William Marshall was born in 1924. He made his stage debut in 1944 and began his film career in 1952. Marshall made his permanent mark on cinema history in 1972, when he took on the lead role in Blacula, the first blaxploitation horror film. He died in 2003.
Actor William Marshall was born on August 19, 1924, in Gary, Indiana. He graduated from Governors State University and attended New York University, where he studied art. He later trained for the theater at the Actors Studio, the American Theatre Wing and the Neighborhood Playhouse, making his Broadway debut in 1944 in Carmen Jones.
On the Stage
On both American and European stages, William Marshall took on many Shakespearean roles, including the lead in at least six productions of Othello. The London Sunday Times called Marshall's Othello "the best Othello of our time," outdoing his contemporaries on a range of criteria. He also memorably portrayed Frederick Douglass on stage and spent a considerable amount of time researching Douglass's life in preparation for the role.
Big Screen and TV
Marshall's career on the big screen began in 1952 with a role in Lydia Bailey (1952). Soon thereafter, however, his career was almost ruined when his association with blacklisted actor Paul Robeson cast suspicion on him as well. Thankfully, Marshall was spared any lasting ban, and he followed with a prominent role as Glycon, a fellow gladiator fighting alongside Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954). His general demeanor, deep baritone voice and impressive physical stature gave him a wide range: He played everyone from Attorney General Edward Brooke in The Boston Strangler (1968) and a leader of the Mau-Mau uprising in Something of Value (1957) to various roles on Star Trek (1968), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964/1967) and The Wild Wild West (1968). He also was featured in "The Jar" (1964), an episode of the The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and on the British spy series Danger Man (1962).
William Marshall received his most widespread and lasting fame for his role in the 1972 vampire film Blacula and its sequel, Scream, Blacula, Scream! in which he played the first black vampire to appear in film. Blacula received mixed reviews but was a top box-office draw that year. Its status as a touchstone of both blaxploitation and blaxploitation horror films, however, cannot be overstated, as it was both influential and memorable.
In the 1980s, Marshall played the King of Cartoons on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and his catchphrase "Let . . . the cartoooon . . . begin!" became hugely popular. Marshall also taught acting at various universities and did similar work at Chicago's ETA Creative Arts Foundation, which named him one of its Epic Men of the 20th Century in 1992. Marshall died June 11, 2003, in Los Angeles from complications arising from Alzheimer's disease and diabetes.
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