August 05, 2015

#SUTS - Rex Ingram

TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 11 features the films of the actor Rex Ingram beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.


Rex Clifford Ingram (October 20, 1895 – September 19, 1969) was an American stage, film, and television actor.

He was born on a houseboat on the Mississippi River near Cairo, Illinois, when his mother, who was on her way home from a visit with relatives in Natchez, Mississippi, went into labor.

The son of a riverboat fireman, Ingram is said to have grown up working with his father on the steamer Robert E. Lee. He enrolled in Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1912. He graduated from the Northwestern University Medical School in 1919 and was the first African-American man to receive a Phi Beta Kappa key from the university.

After earning his degree, he took a trip to California for some rest; while standing on a street corner in Los Angeles, 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.  While he was in Hollywood, Ingram worked a number of jobs between films in order to support himself. According to Ebony magazine, he claimed to have been called "the greatest Negro heavyweight prospect since Jack Johnson" when he fought professionally in California in 1921.

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. In 1929, he made his stage debut on Broadway in Lulu Belle, and he played in Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Other shows in which he performed were Goin' Home, Stevedore, Marching Song, and Once in a Lifetime. 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).

Ingram's big break came when he appeared in the 1936 film The Green Pastures, for which he received acclaim for his multifaceted ability to portray the characters De Lawd, Adam, and Hezdrel.

His role as De Lawd turned him into the most prominent black leading man in Hollywood. He promised himself not to accept any more roles that were demeaning to blacks. He recognized the powerful influence of the entertainment media and wanted to help rather than retard the process of black freedom and acceptance in America. Unfortunately, there were no roles available in Hollywood for strong, powerful, black leading men. The best offer he got was to do a theatrical revival of The Green Pastures, in which he refused to take part. So he left acting, returned to medicine, and planned to go into research. A year later, Ingram was bankrupt. Faced with the need to support his family, he returned to acting, working in stock before heading back to New York and the Broadway stage for productions of The Emperor Jones and the WPA Theater production of Haiti.

In 1939, Ingram was offered a role in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as the character Jim. Despite its racially stereotypical tone, Ingram accepted the role and by the early 1940s, studios were aggressively pursuing him regularly. Ingram became known for his portrayal of powerful, dignified, dominant characters, in films such as The Thief of Bagdad (1940) where he won critical acclaim for his role of the heroic Genie of the Lamp.  Ingram turned the fantasy part of the Genie into a compelling monologue on freedom that resonated far beyond the boundaries of the movie. He also appeared in Talk of the Town (1942), Cabin in the Sky (1943), Sahara (1943),  Dark Waters (1944), A Thousand and One Nights (1948), and Moonrise (1948).

In 1946, Ingram worked in an all-black Broadway stage production of Lysistrata.  It had particular resonance after a war in which many African Americans had served their nation in the armed forces, but had to deal with a segregated army and few opportunities for officers' commissions. In addition, veterans returned to legal segregation and near disfranchisement in the South, as well as more subtle but definite de facto segregation in many northern cities.

Ingram was arrested for violating the Mann Act in April 1949. Pleading guilty to the charge of transporting a 15-year-old girl from Salina, Kansas to New York for immoral purposes, he was sentenced to eighteen months in jail. He served just ten months of his sentence, but the incident had a serious impact on his career for the next six years.

The way back was not easy, and Ingram never again achieved the stardom he lost. However, he did manage to find work, playing an African chief in the television series Ramar of the Jungle (1952) and, in 1955, he did The Emperor Jones on the small screen as part of Kraft Television Theatre. He returned to movies that same year in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle, the kind of film in which he'd started in 1918. There were some good roles in better productions such as God's Little Acre (1958, Anna Lucasta (1959), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Your Cheatin' Heart (1964).

In 1957, he appeared on Broadway in the all-black production of Waiting for Godot. He appeared in the television shows Playhouse 90Daktari, I Spy, and Gunsmoke. His last role was on The Bill Cosby Show.

He had a heart attack and died at his home in Hollywood on September 19, 1969, at the age of 73, leaving behind his second wife, Dena, daughter Gloria Wagner, and two grandsons.

Ingram's amazing talent, good looks, 6' 2" height, substantial 220-pound build, and powerful voice were definite assets which were badly underutilized because of his race. That's so sad and such a waste.


Ingram smoked a pipe and made a hobby of collecting them; he owned nearly 500 pipes.

Not to be confused with the director Rex Ingram.

The first black actor hired as a regular cast member on an American soap opera when he was cast in The Brighter Day in 1962. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled about a month after his first air date.

