Today is the birthday of Ernest Whitman (1893-1954). A veteran of black vaudeville, burlesque and revues, his first film was the 1934 Vitaphone short King for a Day with Bill Robinson and Dusty Fletcher. John Ford cast him in The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), and from here came a stream of steady Hollywood work ranging from walk-ons to quite substantial roles. Other important films featuring Whitman included The Green Pastures (1936), Jesse James (1939) and its sequel The Return of Frank James (1940), and Cabin in the Sky (1945). He was a semi-regular on the television show Beulah shortly before he died.
Here’s a nice little tribute, featuring Whitman, Butterfly McQueen et al.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.