brilliant an actor as Brando and Clift. Imagine, if you can, that after Marlon made his film debut in “The Men” and Clift appeared in “The Search,” that they, like Edwards, never played anything else but supporting roles for the rest of their careers. That they never played romantic characters in romantic relationships. Still, Edwards always made the most of what he was given. He brought his heart and soul to every role he played. And he was one of the most splendid exponents of what they call “the method.” Not to say he was a product of the Actors Studio. He had never been part of the Studio. But, he was part of the postwar movement toward realism and Kazan had directed him in “Deep are the Roots.” In fact, Edwards had assistant stage managed that play under Kazan before taking over the lead for the national tour.

Like many of Jimmy Edwards’ well-meaning friends, I took umbrage at roles that I thought were not good enough for him like the mess steward in “Caine Mutiny.” Jimmy would have none of it. That character was as real a guy to him as Peter Moss in “Home of the Brave,” or the main character in Genet’s “The Blacks” on stage. He brought the same life to all his roles. All his characterizations were thoughtful, had depth and flesh and blood. The mess steward had a name. It was Whitaker and to hear Jimmy talk about that role you would have thought the whole movie was about Whitaker. Same heartfelt approach to everything he did.

There was more than that. A friend, Joel Oliansky, who had seen Edwards star in “Nat Turner” in New York around ’53, told me, “He was solid electricity.” Joel later wrote a part for Jimmy in his play “Bedford Forrest” and had the thrill of seeing Jimmy play the role in a production at the Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre. And, according to Joel, he was solid electricity then, too.

For years, Jimmy and some fellow actors took plays to churches. One of the ones they did was Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit,” a play about hell. In this hell, this play, the people never blink their eyes. And Jimmy didn’t blink within eyesight of the audience for the two hours he was onstage. He had that kind of concentration.

Jimmy Edwards would do anything to help a friend. Actually, Jimmy would do whatever he could for anyone but he would go to hell and back for a friend.

He was a workaholic. He was a talented writer. During the five years I knew him, he was always writing. He doctored scripts and wrote treatments at Wolper Productions the last couple of years of his life. He taught acting. He directed and acted in plays. Acted on TV and in films. He worked as he lived, intensely.

I compared James Edwards with Brando and Clift. He actually reminded me more of John Barrymore and Errol Flynn. Jimmy had an intoxicating effect on women and they on him. Like Barrymore and Flynn, Edwards was also an alcoholic. Back in those days, so many of the people who worked in Hollywood were hard drinking World War Two veterans, that Jimmy didn’t particularly stand out. At least not to me. The guys might say he was a drinker (the women might say he was a drunk). Honestly, in those days, alcohol fueled a good portion of the movie industry. He also reminds me of Barrymore and Flynn because they were great actors, each revolutionary in his way.

Six weeks before Jimmie died, he stopped drinking—on a dime, cold turkey. Many of his friends saw him during those weeks. He was so at peace. He looked young and healthy. Bud Moss, his agent, thought things were going to break for him. I thought he might get that Oscar he was robbed of— you know, a great supporting role in a hit film. My God, what an actor he was. It could have happened.

George Scott got nominated for best actor for Patton just after Jim died. He spurned the nomination, of course, but told the L.A. Times, “Maybe I’ll accept the Oscar in James Edwards’ name. He deserved the Oscar 20 years ago and Sidney Poitier knows it.”

I have a thousand James Edwards stories—maybe more— but I will tell two. The first took place on the movie lot which had been Republic and was Four-Star at the time. Jimmy was guest starring on a show called Amos Burke Secret Agent which starred Gene Barry. Edwards was playing a CIA man working under cover as a shoeshine stand owner (and operator). The camera and lights and crew were just starting their move over to the shoeshine stand set and Jim and Gene walked over to the set and started running their lines. Gene sat in the chair and Jimmy slapped polish on his shoes with his hand. A tour group of French film buffs happened by as Jimmy was getting into it, poppin’ the rag and all, and Gene, Jimmy, and I (who happened to be visiting) heard one say, “My God, is that James Edwards? Shining SHOES?”

Maybe, in a way, it wasn’t really funny, but we laughed. I laughed just now thinking about it.

The other story isn’t funny at all. The day Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was very distraught. He was a particular hero of mine. I worried about the future. I went by the Wolper building on the Sunset Strip and walked up to the third floor where Jim was writing in a little cubbyhole they had given him. I said, “How you doing?”

He answered, “Fine. How about you?” he told me to sit down while he finished writing the page he was on. I let him work. Then he began to chat and I realized he hadn’t heard. I said, “You haven’t heard the news.” He said, “No, what?” and I told him.

We sat there in silence. I had walked in stunned and now he was too. He threw down his pencil and said, “I can’t work anymore.” Then, he picked his pencil up and said, “No, I’m going to keep working. That’s what he’d want me to do.”

He tried to write some more but couldn’t and asked me if I’d give him a lift home. He, Everdinne and Eugia were living at the Monticeto Hotel, which was always full of actors, mostly from New York. As we pulled up to the hotel, the news was playing Martin Luther King’s last speech. We sat there and heard Dr. King saying, “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

By the end of that year, I was in Vietnam. I got a couple of wonderful letters from Edwards. They were positive and uplifting. He was like that. He wrote that war is evil, we know that, but that mankind was still working its way toward the good. He told me to look through the evil and find the good. He wrote, “Forget the past, kid, it’s over. Don’t tried to figure the future, you can’t. The only acceptable time is now. If you are alive at all, you are in eternity— now.” That was just the kind of methody actor advice I needed.

It is 38 years since James Edwards died and it still seems to me as if it happened yesterday. I can still hear Everdinne’s voice telling me, “Patrick, Jimmie died this evening.” When I got that call on January 4th, 1970, I had only been back from Vietnam three months. It had been a tough couple of years for me. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, a year in Vietnam and then, Jimmy died.

Jimmy’s family and friends were all devastated.

I talked with Jim a great deal about acting. I discussed some of his roles with him. I watched “Home of the Brave” and “the Manchurian candidate” on TV with him. I rented “Member of the Wedding” on 16 mm and ran it for some fellow student actors and Jimmy came by and watched it with us.

He told me about working in the Federal Theater when he was still in his teens. After the war, he seriously pursued acting. I believe he told me that his first professional job was as the chair pusher in “the Skin of our Teeth.” I don’t know if it was the very next thing that he did, but, he starred in an all black production of “Death Takes a Holiday.” At some point thereafter, he assistant stage managed “Deep Are the Roots” which was directed by Elia Kazan. He also understudied the lead and when the play went on tour, he took over the part. His leading lady was Gene Kelly’s wife, Betsy Blair.

There were various racist incidents on the tour. In Minneapolis, there was a problem with local politicians who didn’t want see an interracial cast on the local stage. I think that’s what Jim said it was. The mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey, was a complete anti-racist and, like Jim, a strict integrationist. Humphrey defended the production, came to see it, and visited with the cast. Jimmy always loved him. Jim met a lot of people on that tour including Einstein.

When deep are the roots played the El Capitan Theater, this is not the theater on Hollywood Boulevard. In those days, the current El Capitan was called the Paramount and the theater that later became the Hollywood Palace was the El Capitan, Jimmy stayed in Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair’s guest house. He was signed by an agent named Lee Kramer, who was Stanley Kramer’s brother.

Jim’s first film was “the Set Up” directed by Robert Wise. My uncle, Wally Ford, was in Jimmy’s first big shot. Wally is a dressing room attendant and Jimmy is a young fighter who is on his way up. Wally is taping Jim’s hands and Jim, as Luther Hawkins, is telling him what he’s going to do after he wins this fight.

When I told my uncle Wally that Jimmy Edwards sent his love and told him I was working for Jim in a play, Wally spoke with great affection of Edwards then said, “I shouldn’t tell you this, but, Jimmy was scared to death that first day. We started working with each other and it got good. He relaxed.”

Jimmy told me it was true. He was terrified and Wally got him laughing, and he and Wally grooved in his first shot in his first film. My uncle, Wallace Ford, was one of the most anti-racist human beings I ever knew. He told me that the greatest black actor he had worked with was Charles Gilpen, the actor who created the role of O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones.” Wally had worked with him in John Drinkwater’s “Abraham Lincoln.” When he told me that Gilpen had to enter the theater through the basement door and dress and make up in the theater basement, Wally’s eyes welled with tears. Later that year, he teared up when he told me, “A black man is going to win the Academy Award tonight.”

He was talking about Sidney Poitier.

Wally co-starred in one of Sydney’s movies: a “Patch of Blue.” Wally also co-starred in a movie with Paul Robeson in which he and Robeson enjoy an on-screen relationship that is way ahead of its time. They are almost doing a black and white Hope and Crosby. The movie was Jericho. Henry Wilcoxin was in it too and he and Wally proved they were good guys. No racist would have appeared in that picture in those bigoted, separate but equal, Jim Crow times.

When Jimmy told me that his second movie was a film called “Manhandled,” I told him I’d never seen it. He ran through the cast for me, Dorothy Lamour and Alan Napier were in it ,he said. And he ran through the plot. He played a butler. He talked about the scene where the police interrogate him. I only mention this because from his description of the character he played, I assumed he had much more screen time than it turned out he had. Really, it was only a line or two. Much as a method actor such as Jimmy might want to be a star, he was always much more concerned about the inner life of a character. As always with his characterizations, that butler was a real human being.

Edwards next film was “Home of the Brave.” It turns out to be the film he was born to make, the role that was his destiny. He was intensely proud of it. I know that because I watched it with him and he just delighted in his fellow actors performances and Tiompkin’s score and the points the movie made. We were watching “Home of the Brave” on television in 1966 when things were changing. He didn’t allude to the social and political pressures that were placed on him at that time. He just enjoyed the film.

At the time that James Edwards was one of the most dynamic young actors in the world, while he worked a lot, the racists, the segregationists, and the anti-communists were always hot on his heels. I think perhaps the culmination of that was what occurred during the production of “Red Ball Express.” Jimmy was co-starring in the movie with Jeff Chandler when he was called to testify before the HUAC. Jim refused to testify saying, through his lawyer, that he had never been a member of the Communist Party and felt he could contribute nothing through his testimony. He had been on “Red Ball Express” for three weeks. Immediately following his rebuff of the HUAC, he was fired from the picture and replaced over the weekend with Sidney Poitier.

