James Baskett made history on March 20, 1948 when he was given an honorary Academy Award for his role as Uncle Remus in the 1946 film, Song Of The South. The achievement was sadly short-lived as the actor passed just months after his feat.
Baskett was born February 16, 1904 in Indianapolis, Ind. Although he intended to become a pharmacist, Baskett caught the acting bug in Chicago and then traveled to New York to hone his craft with the Lafayette Players Stock Company.
Theater and film roles began to roll in, including a long-standing role as lawyer Gabby Gibson on the Amos ‘N’ Andy radio show. He is best remembered for his role as the affable storyteller Uncle Remus, which garnered criticism then and now due to racist themes and stereotypes.
Walt Disney specifically hired Baskett for the role and he became the first live actor hired by the company, according to several sources. Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper was so taken by Baskett’s turn as Uncle Remus that she lobbied on his behalf to for the Oscar nod.
That same year, Baskett’s health began to fail due to complications of diabetes. He eventually succumbed to the disease in July 1948 at the age of 44.
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