The second great voice silenced today: Roscoe Lee Browne (1925-2007)


I loved this guy’s voice. For those who don’t know the name, he narrated Babe* and pics are on his wiki. Ah, to lose a favorite author and a favorite character actor all in one day- as Brown would say beautifully I’m sure if he read it on a CD book, “So it goes”.

RLB was up there with Gielgud, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, and Anthony Hopkins in the guys who could read a Waffle House menu and make it sound like poetry. I chose that obit because it mentions my two favorites of his performances: the stuffy guy who puts down Archie in a stalled elevator (but shares his bigotry towards Hispanics) in All in the Family (“I hand out more in tips than you pay in taxes!”) and the “too well spoken” cook in The Cowboys.

And who knew this? “Browne set a world record for the 800 meter run in Paris in 1951 and for the 880 meter run the following year at the Millrose Games”. (Don’t know what the Millrose Games are, but the point is, Browne could run.)

“He had a 30 year stage partnership with Anthony Zerbe”. Zerbe’s another favorite character actor. I’ve no idea if Browne was gay or not (he played a gay character several times, including a bitchy bookstore owner Will & Grace, but then he was an actor and I’m pretty sure he didn’t really cook for ranchhands or work as a butler in real life) so I’m not sure if that’s a euphemism for lifepartnership or not.

According to one source (and Ray is usually reliable), he was.

But as an actor, he was always an imposing presence and great voice. Sorry to hear he died.

He was great in The Cowboys.

He also played Saunders, the Tates’ butler on Soap, taking over when Robert Guillaime got his own show as Benson.

He won an Emmy from one of his appearances on The Cosby Show. I’m not sure if it’s the one where he wins at Pinochle against Cliff’s father (which was on Nick the other night) or the one where he recites tracts from Julius Cæsar with other special-guest-star Christopher Plummer.

Reading his obituaries makes him sound like a really cool guy. He apparently had hundreds and hundreds of poems he could recite from memory, was athletic, collected art, gourmet chef, and by all accounts a super nice old dude.

I love this item: "When he was accused by some African-American critics of not sounding ‘black enough’, Browne responded “I’m sorry. We had a white maid when I was a kid and it just rubbed off.”

I, too, remember fondly his role in the “Elevator” episode of All in the Family :

RLB: “Do you have a newspaper?”
Archie: “Yeah…I got the Daily News .”
RLB: “That figures!”

But my fondest memory was his stellar performance in The Liberation of L.B. Jones. Truly one of the most gifted actors of any race or color.

And I was not aware that he was the voice of The Kingpin in the 1990’s “Spider-Man” animated series.

He will be greatly missed.

Box died?!?


He was also on an earlier episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY. Archie had to have a procedure and shares a room with RLB who plays Jacques, a Frenchman who (because of a curtain between them) Archie has no idea is black and comes to really like. The look on his face when he sees Jacques is one of Carroll O’Connor’s best moments on the show.

He also had a series I vaguely remember from the 70s or 80s (I could imdb it but won’t) that had one of those Sidney Shorr identity crises. He’s a fussbudget bachelor who lives next door to a young white unwed mother (a big deal at the time) who’s his total opposite (unrefined, young, etc.) and they strike a friendship that drives the show (not very far) and in one or two episodes pose as husband and wife, the interracial aspect and the unwed mother aspect being controversial at the time even though today his character would probably be gay.

I loved a line he had as the bitchy owner of a gay bookstore in WILL & GRACE. I’m paraphrasing but it was to the effect of “This store is the history of gay relationships. I opened it in the 50s with my “roommate” who by the 60s was my “companion” then became my “lover” in the 70s and my “significant other” in the 80s and my lifepartner in the 90s until finally now he’s at last my dead husband.” For some reason in his voice it was particularly funny.

Then allow me, my friend: Miss Winslow and Son

Oh no! I loved him as the “strip club philosopher” in The Pompatus of Love.

The first thing I ever remember him from was the “elevator scene” in the aforementioned “All in the Family.” Little did I know at the time that I had seen him two years earlier as Frederick Douglass in the John Wayne TV special Swing Out, Sweet Land.

Great actor. He was a mentor to Laurence Fishburne.

Sad, indeed. A very accomplished , and elegant, actor, of resonant voice. For those who don’t recognize him by name, the photo will jangle the memory.

RIP. Thanks, Sampiro, for noting his athletic accomplishment, as well. I didn’t know that about him.

One of my mostest favorite movie quotes is from The Cowboys when Bruce Dern has his head in a noose and lets him make his peace:

That and the scene at the beginning where he arrives in bunkhouse. After the kids assure themselves, “See? He’s just like us.” he laughs and lays a tale on them about his mother and father ending with, “Well, if it isn’t true, it ought to be.”

It’s all here-- Ready! Fresh as harvest day!