There seems to be a bit of confusion as to whether Edwards was fired before or after he began filming. He had been in front of the camera for three weeks on and off and those scenes had to be reshot with Sidney. I found this out after Jim died. That time he had been running through his screen credits for me chronologically. he included “Red Ball Express.” I said, “You were in Red Ball Express?” and he chuckled that gravelly chuckle of his and said, “Oh I was in “Red Ball Express.” Next time that movie was on TV, I scoured it for any sign of Jimmy. He wasn’t there. He never alluded to the reason he wasn’t there.

I believe that the HUAC had nothing on James Edwards politically. He was absolutely a patriotic American. I am positive, though, that the committee was out to destroy him for being an integrationist. And they could destroy him just for being Jimmy. I believe that Jim made the right move in ducking the committee, but, the results were devastating to his career. He belonged to the NAACP and to CORE which were generally regarded back then as organizations which were subversive to the American way.

Everywhere Jim went, in Hollywood and in other places, he was the first black person many people had ever seen in their neighborhoods and their workplaces in something other than a subservient job. I can’t tell you how true this was. Lloyd Bridges was telling Robert Hays about the political climate in the ’50s. Lloyd was blacklisted because he had belonged to the West Coast Group Theater. Anyway, he told Hays that he actually lived in a fairly hip neighborhood up in Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood hills. “But,” he told Hays, “When I had a black friend come to dinner, the neighbors called the police. My friend was an actor, driving a nice car, but the well-meaning neighbors, sensing trouble, called the cops.” The actor friend was Jim.

The shocking thing is that when Jim and I were friends in the ’60s, that was still true. When Jim and his family moved to Laurel Canyon in 1965, they were the first black family that had ever lived in that neighborhood. And Laurel Canyon was a pretty hip place or was supposed to be.

Jim’s work in “Bright Victory” and in “Member of the Wedding” has been written about (finally) but I would just add that in each of those roles, Jim is that guy he’s playing. One’s a blinded war hero and one is a musician who likes to make music, get a little high, and who hates the repressive society that is smothering him. I would just like to add that one night Jim was hanging out with me and a few other actors and I asked about how he had played a blind man, had he used contact lenses?

He told us that Arthur Kennedy used contacts (Jim called him Johnny Kennedy) and that he had tried them but they hurt too much. He approached it a different way. He used his senses, but, not his sight. Well, he did it for us. Jesus, it was wonderful. He was the finest actor I ever saw.

Jim always wanted to write and direct. He did write for movies and television and he directed many stage productions, but, one of his main ambitions was to direct in film. At one time, Otto Preminger made James Edwards his protege and they worked together on “Carmen Jones.” Among his other assignments, Jimmy played opposite the actresses who were screen tested. Preminger got nasty. He invariably did. He spoke to Jimmy in a way which was completely unacceptable to Jimmy. So, Jimmy grabbed a camera handle and chased him around the set. The apprenticeship was over.

There were other projects that didn’t come to pass, at least not for Jimmy. Over a period of three years, Jim played what was to become the Sidney Poitier role in “the Defiant Ones” for various potential backers and in workshopping the script. Joe Mankewicz put Jimmy on a stipend and told him to build himself up to two hundred pounds. He wanted Jim to play Cleopatra’s closest advisor—in Shaw’s play the character is Apollodorus. Jim worked out for three months and got up to 200. Solid muscle from head to toe. Mankewicz had him strip down to gym shorts for the Fox execs. Everybody seemed to love the idea of Jim in the role. Then, the word came down. The producers didn’t want a negro that close to Liz. Everybody got rich on that picture while Jimmy doctored scripts and did guest stars.

I saw James Edwards act several times. The most memorable was a scene in an episode of Mannix, a Paramount TV series about a private detective played by Michael Connors. I had been home from Vietnam about two weeks and I had by no means stopped shaking, but, it was time to see Jimmy and I called the number I had for Everdinne in San Diego. It was great to hear her voice. She knew I was back– my mother had called her when she knew I was coming home. She told me Jimmy was in town, on the Paramount lot.

I drove over to Paramount and told the guard at the gate I was just back from Vietnam and I wanted to surprise my best friend who was working on Mannix. This was September, 1969, and the guy let me go on the lot. I slipped into the sound stage and onto the set. Jimmy and I had a joyful reunion and he introduced me to Corey Allen, who was directing. I had not met Corey, but, Jimmy had spoken of him many times. I knew of him from his many acting roles, particularly “Buz” in “Rebel Without a Cause.” He and Jimmy went back a long way. At one point, they produced two one-act plays at a theater in Hollywood. Corey directed Jimmy in one and Jimmy directed Corey in the other.

It was getting close to time to shoot a long, rather difficult, master shot. It was melodrama of the first order. Mannix has been shot, nicked in the head, and it has caused him to go blind. Jimmy played a therapist who has come to the detective’s apartment to teach him to navigate in darkness. Jim and Michael Connors played this difficult scene with breathtaking power and grace. Everyone on the set applauded spontaneously when Corey said, “Cut.”

I said to Corey, “I’ve been at war for a year. I’ve wondered would it would be like when I returned to the movie business. So I stumbled on to this set to greet a friend just in time to see the most beautifully executed master take I’ve ever seen. This was my welcome home.” Jimmy was standing there. He was proud. He and Mike Connors had nailed it. Corey said, “Come on. You’ve got to tell Mike,” and he took me over to tell Mike what I had told him.

That was just about the last time James Edwards acted. And I had gotten back from Vietnam in just time to see it. Ten years later, I found myself auditioning for the role of a murder victim in a movie of the week pilot which Corey Allen was directing. I reminded him of that day. It meant as much to him as it did to me. I got the part and when I came on to the set, Corey walked up to me and said, “We’re working together at last,” and shook my hand.

Back around that time, I found myself working with Gene Evans. I told him the same thing I had told George C. Scott: “I was a friend of Jimmy Edwards. In fact, I can honestly say he loved me as much as he loved you.” and Gene said, as George had, “I loved him.”

I think Jimmy is kind of a patron saint to some aficionados of method acting. I mean, we can watch Edwards in all these diverse roles, bringing life, giving words on paper flesh and blood to live in for a while. Flesh, blood, heart and soul; there they are, those people he played. And it’s there in everything he did. In Moira Finnie’s wonderful article about Jim on the Movie Morlocks website, Miss Finnie mentions that Edwards played a messenger in a Tarzan knockoff in the ’50s. Actually, if I am thinking of the same movie, it actually is a Tarzan movie, but, Jim isn’t playing a a messenger. He is playing the most Methody, in the moment, flesh and blood, near Shakespearean witch doctor you ever saw.

It doesn’t matter what the movie or television show happens to be, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s any good or not. If Edwards is in it, he will deliver, and those of us who have an almost religious attachment to the acting values exemplified by James Edwards and some of his contemporaries can take delight in it.

Posted By TLC : September 25, 2008 10:11 am

As a White man whose half Irish and half Jewish that grew up in an integrated neighborhood,I’d been aware of Edwards superior acting ability. Whether it was “Home of the Brave” or “The Killing” the camera loved him. I had known that an affair with a White woman ruined his career and it wasn’t until an old friend George C Scott got him a job in “Patton” that he came out of obscurity. Great article.

Posted By TLC : September 25, 2008 10:11 am

As a White man whose half Irish and half Jewish that grew up in an integrated neighborhood,I’d been aware of Edwards superior acting ability. Whether it was “Home of the Brave” or “The Killing” the camera loved him. I had known that an affair with a White woman ruined his career and it wasn’t until an old friend George C Scott got him a job in “Patton” that he came out of obscurity. Great article.

Posted By andrea : September 26, 2008 12:24 pm

I was unaware of this actor’s work until I came across this article, which appears to be one of the only resources about this actor on the internet. I’ve seen PATTON but never thought about the presence of George C. Scott’s aide until now. I hope to see more of James Edwards’ movies in the future.

Posted By andrea : September 26, 2008 12:24 pm

I was unaware of this actor’s work until I came across this article, which appears to be one of the only resources about this actor on the internet. I’ve seen PATTON but never thought about the presence of George C. Scott’s aide until now. I hope to see more of James Edwards’ movies in the future.

Posted By Carole Love : October 18, 2008 2:39 pm

No one seems to remember that Jimmy had a wife and daughter. He married my best friend, Everdinne Wilson, who he dated while Everdinne was my roommate and just after we toured with Pearl Bailey. He has a beautiful daughter, Eugia Edwards Morse, who will be awarded her doctorate in psychology this fall, and three beautiful grandchildren. We are all proud of Jimmy and also of his family.

Posted By Carole Love : October 18, 2008 2:39 pm

No one seems to remember that Jimmy had a wife and daughter. He married my best friend, Everdinne Wilson, who he dated while Everdinne was my roommate and just after we toured with Pearl Bailey. He has a beautiful daughter, Eugia Edwards Morse, who will be awarded her doctorate in psychology this fall, and three beautiful grandchildren. We are all proud of Jimmy and also of his family.

Posted By moirafinnie : October 18, 2008 3:12 pm

Hi Carole,
Thanks you for sharing that wonderful news about James Edwards‘ wife, Everdinne Wilson and his daughter Eugia Edwards Morse. Your contribution and that of other individuals who have added information to this blog posting since I wrote it one year ago, (using what little verifiable information about Mr. Edwards was then available to me), has enabled me to keep learning more about this fine actor’s work and life.

I hope that this blog will prompt many more people to seek out James Edwards‘ excellent work on film and that his daughter knows that her father’s work is still vibrant on film. I really appreciate your taking the time to post here. Thank you.
Moira

Posted By moirafinnie : October 18, 2008 3:12 pm

Hi Carole,
Thanks you for sharing that wonderful news about James Edwards‘ wife, Everdinne Wilson and his daughter Eugia Edwards Morse. Your contribution and that of other individuals who have added information to this blog posting since I wrote it one year ago, (using what little verifiable information about Mr. Edwards was then available to me), has enabled me to keep learning more about this fine actor’s work and life.

