Little Known Black History Fact: Frank Silvera

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  • African-American actor Frank Silvera starred in many top-tier Hollywood shows and films as a white man. The Kingston, Jamaica native held his strongest roles in the 1950’s and 60’s. With a fair-skinned complexion, Silvera usually played the leading white man on Broadway. He wasn’t able to play a black man until he financed his own production of "The Amen Corner" by black writer James Baldwin. He took it further by founding the Theater of Being in 1965 for black actors, to help them get started in Hollywood.

    Silvera appeared in TV shows like Perry Mason opposite Raymond Burr – as a white man. Other times, he played a Latino, like in his role opposite Paul Newman in the 1967 film “Hombre” and the NBC western series “The High Chaparral” as Mexican squire Don Sebastian Montoya. He also got roles as an Italian man, like in the 1967 production of “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” where he played Nick Sorello.

    Facing the challenge of never being able to play his own race, Silvera once said that he auditioned for the role of a black elevator operator and the casting director told him he was too light. He returned and asked for the part of a white man and received the part instantly.

    Silvera died in a freak electrocution accident in his home on June 11, 1970. His legacy is left with the Frank Silvera Writer's Workshop Foundation, Inc., co-founded by Morgan Freeman to help Black playwrights achieve their goals. They received part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Foundation for their efforts. A WWII Navy vet, Silvera was buried with honors at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY.
     

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