Roscoe Lee Browne

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Roscoe Lee Browne

Roscoe Lee Browne (May 2, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American actor as well as a theater director.

Roscoe_Lee_Browne’s Biography

Born in Woodbury, New Jersey, Browne was the son of Baptist pastor Sylvanus Browne and his wife Lovie Lee. Browne studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, targeting black students, where he was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and got a bachelor’s degree in 1946. He had subsequent studies at the Middlebury College of Vermont, at Columbia University in New York City York, and at the University of Florence, in Italy. He was also an outstanding middle distance runner, winning in 1949 the indoor national championship of the 1,000-yard Amateur Athletic Union. Occasionally he returned to Lincoln University between 1946 and 1952 for studies in Comparative Literature, French and English. Until finishing his studies, he earned his living selling wine to Schenley Import Corporation. Despite his limited interpretive experience, in 1956 he surprised guests at a party – including opera singer Leontyne Price – by announcing his intention to quit his job with Schenley to pursue acting.

Interpretive career

Despite the doubts of his friends, Browne played the roles of fortune-teller and Pindar in the play Julio César, directed by Joseph Papp for the First Theater Festival of William Shakespeare in New York City. This work was followed more work with the Shakespeare festival, and in 1961 was J. J. Burden in The Connection (1961), his first film role. Despite lacking physical attractiveness to play first male roles, his reputation was based on interpretations that demonstrated his versatility as a character actor.

Endowed with a resounding baritone voice, and capable of projecting cynicism and arrogance with her thanks to her years reciting Shakespeare texts, Browne was required as a narrator and voice actor in both cinema and discography, recording recitations of poetry, passages of the Bible, and literary works. He returned again and again to the stage to perform in works by Shakespeare, as well as in modern works and musicals, represented outside and inside Broadway, such as The Blacks (1961), by the Frenchman Jean Genet.

Browne was determined not to accept the stereotyped and degrading roles that were routinely offered to black actors. Browne also wanted to do more than act and narrate, and in 1966 he wrote and directed at the theater A Hand is On the Gate: An Evening of Black Poetry and Folk Music, starring Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Moses Gunn, and others black actors. Browne avoided participating in public protest demonstrations, preferring to be “more effective in the theater with metaphors … than in the streets with a publisher” (Troupe, 92).

His theatrical work caught the attention of producer Leland Hayward, and in 1964 he began a stint as a cast member of the NBC satirical series That Was the Week That Was. Beginning in the late 1960s, Browne most frequently acted as guest artist on television series such as Mannix, All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show and dozens of other programs. He performed regularly at the Soap sitcom, where he played Saunders, a learned butler, between 1979 and 1981, replacing Robert Guillaume, who played his own show, Benson. Incidentally, Browne was a guest artist at Benson, with Guillaume. His performances on The Cosby Show, including a memorable episode in which he recited Shakespeare with guest actor Christopher Plummer, earned him an Emmy in 1986.

Along with the actor Anthony Zerbe he traveled through the United States with a poetic piece, Behind the Broken Words, which included reading poems, some written by Browne, as well as dramatic and comedy performances.

Among his most important film roles are Alfred Hitchcock’s film Topaz, the main character in William Wyler’s latest film, The Liberation of L.B. Jones, and his work as a narrator in Babe and its sequel Babe: Pig in the City. Highlight his performances as a voice actor for television in Spider-Man.

Roscoe Lee Browne died of cancer in Los Angeles, California, in 2007, at 81 years of age.

More Facts about Roscoe Lee Browne

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