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Freeman, Morgan

Morgan Freeman

1937—

Actor

Morgan Freeman is a versatile actor who has performed in numerous roles from children's television to Shakespearean drama. He is best known for his appearances in a string of well-regarded motion pictures, including Driving Miss Daisy, Lean on Me, Glory, and Million Dollar Baby. The latter won him an Academy Award in 2005 for best supporting actor. Freeman has won several other awards and award nominations. Time correspondent Janice C. Simpson said Freeman's performances "are so finely calibrated that [the] characters emerge as men of true heft and substance." Freeman, a private man who says acting "comes easy" for him, does not care for the movie star label and all that it implies. The actor observed in Ebony that "once you become a movie star, people come to see you. You don't have to act anymore. And, to me, that's a danger." Now in his eighth decade, the actor brings a gravity and sense of wisdom to every role he plays, whether it be a superhero's quiet aide in the ongoing Batman series, the South African hero Nelson Mandela, or God himself.

The big screen has brought Freeman to a wider audience, but he has long been a figure in New York theater, appearing only in Broadway and off-Broadway plays that suit his very particular tastes. As early as 1967 he held a part in the Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly, that starred Pearl Bailey, but the bulk of his work has come in nonmusical, intensely serious dramas that relate various aspects of the African-American experience. "I have a special affinity for seeing to it that our history is told," Freeman said in Ebony. "The black legacy is as noble, is as heroic, is as filled with adventure and conquest and discovery as anybody else's. It's just that nobody knows it."

Endured Tumultuous Childhood

Freeman endured a tumultuous childhood, and he prefers not to reveal much in interviews about his early years. The fourth child in the family, he was born on June 1, 1937, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. While still an infant, he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother. She died when Freeman was six years old, and he spent the next several years traveling with his mother from Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee, and finally to Greenwood, Mississippi, where they settled down.

Like most youngsters of his generation, Freeman loved the movies. "When I was a kid, it cost 12 cents to go to the movies," he related in a People interview with Susan Toepfer. "If you could find a milk bottle, you could sell it for a nickel. Soda and beer bottles were worth 2 cents. If you were diligent, you could come up with movie money every day." The World War II-era films Freeman saw inspired him to be a fighter pilot. At first, drama served mainly as a pastime until he could enter the armed services.

Freeman's acting hobby began in junior high school. He was trying to gain the attention of a girl named Barbara by pulling her chair out from beneath her. His teacher grabbed him and took him to a room where they were preparing for a drama tournament. Freeman recalled to New York, "Well, we do this play 'bout a family with a wounded son just home from the war—I play his kid brother. We win the district championship, we win the state championship, and dadgummit, I'm chosen as best actor. All 'cause I pull this chair out from under Barbara."

Freeman's tale shows that he exhibited talent early but did not take acting seriously, even when others recognized his skill. After graduating from high school in Greenwood he entered the U.S. Air Force, hoping to become a pilot. Aptitude tests showed that he had the ability, but he was instead assigned duties as a mechanic and a radar technician. "I was aced out," he explained in Esquire. "Racism, the southern old-boy network. I had a sergeant who interposed himself between me and the casual barracks [stockade]—I was insolent. I called a horse's ass a horse's ass, even if it was wearin' brass. The whole thing in the service, you're supposed to look down. Never could do that."

First Hollywood, Then Broadway

Freeman spent his spare time while in the Air Force contemplating other careers, and he ultimately decided to become an actor. He left the service in 1959 and headed straight for Hollywood. Once there, he looked up the address of Paramount Studios in the telephone book and went over to apply for a job. Only when he noticed that the questions on the application concerned familiarity with office machinery and typing did it dawn upon him that he would not be hired as an actor on the spot. He opted to follow a more conventional route, taking acting classes at Los Angeles City College while supporting himself as a clerk. He also took dancing lessons, becoming good enough to land a part-time job performing at the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

By his own admission, Freeman did not gain much insight from his acting classes. "I'm not much for talking about acting," he noted in New York. "I've been called an intuitive actor, and I guess that's right. I go with what I feel. It doesn't do me any good to intellectualize about it." Freeman moved to New York in the early 1960s and supported himself with a series of day jobs while auditioning for theatrical roles. At one point he even served as a counter man in a Penn Station doughnut stand. His first important part came in an off-Broadway play called The Nigger-Lovers, which opened and closed quickly in 1967.

