Summer Madness | Juano Hernández

Juano Hernandez
Juano Hernandez

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 21

Juano Hernández (July 19, 1896 – July 17, 1970) was an Afro-Puerto Rican stage and film actor who was a pioneer in the African American film industry. He made his silent debut in The Life of General Villa and talking picture debut in an Oscar Micheaux film, The Girl from Chicago, which was directed at black audiences. Hernández also performed in a series of dramatic roles in mainstream Hollywood movies. His participation in the film, Intruder in the Dust (1949) earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for “New Star of the Year.” Later in life, he returned to Puerto Rico, where he intended to make a film based on the life of Sixto Escobar.

Hernández appeared in 26 films throughout his career. In 1949, he acted in his first mainstream film, based on William Faulkner’s novel, Intruder in the Dust, in which he played the role of Lucas Beauchamp, a poor Mississippi farmer unjustly accused of the murder of a white man. The film earned him a Golden Globe nomination for “New Star of the Year”. The film was listed as one of the ten best of the year by the New York Times. Faulkner said of the film: “I’m not much of a moviegoer, but I did see that one. I thought it was a fine job. That Juano Hernández is a fine actor–and man, too.”

In the 1950 western, Stars In My Crown, directed by Jacques Tourneur, starring Joel McCrea, Hernández plays a freed slave who refuses to sell his land and faces an angry lynch mob. He was singled out for praise for his performance in the 1950 film, The Breaking Point with John Garfield. The New York Times called his performance “quietly magnificent.”

He also received favorable notices for his performances in Trial (1955), about a politically charged court case, in which he played the judge, and Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1965).

More than 50 years after its initial release, in 2001, film historian Donald Bogle wrote that Intruder in the Dust broke new ground in the cinematic portrayal of blacks, and Hernández’s “performance and extraordinary presence still rank above that of almost any other black actor to appear in an American movie.

Hernández returned to Puerto Rico late in his life. Together with Julio Torregrosa, he wrote a script for a movie about the life of Puerto Rico’s first boxing champion, Sixto Escobar. He was unable to get funding in Puerto Rico and therefore he translated the script into English. He sent it to several companies in Hollywood and had it almost sold at the time of his death. In the last two years of his life, he appeared in three films, The Extraordinary Seaman (1969) with David Niven, The Reivers (1969) with Steve McQueen, and They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) with Sidney Poitier.

He died in San Juan on July 17, 1970, of a cerebral hemorrhage and was interred at Cementerio Buxeda Memorial Park, Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. #SummerMadness #Hernández

Recommended films:
The Girl from Chicago (’32)
Intruder in the Dust (’49)
The Breaking Point (’50)
The Pawnbroker (’64)
The Reivers (’69)

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