Yaphet Kotto


Actor

About

Also Known As
Yaphet Frederick Kotto
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
November 15, 1939

Biography

A commanding presence in features and television since the early 1970s, Yaphet Kotto played physically powerful, often intimidating African-American men in such popular films as "Live and Let Die" (1973), "Blue Collar" (1978), "Alien" (1979) and "Midnight Run" (1988). He emerged from the New York stage in the early 1960s, working steadily in small but significant roles in features like "...

Family & Companions

Rita Dittman
Wife
German immigrant; married c. 1957; divorced c. 1975; has three children with Kotto.
Antoinette Pettyjohn
Wife
Flight attendant. Born c. 1947; married on January 29, 1975, reportedly within a week of Kotto's divorce from Dittman; seperated c. 1988; has three children with Kotto.
Rosemary Gayon
Companion
Born c. 1967; engaged to be married summer 1994; no longer together.
Tessie Sinahon
Wife
Former cook. Filipina; born c. 1969; together from 1992; married in a civil ceremony in 1997; remarried on July 12, 1998 in a religious ceremony.

Bibliography

"Royalty"
Yaphet Kotto, Caudwell/Bissell (1997)
"Slow Dance in the Promised Land"
Yaphet F Kotto, Ahimsa Publishing Corporation

Notes

About his alleged relationship to the Windsors: "Prince Albert Edward did have an affair with one of my relatives. My great-grandfather, Alexander Bell, looks like a white man. He's the real, documented proof that some hanky-panky was going on. It was something that should have never happened. I wish if we had someone from the British royal family in ours, it was someone of dignity and class, and not a drunkard and a whore-monger as the Prince was."--Yaphet Kotto, NEW YORK POST, March 9, 1997

Biography

A commanding presence in features and television since the early 1970s, Yaphet Kotto played physically powerful, often intimidating African-American men in such popular films as "Live and Let Die" (1973), "Blue Collar" (1978), "Alien" (1979) and "Midnight Run" (1988). He emerged from the New York stage in the early 1960s, working steadily in small but significant roles in features like "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1967) before moving up to supporting roles and leads in "Across 110th Street" (1971). His star-making turn came as the villainous Dr. Kananga in "Live and Let Die" (1973), which marked Roger Moore's debut as James Bond and preceded a long run as a popular character actor in such major features as "Alien" (1979) and "Brubaker" (1980). Kotto was stranded in minor-league acting features for much of the 1980s, though he rebounded in the early 1990s as the formidable Lt. Al Giardello on the critically acclaimed "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-2000). Throughout his long and varied career, Kotto's performances were marked by an unerring sense of gravity, honesty and intelligence, which served him well in avoiding many of the career pitfalls suffered by African-American actors.

Born Nov. 15, 1939 in New York City, Yaphet Frederick Kotto was the son of Avraham Kotto, a businessman from Cameroon, and his wife Gladys, a nurse and army officer. Both of Kotto's parents were Jewish, which contributed greatly to a rough childhood spent defending both his faith and his race. As a teenager, he wandered into a screening of "On the Waterfront" (1954) and became captivated by Marlon Brando's performance. Kotto soon began studying at the Actors' Mobile Studio and made his professional debut as a performer at 19 in a production of "Othello." More stage roles preceded his first feature film appearance as an uncredited extra in the Rat Pack Western comedy "4 For Texas" (1963). The following year, he gave a supporting turn in Michael Roemer's pioneering independent film "Nothing But a Man" (1964), a low-budget drama about contemporary black life produced outside of the studio system. Kotto soon returned to the stage, co-starring with Ossie Davis and Louis Gossett, Jr. in "The Zulu and the Zebra" in 1965 before replacing James Earl Jones in "The Great White Hope" (1969). Between plays, he turned up as a professional thief in "The Thomas Crown Affair" (1967) and a sympathetic bartender in "5 Card Stud" (1969) with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum.

Kotto avoided many of the stereotypical roles offered to African-American actors during the 1970s, though he would admit in interviews that the paucity of quality projects required him to occasionally participate in Blaxploitation features like "Truck Turner" (1974) and "Friday Foster" (1975). But even in those films, he projected an innately masculine strength and confidence that elevated him above the material. Kotto found better showcases for those qualities in films like "The Liberation of L.B. Jones" (1970), as a young man who exacted terrible revenge on the white landowner who had beaten him, and "Across 110th Street" (1971), a gritty crime drama which pitted his young police lieutenant against Anthony Quinn's aging lion of a police captain while pursuing crooks with stolen Mob money. During this period, Kotto also directed in "The Limit" (1972), a little-seen action-thriller about a motorcycle cop, played by Kotto, who took on a biker gang led by Ted Cassidy.