Freeman's brief experience in The Nigger-Lovers was valuable, however, because it helped him land a role in the all-black cast of Hello, Dolly, that opened on Broadway in 1967. When the show closed, he moved on to a series of off-Broadway and repertory plays in New York and elsewhere. In 1971 he was cast in The Electric Company, a television series produced by the Public Broadcasting System. On the air for five years, the educational show was aimed at school-aged children, and Freeman played a hip character called Easy Reader. The actor commented in People that he is still remembered for his role. "It's like being known as Captain Kangaroo," he said. "It irks me when I meet people who are parents now who talk about how they grew up with me."

At a Glance …

Born on June 1, 1937, in Clarksdale, MS; son of Grafton Curtis and Mayme Edna (Revere) Freeman; married Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, October 22, 1967 (divorced, 1979); married Myrna Colley-Lee (a costume designer), June 16, 1984; children: Alphonse, Saifoulaye, Deena, Morgana; ten grandchildren. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College. Military: U.S. Air Force, 1955-59.

Career : Actor, 1959-. Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, MS, co-owner; Madidi Restaurant, Clarksdale, MS, co-owner.

Selected awards : Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award, and Antoinette Perry Award nomination, 1978, The Mighty Gents; Obie Award, 1987, for stage version of Driving Miss Daisy; NYC Film Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Award, Golden Globe nomination, and Academy Award nomination, 1987, Street Smart; Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination, 1989, Driving Miss Daisy; Academy Award nomination for The Shawshank Redemption, 1994; Academy Award winner for best supporting actor for Million Dollar Baby, 2005; Image Award, NAACP, for Million Dollar Baby, 2005; Guest of Honor, Cairo Film Festival, 2006; University of California-Los Angeles Spencer Tracy Award, 2006.

Addresses: Home—Clarksdale, Mississippi. Agent—c/o WMA, 146 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

Freeman drew his first major awards for his role in the play The Mighty Gents, produced at New York's Ambassador Theatre in 1978. Even though he won the Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award, and earned a Tony Award nomination, the play closed in nine days and Freeman was out of work. For a while he found himself scuffling for jobs. This experience taught him that awards do not guarantee success, and he has been decidedly indifferent about them ever since. Even when he won his Oscar in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby, his acceptance speech was brief.

Excelled on the Stage

The New York Shakespeare Festival ultimately proved fertile ground for Freeman. There he appeared as the lead in Coriolanus in 1979 and had principal roles in Julius Caesar and Mother Courage and Her Children. His work in Coriolanus and Mother Courage earned him yet more awards, this time Obies. The breakthrough play for Freeman was The Gospel at Colonus, first performed in 1983. The musical, based on the ancient Greek drama about Oedipus—a mythical character who kills his father and marries his mother—is set in a modern Pentecostal church. The Gospel at Colonus featured Freeman as the preacher, a charismatic Oedipus figure around which the frenzied action revolved. Freeman won yet another Obie Award as best actor in a drama, and the play eventually moved to Broadway in 1988 with Freeman still in the lead.

Freeman's success with the New York Shakespeare Festival helped him to land a starring role in the stage play Driving Miss Daisy, for which he won an additional Obie Award. The drama examines the close friendship that develops between a wealthy Jewish widow and her black chauffeur, Hoke, in the post-Civil War South. By the time he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy, on stage, Freeman had also earned several film roles, most notably in the Robert Redford vehicle Brubaker and Harry and Son, starring Paul Newman. And because of Driving Miss Daisy's success in the theater, Freeman was eager to portray Hoke in a film version.

