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Also Known As: Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata Died: May 8, 1952
Born: March 3, 1907 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: actor, boxer, orchestra leader, jockey, violinist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the premier black stage actors of the late 1930s and 40s. A former jockey, violinist, orchestra leader and boxer before settling down to acting in 1936, Lee made his debut with the WPA's Federal Theater Project in Harlem, winning acclaim for his performance as Banquo in Orson Welles' all-black "Macbeth" in 1936. He took Broadway by storm with his explosive performance as Bigger Thomas in the legendary stage adaptation of Richard Wright's "Native Son" in 1944. In his Hollywood debut, Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (1944), Lee won notice for the quiet authority and intelligence of his heroic ship's steward.Further acclaimed work on Broadway included "Haiti", "Stevedore", "Mamba's Daughters", "The Tempest" and Orson Welles' 1946 production of "The Duchess of Malfi" (in which Lee starred in white-face). On film, Lee was unforgettable as a broken-down boxer, hired as a trainer to ruthless, up-and-coming champ John Garfield in Robert Rossen's "Body and Soul" (1947). With his soft, round, gentle face and air of quiet dignity, he represented the conscience of the film.Two years later, like almost everyone else connected with "Body and Soul", Lee was blacklisted for his alleged Communist sympathies....

One of the premier black stage actors of the late 1930s and 40s. A former jockey, violinist, orchestra leader and boxer before settling down to acting in 1936, Lee made his debut with the WPA's Federal Theater Project in Harlem, winning acclaim for his performance as Banquo in Orson Welles' all-black "Macbeth" in 1936. He took Broadway by storm with his explosive performance as Bigger Thomas in the legendary stage adaptation of Richard Wright's "Native Son" in 1944. In his Hollywood debut, Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (1944), Lee won notice for the quiet authority and intelligence of his heroic ship's steward.

Further acclaimed work on Broadway included "Haiti", "Stevedore", "Mamba's Daughters", "The Tempest" and Orson Welles' 1946 production of "The Duchess of Malfi" (in which Lee starred in white-face). On film, Lee was unforgettable as a broken-down boxer, hired as a trainer to ruthless, up-and-coming champ John Garfield in Robert Rossen's "Body and Soul" (1947). With his soft, round, gentle face and air of quiet dignity, he represented the conscience of the film.

Two years later, like almost everyone else connected with "Body and Soul", Lee was blacklisted for his alleged Communist sympathies. Forced into penury after being banned from film, radio and TV, the destitute Lee was eventually pressured into delivering an attack upon Paul Robeson. He almost immediately found work, starring as a priest trying to save his son from a murder sentence in the Korda brothers' adaptation of Alan Paton's anti-apartheid novel, "Cry the Beloved Country" (1951). Soon after speaking at a rally in Westchester protesting the murder of two black men by an ex-police officer, Lee died at age 45, as much a victim of the blacklist as of his chronic high blood pressure.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 Lost Boundaries (1949) Lt. Thompson
3.
 Body and Soul (1947) Ben Chaplin
4.
 The Roosevelt Story (1947) Joe, [the voice of the depression]
5.
 Lifeboat (1944) Joe Spencer
6.
 Keep Punching (1939) Speedy
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Grew up in Harlem, friends with Adam Clayton Powell
:
Changed name to Canada Lee
1936:
Joined the WPA's Federal Theater Project in Harlem
1936:
First stage performance as Banquo in Orson Welles's all-black "Macbeth"
1941:
Starred on Broadway in Orson Welles' production of Richard Wright's "Native Son"
1941:
Charged with larceny for alledgedly trying to sell an automobile that he had not made a payment on just as he was about to embark on national tour of "Native Son"; Welles's lawyer Arnold Weissberger kept him from prison after a protracted court battle
1944:
Film debut in "Lifeboat"
1946:
Starred in white-face on Broadway in "The Duchess of Malfi"
1947:
Signed with Enterprise films
1950:
Sole TV appearance on "Tele Theatre"'s "The Final Bell"
1952:
Underwent a sympathectomy (surgical interruption of sympathetic nerve pathways) to relieve high blood pressure
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Notes

"All my life, I've been on the verge of being something. I'm almost becoming a concert violinist and I run away to the races. I'm almost a good jockey and I go overweight. I'm, almost a champion prize fighter and my eyes go bad."--Canada Lee (quoted in Stefan Kanfer's "A Journal of the Plague Years", 1973)

"There was a sense of the driven aristocrat about him, as if to relax was to sink below one's natural level. When he turned actor, almost because there seemed nothing else to do, he was variously judged a natural, a consummate professional and incredibly lucky."--Stefan Kanfer ("A Journal of the Plague Years", 1973)

Family close complete family listing

son:
Carl Lee. Screenwriter, actor. Co-wrote screenplay for Shirley Clarke's "The Cool World" (1963).

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