Kotto's work for MGM on "Across 110th Street" led to his casting as Dr. Kananga, a Caribbean dictator who secretly operated a heroin business in the James Bond adventure "Live and Let Die" (1973). The international exposure afforded by the film led to more dramatic roles in high-profile projects including "Roots" (ABC, 1977) and Irvin Kershner's "Raid on Entebbe" (NBC, 1977), an all-star TV movie based on Operation Entebbe, a raid carried out by Israeli special forces against Palestinian terrorists that had taken an Air France plane and its passengers hostage in Uganda. Kotto received an Emmy nomination for his performance as the charismatic but megalomaniacal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. He soon returned to features, giving memorable performances as an autoworker who robbed his union headquarters in Paul Schrader's "Blue Collar" (1978) and as an inmate who aided warden Robert Redford in reforming a troubled prison in "Brubaker" (1980). Kotto was also a standout in the ensemble cast for Ridley Scott's science fiction classic "Alien" (1979) as Parker, the chief engineer on an ill-fated spaceship stalked by an aggressive extraterrestrial. Shortly after completing the film, Kotto was approached by director Irvin Kershner to play Lando Calrissian in "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), but declined, citing fears that the character would result in his being typecast as a science fiction actor.

Kotto moved fluidly between features and television throughout the 1980s, earning critical acclaim as a former slave who led an uprising in "A House Divided: Denmark Vessey's Rebellion" (PBS, 1982). But the quality of Kotto's film projects went into decline as the decade wore on, with such genre pictures as "Warning Sign" (1986), "Eye of the Tiger" (1986) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle "The Running Man" (1987) relying more on his imposing physical presence than his acting abilities. He received a rare comic showcase as an FBI agent with a penchant for stealing cigarettes in "Midnight Run" (1988), with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin, but kept a low profile until 1993, when he was cast as Lt. Al Giardello on the critically acclaimed series "Homicide: Life on the Street." A highly cultured, articulate man of Italian-American and African-American heritage, Giardello served as mentor for the detectives of the Baltimore Police Department's Homicide unit throughout the series' seven-season run, as well as a reunion TV feature, "Homicide: The Movie" (NBC, 2000), which saw Giardello suffer a fatal shooting while running for mayor. Kotto was reportedly displeased by the lack of substantive storylines given to the character, and turned to penning scripts for several episodes, including a well-regarded 1997 story in which a murder suspect holed up in a former African Revival Movement headquarters.

Kotto's screen appearances were limited in the years following the cancellation of "Homicide." He preferred instead to devote his energies to writing, which produced not only his first novel, Slow Dance in the Promised Land (1987) but an autobiography, Royalty (1997), in which he alleged that he was descended from both the royal lines in Cameroon and England, which converged in the late 19th century when Edward VII had an affair with Princess Nakande of Cameroon, which produced a line of mixed heritage that included his father. The statements received widespread attention in the press, as well as a terse statement from Buckingham Palace, which refuted the claim. He also operated an artists' retreat resort in the Philippines that focused on holistic healing and creative inspiration.

By Paul Gaita

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Limit (1972)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Witless Protection (2008)
Stiletto Dance (2001)
Captain Rick
Homicide: The Movie (2000)
Defenders, The: Payback (1997)
Two If by Sea (1996)
Deadline For Murder: From the Files of Edna Buchanan (1995)
Detective Marty Talbot
Out of Sync (1995)
Dead Badge (1994)
The Corpse Had a Familiar Face (1994)
Martin
The Puppet Masters (1994)
Arthur Miller's American Clock (1993)
Extreme Justice (1993)
It's Nothing Personal (1993)
Lieutenant Riley
Chrome Soldiers (1992)
Perry Beach
Almost Blue (1992)
Terry
Intent to Kill (1992)
Captain Jackson
Hangfire (1991)
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
Doc
After The Shock (1990)
William Mcelroy
Tripwire (1990)
Ministry of Vengeance (1989)
A Whisper to a Scream (1989)
Detective Taillard
Prime Target (1989)
Midnight Run (1988)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987)
Desperado (1987)
The Running Man (1987)
In Self Defense (1987)
Terminal Entry (1987)
Colonel Styles
PrettyKill (1987)
Harris
Eye of the Tiger (1986)
Playing With Fire (1985)
Fire Chief Walker
Warning Sign (1985)
The Park Is Mine (1985)
Badge of the Assassin (1985)
Cliff Fenton
Women of San Quentin (1983)
Sergeant Therman Patterson
The Star Chamber (1983)
Brubaker (1980)
Rage (1980)
Alien (1979)
Parker
Blue Collar (1978)
Raid On Entebbe (1977)
Drum (1976)
The Monkey Hustle (1976)
Daddy Foxx
Report To The Commissioner (1975)
Shark's Treasure (1975)
Friday Foster (1975)
Colt Hawkins
Truck Turner (1974)
Live and Let Die (1973)
Bone (1972)
Bone
Across 110th Street (1972)
Lt. [William Aliceworth] Pope
The Limit (1972)
Mark Johnson
Man and Boy (1972)
Nate [Hodges]
The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970)
Sonny Boy Mosby
5 Card Stud (1968)
Little George
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Carl
Nothing but a Man (1964)
Jocko