I hope that this blog will prompt many more people to seek out James Edwards‘ excellent work on film and that his daughter knows that her father’s work is still vibrant on film. I really appreciate your taking the time to post here. Thank you.
Moira

Posted By Eugia Edwards Morse : October 25, 2008 12:24 pm

Hi,
It is rather funny….my dad always told me timing..timing…. I just found this ..it feels random…BUT I know it is not….I am James Edwards daughter…I loved him so much and can not tell you what the love I have read here regarding his talent …has done for my heart….Peace and Joy

The daughter of a Great man …and a beautiful father
Eugia Edwards Morse

Posted By Eugia Edwards Morse : October 25, 2008 12:24 pm

Hi,
It is rather funny….my dad always told me timing..timing…. I just found this ..it feels random…BUT I know it is not….I am James Edwards daughter…I loved him so much and can not tell you what the love I have read here regarding his talent …has done for my heart….Peace and Joy

The daughter of a Great man …and a beautiful father
Eugia Edwards Morse

Posted By Patrick Cullitom : November 1, 2008 3:17 am

Everdinne Wilson’s IMDB is very inadequate. I used to see her on television. I babysat Eugia with Jimmy while Everdinne worked at Disney for three weeks on “Lt. Robin Crusoe.” Wikipedia ought to have a bio for her (it doesn’t). She acted on stage and had a professional singing career that began in her teens.
In the past couple of weeks, I got IMDB to reconcile James Edwards the writer with James Edwards the actor. I found a TV show that I knew he was in and fixed a mispelling of his name so he got credit, and I got the site to recognize Jim’s writing credit on “Silent Thunder.” He wrote many more shows than IMDB knows about–so far. He was a staff writer at Universal in the 50s and I’m pretty sure he was the first black writer to occupy that position at any Hollywood studio.
Eugia, Carole, Moira, Donald et al, my email is culliton@houdinisghost.com
P.S. I found a lost Edwards performance: “Nigger Jim” (that’s what Jim called the character–he despised censorship) in “Huckleberry Finn, the American Experience” a half hour film for schools. I’ve never seen it, but, Eugia has. She was in middle school, her dad had been dead for a few years, and they were showing a movie in English class. She was only half paying attention when she heard his voice, I think, for the first time since he had died. She looked up, saw him and burst into tears.
The kids said, “Gia, what’s wrong?” and she said, “that’s my dad.”
I also want to mention a film for television Jim did called “Color Me German” which was written by Manya Starr.
Manya Starr created the Soap Opera “Clear Horizon” on which James Edwards was the first black actor to play an astronaut. That’s not in his IMDB–I don’t have the character name. The producer, William Larsen Jr., spoke very fondly of working with Jim on that Soap at CBS.
At any rate, “Color Me German” may be a very important performance by Edwards and, at the moment, it appears to be a lost film.
“Member of the Wedding” and “The Sandpiper” are now on dvd.

Posted By Patrick Cullitom : November 1, 2008 3:17 am

Everdinne Wilson’s IMDB is very inadequate. I used to see her on television. I babysat Eugia with Jimmy while Everdinne worked at Disney for three weeks on “Lt. Robin Crusoe.” Wikipedia ought to have a bio for her (it doesn’t). She acted on stage and had a professional singing career that began in her teens.
In the past couple of weeks, I got IMDB to reconcile James Edwards the writer with James Edwards the actor. I found a TV show that I knew he was in and fixed a mispelling of his name so he got credit, and I got the site to recognize Jim’s writing credit on “Silent Thunder.” He wrote many more shows than IMDB knows about–so far. He was a staff writer at Universal in the 50s and I’m pretty sure he was the first black writer to occupy that position at any Hollywood studio.
Eugia, Carole, Moira, Donald et al, my email is culliton@houdinisghost.com
P.S. I found a lost Edwards performance: “Nigger Jim” (that’s what Jim called the character–he despised censorship) in “Huckleberry Finn, the American Experience” a half hour film for schools. I’ve never seen it, but, Eugia has. She was in middle school, her dad had been dead for a few years, and they were showing a movie in English class. She was only half paying attention when she heard his voice, I think, for the first time since he had died. She looked up, saw him and burst into tears.
The kids said, “Gia, what’s wrong?” and she said, “that’s my dad.”
I also want to mention a film for television Jim did called “Color Me German” which was written by Manya Starr.
Manya Starr created the Soap Opera “Clear Horizon” on which James Edwards was the first black actor to play an astronaut. That’s not in his IMDB–I don’t have the character name. The producer, William Larsen Jr., spoke very fondly of working with Jim on that Soap at CBS.
At any rate, “Color Me German” may be a very important performance by Edwards and, at the moment, it appears to be a lost film.
“Member of the Wedding” and “The Sandpiper” are now on dvd.

Posted By charles edwards : December 29, 2008 6:57 pm

To Moira ,
I am James Edwards nephew.
I was born in Geneva Switzerland and i live in Switzerland
Beeing in Europ gave me the opportunity to spend some time with my uncle James Edwards when he came to Paris for the movie shoot “The Sandpiper” starring E.Taylor,R Burton

Paris in 1966 had a very large afro american community, musicians ,writers ,such as James Baldwin ,the left bank ,St Germain des Pres was the place where you could find a melting pot of new ideas away from any sort of racism.
When Jimmy came to Paris ,I witnessed that he was not only an enormous celebrity among all the black intelligentia , but was also recognized by philosoph Jean Paul Sartre ,famous autor Jean Genet ,and Malcom X spent some time with him.
A great actor ,yes ,but with something to say.
I was also present for the TV film “Color Me German” in Munich, Germany
This movie was made for the TV ,and this is the story of my life.
Jimmy played the role of my father and the role of my mother was played by the wife of actor Horst Bucholz,my role was played by a new rising star who came from the musical”Hair”
James Edwards had a great actor performance in this movie, the movie seems to have vanished.
It would be worth an inquiry .
The road to recognition was long ,over 30 years.
In Jamaica,Sidney Poitier and Harry Bellafonte in a ceremony to honor their careers mentionned his role as a pioneer.
Time was the answer and everything falls into place
Dr C.Edwards

Posted By charles edwards : December 29, 2008 6:57 pm

To Moira ,
I am James Edwards nephew.
I was born in Geneva Switzerland and i live in Switzerland
Beeing in Europ gave me the opportunity to spend some time with my uncle James Edwards when he came to Paris for the movie shoot “The Sandpiper” starring E.Taylor,R Burton

Paris in 1966 had a very large afro american community, musicians ,writers ,such as James Baldwin ,the left bank ,St Germain des Pres was the place where you could find a melting pot of new ideas away from any sort of racism.
When Jimmy came to Paris ,I witnessed that he was not only an enormous celebrity among all the black intelligentia , but was also recognized by philosoph Jean Paul Sartre ,famous autor Jean Genet ,and Malcom X spent some time with him.
A great actor ,yes ,but with something to say.
I was also present for the TV film “Color Me German” in Munich, Germany
This movie was made for the TV ,and this is the story of my life.
Jimmy played the role of my father and the role of my mother was played by the wife of actor Horst Bucholz,my role was played by a new rising star who came from the musical”Hair”
James Edwards had a great actor performance in this movie, the movie seems to have vanished.
It would be worth an inquiry .
The road to recognition was long ,over 30 years.
In Jamaica,Sidney Poitier and Harry Bellafonte in a ceremony to honor their careers mentionned his role as a pioneer.
Time was the answer and everything falls into place
Dr C.Edwards

Posted By Nicholas de Seve : January 23, 2009 11:08 am

Moira,
Your essay is an excellently written and very informative piece as it fills in a lot of the missing biographical info in this very good and very forgotten actor’s bio. I found this sight out of curiosity when I searched for some additional history on Edwards as there is very little available and none of it as good and as thorough as yours. I was prompted to look for more on Edwards as the result of a piece in last week’s Sunday NY Times Arts and Leisure section:“How the Movies Made a President” by Manohla Dargis and A..O. Scott
[Jan. 18, '09}. It chronicled the film histories, all worthy and groundbreaking, of the usual suspects - Denzel, Sidney, Paul Robeson, Eddie Murphy etc. - and their contributions to advancing the cause and film image of African Americans in Hollywood beyond stereotype. It prompted me to shoot off a letter about Edwards, which may be printed in this week's edition, and I've included it and the Times response, below.
Nicholas de Seve
Mr. de Seve:

Thank you for your recent letter to the Arts & Leisure section of The New
York Times. We hope to print an edited version of it, which appears below,
in an upcoming issue. Please let us know, at this e-mail address, if you
have any questions or corrections. Be aware that further editing or
trimming are sometimes necessary at the last minute because of changes in
space or the makeup of the Letters column, and that the Letters page closes
on Tuesday evening.

Sincerely,
Monica Drake
Assistant Editor
Arts&Leisure
The New York Times

To the Editor:
Re “How the Movies Made a President” by Manohla Dargis and A..O. Scott
[Jan. 18]:
Before Sidney, before Denzel and way before Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy,
there was James Edwards, a beautiful actor of uncommon grace and dignity
whose onscreen portrayals in the late 1940s and 50s could have ­ and should
have ­ opened the doors for African-American actors many years before Mr.
Poitier was ever invited to dinner.
And once again, in your otherwise excellent essay, his extraordinary film
contributions in the midst of an era of heightened, relentless racism are
totally forgotten.
In major groundbreaking movies directed by some of the top directors in
the business ­ Fred Zinnemann, Stanley Kubrick and John Frankenheimer ­ Mr.
Edwards repeatedly played roles outside of and far beyond the limits of
black stereotype. It was in the classic “Home of the Brave” (1949!) ­ also
seemingly forgotten ­ produced by Stanley Kramer and starring Mr. Edwards
as a black soldier in the Pacific that the actor had his finest moment.
Traumatized from the terror of combat, vicious bigotry from his squad mates
and searing guilt over the death of his one friend, a white soldier, Mr.
Edwards delivered an incredible and heartbreaking performance of a man on
the verge of an irreparable breakdown. There is no more a clear and telling
indictment of racism in America in any other film on that subject ever
produced by Hollywood.
I’ve lived long enough to see the election of a black president; on a much
different level, I’d love to see one of you write an essay about this fine,
forgotten black actor, who, through his art, helped pave the road, just a
bit more, for this great moment in our shared history.
Nicholas de Seve
New York City

Posted By Nicholas de Seve : January 23, 2009 11:08 am

Moira,
Your essay is an excellently written and very informative piece as it fills in a lot of the missing biographical info in this very good and very forgotten actor’s bio. I found this sight out of curiosity when I searched for some additional history on Edwards as there is very little available and none of it as good and as thorough as yours. I was prompted to look for more on Edwards as the result of a piece in last week’s Sunday NY Times Arts and Leisure section:“How the Movies Made a President” by Manohla Dargis and A..O. Scott
[Jan. 18, '09}. It chronicled the film histories, all worthy and groundbreaking, of the usual suspects - Denzel, Sidney, Paul Robeson, Eddie Murphy etc. - and their contributions to advancing the cause and film image of African Americans in Hollywood beyond stereotype. It prompted me to shoot off a letter about Edwards, which may be printed in this week's edition, and I've included it and the Times response, below.
Nicholas de Seve
Mr. de Seve:

Thank you for your recent letter to the Arts & Leisure section of The New
York Times. We hope to print an edited version of it, which appears below,
in an upcoming issue. Please let us know, at this e-mail address, if you
have any questions or corrections. Be aware that further editing or
trimming are sometimes necessary at the last minute because of changes in
space or the makeup of the Letters column, and that the Letters page closes
on Tuesday evening.

