Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Versatility and Importance of Lawrence Chenault

Our 'Star of the Month' as the mischievous "Yellow-Curley Hinds" in Body and Soul (1925) 

So far, I've seen our Star of the Month play a self-hating and white-passing black man in The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920), a kind and influential man of the upper class in The Scar of Shame (1927), and a "pipsqueaky" criminal in Body and Soul (1925). One black man playing more than one (or two) kinds of characters in 1920s/1930s film was a rarity. 

One may say that colorism plays a part in this--as light-skinned black actors tended to fill the majority of a race movie's cast--especially as the protagonists. 

For this (and also because he was mostly an actor of the stage), we must thank Oscar Micheaux (and others) for casting this man in numerous movies. We must also thank the groups of people who, in more recent years, began uncovering the previously "lost" race films. Without these people, we would not know the greatness that was Mr. Lawrence Chenault.


Lawrence Chenault as "Jefferson Driscoll" in The Symbol of the Unconquered (1920)

Like many race film performers, Lawrence Chenault was given the opportunity to play something other than a servant or a down-and-out bluesman/woman; and as expressed before, not only was he able to play "something" other than the roles usually given to black actors (in Hollywood)--he was able to play many things other than the usual: the aforementioned white-passing man (who managed a hotel), the criminal, the upper class citizen--and the unmentioned (and unseen since the 1920s) role as a cowhand in The Crimson Skull (1922). 

With only three films seen so far, I've come to hate a Lawrence Chenault character (Symbol), love one (Scar), and find humor in another (Body and Soul). What's even more amazing about his performances is that while he was able to portray such different characters, he still managed to bring his own signature style and dignity to each one--much like what Denzel Washington has done over the last two or three decades. To put it in a clearer perspective, let's say that The Symbol of the Unconquered was Chenault's Training Day, The Scar of Shame his Antwone Fisher, and Body and Soul his Malcolm X (Part 1). 


Lawrence Chenault is a man and a performer--whose praise is long overdue. For the reasons mentioned above (and more), I've wanted to pay tribute to him for a long time. I'm still searching for more information on his personal life and more on his career. Unfortunately, my search has ended with few results, but I don't think it's impossible to uncover that information--and I am a firm believer in the power of the internet (and books, of course). 

Chenault as a grieving "Ralph Hathaway" in The Scar of Shame (1927)

In the mean time, let us shine a light on the name Lawrence Chenault--for it has been in the dark for far too long.


Previous Posts

November Star of the Month announcement

Appreciation Post

The images used in this post are screenshots from their respective films. They are being used for informational purposes only. If the rightful owner(s) of any of these images wishes to have them removed, please contact me, and I will do so immediately. 

-- Adrienne

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