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Lloyd Richards

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Many dramatic talents have entered the public mindset as one (lesser seen) half of a pair of artists, inextricably associated with another, higher-profiled figure. Tony Adams had Blake Edwards, Stephen Woolley has Neil Jordan, and the highly esteemed African-American theatrical director Lloyd Richards will forever be attached to the stage plays of August Wilson. Richards and Wilson formed an unofficial partnership, without which seminal Tony award-winning Broadway works such as Fences, Seven Guitars, and Two Trains Running might never have been fully realized. Born on June 29, 1919, in the bustling metropolis of Toronto to a Jamaican father who propagated the teachings of Marcus Garvey, Richards encountered a difficult childhood. Soon after Lloyd's family moved to Detroit, pursuing job opportunities in the auto industry, his father died of diphtheria and his mother went blind -- which forced young Lloyd and his brother to shine shoes to make ends meet. He entered Wayne State University in the late '30s, but gravitated naturally toward theater after learning about Shakespeare in a drama class. Richards later moved to Manhattan, where he stayed at the local YMCA, waited tables, and acted in off-Broadway productions; there, he met his future wife, dancer Barbara Davenport, and befriended then-unknown thesp Sidney Poitier, who later brought Richards in to direct the stage version of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Poitier. As an African-American play by Lorraine Hansberry (later a film by Daniel Petrie), Raisin permanently altered the cultural landscape of Broadway and broke untold numbers of barriers for black actors, directors, and playwrights; its effect cannot be overestimated. According to a New York Times obit, James Baldwin wrote of Raisin: "'Never before, in the entire history of the American theater, has so much of the truth of black people's lives been seen on the stage.'" That production also permanently carved a directorial niche for Richards; its success brought him non-racially oriented assignments on Broadway in the early '60s that, ten years prior, would have been unheard of for an up-and-coming African-American director. These included 1964's Buddy Hackett musical I Had a Ball and 1965's The Yearling. The projects continued, and in 1979, Richards replaced Robert Brustein as dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theater. The then 62-year-old director discovered blossoming young playwright August Wilson in 1981, on the basis of his work Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Wilson became one of Richards' protégés and understudies. Working together, the pair took six of Wilson's plays to Broadway, including Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, and Fences. The latter won the Best Director Tony Award for Richards in 1987. They ended their partnership in 1996. Richards helped shepherd a number of other bristling talents into the limelight during his career, including David Henry Hwang and Christopher Durang. He died of heart failure in Manhattan on June 29, 2006 -- his 87th birthday. Though Richards' key accomplishments lay in the theatrical arena, he also made several contributions to film. These include directing a 1974 telemovie, The Book of Murder, for the ABC Wide World of Mystery, helming Roots: The Next Generations in 1979, and filming several Broadway productions for television, including the James Earl Jones-starrer Paul Robeson (1977) and August Wilson's The Piano Lesson in 1995.

Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT BOX OFFICE YEAR
No Score Yet The Piano Lesson
  • Director
1995
No Score Yet Masters of American Music
  • Actor
1993

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