HELLO AMERICA!—Upon hearing about our play, “I FEEL SIN COMIN’ ON,” being produced in Atlanta, GA, I received a message from a fan who asked why it wasn’t being supported and produced in Los Angeles. The same query was posed by many listeners of my national radio show as well. It was initially rather disturbing because after so many years being in the center of the entertainment center of Hollywood, it forced me to face certain sad, sickening and socially poisonous reality returns of an era which caused so much frustration, pain as well as horror in our streets as well as human destruction within certain areas of Los Angeles itself.
The creative controlling force in Hollywood is really centered and controlled by film producers who, if they feel that a story has a chance of reaching a certain cash-winning market, will take a chance on producing a project. For example, Cabin in the Sky, Stormy Weather, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Soldier’s Story, Anna Lucasta and so many other early films involving “people of color” they realized would be anxious to spend money at the box office to see themselves represented. Of course, that’s understandable. However, this was during the 30s and 40s down through the late 1950s. As a kid, knowing I would be able to see Lena Horne, Hazel Scott, Bill Robinson, Paul Robeson in a film was something that I was determined not to miss.
However, following the big breakthrough for minorities in studio positions as musicians, directors, producers, casting, there was a subtle determination to limit the involvement of these people. Since I was working for various entertainment publications and national journals I decided to do a bit of research about the cause of this change. I found that the industry was being flooded with people born and raised in the Deep South who found it impossible to accept the changes taking place in either film or the theatre. They were trapped in the wrappings of a world which recognized people based on their color or what language spoken.
TV star Chris Robinson who was and still is one of the closest friends I have ever had since my arrival in Hollywood during the early ’50s when we both were at DESILU Studio insisted that I try for a directorship at NBC which would make me the first person of color in such a significant position; I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t, he insisted I call, make an appointment. I did and it resulted in my being signed as the first Black Director at that network in Burbank.
Of course, that is television and or films; the state of the Los Angeles theatre situation is sad and stuffed with people who are stuck in the ignorance of yesterday’s social thinking when it comes to dealing with stories, artists of color.
To finally respond more clearly to those who posed the question concerning my play, “I Feel Sin Comin’ On,” I did approach several theatres in L.A., but they were not capable of backing or producing a full length production such as ours. If it wasn’t a one-act work or one originating in an Actors Workshop situation. Finally, a Rabbi recommended that we contact a theatre in Beverly Hills. Called THEATRE 40 helmed by a “good ol’ Texas” boy who quickly let me know that he was considering having some “black” actors doing something at his theatre.
The way he explained his intention nearly made me upchuck, one could detect his negative, condescending attitude when making his ultimate intent. I was quite disturbed by the experience because I genuinely believed that most people who reside in that city, believed to be quite liberal, was above that kind of thinking. Unfortunately, they are there in a big way. It was obvious that THEATRE 40 was for WHITES only! And the Texas director made numerous excuses concerning scheduling and we would have to wait a year or so because of previous commitments.
It took the owner of WLMR radio station (producer of my national radio show) in Atlanta upon reading the script and listening to the composed music for the production becoming so affected by the story to introduced the theatre project to Atlanta creative and business forces which resulted in “I FEEL SIN COMIN’ ON” being currently in development for a big premiere with major Hollywood names helming the play in that city March 2018. SO PEOPLE NEVER GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS, ANYTHING GOOD IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE ONE WAY OR THE OTHER!