The actor almost missed his chance. In 1987 he took the part of a near-psychotic pimp in the movie Street Smart. Although the film was a box-office flop, Freeman's powerful performance earned him an Academy Award nomination. "Street Smart essentially serves as a backdrop for Freeman's tour de force performance," Anthony DeCurtis wrote in Rolling Stone. "As the Yoo-Hoo-swilling Fast Black, he alternates fierceness with irresistible charm, engaging intelligence with a bone-chilling capacity for evil. He is the epitome of knowingness." The stage director of Driving Miss Daisy admitted that he never would have hired Freeman to play Hoke had he seen the actor as the menacing Fast Black first.

Drove "Miss Daisy" to a Film Career

Freeman's portrayal in the violent Street Smart, however, did not deter the makers of the critically acclaimed 1989 film version of Driving Miss Daisy from casting him in his original role of the kind-hearted Hoke. Once again Freeman was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. That year he took another important role, this time as a grave digger-turned-soldier in the Civil War epic Glory. The film, a poignant drama about an all-black regiment that was chosen to lead an assault on a Southern fort, received much praise and provided Freeman just the sort of work he relished. "I've been offered Black quasi-heroes who get hanged at the end," he said in Essence. "I won't do a part like that. If I do a hero, he's going to live to the end of the movie." Freeman's character in Glory—eventually promoted and decorated—is indeed one of the last fighters to die as his battalion storms the fort.

Noted for his subtle but scathing critiques of negative representations of African Americans on stage and in films, Freeman chooses his roles carefully. After ending the 1980s with a hectic spate of film and stage work, he took a brief breather before accepting work on a new project. Cast as Petruchio in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of The Taming of the Shrew in 1990, Freeman generated lavish reviews, and he subsequently appeared as Azeem, a Moor, in the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Robin Hood opened to mixed reviews. It was labeled a politically correct film.

Freeman received another Academy award nomination for his portrayal of a prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption. He also made his debut as a director in Bopha! with Danny Glover and Alfre Woodard, but told Jerry Roberts of Variety, "For directing, you've got to really enjoy it. It's time-consuming and it's not lucrative. Call me an actor who has directed."

Freeman also turned in standout performances in such films as Outbreak, Unforgiven, and Deep Impact. He had an important role in Amistad, a historically based film about slavery-bound Africans who revolted and fought for their freedom all the way to the Supreme Court. Freeman was given his first starring vehicle, Kiss The Girls, and another film, Seven, was his first top-grossing film. Known for playing good guys and everyday Joes, he portrayed the villain in Chain Reaction and Hard Rain. Freeman told Morgan Dean of WRIC-TV that he was "looking for characters to play and looking to have fun playing. I'm not drawn to any certain characters at all. I like playing what's eclectic."

A Veteran Supporting Actor

In 2004, Freeman starred in The Big Bounce, an adaptation of a book by Elmore Leonard. His best year came in 2005, when he won his Oscar for Million Dollar Baby. Freeman played Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, an ex-fighter who helps trainer Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) develop waitress Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) thrive in the ring. Swank won best actress, Eastwood best director, and the film itself took best picture. Freeman also earned an Image Award from the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 2006, Freeman starred in Lucky Number Slevin, a slick crime thriller, in which he plays a crime boss. In Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt wrote that the film is "stylish as hell with sharp dialogue, a tongue-in-cheek plot and visual and editing razzle-dazzle." In that same year, he received the Spencer Tracy Award from the University of California-Los Angeles. The award ceremony included a video retrospective of Freeman's career, including his performance in Lucky Number Slevin.

As he passed his 70th birthday, Freeman continued to find a variety of roles that took advantage of his wry smile and his calm yet playful disposition. In 2007 Freeman played the role of God in 2007's Evan Almighty, a comedy that co-stars Steve Carrell, and was also cast as Jack Doyle in Gone Baby Gone, a crime thriller that marked the directorial debut of Ben Affleck. He was scheduled to appear in the next installment in the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight, in 2008, but Freeman's fans were most excited about his scheduled appearance as South African president Nelson Mandela in The Human Factor, scheduled for 2009. Freeman said: "I have known Nelson Mandela personally for quite some time, and am continually in awe of his enormous presence in the world. The opportunity to portray him in this film is a great honor."

