images-1.jpeg 4.81KB 0 downloadsLouise Beavers
Louise Beavers was a trailblazer for black movie actors but she also dealt with a great deal of criticism for the roles she played. She worked at a time when talented African-American actors were, for the most part, only given the opportunity to play servile characters. She once remarked: “As long as the plays are being written and produced for whites by whites, there will be the same chance for criticism.” Yet, she persevered for 33 years and gave 124 fine films performances which we still enjoy today.
Louise Beavers was born in Cincinnati in 1902 but moved to Pasadena with her family when she was 11. Her mother, a voice teacher, had hopes that Louise would sing in concert halls but, instead, after graduating from Pasadena High School, Louise joined a group of young women singers called the “Lady Minstrels.” Charles Butler of Central Casting (who was well known as an agent for African-American actors) saw Louise perform and suggested she audition for work in films. There is some dispute about which film was Louise Beavers’ first -- 1923’s “Gold Diggers” or 1927’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but Beavers’ first performance of note was in 1929’s “Coquette,” playing Mary Pickford’s nanny in the film. Film buffs like to point out that Louise Beavers was actually 10 years younger than Pickford (!) when she played her “old” nanny.
Beavers’ role of a lifetime came in 1934 as Delilah Johnson in “Imitation of Life.” Rather than being relegated to the sidelines, Louise Beavers shared the screen equally with Claudette Colbert as they played two young mothers struggling to raise their daughters. It is Delilah Johnson’s famous pancake recipe which propels the women from rags to riches. Louise Beavers finally had a three dimensional, dramatic role to play and she made the most of it, pretty much stealing the film from Claudette Colbert. Many film scholars believe that this breakout role ruined any chance Beavers might have had to appear in even more significant parts for one simple reason -- As Hollywood gossip columnist, Jimmie Fidler said: “She was too good! Any actress who can steal a picture away from Miss Colbert will be given few chances to steal from other stars.” Louise Beavers had been considered, far and away, the leading candidate to play Mammy in “Gone With The Wind” but the role instead went to Hattie McDaniel (who in turn nearly stole that film from Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable!) While Louise Beavers continued to be a very busy actress, she never was offered a part as important as Delilah Johnson by a major studio again. Louise Beavers did appear as the lead actress in a pair of films produced by Million Dollar Productions, a company which specialized in films featuring all African-American casts, “Life Goes On” (1938) and “Reform School" (1939) but the distribution of those films was limited.
Beavers continued to work steadily through the 1940’s and 1950’s in such films as “Shadow of the Thin Man,” No Time for Comedy,” “DuBarry Was A Lady” and “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” In 1952 Louise Beavers took over for an ailing Hattie McDaniel, starring in the TV Show “Beulah” for 2 seasons. She then took on the role as the tart tongued housekeeper, Louise, (often stealing scenes from Danny Thomas) in “”Make Room For Daddy.” Her last film role was in 1960 in “The Facts of Life” and she died two years later at the age of 60. In 1976 Louise Beavers was posthumously inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Coming up next: Ward Bond