Summer Madness | Godfrey Cambridge

 

In honor of TCM and their “Summer Under the Stars” series, we launch our companion series, Summer Madness. The series will spotlight the achievements and films of one Black actor, daily throughout the month of August.

Day 25

Godfrey MacArthur Cambridge (February 26, 1933 – November 29, 1976) was an American stand-up comic and actor. Alongside Bill Cosby, Dick Gregory, and Nipsey Russell, he was acclaimed by Time magazine in 1965 as “one of the country’s four most celebrated Negro comedians.”

While pursuing an acting career, Cambridge supported himself with a variety of jobs. His first role was as a bartender in the off-Broadway play Take a Giant Step. He made his Broadway debut in the original production of Herman Wouk’s 1957 play Nature’s Way. Cambridge received a 1962 Tony Award nomination as part of the original cast of Purlie Victorious, a play written by and starring Ossie Davis; he was featured in an opening-night cast that also included Ruby Dee, Alan Alda, Sorrell Booke, Roger C. Carmel, Helen Martin, and Beah Richards.

Godfrey’s memorable film roles include The President’s Analyst (1967), where he plays a depressed government agent, and Watermelon Man (1970), in which he played the lead character, a white bigot who one day wakes up and discovers his skin color has turned black. He also had a starring role in the 1970 Ossie Davis adaptation of the Chester Himes novel Cotton Comes to Harlem, as well as its 1972 sequel, Come Back, Charleston Blue. Cambridge made an impressive cameo appearance in director Sidney Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman (1968) as a Yiddish-speaking NYC cab driver involved in a car collision with the main protagonists, and another as a gay underworld figure in the 1975 Pam Grier vehicle Friday Foster. His other film appearances included roles in The Busy Body (1967), The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), The Biscuit Eater (1972), Beware! The Blob (1972), and Whiffs (1975).

He hosted, financed, and produced Dead is Dead (1970), a drug-awareness film. It gave an uncensored look at the downside of drug-use, showing actual drug users injecting drugs and going through withdrawal.

He later appeared in Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show, giving a performance that earned him an Obie Award in 1961.Four years later he did a stock version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Cambridge died of a heart attack at the age of 43 while on the Burbank, California, set of the ABC television movie Victory at Entebbe, in which he was to portray Idi Amin. Amin commented that Cambridge’s death was “punishment from God.”

Recommended films:
Gone Are the Days (’63)
The President’s Analyst (’67)
Watermelon Man (’70)
Cotton Comes to Harlem (’70)
Come Back, Charleston Blue (’72)

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