Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Remembering Woody Strode
Born Woodrow Wilson Woolwine Strode on July 28, 1914, the towering (6'5") black athlete together with fellow U.C.L.A. All-American Kenny Washington, successfully broke the NFL's "color line" in 1946, when he signed with the L.A. Rams. Strode went on to play with the Canadian Football League, then attracted a TV following as a pro wrestler. Though he'd made an isolated movie appearance in 1941, Strode's film career didn't really take off until the 1950s. At first, little in the way of acting was required; it was enough for him to convey strong, silent dignity in such fleeting roles as the “King of Ethiopia” in “The Ten Commandents” (1956). Like many other black athletes-turned-actors of the era, Strode was often called upon to play African warriors and tribal chieftains. This he did in a variety of small parts on the 1952 TV series “Ramar of the Jungle”; as Lothar on an obscure 1954 video version of “Mandrake the Magician”; and in the 1958 feature film “Tarzan’s Fight for Life”. A close friend of director John Ford, Strode received some of his best acting opportunities in Ford’s films of the 1950s and 1960s — notably “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960), in which he starred as a black cavalry soldier unjustly charged with rape and murder. He was also well-served in Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” (1960) in the role of Draba, the gladiator who refuses to kill Kirk Douglas in the film's pivotal scene. During the 1960s, Strode was a familiar presence in Spaghetti Westerns such "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) as “Boot Hill” (1969), “The Unholy Four” (1969), “The Deserter” (1971) and “Keoma” (1975) and action films filmed in the U.S. and Europe. In 1968, he starred in “Black Jesus”, an Italian-made film based on the life of African activist Patrice Lumumba. In 1990, Strode published his candid, life-affirming autobiography Goal Dust. Woody Strode continued acting up until his death at age 80, accepting such prominent roles as the Storyteller in Mario Van Peeble’s “Posse” (1993) and Charlie Moonlight in the Sharon Stone/Gene Hackman western “The Quick and the Dead” (1995). Woody Strode died of lung cancer on December 31, 1994 in Glendora, California. Today we remember Woody Strode on what would have been his 95th birthday.