Day: February 6, 2015

Happy Birthday to director, actor, humanitarian Robert Townsend

Robert Townsend might be primarily known for his comedy work, but his résumé also includes experience as actor, writer, producer, director, and network-programming CEO.

A Chicago native, Townsend first appeared on stage in a high school reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex — a far cry from comedy. Apparently his performance was so compelling, however, that he was encouraged to go further and performed in local plays. His life in comedy began when he began studying at the Second City comedy workshop for improvisation.

Over a decade later, and after acting in New York City, Townsend wrote, directed and produced “Hollywood Shuffle” (1987), a satire based on the hardships and stereotypes black actors face in the film industry — even now, “Hollywood Shuffle” is probably the work he’s best known for by those of us outside the industry.

It’s often a surprise to some, but Townsend has, in fact, done work in multiple genre productions: “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child,” “I Was a Teenage Faust (2002),” “Amazing Stories,” “Streets of Fire” and “The Meteor Man.” Townsend actually wrote, directed and starred in “The Meteor Man,” for which Marvel created a spin-off comic!

The multi-talented Townsend has worked with an impressive list of performers, including Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Alfre Woodard, Louis Gossett, Jr., Natalie Cole, Andre Braugher, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Beyoncé, Mos Def and Chris Tucker. He also directed Eddie Murphy in his comedy stand-up performances “Eddie Murphy Delirious” (1983) and “Eddie Murphy Raw” (1987).

A humanitarian, Townsend has a long history with social justice, community and philanthropic work. He’s a long-time spokesman for the Negro College Fund; he’s traveled to major cities across the U.S. with The Milken Family Fund, honoring exceptional teachers and inspiring a love of education in students; and in 2014, he initiated a mentorship program with the NAACP in his home neighborhood in Chicago.

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Interesting facts about Robert Townsend:

* Townsend has made history by being nominated for over 30 NAACP Image Awards for film and television, and at the 2001 NAACP Image Awards he directed three performers nominated in the best actor/actress category in three different films: Leon, for his role in NBC’s “Little Richard”; Alfre Woodard in the Showtime Movie “Holiday Heart” and Natalie Cole for her self-portrayal in “Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story.” (Cole won the Image Award for best actress.)

* His first film appearance was in the classic “Cooley High” (1975).

* Townsend is often referred to as one of the “Godfathers” of the Independent Film World — in good company with Robert Redford, John Sayles, and John Cassavetes, among others.

Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB, http://www.qasas.com/projectarchives.

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