Played God in one movie, The Green Pastures, and the devil in another, Cabin in the Sky.

Lena Horne and Rex Ingram were brought onto the Screen Actors Guild Board in 1944.

1945: TV-talk at Screen Actors Guild annual meeting. Rex Ingram, John Garfield and Walter Abel.

Moonrise (1948)

I just finished TCM's film noir course and don't want #NoirSummer to end, so I'm going write a bit about a noir Rex Ingram appeared in, 1948's Moonrise.

Moonrise is a 1948 American black-and-white film noir produced by Marshall Grant Pictures, Chas. K. Feldman Group and Republic Pictures. It was directed by Frank Borzage and produced by Charles Haas with music by William Lava and cinematography by John L. Russell. The screenplay by Charles Haas was based on the 1946 novel of the same name by Theodore Strauss. It starred Dane Clark as Danny Hawkins, Gail Russell as Gilly Johnson, Ethel Barrymore as Grandma, Allyn Joslyn as Clem Otis, Rex Ingram as Mose Johnson, Harry Morgan as Billy Scripture, Lloyd Bridges as Jerry Sykes, Harry Carey, Jr. as Jimmy Biff, and Irving Bacon as Judd Jenkins.

Herbert J. Yates, head of Republic Pictures, recognized that viewers tastes had changed post World War II and he needed to change, too. The market for B-Westerns, action films, and comedies was waning. Yates decided to mount some A-cost productions. He hired the talented Frank Borzage to direct and Moonrise was the most expensive movie made by Republic up to that time. John L. Russell's black-and-white cinematography is fine as is Harry Keller's editing. The movie has an extraordinary opening montage.  As some critics have pointed out, the film's formal, experimental blend of neo-Expressionism and rural lyricism anticipates Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, but unlike Laughton's film, Moonrise strangely retains Borzage's sense of romanticism and transcendence. Composer William Lava, known for his work in the action genre, rose to the occasion here, delivering an inspired score more often associated with Max Steiner.

Rex Ingram's strong performance as Mose Johnson transcends stereotype; though all-wise, he is also a lonely, somewhat embittered character, who says he has "resigned from the human race," and who addresses his hunting dogs as "Mister," because, "There's not enough dignity in the world."

"A Blues Story" Scene from Moonrise

Moonrise (1948) - Entire Film

Let My People Live (1938)

I found this short film starring Rex Ingram at the Internet Archive. I found it interesting and thought you might, too.

This film courtesy of The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

DIRECTOR: Edgar Ulmer. SPONSOR: The National Tuberculosis Association. PRODUCTION: Motion Picture Service Corporation. CAMERA: William Miller. EDITOR: SOUND: Nelson Minnerly. DRAMATIC ASSISTANTS: S.E. Walker, Edward Lawson. CAST: Rex Ingram, Peggy Howard, Merritt Smith, Erostine Coles, Christine Johnson. Jackson Burnside. Choir - William L. Dawson

Aimed at African Americans and shot at Tuskegee University, this film instructs viewers in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis by focusing on a pair of sympathetic siblings, George and Mary, whose lives are altered by the disease. Starring Rex Ingram as Dr. Gordon, the film suggests that organized religion is an important defensive location in this particular community, and warns of the dangers of the previous generation's superstitions and its fear of medicine. The Health Department prominently featured the film at the 1939 World's Fair. Directed by Edgar Ulmer.

Films Featuring Rex Ingram During TCM's Summer Under the Stars Salute August 11, 2015

Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955) - D: Harold Schuster. Gordon Scott, Vera Miles, Peter Van Eyck, Jack Elam, Rex Ingram. Scott's debut as Tarzan is a competent, if unexciting, outing focusing on his battle with evil hunter Elam who tries to butcher half the animal kingdom.

Watusi (1959) - D: Kurt Neumann. George Montgomery, Taina Elg, David Farrar, Rex Ingram, Dan Seymour. MGM fabricated a sequel to King Solomon's Mines to utilize leftover footage from its 1950 version of H. Rider Haggard yarn.

Escort West (1959) - D: Francis D. Lyon. Victor Mature, Elaine Stewart, Faith Domergue, Reba Waters, Noah Beery, Leo Gordon, Rex Ingram. Fairly good Western with Confederate soldier and 10-year- old daughter heading West, encountering two women who survived renegade attack and saved Army payroll. CinemaScope.

Talk of the Town, The (1942) - D: George Stevens. Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, Cary Grant, Glenda Farrell, Edgar Buchanan, Charles Dingle, Rex Ingram, Emma Dunn, Tom Tyler, Lloyd Bridges. Intelligent comedy with brilliant cast; fugitive Grant hides out with unsuspecting professor Colman and landlady Arthur, and tries to convince legal-minded Colman there's a human side to all laws. Splendid film written by Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman.

