Gordon Parks


Director, Photographer
Gordon Parks

About

Also Known As
Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks
Birth Place
Fort Scott, Kansas, USA
Born
November 30, 1912
Died
March 07, 2006

Biography

With significant accomplishments to his credit as a photographer, journalist, filmmaker, screenwriter, novelist, poet, composer and librettist to his credit, Gordon Parks may well be the African-American Renaissance man par excellence. He has won over 20 awards and received 23 (as of 1995) honorary degrees in literature, fine arts and humane letters. Parks is reputed to be Hollywood's fi...

Family & Companions

Sally Alvis
Wife
Married in 1933; divorced in 1961.
Elizabeth Campbell
Wife
Married in 1962; divorced in 1973.
Genevieve Young
Wife
Book editor. Married on August 26, 1973; divorced in 1979; of Chinese-American ancestry.

Bibliography

"Voices in the Mirror"
Gordon Parks, Nan A Talese/Doubleday (1990)
"Shannon"
Gordon Parks (1981)
"To Smile in Autumn"
Gorden Parks (1979)
"Flavio"
Gordon Parks, W.W. Norton & Co. (1978)

Notes

Parks was awarded the first Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in Photography Award in 1942.

From PR from KCET Los Angeles for "Martin: A Ballet Tribute to Martin Luther King": "An accomplished self-taught pianist, he is the composer of "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra", "Tree Symphony", five piano sonatas (all performed in New York and Boston) and a work for piano and woodwinds."

Biography

With significant accomplishments to his credit as a photographer, journalist, filmmaker, screenwriter, novelist, poet, composer and librettist to his credit, Gordon Parks may well be the African-American Renaissance man par excellence. He has won over 20 awards and received 23 (as of 1995) honorary degrees in literature, fine arts and humane letters. Parks is reputed to be Hollywood's first black director of major films but he first gained acclaim as a preeminent photojournalist at LIFE magazine from 1948-68. His subjects included such diverse topics as the black Muslims, Ernest Hemingway's Paris and life in American ghettoes. "The Learning Tree," Parks' autobiographical novel about growing up black in 1920s Kansas, provided the foundation for his moving, sometimes didactic and stunningly photographed 1969 feature debut which he produced, wrote, directed and scored.

In 1989, "The Learning Tree" was among the first 25 films deemed "culturally, historically, or esthetically significant" enough to be included in the National Film Registry for future preservation. Parks' second feature, "Shaft" (1971), actually had a far greater cultural impact. A major commercial success, the gritty NYC-lensed black detective story was one of the key early films in the 70s "Blaxploitation" movement. "Shaft" generated a hit theme song, two sequels (the first, 1971's "Shaft's Big Score," was also helmed by Parks) and a TV series. Continuing to work in the action genre for the next several years, Parks displayed increasing technical and narrative proficiency and was rewarded with bigger budgets for his efforts. What was missing was the personal and committed elements in evidence in "The Learning Tree." He recaptured some of those qualities in "Leadbelly" (1976), a fine if somewhat sanitized biopic about legendary blues singer Huddie Ledbetter.

Perhaps Parks' most accomplished film, "Leadbelly" boasted a strong and charismatic central performance by Roger E. Mosley (best known as laid-back helicopter pilot T.C. on TV's "Magnum, P.I."), great music and awe-inspiring cinematography from Bruce Surtees. Produced by a tax shelter group and copyrighted by a Netherlands entity, the film failed to find the large audience it so richly deserved due partially to poor marketing and distribution but moreover because young modern filmgoers neither knew nor cared about the subject. This turned out to be Parks' swan song as a feature director.

Parks went on to write several volumes of poetry and fiction. An accomplished self-taught pianist, he composed a number of piano sonatas, a symphony and other works for the concert stage. Parks directed and composed music for several interesting projects for PBS in the 80s (the 1984 historical drama "Solomon Northrup's Odyssey" and the autobiographical documentary "Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names" and ushered in the 90s with "Martin" (PBS, 1990), an original, five-movement ballet about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Parks served as executive producer, director, composer, keyboardist and documentary photographer for this boldly ambitious project. Father of the late director Gordon Parks Jr, who was best known for "Superfly" (1972).