Writer (Feature Film)

The Limit (1972)
Based on a Story by

Producer (Feature Film)

The Limit (1972)
Producer

Cast (Special)

Stopping the Stalkers (1998)
Narrator

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Harem (1986)
Kislar

Life Events

1953

Began studying the performing arts at the Actor's Mobile Theater Studio

1956

Made professional debut in title role of "Othello"

1964

Film debut, Richard Roemer's "Nothing But a Man"

1968

Received raves for his role in William Wyler's "The Liberation of L.B. Jones"

1972

Feature directing debut, "The Limit" (also produced and starred in this movie written from his story)

1973

Played the drug-dealing nemesis of Roger Moore's 007 in "Live and Let Die"

1977

Portrayed Idi Amin in the acclaimed NBC TV-movie, "Raid on Entebbe"; received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor

1979

Portrayed a doomed crewmember in "Alien"

1983

First regular series role in the short-lived NBC drama "Love and Honor"

1988

Cast as an inept FBI lead man in "Midnight Run" co-starring Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin

1990

Starred in the Washington, DC and London stage productions of the acclaimed August Wilson play, "Fences"

1993

Played Lieutenant Al Giardello in the popular NBC series "Homicide: Life on the Street"; also scripted an episode

1996

Had another turn as an FBI agent in "Two if by Sea" starring Sandra Bullock and Denis Leary

1997

Published <i>Royalty</i>, an autobiography linking him to the British royal family

2008

Cast in the comedy "Witless Protection" starring Larry The Cable Guy

Photo Collections

Alien - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Fox's Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Across 110th Street (1972) - I'm In Charge Here Joining NYPD captain Matelli (Anthony Quinn, who also produced), with loads of bad attitude and language, entering the crime scene where mafia guys, (crooked) cops and Harlem locals were all killed, and his first meeting with Yaphet Kotto as Lt. Pope, then their boss (Tim O’Connor) explaining the pecking order, in Across 110th Street, 1972.
Across 110th Street (1972) - You Must Be New Around Here In the aftermath of a big gang shooting, grizzled NYPD Capt. Matelli (Anthony Quinn, also the producer) works through a sea of witnesses called in by his less-senior supervisor Lt. Pope (Yaphet Kotto), who’s engaged with the informer Chink (Charles McGregor), in Across 110th Street, 1972.
Across 110th Street (1972) - Open, Theme Up the West Side Highway, through Central Park, turning north with a suitcase full of cash, an incoherent route via the Apollo Theater, winding up a block off St. Nicholas Ave., Bobby Womack’s landmark theme song establishes Harlem in the grim early 70’s, in Across 110th Street, 1972, starring (co-producer) Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto.
Brubaker (1980) - Leave The Ears Following the final credit for director Stuart Rosenberg, Robert Redford, under the name Collins, at prison intake, meets Jon Van Ness as wise-guy Zaranska, Everett McGill as scary trusty Caldwell, Yaphet Kotto as Coombes, Val Avery running the barracks and David Keith on air guitar, early in Brubaker, 1980.
Brubaker (1980) - R-E-S-P-E-C-T The big reveal, title character Robert Redford has been known as inmate Collins, announcing he’s the title character when death-row inmate Walter (Morgan Freeman in his first movie role!) grabs already banged-up prisoner Bullen (David Keith), Yaphet Kotto and Joe Spinell standing back, in Brubaker, 1980.
Brubaker (1980) - Can You Hear Me Now? Title character Robert Redford is the new warden who, until now, had been under-cover as an inmate, speaking to his charges with his trusty staff (Matt Clark, Joe Spinell, Yaphet Kotto) in support, and receiving state officials, Jane Alexander as Lillian Gray, Murray Hamilton her boss Deach, in Brubaker, 1980.
Live And Let Die (1973) - Nothing About My Future? Entering a Harlem restaurant (called “Fillet Of Soul”) gently pursuing possible cohorts of a suspicious Caribbean dictator, James Bond (Roger Moore) is snatched, meeting soothsayer Solitare (Jane Seymour), goon Tee Hee (Julius Harris), and the gangster “Mr. Big,” early in Live And Let Die, 1973.
Live And Let Die (1973) - Did You Mess With That? SPOILER here in Yaphet Kotto’s Bond-villain performance, captured Bond (Roger Moore) is interrogated by Mr. Big, who wants to know whether he’s despoiled Solitare (Jane Seymour) and thereby destroyed her psychic powers, meanwhile discussing his own links to the mysterious dictator Kananga, in Live And Let Die, 1973.
Live And Let Die (1973) - She Had The Power And Lost It Yaphet Kotto as still largely mysterious Caribbean dictator Dr. Kananga is pressing his resplendent tarot card reader Solitare (Jane Seymour) about recent failures in her prognostications about Bond (Roger Moore, in his first performance, in the 8th 007 feature), who is on an aerial stake-out with colleague Quarrel (Roy Stewart), in Live And Let Die, 1973.
Live And Let Die (1973) - Title Song, Insomnia, Sir? After three murders (of not-too-dashing likely-English guys) in the prologue, the title song by Paul & Linda McCartney, produced by George Martin, (which went to #2 on the Billboard U.S. chart, becoming by-far the most successful Bond theme ever) followed by M (Bernard Lee) intruding on 007 (Roger Moore, in his first appearance in the role) and a paramour (Madeline Smith), in Live And Let Die, 1973.
Thomas Crown Affair, The (1968) - Blessed Are The Pure In Heart The climax of the elaborate opening bank heist in Boston, Erwin (Jack Weston), the literal bag-man, delivers loot to a suburban cemetery where mastermind and title character Steve McQueen awaits in his Rolls-Royce, in director Norman Jewison’s original The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968.
Bone (1972) - If You're Looking For Employment Presumably affluent Beverly Hills couple Bill and Bernadette (Andrew Duggan, Joyce Van Patten) are calling the pool service about a rat when Yaphet Kotto (title character) appears, and they assume he’s an exterminator, and things get tense, in writer-director Larry Cohen’s Bone, 1972.

