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Lorenzo Tucker
Lorenzo Tucker, star of the early black cinema
Lorenzo Tucker, star of the early black cinema
Born (1907-06-27)June 27, 1907
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died September 19, 1986(1986-09-19) (aged 79)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Other names The "Black Valentino"
Years active 1927-1947
Spouse(s) Pauline Segura

Lorenzo Tucker (June 27, 1907 – August 19, 1986), known as the "Black Valentino," was an African-American stage and screen actor who played the romantic lead in the early black films of Oscar Micheaux.

Acting career[]

Born in Philadelphia, Tucker started acting at Temple University where he was a student.[1] Tucker also appeared early in his career with Bessie Smith on cross-country tours.[2]

From 1926 to 1946, Tucker appeared in 18 of Micheaux's films, including When Men Betray (1928); Wages of Sin (1929); Easy Street (1930); Harlem Big Show, Veiled Aristocrats (1932); Ten Minutes To Live (1932); Harlem After Midnight (1934); Temptation (1935); and Underworld (1937).[3] He became known as the "Black Valentino" because of his good looks and role as the romantic lead in the early black cinema.[3] Tucker noted the irony of the appellation since he believed Rudolph Valentino had a darker complexion than Tucker.[4] He became a movie star to black America and was often mentioned in the leading black newspapers.[1] One of Micheaux and Tucker's most controversial films was Veiled Aristocrats where Tucker played a black man who passed as white and tried to persuade his sister also to pass for white.[1] He also made an uncredited cameo appearance with Paul Robeson in 1933's The Emperor Jones.

Tucker was also a successful stage actor, appearing on Broadway in The Constant Sinner, Ol' Man Satan, and Humming Sam. His most controversial role came in The Constant Sinner in which he portrayed a pimp, Money Johnson, and in which Mae West was his prostitute, Babe Gordon. Though miscegenation was still outlawed in some parts of the south, the play included a scene in which Tucker kissed West. When the play opened in Washington, D.C., the press was outraged to see a black man kissing a white woman, and demands were made that the scene be excised from the play. West rejected demands, and the play left Washington.[1] The Shuberts refused to permit Tucker to play the role, and the Greek-American actor George Givot was hired to play the role wearing blackface.[5] Despite the Shuberts' decision, West cast Tucker in a few minor parts, including the role of a Spaniard who walks across the stage. When a woman asks West's character who that is, West responded, "Oh, he's Spanish — he's my Spanish fly!"[citation needed]

Later years[]

During World War II, Tucker was a tail gunner in the U.S. Army Air Corps.[3] After the war, Tucker appeared in Louis Jordan's film Reet, Petite and Gone; in the early 1950s, he returned to the stage appearing in a London production of Anna Lucasta.

Tucker later became an autopsy technician for the New York City medical examiner, where he worked on the bodies of Malcolm X and Nina Mae McKinney.[1]

Tucker died of lung cancer at age 79 at his home in Hollywood, California. His funeral took place at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.[4]

Honors and awards[]

In 1974, Tucker was inducted into the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame,[1] and he received the Audelco Recognition Award in 1981.[3] On the November 14, 1985 "Denise Drives" episode of The Cosby Show, Clair Huxtable quizzes Denise Huxtable on car safety asking if she should stop her car for a stranger on a dark rainy night with "hair like Lorenzo Tucker, eyes like Billy Dee and a smile like Nat King Cole."[6]



  • Richard Grupenhoff. The Black Valentino: The Stage and Screen Career of Lorenzo Tucker. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8108-2078-1

External links[]

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