Mantan Moreland

Birthday:
09/03/1902
Place of birth:
Monroe, Louisiana, USA:
Biography:
Although his brand of humor has been reviled for decades, Negro character actor Mantan Moreland parlayed his cocky but jittery character into a recognizable presence in the late 1930s and early 1940s, appearing in a long string of comedy thrillers . . . and was considered quite funny at the time! Born just after the turn of the century in Louisiana, Mantan began running away from home at age 12 to join circuses and medicine shows, only to be brought back time and again. During these times he sharpened his comic skills and developed routines and acts that eventually became popular on the vaudeville stage, or what was then called the "chitlin' circuit." A solo performer by nature, he often teamed up with other famous comics (such as Ben Carter) to keep working, and became a deft performer of "indefinite talk" routines, where two quicksilver comics continually topped each other in mid-sentence, as if reading each other's mind (i.e., "Say, did you see...?" "Saw him just yesterday...didn't look so good"). Mantan's focus gradually shifted his trade toward film, where he initially appeared in servile bits (shoeshine men, porters, waiters). However, his talent for making people laugh couldn't be overlooked and he soon earned featured status in Harlem-styled western parodies and grade "A" comedy films playing the superstitious, ever-terrified manservant running from any kind of impending doom. Moreland's peak in movies came with his recurring role as Birmingham, the skittish chauffeur, in the "Charlie Chan" series, where he was forever forewarning his boss to stay away from an obviously dangerous case or situation. Though haunted mansions were an ideal place for setting off his stereotyped character, Mantan would be haunted in a different way by this Hollywood success in years to follow. By the 1950s, racial attitudes began to change and, with the rise of the civil rights movement, what was once considered hilarious was now interpreted as demeaning and offensive to both blacks and whites. Mantan and others, such as Stepin Fetchit, were ostracized and ridiculed by Hollywood for their past negative portrayals. It took decades for audiences to forgive and newer generations to forget the Depression-era comedy of Mantan Moreland in order for the actor to come back. In the late 1960s he managed a modest resurgence on TV and in commercials and occasional films, allowing him to work again with such comic heavyweights as Bill Cosby, Godfrey Cambridge and director Carl Reiner. It was all too brief, however, for Mantan, long suffering from ill health, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1973, just as he was settling in to his renewed popularity. Today, audiences tend to be kinder and more understanding of Moreland, remembering him as a highly talented comic who, in the only way he knew, broke major barriers and opened the doors for others black actors to follow.

Credits

The Young Nurses (1973)
as Old Man (as Man Tan Moreland)
Watermelon Man (1970)
as Counterman
Spider Baby (1967)
as Messenger
Enter Laughing (1967)
as Man on Subway
The Patsy (1964)
as Barber Shop Porter
Sky Dragon (1949)
as Birmingham Brown
The Feathered Serpent (1948)
as Birmingham Brown
The Golden Eye (1948)
as Birmingham Brown
The Shanghai Chest (1948)
as Birmingham
Docks of New Orleans (1948)
as Birmingham Brown
The Chinese Ring (1947)
as Birmingham Brown
The Trap (1946)
as Birmingham Brown
Shadows Over Chinatown (1946)
as Birmingham Brown
Tall, Tan and Terrific (1946)
as Mantan Moreland
Dark Alibi (1946)
as Birmingham Brown
Riverboat Rhythm (1946)
as Mantan
The Spider (1945)
as Harry
She Wouldn't Say Yes (1945)
as Porter (uncredited)
The Shanghai Cobra (1945)
as Birmingham Brown
The Scarlet Clue (1945)
as Birmingham Brown, Chauffeur
Charlie Chan in The Jade Mask (1945)
as Birmingham Brown
Bowery to Broadway (1944)
as Alabam
The Mystery of the Riverboat (1944)
as Napoleon
Black Magic (1944)
as Birmingham Brown
South of Dixie (1944)
as The Porter
Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat (1944)
as Birmingham Brown, Taxi Driver
Pin Up Girl (1944)
as Train Station Porter
Moon Over Las Vegas (1944)
See Here, Private Hargrove (1944)
as Train Porter
Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944)
as Birmingham Brown
Chip Off the Old Block (1944)
as Porter
Swing Fever (1943)
as Woody
Swing Fever (1943)
as Woody, Nick's Valet (uncredited)
You're a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith (1943)
as Porter
Revenge of the Zombies (1943)
as Jeff
Melody Parade (1943)
as Skidmore
We've Never Been Licked (1943)
as Willie
Sarong Girl (1943)
as Maxwell
Hit the Ice (1943)
as Porter with Snowshoes (uncredited)
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
as First Idea Man
He Hired the Boss (1943)
as Bootblack
Slightly Dangerous (1943)
as Waiter at Swade's (uncredited)
Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher (1943)
as Eustace Smith
Eyes in the Night (1942)
as Alistair
Girl Trouble (1942)
as Flint's Chauffeur
Phantom Killer (1942)
as Nicodemus
A-Haunting We Will Go (1942)
as Porter (uncredited)
Footlight Serenade (1942)
as Amos
Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942)
as Lightnin'
The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)
as Horatio B.Fitz Washington
The Lucky Ghost (1942)
as Washington
Law of the Jungle (1942)
as Jefferson "Jeff" Jones
Treat 'Em Rough (1942)
as 'Snake-Eyes'
Four Jacks and a Jill (1942)
as Cicero - Wash Room Attendant (uncredited)
Freckles Comes Home (1942)
as Jeff the porter
Birth of the Blues (1941)
as Black Trumpet Player (uncredited)
It Started with Eve (1941)
as Railway Porter (uncredited)
Let's Go Collegiate (1941)
as Jeff
Dressed to Kill (1941)
as Rusty (as Manton Moreland)
Cracked Nuts (1941)
as Burgess
The Gang's All Here (1941)
as Jefferson 'Jeff' Smith
King of the Zombies (1941)
as Jefferson 'Jeff' Jackson
Sign of the Wolf (1941)
as Ben
Ellery Queen's Penthouse Mystery (1941)
as Roy Johnson
Sleepers West (1941)
You're Out of Luck (1941)
as Jeff Jefferson
Four Shall Die (1940)
as Beefus - Touissant's Chauffeur
Drums of the Desert (1940)
as Sergeant 'Blue' Williams
Up in the Air (1940)
as Jeff Jefferson
Laughing at Danger (1940)
as Jefferson
Maryland (1940)
On the Spot (1940)
as Jefferson White
Girl in 313 (1940)
as Porter
Viva Cisco Kid (1940)
as Memphis - The Cook
Star Dust (1940)
as Waiter on Train
Millionaire Playboy (1940)
as Bellhop
Chasing Trouble (1940)
as Thomas H. Jefferson
City of Chance (1940)
as Anxious Man
The Man Who Wouldn't Talk (1940)
as Robbins
Irish Luck (1939)
as Jefferson
Riders of the Frontier (1939)
as Chappie, the Cook
Tell No Tales (1939)
as Sport Black at the Wake
Gang Smashers (1938)
as Gloomy
Next Time I Marry (1938)
as Tilby
Frontier Scout (1938)
as Norris Family Butler
Two-Gun Man from Harlem (1938)
as Bill Blake
Spirit of Youth (1938)
as Creighton 'Crickie' Fitzgibbons
Harlem on the Prairie (1937)
as Mistletoe
That's the Spirit (1933)
as Night Watchman

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