Clarence Brooks

(1896-1969)

Clarence Brooks 2

Clarence Brooks was born in San Antonio, Texas in December 1896. In 1915, Brooks along with actor Noble Johnson, Noble’s brother, George Johnson, Dr. James T. Smith, and Dudley A. Brooks formed The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, a company that sought to make films correcting distortions of African American images in motion pictures while also depicting the reality of African American life.  Brooks acted as secretary to the budding company, which quickly built a reputation for showcasing the talent of African American performers in three-dimensional roles. In 1916, Brooks made his acting debut in Lincoln’s short, The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition and in 1919, he played the lead in A Man’s Duty.

By 1921 The Lincoln Company had completed five films, but it proved to be a marginal operation. Noble Johnson, leading man and president of the company who helped support the studio by acting in other companies’ productions, was faced with an ultimatum from Hollywood studio Universal. They had found that when theaters showed a Lincoln film starring Johnson to Black audiences, the audience would not go to a nearby theater showing a Universal film featuring Johnson. He was forced to choose between working for Universal, with a promising career, or casting his lot with Lincoln, with slight chance for financial success. Johnson reluctantly resigned as an active member of the company, but retained his financial interest. Dr. James T. Smith then became president of Lincoln. Without Johnson at the helm, there was much uncertainty.  In addition the increased cost of movie making in the 1920s and the declining economy leading to the Great Depression forced most independent Black film producers out of business. The African American community did not have the financial resources, especially in hard times, to sustain independent Black film enterprises.  In 1923 operations of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company ended and the board of directors disbanded. But Brooks was determined to continue with his acting career as he was still interested in challenging racial stereotypes in film. In 1928, he played George Reed in Absent with Virgil Owens and Rosalie Lincoln.

Clarence Brooks 2In 1930 Brooks appeared in Georgia Rose with Irene Wilson, Evelyn Preer, and Spencer Williams and in 1931, he co-starred in Arrowsmith in which he portrayed a Howard University-educated doctor who Ronald Colman’s character encounters while testing a serum in an effort to find a cure for the bubonic plague. The film was nominated for Best Picture, and Brooks’s co-star was nominated for Best Actor, however Brooks was not nominated for his portrayal of an important supporting character vital to the story.  Afterwards, Brooks left acting behind until he was coaxed out of semi-retirement by director and independent film producer Oscar Micheaux. In 1935, he starred in Micheaux’s Murder In Harlem and found that he could continue his acting career in the films which gave him his start.  In race films he could at least play positive roles. In 1937, he played Larry Lee in Dark Manhattan and in 1938, he appeared in Spirit of Youth and Two-Gun Man from Harlem. In 1939, Brooks continued to work in independent films that supported his career philosophy with roles in The Bronze Buckaroo and Harlem Rides The Range.

Brooks continued working the race movie circuit, although the popularity of the genre was fading and the ability to challenge convention through film was becoming more difficult to achieve, as mainstream studios bought out the independent companies and made their own race films that appealed to prejudiced masses and sold out movie houses. In 1941, he appeared in one of the last race movies of the time, Up Jumped the Devil. Once the race movie era ended, Brooks did not work in films until 1946, when he reluctantly decided to turn back to acting to sustain himself and appeared as an uncredited valet in Blue Skies with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. In 1947, Brooks appeared as an uncredited Porter in Welcome Stranger.

The 1950s saw the end of Brooks’ film career. In 1951, he appeared in his last movie, portraying Sunga in Bowanga Bowanga. Brooks walked away from show business entirely after that and in March 1969 died of natural causes in Pasadena, California.

Filmography
Wild Women a/k/a Bowanga Bowanga (1951)
Rock Island Trail (1950)
Welcome Stranger (1947)
Blue Skies (1946)
Up Jumped the Devil (1941)
Broken Strings (1940)
Am I Guilty? (1940)
Bad Boy (1939)
Harlem Rides the Range (1939)
The Bronze Buckaroo (1939)
Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938)
Spirit of Youth (1938)
Dark Manhattan (1937)
Murder in Harlem (1935)
Arrowsmith (1931)
Georgia Rose (1930)
Absent (1928)
By Right of Birth (1921)
A Man’s Duty (1919)
The Law of Nature (1917)

Source: TCM Classic Film Union Blog; Hollywood Heritage.  Photo source(s):  Hollywood Heritage, Modern Times.

Sidney P. Dones

(1888-1947)

Sidney P. Dones

Sidney Preston Dones was born in Marshall, Texas in 1888. After graduating from Wiley College in 1905 he moved to Los Angeles. In 1906, Dones moved to El Paso, Texas where he unsuccessfully tried to establish an African-American colony in Mexico.   Returning to California, he began to prosper by buying and selling real estate.  He was also a money lender, an insurance agent, a music dealer, and ultimately, a filmmaker and actor. His primary clientele was African American, but he was also able to win the confidence and respect of whites.

When W.E.B. Du Bois visited Los Angeles in 1913 he trumpeted the “snap and ambition” of the city’s “new blood.”  Dones had the most snap, and was largely responsible for solidifying Black enterprise on Central Avenue. In 1914, he organized the Sidney P. Dones Company and set up shop at 8th and Central, next door to the Black owned newspaper, The California Eagle. Dones’s company dealt mainly in real estate but also offered insurance and legal services, courtesy of the black attorney C.A. Jones.  In 1915 The New Age reported that Dones won the title of Los Angeles’ most popular young businessman and “[He] is enjoying the greatest real estate and insurance business of any race man in the West.”

