James Baskett

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James Baskett
Uncle Remus 1946.JPG
Baskett as Uncle Remus in Song of the South
Born(1904-02-16)February 16, 1904
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
DiedJuly 9, 1948(1948-07-09) (aged 44)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Crown Hill Cemetery (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Other namesJimmie Baskette
Jimmy Baskette
OccupationActor, singer
Years active1929–48

James Baskett (February 16, 1904 – July 9, 1948) was an American actor known for his portrayal of Uncle Remus, singing the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" in the 1946 Disney feature film Song of the South . In recognition of his warm portrayal of the famous black storyteller he was given an Honorary Academy Award, making him the first black male performer to receive an Oscar.

Uncle Remus fairy tale of South United States

Uncle Remus is the fictional title character and narrator of a collection of African-American folktales adapted and compiled by Joel Chandler Harris, published in book form in 1881. A journalist in post-Reconstruction Atlanta, Georgia, Harris produced seven Uncle Remus books. He wrote these stories to represent the struggle in the Southern United States, and more specifically in the plantations. He did so by introducing tales he had heard and framing them in the plantation context. He wrote his stories in a dialect that represented the voice of the narrators and their subculture. For this choice of framing, his collection has encountered controversy.

"Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" is a song composed by Allie Wrubel with lyrics by Ray Gilbert from the Disney 1946 live action and animated movie Song of the South, sung by James Baskett. For "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah", the film won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was the second in a long line of Disney songs to win this award, after "When You Wish upon a Star" from Pinocchio (1940). In 2004 it finished at number 47 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs, a survey of top tunes in American cinema.

The Walt Disney Company American mass media corporation

The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Walt Disney or simply Disney, is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.

Contents

Career

After abandoning his plans to study pharmacology for financial reasons, James Baskett supported himself as an actor, moving from his home town of Indianapolis, Indiana to New York City, and joining the company of Bill Robinson, better known as Mr. Bojangles. As Jimmie Baskette, he appeared on Broadway with Louis Armstrong in the all-black musical revue Hot Chocolates in 1929, and was announced for Hummin' Sam in 1933, although it failed to open. Mr. Baskett also acted in several all-black films made in the New York area, including Harlem Is Heaven (1932) starring Bill Robinson. He went to Los Angeles, California and had a supporting role in Straight to Heaven (1939), starring Nina Mae McKinney, and bit parts in the films Revenge of the Zombies (1943) and The Heavenly Body (1944). He was invited by Freeman Gosden to join the cast of the Amos 'n' Andy radio show as lawyer Gabby Gibson, whom he portrayed from 1944 to 1948.

Pharmacology branch of biology studying to drug action

Pharmacology is the branch of biology concerned with the study of drug action, where a drug can be broadly defined as any man-made, natural, or endogenous molecule which exerts a biochemical or physiological effect on the cell, tissue, organ, or organism. More specifically, it is the study of the interactions that occur between a living organism and chemicals that affect normal or abnormal biochemical function. If substances have medicinal properties, they are considered pharmaceuticals.

Indianapolis State capital and Consolidated city-county in the United States

Indianapolis, often shortened to Indy, is the state capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Indiana and the seat of Marion County. According to 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the consolidated population of Indianapolis and Marion County was 872,680. The "balance" population, which excludes semi-autonomous municipalities in Marion County, was 863,002. It is the 16th most populous city in the U.S. The Indianapolis metropolitan area is the 34th most populous metropolitan statistical area in the U.S., with 2,028,614 residents. Its combined statistical area ranks 27th, with a population of 2,411,086. Indianapolis covers 368 square miles (950 km2), making it the 16th largest city by land area in the U.S.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

In 1945, he auditioned for a bit part voicing one of the animals in the new Disney feature film Song of the South (1946), based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris. Walt Disney was impressed with Baskett's talent and hired him on the spot for the lead role of Uncle Remus. Baskett was also given the voice role of Brer Fox, one of the film's animated antagonists, and even filled in as the main animated protagonist, Brer Rabbit, in one sequence. This was one of the first Hollywood portrayals of a black actor as a non-comic character in a leading role in a film meant for general audiences. [1]

A bit part is a role in which there is direct interaction with the principal actors and no more than five lines of dialogue, often referred to as a five-or-less or under-five in the United States, or under sixes in British television.

<i>Song of the South</i> 1946 American live-action animated film

Song of the South is a 1946 American live-action/animated musical film produced by Walt Disney and released by RKO Radio Pictures. It is based on the collection of Uncle Remus stories as adapted by Joel Chandler Harris, and stars James Baskett as Uncle Remus. The film takes place in the southern United States during the Reconstruction Era, a period of American history shortly after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The story follows 7-year-old Johnny who is visiting his grandmother's plantation for an extended stay. Johnny befriends Uncle Remus, one of the workers on the plantation, and takes joy in hearing his tales about the adventures of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear. Johnny learns from the stories how to cope with the challenges he is experiencing while living on the plantation.