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Leadbelly (1976)
Director
The Super Cops (1974)
Director
Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
Director
Shaft (1971)
Director
The Learning Tree (1969)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

An Unlikely Weapon (2009)
Himself
How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy it) (2006)
Himself
Shaft (2000)
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Himself
Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
Croupier
Shaft (1971)
Harlem resident

Writer (Feature Film)

The Learning Tree (1969)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

The Learning Tree (1969)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
Composer
Shaft's Big Score! (1972)
Music
The Learning Tree (1969)
Composer
The Learning Tree (1969)
Music Composition

Film Production - Construction/Set (Feature Film)

Malcolm X (1992)
Props

Special Thanks (Feature Film)

Juice (1992)
Thanks

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

An Unlikely Weapon (2009)
Other
50 Years of Action! (1986)
Other

Director (Special)

Martin (1990)
Director
Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names (1988)
Director
Solomon Northrup's Odyssey (1984)
Director

Cast (Special)

Picture Perfect: The Stories Behind the Greatest Photos in Sports (2002)
The Journey Of Gordon Parks (2000)
Half Past Autumn: The Life and Times of Gordon Parks (2000)
Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999)
Swingin' With the Duke: Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis (1999)
Malcolm X: Make It Plain (1994)
Lincoln (1992)
Voice
Martin (1990)
Performer
Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names (1988)

Writer (Special)

Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names (1988)
Writer

Producer (Special)

Martin (1990)
Executive Producer

Music (Special)

Martin (1990)
Music
Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names (1988)
Music
Solomon Northrup's Odyssey (1984)
Music

Special Thanks (Special)

Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names (1988)
Writer

Misc. Crew (Special)

Martin (1990)
Other
Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names (1988)
Other

Director (Short)

Flavio (1961)
Director

Cast (Short)

Soul in Cinema Filming SHAFT on Location (1971)
Himself

Life Events

1937

First assignment as photographer of women's fashions for St Paul, Minnesota, store; worked as freelance fashion photographer in Minneapolis

1944

Served as a correspondent with Office of War Information during WWII

1947

Published first book, a non-fiction work entitled "Flash Photography"

1953

Composed his first "Piano Concerto"

1954

Began serving as a color and black and white consultant on motion picture productions in the USA and Europe

1961

Film debut, directed and wrote documentary short, "Flavio"

1963

Had his first novel published, the autobiographical "The Learning Tree"

1964

Became an independent photographer and filmmaker

1967

Composed "Tree Symphony"

1969

Directed, produced, wrote and scored first feature film, "The Learning Tree"

1971

Directed his commercial breakthrough feature, "Shaft"

1972

First film appearance, as a croupier in his "Shaft's Big Score"

1975

Published a collection of his poetry and photographs entitled "Moments Without Proper Names"

1984

Named to the NAACP Hall of Fame

1984

Directed and composed score for his first TV special, "Solomon Northrup's Odyssey", a historical drama presented on PBS's "American Playhouse"

1985

Served as an informal consultant to director Steven Spielberg during the production of "The Color Purple"

1988

Directed, composed the score, provided poems and appeared in "Gordon Parks: Moments Without Proper Names", an autobiographical documentary special on PBS

1990

Executive produced, directed, composed the score, served as librettist and keyboardist, and provided documentary photography for "Martin", a five-movement ballet inspired by incidents in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr; broadcast on PBS

1992

Provided the voice of Henry Highland Garnet for "Lincoln", a two-part, four-hour ABC documentary special about Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War

1992

Provided photos of Malcolm for Spike Lee's biopic "Malcolm X"

1994

Appeared in the documentary "Malcolm X: Make It Plain" on PBS's "The American Experience"

2000

Was subject of the HBO documentary, "Half-Past Autumn: The Life and Times of Gordon Parks"

Photo Collections

The Learning Tree - Movie Poster
The Learning Tree - Movie Poster

Videos

Movie Clip

Super Cops, The (1974) - Instruments Of Death Opening featuring news footage of the real life heroes (David Greenberg, Robert Hantz), director Gordon Parks introduces leads Ron Leibman and David Selby taking their oath, in The Super Cops, 1974.
Shaft (1971) - Sick Friend Here Confirming his suspicions, Richard Roundtree (title character) discovers that his Times Square-area office is being staked out (by Tommy Lane and Al Kirk) and fisticuffs ensue, early in director Gordon Parks Jr's hit Shaft, 1971.
Shaft (1971) - Open, Title Song The totally excellent opening by director Gordon Parks featuring the title character (Richard Roundtree, flashing his private-eye badge) cruising Times Square, nearing its sleazier days, to Isaac Hayes' Academy Award-winning title song, from Shaft, 1971.
Shaft (1971) - Soulsville Director Gordon Parks (with a cameo!) uses another Isaac Hayes song, Soulsville, with another montage of his leading man (Richard Roundtree) this time in Harlem, also visiting Bunky (Antonio Fargas), in Shaft, 1971.
Learning Tree, The (1969) - I Can't Find Newt A storm blows up in Kansas opening the largely autobiographical movie directing debut by renowned photographer Gordon Parks Sr., from his screenplay and novel, Kyle Johnson as his stand-in Newt, Carole Lamond the local working girl who rescues him, in The Learning Tree, 1969.
Learning Tree, The (1969) - I Ain't Got No People Mom Winger (Estelle Evans) works for Judge Cavanaugh (Russell Thorson), her son Newt (Kyle Johnson) and his (Zooey Hall) also present, before the sentencing of Marcus (Alex Clarke), which pleases Sheriff Kirky (Dana Elcar), in Gordon Parks Sr.'s semi-autobiographical The Learning Tree, 1969.
Learning Tree, The (1969) - Old Man Kiner's Apples Newt (Kyle Johnson, in the role modeled on writer-director Gordon Parks Sr.) with pals (Stephen Perry, Carter Vinnegar, Bobby Goss) gets led astray by troubled Marcus (Alex Clarke), rancher Kiner (George Mitchell) the victim, in 1920's Kansas, early in The Learning Tree, 1969.

