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Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I remember Brock Peters, born George Fisher, who died yesterday here in Los Angeles. I remember seeing him in a million roles in a million television shows. You may not know it, but you remember him, too. He was one of the countless recognizable if not easily named actors dubbed "character actors" who popped up regularly on television dramas throughout the 70s and 80s.

Yes, he did work in film, appearing in scores of movies over the last half century. And indeed, his most famous and perhaps greatest role was that of the accused Tom Robinson in the classic American film To Kill A Mockingbird. Sci-fi fanatics will point to his work in a handful of Star Trek movies and television series.

To me, however, he will always be the guy from all those TV shows I grew up watching. I'm talking about all the cop shows, private eye shows, the medical shows, the shows from which I have collected still photographs and press releases which now hang in my office. Peters appeared in Mission Impossible, It Takes a Thief, Mannix, Longstreet, The Streets of San Francisco, McCloud, Baretta, Medical Center, Police Story, The Bionic Woman, Quincy, Magnum P.I., and many, many others.

Being African American, Peters belonged to an even more narrow subgroup of character actor: the black guest star. With his deep voice and clear enunciation, and later with his graying temples, he infused his characters with dignity and humanity. Because of the times – during the 70s it seemed like a guest character never just happened to be black; if he were black, the story must be centered around race – his roles often called upon him to elicit sympathy if not outright guilt from a largely white audience, to point out the injustice of the racism in America. His characters struggled for respect in a world that denied respect at every turn. His distinguished look and carriage got him roles of black men in positions of some authority. Doctor, politician, administrator. And often fighting the system of which he was a part. With uniquely expressive features, Peters had one of those faces perfect for the closeup of the small screen. While delivering his lines, his eyes, nose and mouth would tick and dance a physical interpretation of the words that brought out the pathos of his character's plight.

During the summer of 2003, I was lucky enough to see Brock Peters in person at a screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Orpheum Theater on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It was part of the L.A. Conservancy's annual Last Remaining Seats series. The Orpheum, if you haven't been is one of the classic movie palaces downtown built in the early 1900s that has been beautifully restored to much of its original grandeur. Peters came on stage that night to a tremendous standing ovation to which he reacted with humility and appreciation. At the time, in such an elegant atmosphere, with the hall filled thunderous applause, I thought to myself, "It's like I'm watching all of the characters he ever played finally get the respect they fought for."


At 8/24/2005 3:58 PM, Anonymous said...

he had a cool voice!


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