In early 1916, Dones opened the Booker T. Washington Building at 10th Street and Central Avenue. The Washington Building was a handsome three-story affair, with shops on the sidewalk level and offices and apartments above. The Eagle, called it the “Largest and Best Appointed Edifice on Central Avenue” and added that it was “Procured for Colored Business Men.”

In 1924 Dones along with other prominent African Americans, including Norman O. Houston, Joe and Charlotta Bass, Hattie S. Baldwin, bought 1,000 acres in Santa Clarita Valley, forty miles north of Los Angeles, to build a vacation resort for African Americans. These investors, who called their proposed community Eureka Villa, envisioned a resort area of cabins located on half-acre lots, free from the prejudices and restrictions of the city. The resort featured a community house, tennis courts, baseball fields, hiking trails and a nine-hole golf course. It was an immediate success with buyers from nearby states, and as far away as Chicago and Cleveland. While Eureka Villa was never exclusively African American, they were the predominant owners of the restaurants, inns and stores in the area.

As an actor and director, Dones is known for the films Injustice (1919), Reformation (1920), and The Ten Thousand Dollar Trail (1921). He was married to Lavinia H. Relerford and later to Bessie Williams. Sidney P. Dones died on August 2, 1947 in Los Angeles, California.

Source(s): Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America; Blackpast.org; IMDB. Photo Source: Pragmatic Obots Unite.

In The Depths of Our Hearts

Details:
Year of Release: 1920
Genre:  Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime: Unknown
Black & White
Silent
Studio: Royal Garden Film Company
Producer: Unknown
Director: Unknown

Cast:
Herman DeLavalade
Augusta Williams
Irene Conn
Virgil Williams
Charles Allen

Synopsis
The mother of a light-skinned Black family raises her children to avoid the company of dark-skinned Blacks. The son, who has a dark-skinned sweetheart, rebels, and his mother sends him away to his uncle’s farm. When he is mistreated, he flees to the city. Later the boy returns home, a prosperous man, and meets up with his former love. In the end he manages to show his mother the error of her ways. Source: TCM.

Notes
This film is considered lost.

Reformation

Details
Year of Release: 1920
Genre: Drama
Rating: N/A
Runtime:  Not Available
Black & White
Silent
Studio: The Loyalty Film Company (f/k/a Democracy Film Corporation)
Director: Captain Leslie T. Peacocke

Cast
Sidney P. Dones (Carter Spencer)
Geraldine Steele (Clarice Penlow)

Synopsis
Carter Spencer has a taste for flirtation, gambling and drinking. He falls in love with choir singer, Clarice Penlow, who disapproves of his wild ways. At the onset of prohibition, Clarice urges Carter to become a Secret Service agent to enforce the new law and he complies out of love.

Notes
The Loyalty Film Co, formerly the Democracy Film Co., included both Whites and Blacks in its management and produced films with Black casts. It is unclear whether this film, its second production, was ever completed or released. Source(s): TCM.

Top Five

a/k/a Finally Famous

Top FiveRelease Date:  12/12/14 (In Theaters)
Genre:  Comedy
Rating:  Unknown
Running Time: Unknown
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Chris Rock

Cast: Chris Rock (Andre), Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Cedric The Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Sherri Shepherd, Jerry Seinfeld, Ben Vereen, Anders Holm, Romany Malco.

Story: Tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist forces him to confront the comedy career—and the past—that he’s left behind. Source: Movie Insider; Photo Source: The Guardian.

Trailer:

The Choir Director

Drama in the Church

Release Date: 8/26/16 (TBA)
Genre:  Drama
Rating: NR
Running Time: Unknown
Studio: Urban Books Media
Director: Trey Haley
Cast:  Darrin Dewitt Henson (Aaron Mackie), Christian Keyes (Dante Wilson), Clifton Powell (Bishop T.K. Wilson), Valarie Pettiford (First Lady Charlene Wilson), Denise Boutte (Simone Wilcox), Drew Sidora (Tanisha), Kellita Smith (Anita Emerson), Roger Guenveur Smith (Trustee Jonathan Smith), Rose Wakesho (Aisha), Jaleel White (Deacon James Black), Anna Maria Horsford (Deaconess Moss).

Details:  Part Two of New York Times bestselling author Carl Weber’s “Drama in the Church” trilogy  – The Preacher’s Son, The Choir Director and The First Lady.

Story:  Bishop T.K. Wilson has done all he can to make First Jamaica Ministries a success, but with his last choir director getting caught in a scandal, attendance and cash flow are down. The Bishop is counting on a new choir director to revive the church. Little does he know, this decision may also put his job as the Bishop — as well as his family — in jeopardy. Source: IMDB.  Photo Source:  Facebook.

The Preacher’s Son

Drama in the Church

Release Date:  3/3/17; Netflix
Genre:  Drama
Rating:  NR
Running Time:  110 mins.
Studio: Tri Destined Studios, Urban Books Media
Director: Trey Haley

Cast: Christian Keyes (Dante Wilson), Clifton Powell (Bishop T.K. Wilson), Valarie Pettiford (First Lady Charlene Wilson), Drew Sidora (Tanisha), Vanessa Bell Calloway (Elena), Kellita Smith (Anita Emerson), Jaleel White (James Black), Anthony Montgomery (Reverend Reynolds), James Black (Deacon Emerson).

Details: This film is the first of New York Times bestselling author, Carl Weber’s “Drama in the Church” trilogy – The Preacher’s Son, The Choir Director and The First Lady.

Story:  Bishop T.K. Wilson, his wife and two children are a respectable family in their community. Yet the Wilson kids are fighting temptations and son Dante has thoughts other than taking over his father’s church. Source: IMDB.  Photo Source:  Facebook.

Trailer: