Just got the news from TMZ that African American comic actor Raymond Allen (b. 1929) has passed on.
From Kansas City, Missouri, Allen garnered his first film credit at the young age of 17 in the Toddy Pictures race film Fight That Ghost (1946) starring Pigmeat Markham. In this horror/comedy, Allen played a character named “Fast Delivery Bill”. I suspect that he was a Chitlin’ Circuit comedian in the intervening decades, for a reason I will mention below.
Allen was in LA by 1972. That year he participated in the Watts Summer Festival, and the documentary that came out the following year Wattstax. He was in two blaxploitation films: Mean Mother (1973), starring Dobie Gray (the same year as his hit song “Drift Away”), and Darktown Strutters (1975).
But what Allen is best known for is his TV work. His hot streak was brief (1974-78) but prolific. He played recurring characters on three TV shows at the same time. His biggest one was the character of Woody, Aunt Esther’s drunken husband on Sanford and Son (1974-77). This is why I suspect he performed on the Chitlin’ Circuit. Most of the supporting cast on that show were Redd Foxx’s old cohorts from the clubs. The fact that both men are from Missouri also tends to support the idea that they worked in clubs together. At the same time as Sanford and Son, Allen also made several appearances as Ned the Wino on Good Times (1974-77) and as Merle the Earl on Starsky and Hutch (1976-78). In 1978 he also had guest shots on What’s Happening!!, The Love Boat, and The Jeffersons.
At this point, health problems seem to have interfered with his career. He had one additional role, in the TV movie Gus Brown and Midnight Brewster (1985), with John Schneider from The Dukes of Hazzard, and Ron Glass from Barney Miller.
His daughter Ta-Ronce Allen (b. 1960) was an actress 1971-83.