Rex Ingram was an American original. He broke down barriers all through
his life. He was a handsome individual, tall and white-haired as we best
remember him, with a booming baritone voice. He was born on October 20,
1895 on the riverboat Robert E. Lee in Cairo, Illinois, the son of a fireman
who worked on the boat. He worked with his father on the riverboat until
at age 18 he left to attend Northwestern University. He majored in medicine
and became the first black member of Phi Beta Kappa fraternity. Upon graduation
he headed for California and a career in medicine as a qualified M.D. but
a strange quirk of fate led him to an acting career. He was discovered by
a talent agent and persuaded to audition for a role as a native in the first
Tarzan movie with Elmo Lincoln. Thus began a long career in acting. He worked
in silents at the outset and also had a successful career on stage. Initially
he played porters, African natives, butlers and other stereotypical roles
but he vowed to never portray Negroes in a demeaning light. His film credits
include: "Tarzan of the Apes" (1918) with Elmo Lincoln; "The
Emperor Jones" (1934) as Court Crier; his most famous and best known
role in "The Green Pastures" (1936) as De Lawd; "The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn" (1939) as the slave Jim, my favorite of his roles;
"The Thief of Bagdad" (1940) with Sabu, as the Djinn, another
of his great roles; "The Talk of the Town" (1942) as Tilney; "Cabin
in the Sky" (1943) as Lucifer Jr./Lucius, a kind of reversal of his
Green Pastures role; "Sahara" (1943) with Humphrey Bogart, as
Sgt. Tambul, another terrific role; "A Thousand and One Nights"
(1945) as Giant; "Moonrise" (1948) as Mose; "Congo Crossing"
(1956) as Dr. Leo Gorman; "Anna Lucasta" (1958) as Joe Lucasta;
"God's Little Acre" (1958) as Uncle Felix; "Your Cheatin'
Heart" (1964) as Teetot and "Journey to Shiloh" (1968) as
Jacob, his final film. On TV he was also quite prolific appearing as a guest
star on such series as: "Gunsmoke"; "Black Saddle";
"Daktari"; "Branded"; "I Spy" and "Playhouse
90." He died of a heart attack on September 19, 1969 in Hollywood,
California at age 73.