Noble Johnson

Active - 1916 - 2015  |   Born - Apr 18, 1881   |   Died - Jan 9, 1978   |   Genres - Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Western, Action

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Born in Missouri, Noble Johnson was raised in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he was a classmate of future film-star Lon Chaney Sr., who became one of his closest friends. At 15, Johnson dropped out of school to help his horse-trainer father. The 6'2", 225-pound teenager had little trouble finding "man-sized" employment, and at various junctures he worked as a miner and a rancher. In 1909, he made his motion picture debut, playing an American Indian (the first of many). Seven years later, Johnson and his brother George formed the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, the first American film studio exclusively devoted to the production of all-black feature films. Business was poor, however; by 1918, the studio had failed, and Johnson returned to acting in other's films. During the silent era, he essayed such roles as Friday in Robinson Crusoe (1922) and Uncle Tom in Topsy and Eva (1927), and also began a longtime professional relationship with producer/director Cecil B. DeMille. His talkie roles included Queequeg in Moby Dick (1930) and the Native Chieftan in King Kong (1933); he also played important parts in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), Mystery Ranch (1932) and The Mummy (1932). Launching the 1940's with a vivid portrayal of a zombie in Bob Hope's The Ghost Breakers (1940), Johnson spent the rest of the decade playing Africans, Indians, Mexicans, Arabs and South Sea Islanders, one of the few black performers in Hollywood to be permitted any sort of versatility. Noble Johnson retired in 1950.

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