Sincerely,
Monica Drake
Assistant Editor
Arts&Leisure
The New York Times

To the Editor:
Re “How the Movies Made a President” by Manohla Dargis and A..O. Scott
[Jan. 18]:
Before Sidney, before Denzel and way before Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy,
there was James Edwards, a beautiful actor of uncommon grace and dignity
whose onscreen portrayals in the late 1940s and 50s could have ­ and should
have ­ opened the doors for African-American actors many years before Mr.
Poitier was ever invited to dinner.
And once again, in your otherwise excellent essay, his extraordinary film
contributions in the midst of an era of heightened, relentless racism are
totally forgotten.
In major groundbreaking movies directed by some of the top directors in
the business ­ Fred Zinnemann, Stanley Kubrick and John Frankenheimer ­ Mr.
Edwards repeatedly played roles outside of and far beyond the limits of
black stereotype. It was in the classic “Home of the Brave” (1949!) ­ also
seemingly forgotten ­ produced by Stanley Kramer and starring Mr. Edwards
as a black soldier in the Pacific that the actor had his finest moment.
Traumatized from the terror of combat, vicious bigotry from his squad mates
and searing guilt over the death of his one friend, a white soldier, Mr.
Edwards delivered an incredible and heartbreaking performance of a man on
the verge of an irreparable breakdown. There is no more a clear and telling
indictment of racism in America in any other film on that subject ever
produced by Hollywood.
I’ve lived long enough to see the election of a black president; on a much
different level, I’d love to see one of you write an essay about this fine,
forgotten black actor, who, through his art, helped pave the road, just a
bit more, for this great moment in our shared history.
Nicholas de Seve
New York City

Posted By Walter Lee : January 25, 2009 3:20 am

Hi Im Walter Lee from Harrison Twp Michigan,Im an aspringing actor and writer who is african american,Ive been researching about James Edwards for years and wanted to know about him and acting career as an actor,when you hears news of Sidney Poitier Harry Belafonte,Ossie Davis,Gordon parks and other black actors-actresses you name it.You never too much of James Edwards,like Canada Lee,Woody Strode and others of the 40s and 50s,like singers of the 50s,like Johnny Ace,Guitar Slim,Larry Williams,Smiley Lewis,Chuck willis and others.More black stars of today like the Denzel,Will Smith,Wesley Snipes,Jamie Foxx,Morgan Freeman,Halle Berry Jada Pinkett smith Beyonce and others you hears of these black females stars like back then of Dorothy Dandrige,Ruby Dee Lena Horne,Eartha Kitt.James Edwards had read the part of Joe in Carmen Jones with Miss Dandrige but the part went to Harry Belafonte instead of James he was defeated and was favored of Harry,Sidney Poitier,Ossie Davis and others who have gotten the parts good parts then,James Edwards look he was blacklisted like so does Woody Strode to like Canada Lee and Paul Robeson,I hope in the upcoming future they will do more of them-movies of James Edwards life as well as of Canada Lee and Woody Strode along with Smiley Lewis,Johnny Ace Chuck Willis and others someday.

Posted By Walter Lee : January 25, 2009 3:20 am

Hi Im Walter Lee from Harrison Twp Michigan,Im an aspringing actor and writer who is african american,Ive been researching about James Edwards for years and wanted to know about him and acting career as an actor,when you hears news of Sidney Poitier Harry Belafonte,Ossie Davis,Gordon parks and other black actors-actresses you name it.You never too much of James Edwards,like Canada Lee,Woody Strode and others of the 40s and 50s,like singers of the 50s,like Johnny Ace,Guitar Slim,Larry Williams,Smiley Lewis,Chuck willis and others.More black stars of today like the Denzel,Will Smith,Wesley Snipes,Jamie Foxx,Morgan Freeman,Halle Berry Jada Pinkett smith Beyonce and others you hears of these black females stars like back then of Dorothy Dandrige,Ruby Dee Lena Horne,Eartha Kitt.James Edwards had read the part of Joe in Carmen Jones with Miss Dandrige but the part went to Harry Belafonte instead of James he was defeated and was favored of Harry,Sidney Poitier,Ossie Davis and others who have gotten the parts good parts then,James Edwards look he was blacklisted like so does Woody Strode to like Canada Lee and Paul Robeson,I hope in the upcoming future they will do more of them-movies of James Edwards life as well as of Canada Lee and Woody Strode along with Smiley Lewis,Johnny Ace Chuck Willis and others someday.

Posted By Walter Lee : January 25, 2009 1:30 pm

if James Edwards wouldve lived today and he died in 1970 before black films of the 70s hit the airwaves he wouldve gotten roles-the roles that Richard Roundtree have in Shaft,Ron O’Neal in Superfly,as well as the Fred Williamson,Jim Brown and the Edddie Murphy,Chris Rock and Tucker,Denzel,Will Smith and other black actors along with the Sidney Poitier,Harry Belafonte,Ossie Davis
who did start their acting careers in the 1950s as well James Edwards who did try to get roles like they did but couldnt he did a few and guest star in TV series.I know that James Edwards died of a heartattack,I think he died of a brokenheart like Canada Lee did when he died in 1952 and Dorothy Dandrige to when she died in 1965 of an overdose who didnt lived to see black actresses made their mark in films like Halle Berry,Jada Pinkett Smith,Nia Long,Beyonce and others,but like James Edwards there were a few black actress in the 50s like Ruby Dee,Eartha Kitt and others.I hope Donald Bogle who did published Black Hollywood,Brown Sugar and on Dorothy Dandrige should do a book an James Edwards as well Canada Lee,Woody Strode and others in Black History Month.

Posted By Walter Lee : January 25, 2009 1:30 pm

if James Edwards wouldve lived today and he died in 1970 before black films of the 70s hit the airwaves he wouldve gotten roles-the roles that Richard Roundtree have in Shaft,Ron O’Neal in Superfly,as well as the Fred Williamson,Jim Brown and the Edddie Murphy,Chris Rock and Tucker,Denzel,Will Smith and other black actors along with the Sidney Poitier,Harry Belafonte,Ossie Davis
who did start their acting careers in the 1950s as well James Edwards who did try to get roles like they did but couldnt he did a few and guest star in TV series.I know that James Edwards died of a heartattack,I think he died of a brokenheart like Canada Lee did when he died in 1952 and Dorothy Dandrige to when she died in 1965 of an overdose who didnt lived to see black actresses made their mark in films like Halle Berry,Jada Pinkett Smith,Nia Long,Beyonce and others,but like James Edwards there were a few black actress in the 50s like Ruby Dee,Eartha Kitt and others.I hope Donald Bogle who did published Black Hollywood,Brown Sugar and on Dorothy Dandrige should do a book an James Edwards as well Canada Lee,Woody Strode and others in Black History Month.

Posted By moirafinnie : January 25, 2009 2:24 pm

Hi Walter,
I too would love to see the book you describe on the African-American actors such as James Edwards, many of whom came along in that crucial period just after WWII and just before the timely breakthroughs of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. It would also be fascinating to see a documentary about these gentlemen and artists to introduce their sometimes forgotten contributions to a new generation.

I was thinking particularly of Canada Lee just the other night when mentally comparing James Earl Jones‘ powerful performance in Cry, the Beloved Country (1995) to that of Mr. Lee‘s in the equally fine 1951 version of Alan Paton‘s beautiful, heartbreaking novel of South Africa. I hope you saw the James Earl Jones version the other night when it was broadcast on TCM and that you are able to check out the Canada Lee take on the same role in the rather rare earlier movie.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this subject.
Moira

Posted By moirafinnie : January 25, 2009 2:24 pm

Hi Walter,
I too would love to see the book you describe on the African-American actors such as James Edwards, many of whom came along in that crucial period just after WWII and just before the timely breakthroughs of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. It would also be fascinating to see a documentary about these gentlemen and artists to introduce their sometimes forgotten contributions to a new generation.

I was thinking particularly of Canada Lee just the other night when mentally comparing James Earl Jones‘ powerful performance in Cry, the Beloved Country (1995) to that of Mr. Lee‘s in the equally fine 1951 version of Alan Paton‘s beautiful, heartbreaking novel of South Africa. I hope you saw the James Earl Jones version the other night when it was broadcast on TCM and that you are able to check out the Canada Lee take on the same role in the rather rare earlier movie.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this subject.
Moira

Posted By agent655 : March 1, 2009 12:07 am

While Mr Edwards was blackballed for refusing to testify it is also rumored that he was blacklisted for an affair with a white female actress. Can anyone comment on the specifics. Who what where, etc?

Posted By agent655 : March 1, 2009 12:07 am

While Mr Edwards was blackballed for refusing to testify it is also rumored that he was blacklisted for an affair with a white female actress. Can anyone comment on the specifics. Who what where, etc?

Posted By moirafinnie : March 1, 2009 8:58 am

Hi Agent 655,
Since I tried to include only verifiable information about a talented, neglected actor when researching this piece, all I can tell you is that Mr.Edwards was reportedly a very attractive fellow, according to many of his co-workers and friends. I believe that rumors about an interracial affair harming his career overlook the larger context of the time. A paucity of well written parts for a man of his talent and a lack of imagination and a desire to avoid possible controversy on the part of casting directors in that era, when African Americans were too often confined to stereotyped roles, contributed to his too few appearances on film.

I also suspect that many people may have absorbed the innuendos cast by such lurid (and often inaccurate) fifties’ magazines such as Confidential as fact. These opportunistic “journalists” rarely missed an opportunity to sell their wares by denigrating the reputations of public figures, many of whom were often unable to fight back for a variety of reasons.

Many also confuse some of the details of James Edwards life with that of his slightly younger contemporary, Sammy Davis, Jr. According to two well-researched recent biographies, “In Black and White: The Life Of Sammy Davis, Jr.” by Wil Haygood (St. Martin’s Press), and “Gonna Do Great Things” by Gary Fishgall (Simon and Schuster), the budding friendship between Mr. Davis and Columbia contracted star Kim Novak was quite serious, and both parties were under great pressure to break it off. The multi-talented Davis was later married to Swedish born actress May Britt, a then-controversial union which may have affected the couple’s career trajectory, since at that time, interracial marriage was illegal and anathema in many parts of American society.