God's Little Acre (1958) - D: Anthony Mann. Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, Aldo Ray, Buddy Hackett, Jack Lord, Fay Spain, Michael Landon, Vic Morrow, Rex Ingram. Picaresque Americana from Erskine Caldwell's best-selling book about a lusty, eccentric Georgia family. Amusing, passionate, and highly charged; quite sexy for its time. Some censored moments were restored years after its original release. Wonderful score by Elmer Bernstein.

Thousand and One Nights, A (1945) - D: Alfred E. Green. Cornel Wilde, Evelyn Keyes, Phil Silvers, Adele Jergens, Dusty Anderson, Dennis Hoey, Rex Ingram. Wilde is a genial, singing Aladdin in this slice of Technicolor escapism, with Silvers as his very contemporary sidekick. Keyes is fun as the impish genie who emerges from a magic lamp. Ingram (who played the genie in The Thief Of Bagdad) has a throwaway role here as a giant. Look fast for Shelley Winters.

Rex Ingram as Djinn (Genie) in the 1940's The Thief of Bagdad

Thief of Bagdad, The (1940) - D: Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan, Michael Powell. Sabu, John Justin, June Duprez, Conrad Veidt, Rex Ingram, Miles Malleson, Mary Morris. Remarkable fantasy of native boy Sabu outdoing evil magician Veidt in Arabian Nights fable with incredible Oscar-winning Technicolor photography by Georges Perinal and Osmond Borradaile, special effects, and art direction. Ingram gives splendid performance as a genie; vivid score by Miklos Rozsa.

Rex Ingram as Djinn (Genie) comes out of his bottle in this clip which also features Sabu. Larry Butler invented the first proper chroma key process for the special effects scenes in this film, a variation on the existing traveling matte process. Rex Ingram performed his role in front of a blue screen.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The (1939) - D: Richard Thorpe. Mickey Rooney, Walter Connolly, William Frawley, Rex Ingram, Lynne Carver. Subdued Rooney fine, Ingram excellent as Huck and Jim in classic Mark Twain tale of early 19th-century America; Connolly and Frawley are amusing as riverboat con-artists. Also shown in computer-colored version.

Green Pastures, The (1936) - D: William Keighley, Marc Connelly. Rex Ingram, Oscar Polk, Eddie Anderson, Frank Wilson, George Reed, Abraham Gleaves, Myrtle Anderson. All-black cast in Marc Connelly fable of life in heaven, and biblical stories which give more meaning to Adam, Noah, and Moses than many so-called biblical films. Ingram is fine as "De Lawd."

Shocking Trailer for The Green Pastures (1936)

Check out how Hollywood (Warner Brothers) promoted a movie with an all-black cast in 1936 without ever showing an African American face or naming the stars of the movie. The trailer for this film is shameful but very much a sign of its time.

Cabin in the Sky (1943) - D: Vincente Minnelli. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, Rex Ingram, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, the Hall Johnson Choir. Stellar black cast in winning (if somewhat racist) musical fable about forces of good and evil vying for the soul of Little Joe (Anderson). John Bubbles' dancing, Waters singing "Happiness is a Thing Called Joe" (written for the film) among musical highlights. First feature for Minnelli (who, with Waters and Ingram, came from the Broadway production).

Sahara (1943) - D: Zoltan Korda. Humphrey Bogart, Bruce Bennett, J. Carrol Naish, Lloyd Bridges, Rex Ingram, Richard Nugent, Dan Duryea, Kurt Kreuger. Excellent actioner of British-American unit stranded in Sahara desert in the path of Nazi infantry; Bogie's the sergeant, with fine support by Naish and Ingram. Based on the 1937 Russian film The Thirteen (and reminiscent of The Lost Patrol); also made as Nine Men and Last of the Comanches; imitated many other times. Remade for cable-TV in 1995 with James Belushi.

Anna Lucasta (1958) - D: Arnold Laven. Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis, Jr, Frederick O'Neal, Henry Scott, Rex Ingram. Tepid remake of Philip Yordan's play about a prostitute who tries to leave her past behind. Kitt doesn't so much act as pose, but Ingram is excellent as her father.

Your Cheatin' Heart (1964) - D: Gene Nelson. George Hamilton, Susan Oliver, Red Buttons, Rex Ingram. Legendary country-western singer Hank Williams uses alcohol to deal with the pressures of fame.

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