Woodrow Wilson Woolvine Strode was born on July 25, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. Strode attended Jefferson High School in East Los Angeles and college at UCLA. Strode posed for a nude portrait, part of Hubert Stowitts's acclaimed exhibition of athletic portraits shown at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Strode, Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson starred on the 1939 UCLA Bruins football team, in which they made up three of the four backfield players. Along with Ray Bartlett, there were four African-Americans playing for the Bruins, when only a few dozen at all played on other college football teams. They played eventual conference and national champion USC to a 0–0 tie with the 1940 Rose Bowl on the line.
Strode and fellow UCLA alumnus Kenny Washington were two of the first African-Americans to play in major college programs and later the modern National Football League, playing for the Los Angeles Rams in 1946. He played for two seasons with the Calgary Stampeders in Canada, where he was a member of Calgary's 1948 Grey Cup Championship team before retiring due to injury in 1949.
In 1941, Strode had dabbled for several months in professional wrestling.Following the end of his football career in 1949, he returned to wrestling part-time between acting jobs until 1962. In 1952, Strode wrestled almost every week from August 12, 1952 to December 10, 1952 in different cities in California. He was billed as the Pacific Coast Heavyweight Wrestling Champion and the Pacific Coast Negro Heavyweight Wrestling Champion in 1962. He later teamed up with both Bobo Brazil and Bearcat Wright.
As an actor, the 6 ft 4 in Strode was noted for film roles that contrasted with the stereotypes of the time. He is probably best remembered for his brief Golden Globe-nominated role in “Spartacus” (1960) as the Ethiopian gladiator Draba, in which he fights Kirk Douglas to the death. Also remembered are his appearances in the John Ford westerns “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962). Woody continued his film career in the late 1960s with appearances in ten Euro-westerns including “Once Upon a Time in the West”, “Shalako” (both 1968), “Boot Hill” and “The Unholy Four” (both 1969), “Theb Deserter” (1971) and “Keoma” (1975).
Woody died of lung cancer on December 31, 1994 in Glendale, California.
Today we remember Woody Strode on what would have been his 100th birthday.