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Overview for Canada Lee
Canada Lee

Canada Lee


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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: Cast ... actor boxer orchestra leader jockey violinist


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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