William Marshall, an actor of stage, screen and television who played a wide variety of roles, from “Othello” in the Shakespearean play to “Blacula” in the camp movie classic, and who appeared in such popular television series as “Star Trek” in the 1960s and “The Jeffersons” in the 1980s, has died.
Marshall was born in Gary, Ind., and studied acting at the Actors Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City after spending several years as an art student at New York University. From the start of his acting career, he combined his love of theater with his commitment to promoting African American heritage.
He played Othello, the Moorish king in Shakespeare’s tragedy, in Europe and the U.S. During one London production, he was hailed as “the best Othello of our time” by the London Sunday Times. Later in his career, he turned to another character, this one quite a different type. He played the lead in the 1972 movie “Blacula” and appeared in a sequel, “Scream, Blacula, Scream!” in 1973. Even as the unconventional count, Marshall brought dignity to the role. Originally the character was conceived as bumbling and dimwitted. “I had no wish to be part of that exploitation,” Marshall told The Times in 1991. Marshall saw the potential for a dignified variation on the original Count Dracula, the tormented Eastern European royal in Bram Stoker’s 19th century novel. The movie producers re-imagined their “Blacula” and made him an African prince touring Europe. Marshall then agreed to play the part.
His more serious movie appearances included supporting roles in “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954) with Victor Mature and Susan Hayward; and “Something of Value,” (1957) starring Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier. He appeared in several dozen films overall. While he received steady recognition for bringing black history and heritage to the stage and to television, Marshall won two local Emmy awards in 1974 for “As Adam Early in the Morning,” based on works by Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Richard Wright and Billy Strayhorn. He won for his work as the producer and actor in the one-man show about life as a journey.
Aw, crap, was he the King of Cartoons? Damn, I didn’t even recognize him! That show had some real talent (also Larry “Cowboy Curtis” Fishburne, Phil Hartman, Shirley Stoler, S. Epatha Merkerson . . .).
I’ll never forget watching Blacula late one night. When Charles MaCaulay as Dracula curses Prince Manuwalde dramatically with, " . . . and you shall be known as . . . BLACULA!" and that was only the first time I fell off my sofa during the movie.
I loved Ketty Lester as the female cabbie who gets bitten: she had his wonderful “uh oh, dis ain’t good” look on her face. Not only chewed up her costars, but the scenery as well.
I always think that scene on The Simpsons where Homer is watching TV and hear the announcer say something like: “We now return Blacula, followed by Blackenstein, and the Blunch Black of Blotre Blaine!”
Revtim is correct. The Simpsons Archives has the text, but I can’t remember the episode name in order to get the exact cite.
Just as an aside, eve have you considered writinga biography of Boris Karloff? I’ve been looking and there isn’t a decently researched bio of him available. But, then nobody has your wit, style, and outstanding scholarly rigor.
Total hijack, but as far as show-biz bios I think a book about HOGAN’S HEROES would be cool, especially considering how many of them really were persecuted by the Nazis (e.g. John “Sgt. Schulz” Banner was one of the handsomest men on the German stage prior to having to wear the Judenstern, and Leon “General Burkhalter” Askin’s* parents were blind intellectuals sent to Theresienstadt before being gassed at Auschwitz) and the revelations about Bob Crane.
*Askin is one of the last living stars of the 1930s German cabaret scene and the film world of Fritz Lang. After a successful career playing Nazis and Russians, working with everybody from Billy Wilder to Gary Coleman, he returned to his native Vienna, founded a home for aged Jewish actors (guarded by an Uzi toting guard), played King Lear at 90 and in a wheelchair, and continues to act. Now 96, he’s a newlywed and has his own web site.