Black character actor and comedian Johnny Lee (1898-1945) is best remembered as the shyster lawyer Calhoun from The Amos and Andy Show (1950-55) and for voicing Bre’r Rabbit in Walt Disney’s Song of the South (1946) but he had a couple of dozen other Hollywood credits as well. Originally from Springfield, MO, Lee sang, danced, and clowned in black vaudeville for years prior to stepping in front of the cameras. His screen debut was in the short St. Louis Blues (1929), the only movie in which Bessie Smith appeared. The race movie The Black King (1932) directed by Bud Pollard, was his first feature. He went on to appear in some of the early “all-black” Hollywood classics, such as The Green Pastures (1936), Stormy Weather (1943), Boarding House Blues (1948) and the comedy short Mantan Runs for Mayor (1946) with Mantan Moreland. He’s in the Paul Robeson section of Takes of Manhattan (1946), and can also be seen in The First Traveling Saleslady (1956), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), and North to Alaska (1960). His last credit was a a1963 episode of Dennis the Menace.
For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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