I have not seen any verifiable information about James Edwards private life in this matter and would prefer to report only on that which is accurate here. The focus of this blog was primarily on Mr. Edwards‘ career, not his private life.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 1, 2009 8:58 am

Hi Agent 655,
Since I tried to include only verifiable information about a talented, neglected actor when researching this piece, all I can tell you is that Mr.Edwards was reportedly a very attractive fellow, according to many of his co-workers and friends. I believe that rumors about an interracial affair harming his career overlook the larger context of the time. A paucity of well written parts for a man of his talent and a lack of imagination and a desire to avoid possible controversy on the part of casting directors in that era, when African Americans were too often confined to stereotyped roles, contributed to his too few appearances on film.

I also suspect that many people may have absorbed the innuendos cast by such lurid (and often inaccurate) fifties’ magazines such as Confidential as fact. These opportunistic “journalists” rarely missed an opportunity to sell their wares by denigrating the reputations of public figures, many of whom were often unable to fight back for a variety of reasons.

Many also confuse some of the details of James Edwards life with that of his slightly younger contemporary, Sammy Davis, Jr. According to two well-researched recent biographies, “In Black and White: The Life Of Sammy Davis, Jr.” by Wil Haygood (St. Martin’s Press), and “Gonna Do Great Things” by Gary Fishgall (Simon and Schuster), the budding friendship between Mr. Davis and Columbia contracted star Kim Novak was quite serious, and both parties were under great pressure to break it off. The multi-talented Davis was later married to Swedish born actress May Britt, a then-controversial union which may have affected the couple’s career trajectory, since at that time, interracial marriage was illegal and anathema in many parts of American society.

I have not seen any verifiable information about James Edwards private life in this matter and would prefer to report only on that which is accurate here. The focus of this blog was primarily on Mr. Edwards‘ career, not his private life.

Posted By C.Mitchell : May 30, 2009 10:57 am

Moira, I am a sixty year old african american man. I grew up in awe of the classic movie period. With James Edwards it was a definite awakening for me to see a handsome well spoken black man on the silver screen. I have seen most of Mr. Edwards work, and I am facinated by his ability to tranfer emotion in the his minimalist style. Thank you so much for your inciteful information. Mr. Bogle get to work. C.Mitchell

Posted By C.Mitchell : May 30, 2009 10:57 am

Moira, I am a sixty year old african american man. I grew up in awe of the classic movie period. With James Edwards it was a definite awakening for me to see a handsome well spoken black man on the silver screen. I have seen most of Mr. Edwards work, and I am facinated by his ability to tranfer emotion in the his minimalist style. Thank you so much for your inciteful information. Mr. Bogle get to work. C.Mitchell

Posted By tremell washington : July 24, 2009 10:58 am

I never heard about this beautiful man until i heard mr. lou gosset talk of him he seemed to be hurt over the outcome of his career because of what happened to mr. howard and his affair with whomever this white woman was,,,at the end mr. gosset said “and you know who you are” then i began looking up information on this actor and it brought tears to my eyes because of a nother talented black man was treated wrongly…thanks for making information so i could read it…….like most people would like to know who was this young lady?

Posted By tremell washington : July 24, 2009 10:58 am

I never heard about this beautiful man until i heard mr. lou gosset talk of him he seemed to be hurt over the outcome of his career because of what happened to mr. howard and his affair with whomever this white woman was,,,at the end mr. gosset said “and you know who you are” then i began looking up information on this actor and it brought tears to my eyes because of a nother talented black man was treated wrongly…thanks for making information so i could read it…….like most people would like to know who was this young lady?

Posted By W.Wray : July 29, 2009 10:25 pm

I saw “The Set-Up” the other night on TCM and was reminded of my childhood memories of James Edwards. I recalled a handsome Black actor whose performances were notable for their dignity, which made them stand out from many others of that era. I wondered if others felt the same way. After some on-line research I wound up (not surprisingly) back at the TCM site. Ms. Finnie’s thoughtful article was truly a revelation and Mr. Cullitom’s remembrances were quite enlightening. It’s wonderful to see the reservoir of affection and information that does exist for this fine actor. I can’t help but think: Are we long overdue for a major biography or doctoral dissertation on the man and his work?

Posted By W.Wray : July 29, 2009 10:25 pm

I saw “The Set-Up” the other night on TCM and was reminded of my childhood memories of James Edwards. I recalled a handsome Black actor whose performances were notable for their dignity, which made them stand out from many others of that era. I wondered if others felt the same way. After some on-line research I wound up (not surprisingly) back at the TCM site. Ms. Finnie’s thoughtful article was truly a revelation and Mr. Cullitom’s remembrances were quite enlightening. It’s wonderful to see the reservoir of affection and information that does exist for this fine actor. I can’t help but think: Are we long overdue for a major biography or doctoral dissertation on the man and his work?

Posted By cj : February 17, 2010 5:41 pm

Unfortunately his career was thwarted by the political Hollywood machine and those people who were in charge of the studios at the time. It was NOT the general populace it was the people who pulled the strings at the studios that ruined him…not the people of this country>

Posted By cj : February 17, 2010 5:41 pm

Unfortunately his career was thwarted by the political Hollywood machine and those people who were in charge of the studios at the time. It was NOT the general populace it was the people who pulled the strings at the studios that ruined him…not the people of this country>

Posted By Patrick Culliton : November 14, 2010 10:55 pm

I have recently put up a web page about Amos ‘n’ Andy. Very few people know that the weekly, night time, Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show featured a largely black cast and often had black guest stars. At the height of his fame, James Edwards guested on the show.
http://www.houdinisghost.com/amosandy.html

Posted By Patrick Culliton : November 14, 2010 10:55 pm

I have recently put up a web page about Amos ‘n’ Andy. Very few people know that the weekly, night time, Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show featured a largely black cast and often had black guest stars. At the height of his fame, James Edwards guested on the show.
http://www.houdinisghost.com/amosandy.html

Posted By RP : January 4, 2011 11:44 pm

In remembrance of James Edwards, on THIS day, January 4, 2011, the 41st anniversary of that day in 1970, when he left us…..too early and much too young.

Though I did not yet know much about him, I DID remember him, upon reading a brief history of his too-short career.

He stood out in my mind, when as a young child in the 1950′s, I saw him on several Saturday mornings in his roles on “Ramar” of the Jungle. I cannot recall WHY I remembered him so well, but I did. I was glad to find out who this man was, FINALLY, a couple years ago.

And THEN, I learned of his many other acting roles, and just over two years ago, rented many of the movies he appeared in. There are still a few I have yet to see.

Today, it is probably a good day to begin to see the rest of those movies, in memory of him.

Sir, You KNOW you led the way!

Some of us, here, also know that you did.

May you reap the rewards in Heaven that you were not allowed to have here…..in this imperfect world.

James, I pray that you Rest in Peace!!!

Sincerely,

RP

Posted By RP : January 4, 2011 11:44 pm

In remembrance of James Edwards, on THIS day, January 4, 2011, the 41st anniversary of that day in 1970, when he left us…..too early and much too young.

Though I did not yet know much about him, I DID remember him, upon reading a brief history of his too-short career.

He stood out in my mind, when as a young child in the 1950′s, I saw him on several Saturday mornings in his roles on “Ramar” of the Jungle. I cannot recall WHY I remembered him so well, but I did. I was glad to find out who this man was, FINALLY, a couple years ago.

And THEN, I learned of his many other acting roles, and just over two years ago, rented many of the movies he appeared in. There are still a few I have yet to see.

Today, it is probably a good day to begin to see the rest of those movies, in memory of him.

Sir, You KNOW you led the way!

Some of us, here, also know that you did.

May you reap the rewards in Heaven that you were not allowed to have here…..in this imperfect world.

James, I pray that you Rest in Peace!!!

Sincerely,

RP

Posted By Faiza : January 18, 2011 9:30 pm

Watching James Edwards on screen makes me realize that a great actor does not have to be famous in order to be memorable. Reading the other comments from those who feel as I do, it is satisfying to know that his small onscreen stage presence was just as powerful as the actors whose careers were more obvious. I hope that the Tuner Classic movie station compiles a historical profile of this distinquished actor to make more people aware of the great contribution James Edwards made to the African American Actors’ community.

Posted By Faiza : January 18, 2011 9:30 pm

Watching James Edwards on screen makes me realize that a great actor does not have to be famous in order to be memorable. Reading the other comments from those who feel as I do, it is satisfying to know that his small onscreen stage presence was just as powerful as the actors whose careers were more obvious. I hope that the Tuner Classic movie station compiles a historical profile of this distinquished actor to make more people aware of the great contribution James Edwards made to the African American Actors’ community.

Posted By Tarun Dobbins : March 8, 2011 1:12 am

Great to have documented and personal friends relate to the history and contribution of this great Actor Mr. James Edwards.

Mr. Edwards was a very personal Actor with great talent and had the emotions to convey the character of very diverse expressions of a complete venerable human being.

May God always bless him and his family.

Posted By Tarun Dobbins : March 8, 2011 1:12 am

Great to have documented and personal friends relate to the history and contribution of this great Actor Mr. James Edwards.

Mr. Edwards was a very personal Actor with great talent and had the emotions to convey the character of very diverse expressions of a complete venerable human being.

May God always bless him and his family.

Posted By L. Spain : June 21, 2011 12:43 am

I’m African-American, and I wish I had authored this little biography of James Edwards. It’s generously written, respectful without patronizing its subject, and highly descriptive of the inner qualities of the man that make him so compelling to those of us who feel his power.

Unfortunately, James Edwards had the kind of irresistible voice, piercing physical presence, and projected personality that made, and still makes, certain types of white people feel uneasy. Edwards didn’t appear to be eager to “set folks at ease”; in fact, a lot of times he looked like he was barely able to restrain himself from kicking somebody’s you-know-what. I believe that’s what prevented him from becoming popular with white audiences; there was an undercurrent of threat in his presence, regardless of whatever his actual demeanor may have been.

His inner awareness of the sharpness of looks, his commanding voice and acting skill must have been a cause of great inner torment for him as he wrestled with the brutal lack of opportunity that kept him so nearly-invisible to movie audiences. I imagine that he knew he was being wasted, and who can deal with that kind of knowledge without experiencing a major crisis of identity, of self-esteem?

Thank you for taking the time to remember Mr. Edwards, and so eloquently at that.

