Book details

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee

The Untold Tragedy of the Great Black Actor, Activist, and Athlete

Author: Mona Smith

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee

$9.99

e-Book

About This Book

The first biography of the great black actor, activist, athlete--and tragic victim of the blacklist

Imagine an actor as familiar to audiences as Denzel Washington and...

Page Count
448
On Sale
08/22/2005

Book Details

The first biography of the great black actor, activist, athlete--and tragic victim of the blacklist

Imagine an actor as familiar to audiences as Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman are today--who is then virtually deleted from public memory. Such is the story of Canada Lee. Among the most respected black actors of the forties and a tireless civil rights advocate, Lee was unjustly dishonored, his name reduced to a footnote in the history of the McCarthy era, his death one of a handful directly attributable to the blacklist.

Born in Harlem in 1907, Lee was a Renaissance man. A musical prodigy on violin and piano at eleven, by thirteen he had become a successful jockey and by his twenties a champion boxer. After wandering into auditions for the WPA Negro Theater Project, Lee took up acting and soon shot to stardom in Orson Welles's Broadway production of Native Son, later appearing in such classic films as Lifeboat and the original Cry, the Beloved Country.

But Lee's meteoric rise to fame was followed by a devastating fall. Labeled a Communist by the FBI and HUAC as early as 1943, Lee was pilloried during the notorious spy trial of Judith Coplon in 1949, then condemned in longtime friend Ed Sullivan's column. He died in 1952, forty-five and penniless, a heartbroken casualty of a dangerous and conflicted time.

Now, after nearly a decade of research, Mona Z. Smith revives the legacy of a man who was perhaps the blacklist's most tragic victim.

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ISBN

9781429927741

In The News

“[A] mission accomplished . . . Smith has put together a richly detailed and . . . persuasive narrative . . . Becoming Something . . . makes possible much more discussion and reflection on a life that still has lessons to teach us.” —Clyde Taylor, The Washington Post Review of Books

“Arguably one of the greatest black actors of his time . . . Lee's story is as tragic as those he portrayed on stage . . . Smith wondrously brings to life a man whose impact on American theater and culture was far too great to be allowed to lapse into obscurity.” —Carol Haggas, Booklist

“Smith . . . makes a convincing case in this groundbreaking biography, providing a thought-provoking example of the tragic impact of a nation's and an art form's paranoia.” —Carol J. Binkowski, Library Journal

“Smith paints an attractive portrait of a man who loved a good time, always offered a helping hand to his friends, and continued to support the causes he believed in even after he know what the consequences would be . . . A valuable . . . attempt to restore a heroic figure to his rightful place in American cultural and political history.” —Kirkus

“Smith deftly depicts New York's theater scene, showing how Lee became one of the first African-Americans to gain acceptance in white theater, and thoroughly documents Lee's outspoken support for civil rights.” —Publishers Weekly

“Mona Z. Smith has used her considerable gifts as a dramatist and storyteller to illuminate the astonishing odyssey of Canada Lee, a man who challenged racism in every quarter, here and abroad, for thirty years, and usually prevailed. Here at last is a full length portrait of this forgotten hero.” —Daniel Mark Epstein, author of Lincoln and Whitman and Nat King Cole

“A biography of Canada Lee has been long overdue. The story of his dramatic rise and fall is as important as it is moving, and Mona Z. Smith tells it with theatrical flair. This is a first-rate book.” —Hazel Rowley, author of Richard Wright: The Life and Times

About the Creators

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee

Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee

$9.99

e-Book