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Whipper, Leigh (1877–1975)

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WHIPPER, LEIGH (1877–1975). Actor. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and earned his LLB degree in 1895 from the Howard University Law School. He began his theatrical career in 1899 with the Philadelphia Standard Theater stock company and became the first African American member of Actors Equity Association in 1920. He formed Renaissance Company in 1922 to produce all-black newsreels. Whipper appeared on the Broadway stage in Talk of the Town, The Squaw Man , and Porgy . He also wrote many plays, including “De Board Meeting” and Runnin’ de Town . His early films include Of Mice and Men , 1939, with Lon Chaney, and The Ox-Bow Incident , 1943, with Henry Fonda, in which he plays a Negro preacher who pleads with a lynch mob about to hang three men for murder despite their innocence. Whipper brought compassion and intelligence to the roles he played and refused to accept roles that he felt were racist or insulting to black people, which eventually resulted in professional suicide.

Filmography: Of Mice and Men , 1939; Virginia , 1941; King of the Zombies , 1941; White Cargo , 1942; Bahama Passage , 1942; The Ox-Bow Incident , 1943; The Negro Sailor , 1943; Untamed Fury , 1947; Lost Boundaries , 1949; The Harder They Fall , 1956; The Young Don’t Cry , 1957; Marjorie Morningstar , 1958.

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