St. John's Confidential File
Al Freeman: Actor Of Merit, Dies
By Michael St John
Sep 28, 2012 - 12:28:47 PM

HOLLYWOODHELLO AMERICA! Even though one understands that death is a reality, it is still very difficult to accept the passing of someone you loved and admired. When I learned from the In Memoriam feature at this year’s Grammy show that my old friend and classmate AL FREEMAN, JR. had died August 9, 2012, I was deeply saddened.         
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During the '50s, Al and I not only took special drama classes at Los Angeles City College, we also worked very hard in numerous productions at the legendary Ebony Showcase Theatre. Let's face it, we were artistic rivals, but very friendly ones. When I performed something he believed was extraordinary, he told me so. And I gave him the same respect. We seemed to always be vying for the same roles at the time. My primary advantage was that I could sing and play the piano. As a result, when a featured role was available for the Broadway play “The Desk Set” I was selected based on my musical advantage. It was the same with “Finian’s Rainbow,” a show we both tried out for because of the legendary actor, David Wayne. However, when BURGESS MERIDITH auditioned for an Off-Broadway production of “The Toilet”, Al was the actor they wanted.
 
There were certain actors I always found a need to watch and learn from: James Dean, Marlon Brando, Lawrence Olivier. But for certain kinds of street reality, it was Al Freeman. We studied with the same teacher at LACC, Alice Parachan, who was the most knowledgeable, exciting, inspiring teacher of the theatre imaginable. We all loved her and adhered to every word she uttered. She made us all believe that we were able to erupt on stage or before a camera with an amazing kind of “truth.” We worshiped this beautiful teacher and lady. She’s gone now, too, but her words of wisdom concerning life and how the continual challenge of “being” on stage can be the most thrilling journey ever.
 
I remember the many days and nights rehearsing scene after scene attempting to discover the kind of “truth” Ms. Parachan continually reminded us is the actual journey of our personal discovery. I’m deeply saddened because I’m still in search of the magic any artist worth his or her salt reaches for when appearing on stage or before the camera. Al Freeman seemed to have been born to make ”fantasy” seem real and it was always a pleasure to give him the applause he deserved.
 
His performance as “Elijah Muhammad” in the film “Malcolm X” earned him the 1995 NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.” He also won a Daytime Emmy Award for his role on “One Life to Live.” He even found time to teach acting at “Howard University” in Washington, D.C. Yes, in so many ways he was my rival, but I loved Al Freeman, Jr. because he was a genuine example of what one can achieve if one simply believes. Thanks to Al, I still do.


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