Joel Chandler Harris Journalist, childrens writer

Joel Chandler Harris was an American journalist, fiction writer, and folklorist best known for his collection of Uncle Remus stories. Harris was born in Eatonton, Georgia, where he served as an apprentice on a plantation during his teenage years. He spent most of his adult life in Atlanta working as an associate editor at the Atlanta Constitution.

Baskett was not allowed to attend the film's premiere in Atlanta, Georgia because Atlanta was racially segregated by law. [2] [3]

Atlanta Capital of Georgia, United States

Atlanta is the capital and most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia. With an estimated 2017 population of 486,290, it is also the 38th most-populous city in the United States. The city serves as the cultural and economic center of the Atlanta metropolitan area, home to 5.8 million people and the ninth-largest metropolitan area in the nation. Atlanta is the seat of Fulton County, the most populous county in Georgia. A small portion of the city extends eastward into neighboring DeKalb County.

Although Baskett was occasionally criticized for accepting such a "demeaning" role, his acting was almost universally praised, and columnist Hedda Hopper was one of the many journalists who declared that he should receive an Academy Award for his work. [4]

Hedda Hopper American actress, gossip columnist and radio personality

Hedda Hopper was an American actress and gossip columnist, notorious for feuding with her arch-rival Louella Parsons. She had been a moderately successful actress of stage and screen for years before being offered the chance to write the column Hedda Hopper's Hollywood for the Los Angeles Times in 1938. At the height of her power in the 1940s she commanded a 35 million strong readership. She was well known for her political conservatism, and during the McCarthy era she named suspected communists. Hopper continued to write gossip until the end, her work appearing in many magazines and later on radio.

Academy Award

On March 20, 1948, Baskett received an Honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus. [5] He was the first African-American male actor to win an Academy Award.

The Academy Honorary Award – instituted in 1950 for the 23rd Academy Awards – is given annually by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to celebrate motion picture achievements that are not covered by existing Academy Awards, although prior winners of competitive Academy Awards are not excluded from receiving the Honorary Award.

Illness and death

Baskett had been in poor health around 1946 during the filming of Song of the South due to diabetes and suffered a heart attack. His health continued to decline, and he was often unable to attend the Amos and Andy show he was in. On July 9, 1948 during the show's summer hiatus, [6] Baskett died of heart failure resulting from diabetes at age 44. [7] [8] He was survivied by his wife Margaret and his mother Elizabeth. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. [9]

Filmography

YearTitleRoleNotes
1932Harlem Is HeavenMoney JohnsonFilm debut; credited as Jimmy Baskette
193320,000 Cheers for the Chain GangVocalistUncredited
1938Gone HarlemCredited as Jimmie Baskette
1938Policy ManCredited as Jimmie Baskette
1939Straight to HeavenFirst Detective
1940Comes Midnight
1943 Revenge of the Zombies LazarusAlternative title: The Corpse Vanished
1944The Heavenly BodyPorterUncredited
1946 Song of the South Uncle Remus
Br'er Fox (voice)
Br'er Rabbit (voice, one scene)
(final film role)

See also

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References

  1. As Jim Korkis notes, "Song of the South came out in 1946 and there was no balance of media images... African American performers often portrayed comic roles where their characters were described as lazy, slow-witted, easily scared or flustered, subservient and worse. That image was what the American public was seeing and accepting as the norm for African Americans." Jim Korkis, "The Sad Song of the South", USA Today (accessed 24 August 2013)
  2. In a 15 October 1946 article in the Atlanta Constitution , columnist Harold Martin noted that to bring Baskett to Atlanta, where he would not have been allowed to participate in any of the festivities, "would cause him many embarrassments, for his feelings are the same as any man's." The modern claim that no Atlanta hotel would give Baskett accommodation is false: there were several black-owned hotels in Atlanta at the time, including the Savoy and the McKay. Atlanta's Black-Owned Hotels: A History.
  3. Ronald H. Bayor, "Roads to Racial Segregation: Atlanta in the Twentieth Century", Journal of Urban History, Vol. 15, No. 1, 3–21 (1988).
  4. Turner Classic Movies, Song of the South (1946) (accessed 24 August 2013)
  5. Cohen, Karl F. (2004). Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America. McFarland. p. 61. ISBN   0-7864-2032-4.
  6. Old-time.com
  7. AFI
  8. Auchmutey, Jim (2006-11-12). "Finding Uncle Remus". accessatlanta.com. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved 2008-11-17. (Dead link)
  9. Bodenhamer, David J.; Barrows, Robert Graham; Gordon, David (1994). The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Vanderstel, David Gordon. Indiana University Press. p. 485. ISBN   0-253-31222-1.