Rex Ingram - Rotten Tomatoes

Rex Ingram

Highest Rated:   100% Moonrise (1948)
Lowest Rated:   29% Hurry Sundown (1967)
Birthplace:   Not Available
The African-American actor Rex Ingram -- not to be confused with the Irish-born director of the same name from the silent era -- was, for a time, the most prominent black dramatic performer in Hollywood and second only to Paul Robeson in recognition among all black actors. And like Robeson, Ingram also had a difficult time finding enough serious roles to keep himself employed and maintain a viable career. The son of a steamer fireman on the riverboat Robert E. Lee, Rex Ingram was literally born on the Mississippi River, somewhere between Natchez, MS, and Cairo, IL, where his mother resided. He spent a big part of his youth working with his father on riverboats until he entered Northwestern University and, later, medical school. After earning his degree, he took a trip to California for some rest; while standing on a street corner in L.A., he was spotted by a casting director and offered ten dollars per day to appear in a movie. He ended up playing an African tribesman in the first of the Tarzan movies (starring Elmo Lincoln), Tarzan of the Apes (1918). Ingram subsequently got a succession of the typical roles available to black actors in the silent era: butlers, porters, and native Africans. He was busier than most of his colleagues because of his startlingly good looks, his 6' 2" height, and substantial 220-pound build. The money was good and living in California agreed with him, even if the parts didn't, and he turned up in the silent The King of Kings and The Ten Commandments, as well as such early-'30s epics as Sign of the Cross. Lacking any formal acting training and having entered movies from literally right off the street, Ingram never considered working on the stage until someone suggested it. With help from English actor Alan Mowbray, he got readings and auditions and began studying everything he could find about the theater. He was cast in David Belasco's L.A. production of Lulu Belle in 1928 and proved a quick study and a superb performer. From there, he moved on to occasional roles in short-lived shows, the most notable of which was his portrayal of Crown in the drama Porgy. When there was no work in theater, he returned to movies, but the stage became his preference. A succession of theatrical roles followed, including the major part of Blacksnake Johnson in the Theatre Union's New York production of the topical play Stevedore and the title role at Suffern in Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones -- a part immortalized onscreen by Robeson. Both performances raised his stature and the latter became the favorite of all Ingram's roles. He also broke some ground on the sociological and racial front, portraying the Prince of Morocco in a production of The Merchant of Venice that starred Estelle Winwood at the University of Illinois. In addition, he wrote and produced a play, Drums of the Bayou (which closed before reaching New York). His breakthrough came with the film version of Marc Connelly's play The Green Pastures. Ingram was initially cast as Adam, but stage manager Claude Archer suggested that Warner Bros. test Ingram for the role of De Lawd, pointing out that makeup could compensate for his being two decades too young for the part. But he slipped into it so convincingly, with his forceful, articulate presence and dignified, yet unpretentious, bearing, that he was cast in the role immediately. Ingram's performance as De Lawd in The Green Pastures film was the defining moment of his movie career and turned him into the most prominent black leading man in Hollywood -- not that there was much competition. Paul Robeson, who had emerged to stardom in the 1920s in Showboat and had done The Emperor Jones on film, was living in England at the time, making films there because there were simply no vehicles or roles available in Hollywood for strong, powerful, black leading men. Alas, Ingram encountered the same problem after playing De Lawd; there were few movie roles from the major studios suitable to an actor of such statu

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Quotes from Rex Ingram's Characters