LOREN

Posted By L. Spain : June 21, 2011 12:43 am

I’m African-American, and I wish I had authored this little biography of James Edwards. It’s generously written, respectful without patronizing its subject, and highly descriptive of the inner qualities of the man that make him so compelling to those of us who feel his power.

Unfortunately, James Edwards had the kind of irresistible voice, piercing physical presence, and projected personality that made, and still makes, certain types of white people feel uneasy. Edwards didn’t appear to be eager to “set folks at ease”; in fact, a lot of times he looked like he was barely able to restrain himself from kicking somebody’s you-know-what. I believe that’s what prevented him from becoming popular with white audiences; there was an undercurrent of threat in his presence, regardless of whatever his actual demeanor may have been.

His inner awareness of the sharpness of looks, his commanding voice and acting skill must have been a cause of great inner torment for him as he wrestled with the brutal lack of opportunity that kept him so nearly-invisible to movie audiences. I imagine that he knew he was being wasted, and who can deal with that kind of knowledge without experiencing a major crisis of identity, of self-esteem?

Thank you for taking the time to remember Mr. Edwards, and so eloquently at that.

LOREN

Posted By JD : October 10, 2011 1:40 am

I was gonna be wordy, pithy and professorial, but Loren (see previous post) beat me to it. Thank you, moirafinnie, for writing this splendid piece on James Edwards (and Woody Strode)and a MAJOR MAJOR THANK YOU and ALL PRAISE IS DUE to PATRICK CULLITOM for your stellar contribution to these replies. (Actually, they’ve all been rather good; there’s some real thinking people out there. It’s scary.)

Posted By JD : October 10, 2011 1:40 am

I was gonna be wordy, pithy and professorial, but Loren (see previous post) beat me to it. Thank you, moirafinnie, for writing this splendid piece on James Edwards (and Woody Strode)and a MAJOR MAJOR THANK YOU and ALL PRAISE IS DUE to PATRICK CULLITOM for your stellar contribution to these replies. (Actually, they’ve all been rather good; there’s some real thinking people out there. It’s scary.)

Posted By vincent John Vanasco : October 22, 2011 10:31 am

In the 1980′s working as an Investigator, I was at a blck entertainment office on Broadway and W.66th street. The owner of the agency did not know the person I was looking for. She had tons of black entertainment pictures on her walls. I looked high and low and no James Edwards. I asked her about what I considered a gross oversight. She said “who was he? I told her about him for 10 minutes. I told her find out and try to see “Home of the Brave” He predated Poitier and Belafonte, and to me he was much better. I must have watched the film on Channel 9′s Million Dollar Movie 14 times that one week. I was mesmorized by his performance. That is right up there as one of my alltime favorites. I saw all his other movies and he was always remarkable. He coulda and shouda been one of the greatest. I never knew him but felt his impact in my life. He was a contender, but to me he was a WINNER. I never thought of him as anything but a man, a very talented man, and not a black man per se. I shared this picture with my children who are all movie buffs as well, and they having worked on T.V. and various movies in N.Y. shared my sentiments.

Posted By vincent John Vanasco : October 22, 2011 10:31 am

In the 1980′s working as an Investigator, I was at a blck entertainment office on Broadway and W.66th street. The owner of the agency did not know the person I was looking for. She had tons of black entertainment pictures on her walls. I looked high and low and no James Edwards. I asked her about what I considered a gross oversight. She said “who was he? I told her about him for 10 minutes. I told her find out and try to see “Home of the Brave” He predated Poitier and Belafonte, and to me he was much better. I must have watched the film on Channel 9′s Million Dollar Movie 14 times that one week. I was mesmorized by his performance. That is right up there as one of my alltime favorites. I saw all his other movies and he was always remarkable. He coulda and shouda been one of the greatest. I never knew him but felt his impact in my life. He was a contender, but to me he was a WINNER. I never thought of him as anything but a man, a very talented man, and not a black man per se. I shared this picture with my children who are all movie buffs as well, and they having worked on T.V. and various movies in N.Y. shared my sentiments.

Posted By Honut Sinti : November 1, 2011 10:38 pm

Great article.

Thanks!

Posted By Honut Sinti : November 1, 2011 10:38 pm

Great article.

Thanks!

Posted By aabritton : March 27, 2012 8:50 pm

As a kid, I am quite sure that I’ve seen James Edwards in “Night of the Quartermoon.” However that movie was not mentioned in your article. I remember this movie because even though just a kid at the time, Edwards did have quite an impression on me when I saw him in that movie. I believe he played the role of a lawyer representing Nat King Cole.
Amos Britton.

Posted By aabritton : March 27, 2012 8:50 pm

As a kid, I am quite sure that I’ve seen James Edwards in “Night of the Quartermoon.” However that movie was not mentioned in your article. I remember this movie because even though just a kid at the time, Edwards did have quite an impression on me when I saw him in that movie. I believe he played the role of a lawyer representing Nat King Cole.
Amos Britton.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 28, 2012 11:10 am

Hi Amos,
Thank you for mentioning the movie Night of the Quarter Moon (1959-Hugo Haas) aka Flesh and Flame or The Color of Her Skin. Unfortunately, very few people appear to have had a chance to see this movie about a young woman (Julie London) “passing” for white. Even more intriguing, viewers who have posted about this film on the internet seem to be sharply divided on the movie’s merits. Personally, I’d like to catch anything with James Edwards in the cast, especially when such diverse talents as London, John Drew Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead, Nat King Cole and even Charlie Chaplin, Jr. & Jackie Coogan round out the film!

Though generally dismissed by many as meritless, I enjoy some of the films made by actor-director Hugo Haas in the fifties, (even the Beverly Michaels movies) but in particular the psychological story of multiple personalities, Lizzie (1957), which had the bad luck to come out in the same year as the much bigger budgeted Three Faces of Eve. The Haas movie was actually released before the Nunnally Johnson film and the former was notable for the meaty roles it offered the underrated Eleanor Parker and the priceless Joan Blondell.

I will try to find a copy of Night of the Quarter Moon and ask that the TCM programmers look for it by posting a request for it on the Suggest-A-Movie part of the TCM site. Others can do so as well if they would like.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 28, 2012 11:10 am

Hi Amos,
Thank you for mentioning the movie Night of the Quarter Moon (1959-Hugo Haas) aka Flesh and Flame or The Color of Her Skin. Unfortunately, very few people appear to have had a chance to see this movie about a young woman (Julie London) “passing” for white. Even more intriguing, viewers who have posted about this film on the internet seem to be sharply divided on the movie’s merits. Personally, I’d like to catch anything with James Edwards in the cast, especially when such diverse talents as London, John Drew Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead, Nat King Cole and even Charlie Chaplin, Jr. & Jackie Coogan round out the film!

Though generally dismissed by many as meritless, I enjoy some of the films made by actor-director Hugo Haas in the fifties, (even the Beverly Michaels movies) but in particular the psychological story of multiple personalities, Lizzie (1957), which had the bad luck to come out in the same year as the much bigger budgeted Three Faces of Eve. The Haas movie was actually released before the Nunnally Johnson film and the former was notable for the meaty roles it offered the underrated Eleanor Parker and the priceless Joan Blondell.

I will try to find a copy of Night of the Quarter Moon and ask that the TCM programmers look for it by posting a request for it on the Suggest-A-Movie part of the TCM site. Others can do so as well if they would like.

Posted By JEAN DENTON : May 23, 2012 11:31 pm

I am humbled by the great love for James Edwards. I am from Hammond, Indiana where I attended grade and high school. I watched him on television. I had the great pleasure of meeting this gentleman. I was 17. He shook my hand, spoke to me briefly and gave me the scarf he had around his neck. That was a cold winter day in Hammond. I felt so honored. If I am mistaken, please correct me. His mother, Annie C. Riley lived in Hammond. She, my mama, sister and I attended the same church, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where Pastor A.R.Burns was Pastor. Mrs. Riley was a good friend. She and I would shop downtown Hammond. Correct me if I am mistaken, but James’s funeral was held at Mt. Zion. I remember the streets being blocked off, and movie stars, Sammy Davis being one of them attended James’s funeral. Mrs. Riley, deceased now, was so very proud, as she should have been of James. He was the first black actor I saw on television. He did pave the way for the afore memtioned actors. I remember those times mentioned during Martin Luther King’s era. I lived them in Mississippi before moving to Hammond. I’ll always have fond memories of James, one great actor who didn’t get the recognition he deserved. Continued Grace & Peace to his family. A fan who shall remain loyal to a splendid, talented actor for all time. Jean Denton

Posted By JEAN DENTON : May 23, 2012 11:31 pm

I am humbled by the great love for James Edwards. I am from Hammond, Indiana where I attended grade and high school. I watched him on television. I had the great pleasure of meeting this gentleman. I was 17. He shook my hand, spoke to me briefly and gave me the scarf he had around his neck. That was a cold winter day in Hammond. I felt so honored. If I am mistaken, please correct me. His mother, Annie C. Riley lived in Hammond. She, my mama, sister and I attended the same church, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where Pastor A.R.Burns was Pastor. Mrs. Riley was a good friend. She and I would shop downtown Hammond. Correct me if I am mistaken, but James’s funeral was held at Mt. Zion. I remember the streets being blocked off, and movie stars, Sammy Davis being one of them attended James’s funeral. Mrs. Riley, deceased now, was so very proud, as she should have been of James. He was the first black actor I saw on television. He did pave the way for the afore memtioned actors. I remember those times mentioned during Martin Luther King’s era. I lived them in Mississippi before moving to Hammond. I’ll always have fond memories of James, one great actor who didn’t get the recognition he deserved. Continued Grace & Peace to his family. A fan who shall remain loyal to a splendid, talented actor for all time. Jean Denton

Posted By MA : August 2, 2012 4:07 am

I wish i could of met you grandpa…

Posted By MA : August 2, 2012 4:07 am

I wish i could of met you grandpa…

Posted By Ricka L. Smith : August 20, 2012 7:29 pm

I’ve read with great interest the information and comments on James Edwards career and the memories friends and family have of him. I live in Muncie, IN, a town with which Mr. Edwards had deep connections as his parents and family lived here. Mr. Edwards graduated from Anderson High School, a town just a few miles from Muncie, but I’d have to check my notes to verify the dates. I did verify with the Anderson High School administration that Mr. Edwards was indeed a student and graduate of that school. I did extensive biographical research on Mr. Edwards for a graduate thesis based on the lives of notable Muncie IN natives. My research included several recorded interviews with Mr. Edwards’ brother who at that time was still a resident of Muncie, IN. I also had information and mementos from a program presented in Mr. Edwards honor during a Muncie observation of Black History Month. One of the consistent remarks that I had from Hollywood notables and from his peers during his studying and college years was that he was often considered to be too handsome and sexually attractive to have been considered an appropriate ice breaker into motion picture staring roles for African American actors. Mr. Poitier was considered an “easier sell” because he lacked the intensity and focus which James Edwards brought to the screen. I also had correspondence from several actors with whom Edwards studied immediately following the war, Patricia Neal being one of note.

