When many of us think about black comedic actors throughout history, a few names come to mind. Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, Eddie Murphy are among a large group who have kept us entertained and laughing throughout the years. However, one name that almost goes unnoticed is Mantan Moreland. Before coming to Hollywood and becoming a comedic actor Moreland would start his career at an incredibly early age.
At 12-years old he would run away from home and join a circus and do vaudeville shows. In 1936, Moreland’s film career would get started with a movie called That’s the Spirit. Moreland’s characters were typically Nervous, undecisive & ready to jump out of his skin at a moment’s notice, not to mention his bulging eyes and ability to make his body quake and appear terrified. This style of comedy became a hit with white audiences. Moreland’s defining role was when he played Birmingham Brown, the loyal chauffeur of Charlie Chan in fifteen films produced by Monogram Studios in the 1940s.
Moreland would ultimately secure a role in over 300 films throughout his career. In the 1940s & 50s, he worked at the Apollo theatre with Red Foxx as well as being the featured comedian in “Rhapsody in Rhythm” a show that had an all-black cast. Later in his career, Moreland would speak on the stereotypical roles Hollywood had relegated him too stating he would “never play another stereotype, regardless of what Hollywood offers.” He added, “The Negro, as a race, has come too far in the last few years for me to dash his hopes, dreams, and accomplishments against a celluloid wall, by making pictures that show him to be a slow-thinking, stupid dolt…Millions of people may have thought that my acting was comical, but I know now that it wasn’t always so funny to my own people.”
Moreland’s career would continue until the earlier 70’s when he would eventually die in 1973 from a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 71. It is important that we highlight individuals like Moreland who have paved the wait for the black comedic stars that we have today. Check out one of his movies below!!