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Spencer Williams DIRECTOR

African American filmmaker Spencer Williams was born July 14, 1893 in Vidalia, Louisiana. When he was a teenager his family moved to New York City, where he secured a job as a call boy at a local theater for impresario Oscar Hammerstein. During this time he received mentoring from African American vaudeville star Bert Williams. After high school, Williams took some classes at the University of Minnesota. His schooling was interrupted when he served in the U.S. Army during World War I. He moved to California following his service, where he began to find small bits in films, particularly "race films". Such movies include "Tenderfeet" (1928), "Brown Gravy" (1929), and "The Virginia Judge" (1935).

In 1929 the actor began writing some of these features, like "The Lady Fare" (1929), "Harlem Rides the Range" (1939), and "Son of Ingagi" (1940). In 1940 Sack Amusement Enterprises, a Texas based race film production company and distributor, was so impressed with his screenplay of the latter that they offered Williams the opportunity to write and direct a feature. The result was "The Blood of Jesus" (1941), a religious fantasy about an atheist who shoots his Baptist wife, who, in her death, goes on to face the devil. While only produced in a limited area, it scored as a major success. In 1991 it was even implemented in the National Film Registry.

Alfred Sack, the owner of Sack Amusement Enterprises, claimed it was "possibly the most successful" of all the movies in that period created for black audiences, and consequently invited him to work on more pictures. For many of these pictures the director made sure he could be seen on camera, as his first exposure to show business was in acting. While he was beginning to direct new films, he did stay lively as a performer, too.
Soon after, Williams released another religious picture, "Brother Martin" (1942), as well as the historical drama "Marching On!" (1943). Next came "Of One Blood" (1944), a film about two orphaned African American brothers that become both a lawyer and a police officer, and their mission of stopping a crime gang that happens to be run by their long lost older brother. "Go Down, Death!" (1944), an adaptation of James Weldon Johnson's poem of the same name, was released only shortly after. It follows the struggles (and eventual death by guilt) that a bar owner faces after he tries to frame an innocent preacher with compromising photographs and ends up running into trouble when he accidentally murders his adoptive mother - a member of the preacher's church who was trying to stop the scheme.

For Williams' next movie he filmed a short titled "Harlem Hotshots" (1945), which features different musical talents like Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra and The Red Lilly Chorus. Famous black actress Lena Horne is also in the picture. 1946 brought three films: "The Girl in Room 20", about a girl who strives to become an actress but ends up in the dangerous hands of a pimp, "Jivin' in Be-Bop", a documentary presenting top musical stars such as saxophonist Benny Carter, jazz musician Dizzie Gillespie, and exotic dancer Sahji, and "Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.", which shows what happens to a sleepy Caribbean resort after a sexy dancer from Harlem comes to visit.

1947 brought the release of "Juke Joint", a comedy telling of two con men that face off in a small town's beauty pageant.  1947 also saw "Beale Street Mama", the story of a street sweeper who spends a large sum of money that he finds, only to discover that it is counterfeit. Williams directed a final short two years later, called "Rhapsody of Negro Life" (1949).

After he retired from directing, the filmmaker appeared in his most famous on-screen role - as Andy in "The Amos 'n Andy Show" (1951-55) - followed with an appearance in an episode of "Bourbon Street Beat" (1959). On December 13, 1969, Williams died from kidney failure at a hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his wife, Eula. In 1983, fourteen years after his death, many of his films were uncovered in a Texas warehouse, upon which they were reevaluated. Consequently, he was praised for his primordial, yet pioneering, works as an African American filmmaker in the mid-twentieth century.


1959 Bourbon Street Beat
1951 The Amos 'n Andy Show
1949 Rhapsody of Negro Life  
1947 Beale Street Mama
1947 Juke Joint
1946 The Girl in Room 20 
1946 Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.  
1946 Jivin' in Be-Bop
1945 Harlem Hotshots 
1944 Go Down, Death!  
1944 Of One Blood
1943 Marching On!
1942 Brother Martin
1941 Toppers Take a Bow   
1941 The Blood of Jesus   
1940 Son of Ingagi 
1939 Bad Boy
1939 Harlem Rides the Range   
1939 The Bronze Buckaroo  
1938 Two-Gun Man from Harlem  
1937 Harlem on the Prairie   
1935 Coronado  
1935 The Virginia Judge   
1930 Reno  
1930 Georgia Rose  
1929 Fowl Play
1929 Brown Gravy 
1929 The Lady Fare   
1929 Oft in the Silly Night   
1929 The Framing of the Shrew  
1929 Music Hath Harms
1929 Melancholy Dame  
1929 The Widow's Bite 
1928 Tenderfeet

Matinee Classics - Son of Ingagi starring Zack Williams, Laura Bowman, Alfred Grant, Daisy Bufford, Arthur Ray, Spencer Williams, Earl J. Morris, Jesse Graves and The Toppers
Matinee Classics - Beale Street Mama starring July Jones, Spencer Williams, Rosalie Larrimore, Howard Galloway, John Hemmings and Montgne McCormy
Matinee Classics - Two-Gun Man from Harlem starring Herb Jeffries, Marguerite Whitten, Clarence Brooks, Mantan Moreland, Tom Southern, Mae Turner and Spencer Williams
Matinee Classics - Juke Joint starring Spencer Williams, July Jones, Inez Newell, Melody Duncan and Katherine Moore
Matinee Classics - Jivin' in Be-Bop starring Dizzy Gillespie, Freddy Carter and Milt Jackson
Matinee Classics - Marching On starring Georgia Kelly, Hugo Martin and Emmet Jackson
Matinee Classics - The Girl in Room 20 starring Geraldine Brock, Spencer Williams, R. Jore, E. Celeste Allen and July Jones

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