Image of Mantan Moreland

Mantan Moreland

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.

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Sep 3, 1902 In Monroe, Louisiana, USA
Movie/TV Credits:
First Appeared:
In the movie Harlem on the Prairie 1937-12-09
Latest Project:
series Sim, Chef! 2017-01-04
Known For
Poster of A-Haunting We Will Go
Series Sim, Chef! Roy Johnson 2017-01-04
Series Marvel's Jessica Jones Birmingham Brown 2015-11-20
Movie Watermelon Man Counterman 1970-01-01
Movie Spider Baby Messenger 1967-12-24
Movie Docks of New Orleans Birmingham Brown 1948-03-21
Movie The Golden Eye Birmingham Brown 1948-08-29
Movie The Feathered Serpent Birmingham Brown 1948-12-19
Movie Charlie Chan in Shadows Over Chinatown Birmingham Brown 1946-06-27
Movie Charlie Chan in The Jade Mask Birmingham Brown 1945-01-26
Movie The Spider Harry 1945-12-01
Movie Charlie Chan in The Scarlet Clue Birmingham Brown, Chauffeur 1945-05-11
Movie Charlie Chan in The Shanghai Cobra Birmingham Brown 1945-09-29
Movie She Wouldn't Say Yes Porter (uncredited) 1945-11-29
Movie Chip Off the Old Block Porter 1944-02-01
Movie Charlie Chan in the Secret Service Birmingham Brown 1944-02-14
Movie Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat Birmingham Brown, Taxi Driver 1944-05-20
Movie The Mystery of the Riverboat Napoleon 1944-10-24
Movie Charlie Chan in Black Magic Birmingham Brown 1944-08-19
Movie Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher Eustace Smith 1943-01-29
Movie Cabin in the Sky First Idea Man 1943-04-09
Movie Revenge of the Zombies Jeff 1943-09-17
Movie Swing Fever Woody 1943-11-01
Movie The Lucky Ghost Washington 1942-02-10
Movie Four Jacks and a Jill Cicero - Wash Room Attendant (uncredited) 1942-01-23
Movie Footlight Serenade Amos. Tommy's Dresser (as Manton Moreland) 1942-08-01
Movie Girl Trouble Flint's Chauffeur 1942-10-09
Movie Eyes in the Night Alistair 1942-10-16
Movie A-Haunting We Will Go Porter (uncredited) 1942-08-07
Movie King of the Zombies Jefferson 'Jeff' Jackson 1941-05-14
Movie Sign of the Wolf Ben 1941-03-25
Movie You're Out of Luck Jeff Jefferson 1941-01-20
Movie The Gang's All Here Jefferson 'Jeff' Smith 1941-06-11
Movie It Started with Eve Railway Porter (uncredited) 1941-09-26
Movie Cracked Nuts Burgess 1941-07-02
Movie Birth of the Blues Black Trumpet Player (uncredited) 1941-11-07
Movie Let's Go Collegiate Jeff 1941-09-12
Movie Dressed to Kill Rusty (as Manton Moreland) 1941-08-08
Movie Viva Cisco Kid Memphis - The Cook 1940-04-12
Movie Millionaire Playboy Bellhop 1940-03-14
Movie City of Chance Anxious Man 1940-01-13
Movie Girl in 313 Porter 1940-05-30
Movie The Man Who Wouldn't Talk Robbins 1940-01-23
Movie Chasing Trouble Thomas H. Jefferson 1940-01-30
Movie Star Dust Waiter on Train 1940-04-06
Movie Drums of the Desert Sergeant 'Blue' Williams 1940-10-06
Movie Four Shall Die Beefus - Touissant's Chauffeur 1940-10-15
Movie On the Spot Jefferson White 1940-06-11
Movie Up in the Air Jeff Jefferson 1940-09-09
Movie Laughing at Danger Jefferson 1940-08-12
Movie Maryland 1940-07-19
Movie Tell No Tales Sport Black at the Wake 1939-06-12
Movie Riders of the Frontier Chappie, the Cook 1939-08-15
Movie Irish Luck Jefferson 1939-08-22
Movie Two-Gun Man from Harlem Bill Blake 1938-05-01
Movie Spirit of Youth Creighton 'Crickie' Fitzgibbons 1938-04-01
Movie Frontier Scout Norris Family Butler 1938-09-16
Movie Next Time I Marry Tilby 1938-12-09
Movie Gang Smashers Gloomy 1938-12-30
Movie Harlem on the Prairie Mistletoe 1937-12-09