Clarence Muse

Active - 1929 - 1979  |   Born - Oct 7, 1889   |   Died - Oct 13, 1979   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Comedy, Musical, Adventure

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When, in his later years, African-American actor Clarence Muse requested that he be addressed as Dr. Muse, it was no mere hollow affectation; Muse held a law degree from Pennsylvania's Dickerson University. Opting for a show business career, Muse appeared as an opera singer, minstrel show performer, and vaudeville and Broadway actor; he also composed songs and wrote plays and sketches. An active participant in the burgeoning black theater movement of the 1920s, Muse was a member of the progressive all-black Lincoln Players. His Hollywood film assignments generally confined him to stereotypes, though Muse was usually able to rise above the shuffling "yassuh, boss" characterizations required of him. He was given dignified, erudite roles in films designed for all-black audiences (e.g., 1939's Broken Strings), and on rare occasions was permitted to portray non-submissive characters in mainstream films (it must have come as quite a shock to Southern audiences of 1941 when Muse, playing Bela Lugosi's independent-minded butler in The Invisible Ghost, spoke harshly to a white female servant, addressing her as "you old fool!"). Muse also penned the songs and co-wrote the story for the 1938 Bobby Breen musical Way Down South. In 1955, Muse was a regular on the weekly TV version of Casablanca, playing Sam the pianist (a role he'd very nearly gotten in the 1942 film version). Though he was an outspoken advocate for better and more equitable treatment for black performers, Muse was a staunch supporter of the controversial TV series Amos 'N' Andy, pointing out that, despite the caricatured leading characters, the series allowed black actors to play doctors, bankers, judges, professors, and other parts generally denied them in "white" shows. In 1973, Clarence Muse was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame -- then went back to work, remaining active in films until the year of his death, when he was featured in The Black Stallion (1979).

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