STAGE & SCREEN
Top: Kenneth Spencer sings 'Ol' Man River' in the Broadway revival of Jerome Kern's "Showboat," at the Ziegfeld Theater, in New York City, January 1946.
Spencer had previously performed in "Showboat" in 1933 with the Belasco, Curran and Lang Production in Los Angeles, first at the Curran Theater, then at the Mayan Theater. And then in 1938, with the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company. Spencer starred in the Broadway production of "Showboat' for an entire year, performing eight shows weekly. While at Ziegfeld, he helped organize the chorus and the stage workers into unions, and helped them understand more about union work.
Above: Unmarked photograph in Kenneth Spencer's scrapbook, believed to be from the set of "Hearts of Dixie,"1929.
Spencer earned money for his musical training while in high school appearing in bit parts in several pictures, notably "Hearts of Dixie" (Fox T Studios about 1929), and "The Mississippi Gambler." The stereotype of the African American as ragged, shiftless, and happy, disturbed Kenneth even as an adolescent. Moved by this experience, he became determined to eliminate the stereotypes from the various public communications outlets, as well as from the minds of his public everywhere.
Kenneth Spencer had two roles in "Cabin In The Sky," in 1943; as the General, top, and Reverend Green, below. Cabin in the Sky was the first all-African American musical in nearly fourteen years, and was Vincente Minelli's first feature film. The black-and-white film was reprocessed and released with a sepia tint which created a soft, velvety patina more flattering to the actors' skin tones, and gave the film a more magical aura.
Kenneth Spencer, left, plays Wesley Eeps in "Bataan," 1943. Bataan, which was the first war film to take place entirely on the battlefield, comprised a diverse cast of characters that inspired unity and support for the war, and became the model for movies about WWII. As Eeps, Spencer was an engineer and a comrade, and was to have one of the first roles in a major American motion picture in which an African American was portrayed on the same level as the other characters in the film.
Kenneth Spencer in the French film "Les Joyeux Pelerins," (The Pilgrim's Jewels) 1951
Kenneth Spencer in the German film "Mein Bruder Josua," (My Brother Joshua) 1956
Kenneth Spencer in the play "Emperor Jones," filmed for BBC television, 1958. As the lead role in in Eugen'e O'Neil's classic, performed in England, Spencer occupied the television screen for 60 minutes of the 75 minute broadcast. This was followed by a German production of the same play, which was shown in 1961 in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
Kenneth Spencer as Sarastro in Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Ghent, Belgium, 1953. Spencer's favorite opera role was that of Sarastro, which he was able to perform in four languages.
Kenneth Spencer in the German film "An Jedem Finger Zehn," (Ten on Each Finger) 1959, right: Spencer in the French film "Les Joyeaux Pelerins," 1951.
Kenneth Spencer in the German film "Gruß und Kuß vom Tegernsee" (Greetings and Kiss from Tegernsee), 1957, released in 1964 in the United States.
Kenneth Spencer in the German film "Unser Haus in Camerun" (Our House in Cameroon), 1961
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