Canada Lee

  1. Robert Ryan, The Set Up, 1948.      Not many boxing films are based on a poem and director Robert Wise wanted to be faithful to the work by having his boxer being black. He suggested Lee, an ex-pugilist (1926-1933) and seen in another boxing drama, Body and Soul, 1946. (And Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, 1943). But no, it had to be Ryan (a boxer in college) because… (a) there were no leading black men at the time; (b) RKO had no black actors under contract; and (c) the real truth: A black guy in a leading role – never!!” And yet James Edwards was in the cast and he was one of the two leads of Home of the Brave made that same year… and hardly in secret!
  2. Brock Peters, Porgy and Bess, 1958.  Columbia’s hated  czar, Harry Cohn, wanted – incredibly –  to do it in black-face.  With Fred Astaire as  Sportin’  Life opposite Al Jolson’s Porgy and Rita Hayworth’s Bess! Said the Gershwin brothers:  “Get outa here!”  Poor Canada was dead by then time the film was produced. Harry Belafonte refused to be Porgy. “I had no interest in doing such a film at that time,:” he told the New York Timesin 1972 . “The leading man was a black man on his knees, the leading lady was a black whore, Crown [offered to Lee] was a sex maniac, Sporting Life a cocaine pusher. That was not where my head was at.”

 Birth year: 1907Death year: 1952Other name: Casting Calls:  2