Trailer

Family

Queen Victoria
Great-Great-Great-Grandmother
According to 15 years of research revealed in Kotto's autobiography "Royalty".
Alexander Bell
Great-Grandfather
King. Ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late 19th century.
Abraham Kotto
Father
Construction worker. Immigrated from Cameroon to New York in the 1920s; changed his name from Njoki Manga Bell when he arrived in New York from Cameroon; converted to Judaism while in Cameroon; divorced Kotto's mother c. 1940.
Gladys Marie Kotto
Mother
Nurse, army officer. Divorced Kotto's father c. 1940.
Natascha Kotto
Daughter
Lawyer. Born c. 1966; mother Rita Dittman.
Frederick Kotto
Son
Stockbroker. Born c. 1968; mother Rita Dittman.
Robert Kotto
Son
Police officer. Born c. 1971; mother Rita Dittman.
Sarada Kotto
Daughter
Born c. 1976; mother Toni Pettyjohn.
Mirabai Kotto
Daughter
Born c. 1978; mother Toni Pettyjohn.
Salina Kotto
Daughter
Born c, 1980; mother Toni Pettyjohn.

Companions

Rita Dittman
Wife
German immigrant; married c. 1957; divorced c. 1975; has three children with Kotto.
Antoinette Pettyjohn
Wife
Flight attendant. Born c. 1947; married on January 29, 1975, reportedly within a week of Kotto's divorce from Dittman; seperated c. 1988; has three children with Kotto.
Rosemary Gayon
Companion
Born c. 1967; engaged to be married summer 1994; no longer together.
Tessie Sinahon
Wife
Former cook. Filipina; born c. 1969; together from 1992; married in a civil ceremony in 1997; remarried on July 12, 1998 in a religious ceremony.

Bibliography

"Royalty"
Yaphet Kotto, Caudwell/Bissell (1997)
"Slow Dance in the Promised Land"
Yaphet F Kotto, Ahimsa Publishing Corporation

Notes

About his alleged relationship to the Windsors: "Prince Albert Edward did have an affair with one of my relatives. My great-grandfather, Alexander Bell, looks like a white man. He's the real, documented proof that some hanky-panky was going on. It was something that should have never happened. I wish if we had someone from the British royal family in ours, it was someone of dignity and class, and not a drunkard and a whore-monger as the Prince was."--Yaphet Kotto, NEW YORK POST, March 9, 1997