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Gordon Parks was an African-American photographer, filmmaker and author, best known for his work published in LIFE magazine and for directing the hit movie Shaft.
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In 1969, Parks became the first African American to direct a major Hollywood movie, the film adaptation of The Learning Tree. He wrote the screenplay and composed the score for the film.
Parks's next film, Shaft, was one of the biggest box-office hits of 1971. Starring Richard Roundtree as detective John Shaft,
the movie inspired a genre of films known as blaxploitation. Isaac Hayes won an Academy Award for the movie's theme song. Parks also directed a 1972 sequel, Shaft's Big Score. His attempt to deviate from the Shaft series, with the 1976 Leadbelly, was unsuccessful. Following this failure, Parks continued to make films for television, but did not return to Hollywood.
Parks was married and divorced three times. He and Sally Alvis married in 1933, divorcing in 1961. Parks remarried in 1962, to Elizabeth Campbell. The couple divorced in 1973, at which time Parks married Genevieve Young. Young had met Parks in 1962 when she was assigned to be the editor of his book The Learning Tree. They divorced in 1979. Parks was also romantically linked to railroad heiress Gloria Vanderbilt for a period of years.
Parks had four children. His oldest son, filmmaker Gordon Parks Jr., died in a 1979 plane crash in Kenya.
The 93-year-old Gordon Parks died of cancer on March 7, 2006, in New York City. He is buried in his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas. Today, Parks is remembered for his pioneering work in the field of photography, which has been an inspiration to many. The famed photographer once said, "People in millenniums ahead will know what we were like in the 1930's and the thing that, the important major things that shaped our history at that time. This is as important for historic reasons as any other."
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