Posted By Ricka L. Smith : August 20, 2012 7:29 pm

I’ve read with great interest the information and comments on James Edwards career and the memories friends and family have of him. I live in Muncie, IN, a town with which Mr. Edwards had deep connections as his parents and family lived here. Mr. Edwards graduated from Anderson High School, a town just a few miles from Muncie, but I’d have to check my notes to verify the dates. I did verify with the Anderson High School administration that Mr. Edwards was indeed a student and graduate of that school. I did extensive biographical research on Mr. Edwards for a graduate thesis based on the lives of notable Muncie IN natives. My research included several recorded interviews with Mr. Edwards’ brother who at that time was still a resident of Muncie, IN. I also had information and mementos from a program presented in Mr. Edwards honor during a Muncie observation of Black History Month. One of the consistent remarks that I had from Hollywood notables and from his peers during his studying and college years was that he was often considered to be too handsome and sexually attractive to have been considered an appropriate ice breaker into motion picture staring roles for African American actors. Mr. Poitier was considered an “easier sell” because he lacked the intensity and focus which James Edwards brought to the screen. I also had correspondence from several actors with whom Edwards studied immediately following the war, Patricia Neal being one of note.

Posted By moirafinnie : August 21, 2012 8:07 am

Ricka,
Thanks so much for sharing your own research into James Edwards’ background as a Muncie, IN native and his experiences as a pioneering actor. Just the other day, I caught a few minutes of Mr. Edwards in a small role as a concerned artistic friend of the Elizabeth Taylor character in the Vincente Minnelli film, The Sandpiper (1965). I kept thinking that he was far more attractive as a person and a man than the other actors who strutted across the screen trying to catch the eye of the megastar leading lady. (It also would have been a more interesting movie if James Edwards had been part of the main focus of the story, rather than just spotlighting the already overblown impact of “Liz & Dick” as a pop phenomenon).

Sadly, I suspect that Edwards’ appeal was decades ahead of time socially. Actors such as Sidney Poitier and the generations who followed trailblazing performers such as Paul Robeson, Clarence Muse, Leigh Whipper,Canada Lee, Juano Hernandez, James Edwards and more have each of these individual, unique talents to thank for their ability to express themselves as human beings and as actors.
I appreciate your taking the time to comment here on the continuing interest in this good actor.

Posted By moirafinnie : August 21, 2012 8:07 am

Ricka,
Thanks so much for sharing your own research into James Edwards’ background as a Muncie, IN native and his experiences as a pioneering actor. Just the other day, I caught a few minutes of Mr. Edwards in a small role as a concerned artistic friend of the Elizabeth Taylor character in the Vincente Minnelli film, The Sandpiper (1965). I kept thinking that he was far more attractive as a person and a man than the other actors who strutted across the screen trying to catch the eye of the megastar leading lady. (It also would have been a more interesting movie if James Edwards had been part of the main focus of the story, rather than just spotlighting the already overblown impact of “Liz & Dick” as a pop phenomenon).

Sadly, I suspect that Edwards’ appeal was decades ahead of time socially. Actors such as Sidney Poitier and the generations who followed trailblazing performers such as Paul Robeson, Clarence Muse, Leigh Whipper,Canada Lee, Juano Hernandez, James Edwards and more have each of these individual, unique talents to thank for their ability to express themselves as human beings and as actors.
I appreciate your taking the time to comment here on the continuing interest in this good actor.

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Posted By hanji : October 4, 2012 9:27 am

I saw James Edwards in an old hollywood movie called, ‘Sandpiper’. I was so struck by, not only his great physical presence, but also by such intelligence and dignity he projected. I wondereed who he was, and did some research. I was certain he was a more prominant actor than shown. Seeing through 21st century eye, I see all the magic of a star, without the ostentatious glitter that overwhelms today’s superstars. He had a small part in this movie with many notable names, but James Edwards in his rather small, quiet role; was the most memorable and unforgettable presence in the whole movie.

Posted By hanji : October 4, 2012 9:27 am

I saw James Edwards in an old hollywood movie called, ‘Sandpiper’. I was so struck by, not only his great physical presence, but also by such intelligence and dignity he projected. I wondereed who he was, and did some research. I was certain he was a more prominant actor than shown. Seeing through 21st century eye, I see all the magic of a star, without the ostentatious glitter that overwhelms today’s superstars. He had a small part in this movie with many notable names, but James Edwards in his rather small, quiet role; was the most memorable and unforgettable presence in the whole movie.

Posted By hanji : October 4, 2012 9:35 am

I had to add; ‘Sandpiper”s real, true stars are The Big Sur and James Edwards; two of the most magnificent sights of the entire film.

Posted By hanji : October 4, 2012 9:35 am

I had to add; ‘Sandpiper”s real, true stars are The Big Sur and James Edwards; two of the most magnificent sights of the entire film.

Posted By moirafinnie : October 4, 2012 7:15 pm

Hanji, I happened to catch part of that airing of The Sandpiper (1965) recently and was touched by the way that James Edwards was the sounding board for disparate characters–though he was compelling enough in a naturalistic way to have been a star of this Liz & Dick excursion. Too bad he wasn’t the lead! Thank you for sharing your impressions.

Posted By moirafinnie : October 4, 2012 7:15 pm

Hanji, I happened to catch part of that airing of The Sandpiper (1965) recently and was touched by the way that James Edwards was the sounding board for disparate characters–though he was compelling enough in a naturalistic way to have been a star of this Liz & Dick excursion. Too bad he wasn’t the lead! Thank you for sharing your impressions.

Posted By Pic of the Day: “The Killing” revisited | The Timothy Carey Experience : November 13, 2012 3:10 pm

[...] Today’s pic (don’t forget for all pics, you may click to embiggen) is another from Stanley Kubrick‘s The Killing (1956). Race horse assassin Nikki Arcane is about to have his epic encounter with the racetrack parking lot attendant (James Edwards). [...]

Posted By Pic of the Day: “The Killing” revisited | The Timothy Carey Experience : November 13, 2012 3:10 pm

[...] Today’s pic (don’t forget for all pics, you may click to embiggen) is another from Stanley Kubrick‘s The Killing (1956). Race horse assassin Nikki Arcane is about to have his epic encounter with the racetrack parking lot attendant (James Edwards). [...]

Posted By Dale haskell : December 9, 2012 6:08 pm

It’s truly gratifying to see the outpouring of interest and affection for the great James Edwards. As a boy,my Father pointed him out to me in any number of films we watched on television. “Watch this guy,he’s got something. You remember him.” How true. I quickly became a fan and savored every performance I could catch of his. He’s always been one of the immortals in my book. If only he were with us now.

Posted By Dale haskell : December 9, 2012 6:08 pm

It’s truly gratifying to see the outpouring of interest and affection for the great James Edwards. As a boy,my Father pointed him out to me in any number of films we watched on television. “Watch this guy,he’s got something. You remember him.” How true. I quickly became a fan and savored every performance I could catch of his. He’s always been one of the immortals in my book. If only he were with us now.

Posted By moirafinnie : December 9, 2012 9:18 pm

Thank you for sharing your early and lasting impression of James Edwards, a fine actor whose career seems destined to be remembered well by discerning viewers such as your father and you. It really means a lot to me that you took the time to share your comment here.
Appreciatively,
Moira

Posted By moirafinnie : December 9, 2012 9:18 pm

Thank you for sharing your early and lasting impression of James Edwards, a fine actor whose career seems destined to be remembered well by discerning viewers such as your father and you. It really means a lot to me that you took the time to share your comment here.
Appreciatively,
Moira

Posted By Dale haskell : December 9, 2012 9:38 pm

My pleasure to comment! It’s wonderful to share appreciation of an artist’s work. Might I suggest another favorite actor of mine who brought distinction and dignity to the screen but has gone under recognized – Juano Hernandez. A tribute to his career would be most welcome!

Posted By Dale haskell : December 9, 2012 9:38 pm

My pleasure to comment! It’s wonderful to share appreciation of an artist’s work. Might I suggest another favorite actor of mine who brought distinction and dignity to the screen but has gone under recognized – Juano Hernandez. A tribute to his career would be most welcome!

Posted By moirafinnie : December 9, 2012 10:21 pm

Dale,
I completely agree about Juano Hernandez being an apt topic for a future blog, along with other relatively unsung pioneers such as Canada Lee, Clarence Muse and Leigh Whipper, all of whom have a fascinating and complex history in American film and theater. FYI, I have also written about the African-American actor Rex Ingram in a past blog, which you can see here.

Posted By moirafinnie : December 9, 2012 10:21 pm

Dale,
I completely agree about Juano Hernandez being an apt topic for a future blog, along with other relatively unsung pioneers such as Canada Lee, Clarence Muse and Leigh Whipper, all of whom have a fascinating and complex history in American film and theater. FYI, I have also written about the African-American actor Rex Ingram in a past blog, which you can see here.

Posted By http://tinyurl.com/statjune16502 : January 13, 2013 4:37 am

I truly seem to go along with every little thing that is written in “MovieMorlocks.
com – James Edwards: “Someone Must Make a Stand””.

Many thanks for all the facts.Thanks for your time-Antoinette

Posted By http://tinyurl.com/statjune16502 : January 13, 2013 4:37 am

I truly seem to go along with every little thing that is written in “MovieMorlocks.
com – James Edwards: “Someone Must Make a Stand””.

