I first became aware of Clinton Rosemond (1882-1996) by way of his excellent scene as the unnamed White House butler in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), who counsels George M. Cohan (James Cagney) on his way up the stairs to visit President Roosevelt. The performance is uncredited and, it turns out, one of Rosemond’s better film parts. It’s only part of his story.
Originally from South Carolina, Rosemond served in the Spanish-American War and started out on the black vaudeville circuits, later touring England during the 20’s in a singing group with Mabel Mercer and John C. Payne called the Southern Trio. Only the Brave (1930) was the first of his nearly 50 film credits. He was normally cast in bit roles as jungle natives, butlers, porters, slaves and the like, although occasionally he fared better, as when he played the title character in the MGM short The Story of George Washington Carver (1938). He’s in the all-black ensembles of Green Pastures (1936) and Cabin in the Sky (1943), and can also be seen in I Walked with a Zombie (1943), a couple of the Dr. Kildare films, the Red Skelton comedy I Dood It (1943), and a rare independently produced Ku Klux Klan expose called The Burning Cross (1947). His last film was the 1953 Sol Hurok musical bio-pic Tonight We Sing.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.