Trailer

Family

Jackson Parks
Father
Sarah Parks
Mother
Died c. 1928.
Gordon Parks Jr
Son
Director. Mother Sally Alvis; born c. 1935; films include "Superfly" (1972), "Thomasine and Bushrod" and "Three the Hard Way" (both 1974); killed at age 44 in a 1979 airplane crash outside Nairobi, Kenya while scouting locations.
Toni Parks-Parsons
Daughter
Mother, Sally Alvis.
David Parks
Son
Leslie Parks
Daughter
Mother, Elizabeth Campbell.

Companions

Sally Alvis
Wife
Married in 1933; divorced in 1961.
Elizabeth Campbell
Wife
Married in 1962; divorced in 1973.
Genevieve Young
Wife
Book editor. Married on August 26, 1973; divorced in 1979; of Chinese-American ancestry.

Bibliography

"Voices in the Mirror"
Gordon Parks, Nan A Talese/Doubleday (1990)
"Shannon"
Gordon Parks (1981)
"To Smile in Autumn"
Gorden Parks (1979)
"Flavio"
Gordon Parks, W.W. Norton & Co. (1978)
"Moments Without Proper Names"
Gordon Parks, Viking (1975)
"Whispers of Intimate Things"
Gordon Parks, Viking (1971)
"In Love"
Gordon Parks, Lippincott (1971)
"Born Black"
Gordon Parks, Lippincott (1971)
"Gordon Parks: A Poet and His Camera"
Gordon Parks, Viking (1968)
"A Choice of Weapons"
Gordon Parks, Harper & Row (1966)
"The Learning Tree"
Gordon Parks, Harper & Row (1963)
"Camera Portraits: Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture"
Gordon Parks, Franklin Watts (1948)
"Flash Photography"
Gordon Parks (1947)

Notes

Parks was awarded the first Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in Photography Award in 1942.

From PR from KCET Los Angeles for "Martin: A Ballet Tribute to Martin Luther King": "An accomplished self-taught pianist, he is the composer of "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra", "Tree Symphony", five piano sonatas (all performed in New York and Boston) and a work for piano and woodwinds."

Honored by the National Council of Christians and Jews in 1964.

Parks has been the recipient of numerous awards over the course of his long and spectacular career. A partial listing of the honoring institutions follow: Syracuse University School of Journalism (1964); Philadelphia Museum of Art (1964); New York Art Directors Club (1964, 1968); Frederic W. Brehm Award (1962); Carr Van Anda Journalism Award from the University of Miami (1964); Carr Van Anda Journalism Award from the University of Ohio (1970); named Kansan of the Year by Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas (1986); the 1972 Spingarn Award from the NAACP.

As of 1995, Parks had received 23 honorary degrees in literature, fine arts and humane letters. A partial listing of the institutions and the honorary degrees they granted follows: a degree from Syracuse University in 1963; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute in 1968; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Fairfield U and a doctorate from Boston U in 1969; a Doctor of Letters from Kansas State U in 1970; a Doctor of Humanities from St Olaf College in 1973; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Colby Coll and a Doctor of Literature from MacAlester Coll in 1974; a doctorate from Lincoln U in 1975; a Doctor of Humanities from Thiel Coll in 1976; a Doctor of Arts from Columbia Coll in 1977; a Doctor of Fine Arts from Rutgers U in 1980; a DFA from Pratt Institute Pratt Institute in 1981; a Doctor of Humane Letters from Suffolk U in 1982; a Doctor of Fine Arts from the Kansas City Art Inst in 1984; and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Art Center Coll of Design in 1986.