Many thanks for all the facts.Thanks for your time-Antoinette

Posted By cynt5525 : January 13, 2013 11:28 am

Thank for such a very informative article. cynthia

Posted By cynt5525 : January 13, 2013 11:28 am

Thank for such a very informative article. cynthia

Posted By cynt5525 : January 13, 2013 11:29 am

Reblogged this on cynthiajacksonblog and commented:
This a very informative article… cynthia

Posted By cynt5525 : January 13, 2013 11:29 am

Reblogged this on cynthiajacksonblog and commented:
This a very informative article… cynthia

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Posted By Video of the Week: “The Killing” | The Timothy Carey Experience : August 21, 2013 2:34 pm

[…] Another great video from the folks at Movieclips.com! This is Timothy’s big scene from Stanley Kubrick‘s The Killing (1956), featuring the great James Edwards. […]

Posted By David S Lomax : August 4, 2014 7:49 pm

As a relative I was deeply moved by this article. I wish my father was alive to read it. He always spoke highly of his cousin. I never had the opportunity to meet him, I was 10 at the time of his death. But my father made it so we would never forget him. And as for me, James Edwards is the reason why I work in the film and television industry. Thank you kindly for sharing your experience and knowledge of him.

Posted By Moira Finnie : August 4, 2014 8:01 pm

Thanks very much for your kind words, Mr. Lomax. It has been so gratifying to see many people discovering James Edwards in the years since this article first appeared here. It is a privilege to know that my small effort might give something of value to another person–much less someone who is a descendant of Mr. Edwards.

Posted By george : August 5, 2014 2:19 am

One of my favorite James Edwards roles was in the 1963 “Fugitive” episode, “Decision in the Ring.” He played a boxer with a brain injury. Ruby Dee played his wife. Sad to think they’re both gone.

Posted By Moira Finnie : August 5, 2014 6:28 pm

Hi George–I was also very touched by the role as the brain-damaged boxer (James Edwards) who didn’t or couldn’t face facts, despite the efforts of his wife (Ruby Dee) to protect him. In accounts of the history of “The Fugitive” series, I have read that producers were reluctant to cast an African-American in the role, but that David Janssen pushed for Edwards being cast. James Edwards certainly was more than capable of playing the part, which he did with an anguished sensitivity.

While I agree that the early death of James Edwards was an unfortunate loss to his family and his art, Ruby Dee’s exceptionally long life could hardly have been more fulfilling as an actress, a woman and an American who left the world a better place than it was when she arrived.

Thank you for reminding me of that episode and for taking the time to post a comment here.

Posted By Patrick Culliton : August 19, 2014 9:28 pm

The Sandpiper — a recollection by Patrick Culliton

I wanted to write about the Sandpiper, specifically, James Edwards’ role in the Sandpiper.

I worked with James Edwards on the very next thing he did after acting in the Sandpiper. We talked about the movie. He was very
hopeful about the film’s prospects. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the hottest stars on the planet and the director
was Vincent Minnelli. If the film did well, it would be good for everyone involved.

One night around the time the Sandpiper was released, Sammy Davis was on the Johnny Carson show, and Carson asked him, “is it true you were supposed to be in the new movie with the Burtons?” And Sammy told a convoluted tale of being written in and out and in and out and in and out of the script as a former/possibly current lover of Liz’s. “And you know who got the part, “Sammy asked — “Charlie Bronson!” Jimmy Edwards didn’t see the show. I told him about it. He explained that the role of Liz’s former lover was divided in two. Bronson was the immediate, in your face, previous lover and Jimmy is her loyal friend. Jim said, “people can think what they want about Liz and me. I’ll tell you this: when I found myself in a tight two shot with Elizabeth, I was stupefied by her beauty. I looked into those violet eyes and got lost. I blew the take.”

That means something. James Edwards was one of the best first take actors I ever saw.

After James Edwards died, I learned how he got hired for the role of Larry Brant in the Sandpiper. The studio told Minnelli and the Burtons that it was unable to come to terms with Sammy Davis, so the part was being rewritten, possibly for Charles
Bronson. Elizabeth Taylor said, “well, what about some of the other black actors in this town? What about Jimmy Edwards?”

All in all, the Sandpiper was a positive experience for James Edwards. They shot locations in Big Sur and interiors in Paris.
Jim was able to get to know his nephew, Charles, while he was in France. The French held him in high regard as an actor. Jean-Paul Sartre was an admirer. Jimmy had starred in several productions of Sartre’s “No Exit.”

He enjoyed working on the picture. The first few days in Paris, Jim and Charlie Bronson rode to the studio in a limo. Then, one
day, a station wagon arrived at the hotel to take Edwards to the studio. What happened to the limo? Well, it was actually Mr.
Bronson’s limo and he was giving you a lift because both of you had the same call time. “Oh, okay,” Jim said, “I understand.
I’m so sorry. Tell them I’ll be right down to the set — as soon as the limo comes to get me.” The limo came to get him.

Okay, so we know Laura Reynolds (Elizabeth) had a thing with Cos Erickson (Bronson) and with Ward Hendricks (Robert Webber), and Ward said she had little things with, give or take, everybody. How much more imagination does it take to think she had a thing with Larry Brant (Edwards). Well, those were Jim Crow days. We couldn’t imagine James Edwards, brilliantly portraying a beatnik painter, as Larry Brant, having an affair with Elizabeth Tayor thinly disguised as a free spirit. Or could we?

When the movie came out all of Jimmy’s family and friends went to see it. We all liked things about it. The problem I had with
it was that Minnelli didn’t have a script. I hoped it would be like “Some Came Running.” But, at that time in his career,
Burton evoked no sympathy whatever — not in this film anyway. See, he was stuck with the dilemma of whether to stay with his
wife, Eva Marie Saint, or run away with Elizabeth Taylor. It was well made and full of good actors, but, nothing could make that script work. The film died.

Jimmy told me he had really had hopes for the film. “It was Minnelli.”

Posted By Moira Finnie : August 19, 2014 10:25 pm

Thank you for sharing that account of Mr. Edwards’ experiences working on The Sandpiper. For me, he and the beauty of the California coast are two reasons to see that film–and perhaps the script was one of the main reasons the rest of the film fades from memory for me too, as you noted.

Posted By patrick culliton : August 19, 2014 11:36 pm

I also have caught up with James Edwards episode of “the Fugitive.” He had told me about it, about working with Jimmy Dunn and Ruby Dee. Forty years or so later I finally saw it. Beautiful work all around. Powerful, moving.
But, Jim’s appearance on Peter Gunn — an episode that was very good for Diahann Carrol’s career — I’m not going to tell you anything about it. Just find it and see it.
Peter Gunn: Season 2, Episode 23
“Sing a Song of Murder” (7 Mar. 1960)

Posted By george : August 20, 2014 12:13 am

Check out Edwards’ brief role as an undercover cop in COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968). He gets in Clint Eastwood’s face and doesn’t back down.

Posted By Patrick Culliton : September 13, 2014 8:42 pm

The Invisible Man

I want to talk about scenes from two films directed by Vincente Minnelli.

The first is “Bells Are Ringing.” There is a scene in that film where Judy Holliday and Dean Martin are in a crowd of New Yorkers waiting for the crosswalk light to change. Perhaps 15 or so people and four or five of them are African-Americans. Judy turns to the man next to her and says (paraphrase) “hiya, mister. Isn’t it a nice night?” The man next to her looks at her, apparently bristling with hostility, and says, “what did you say to me?” Judy says, “I just said it’s a nice night.” And the man suddenly melts and says, “no one’s spoken to me that way in New York in 15 years.” And, spontaneously, the entire crowd begins to greet each other and shake hands. And you have to see it to believe how artfully all those white people manage to greet and speak to and touch each other without any of them greeting or touching any of the black people who are sprinkled among the white people. The white people reach over them. They reach around them. They look right through them.

And that’s what James Edwards and all the black actors of his generation were up against. The cloak of invisibility.

The second film I want to talk about is “The Sandpiper.” It was five whole years later, 1965. Sammy Davis had married May Britt in 1960 and black people were getting less invisible every minute. So, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Minnelli had this impossible script in which Burton, a minister and headmaster of a parochial boys school, falls for a San Francisco Beat artist who lives on the beach in Big Sur. This threatens his marriage to Eva Marie Saint. They thought they could juice it up a little if Liz had a former lover who was black. Only it had to be Sammy Davis because he was a huge star and the American public had just had to get used to the fact that Sammy fought an endless battle to be colorblind in all his relationships, with his fans, and with the woman he loved, May. Only MGM didn’t want Sammy. After some negotiations, the idea of a black lover for Elizabeth the beatnik was dropped.

Then, Elizabeth Taylor said, “well what about some of the other black actors in this town? What about Jimmy Edwards?” And that is how James Edwards got the role he played in “the Sandpiper.” But, the role was split in two. Charles Bronson was cast as the lover and James Edwards was cast as the friend. Sammy Davis might be able to get away with it, but, not a black Errol Flynn that had dated a graduate of MGM’s Little red schoolhouse. So, Minnelli, whether he wanted to or not, smothered James Edwards in that cloak of invisibility. Look at how James Edwards shines through it.

First, he looks, moves, and talks like a San Francisco beat. Second, while every effort is made to make any relationship Edwards has to Taylor avuncular, we have grown up since 1965. See the movie. It’s filled with great actors. And it’s Minnelli. And watch James Edwards help to kill the stigma of the invisible man in Hollywood, watch Jimmy Edwards and Elizabeth Taylor interact on screen. And then, you decide what the characters that Edwards and Taylor played might’ve gotten up to before the movies dreadful narrative began.

Posted By 10 Pioneering Black Actors You’ve Never Heard Of | NewsTipedia.com : October 7, 2014 5:31 am

[…] description of a black G.I. emotionally crippled by injustice and war. Director Stanley Kramer said that a star was “an intelligent, cultivated actor with an glorious voice, and we was propitious to get […]

Posted By tolly devlin : June 4, 2015 11:22 pm

Great article & great comments on an actor I have admired since catching him in Home Of The Brave many years ago. I have to take exception to your comment about African Americans & classic movies. I was born in 1952 & grew up with Million Dollar Movie in NYC, The Late Show & Sunday night programming of New York’s NBC outlet, which played foreign films like Alphaville,Hiroshima Mon Amour & many others. Ilove the films of the thirties, forties & fifties & many of the people I know appreciate those films as well(even my younger brother & sisters who were born in the late sixties). My children have an appreciation of silent comedy, film noir, westerns & the stars of that era. So you should not make such a blanket statement. Of course there are problems with representation even in the Warner’s & MGM cartoons of that era, but we wince & move on or joke about it. I am fairly new to this cite so please excuse my late entry.

Posted By Edwin : May 19, 2016 12:37 am

I had seen James Edwards in several movies but never knew what his name was until I saw the episode of “The Fugitive” with him as a boxer. I never realized he was the undercover cop in “Coogan’s Bluff.” I’ll have to watch some more of these movies that were mentioned here. It is a shame he passed away at such a young age.

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