Success has allowed Freeman to indulge himself at length in his favorite hobby—sailing. One of his acquisitions is a 38-foot sailboat that he has piloted through the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. "When you live in the world of make-believe, you need something real," he remarked in Time. "I go sailing, I'm in the real world." Freeman is often accompanied on his trips by his second wife, costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee, and one of his seven grandchildren, E'Dena Hines.

When not working, Freeman can also be found on his 44-acre farm near Clarksdale, Mississippi. There, Freeman has opened a blues bar, the Ground Zero Blues Club, and a fine-dining restaurant, Madidi. Freeman loves being far away from the glamour and pressures of Hollywood, he explained to the Washington Post. "The big question was, ‘My Lord, you can live anywhere in the world you want, why did you choose Mississippi?’ My glib answer was, because I can live anywhere. But the true answer is that of any place I've ever been, this feels most like home. When I come here, when I hit Mississippi, everything is right." Freeman does not see himself as a star. "As you work, you realize that stardom is really not what you want. You want steadiness," he told the Associated Press in Jet. "Steady work is better than stardom. And for a character actor, stardom is anathema because once you become a star, it becomes you." Being one of the best character actors in show business, Morgan Freeman no longer needs to worry about steady work.

Selected works

Films

Brubaker, 1980.

Eyewitness, 1980.

Harry and Son, 1983.

Teachers, 1984.

Street Smart, 1987.

Clean and Sober, 1988.

Johnny Handsome, 1988.

Lean on Me, 1989.

Driving Miss Daisy, 1989.

Glory, 1989.

The Bonfire of the Vanities, 1990.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991.

Unforgiven, 1992.

(Director) Bopha!, 1993.

The Shawshank Redemption, 1994.

Outbreak, 1995.

Seven, 1995.

Moll Flanders, 1996.

Chain Reaction, 1996.

Kiss the Girls, 1997.

Amistad, 1997.

Deep Impact, 1998.

Hard Rain, 1998.

(And executive producer) Under Suspicion, 2000.

Nurse Betty, 2000.

(And producer) Along Came a Spider, 2001.

High Crimes, 2002.

The Sum of All Fears, 2002.

(And executive producer) Levity, 2003.

Dreamcatcher, 2003.

Bruce Almighty, 2003.

Guilt by Association, 2004.

The Big Bounce, 2004.

Million Dollar Baby, 2004.

Danny the Dog, 2005.

Batman Begins, 2005.

War of the Worlds, 2005.

Edison, 2005.

An Unfinished Life, 2005.

Lucky Number Slevin, 2006.

The Contract, 2006.

Evan Almighty, 2007.

Gone Baby Gone, 2007.

The Dark Knight, scheduled 2008.

(And producer) The Human Factor, scheduled 2009.

Plays

The Nigger-Lovers, 1967.

Hello, Dolly, 1967.

Jungle of Cities, 1969.

Sisyphus and the Blue-Eyed Cyclops, 1975.

Cockfight, 1977.

The Mighty Gents, 1978.

White Pelicans, 1978.

Coriolanus, 1979.

Julius Caesar, 1979.

Mother Courage and Her Children, 1980.

Buck, 1982.

The Gospel at Colonus, 1983.

Medea and the Doll, 1984.

Driving Miss Daisy, 1987.

The Taming of the Shrew, 1990.

Television

The Electric Company, 1971-75.

Hollow Image, 1979.

Attica, 1980.

Another World, 1982-84.

The Atlanta Child Murders, 1985.

Resting Place, 1986.

Flight for Life, 1987.

Clinton and Nadine, 1988.

The Civil War, 1990.

The Promised Land, 1995.

(Producer) Mutiny, 1999.

Slavery and the Making of America, 2005.

Sources

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Vol. 3: Actors and Actresses, 4th ed., St. James Press, 2000.

Tracy, Kathleen, Morgan Freeman: A Biography, Barricade Books, 2006.

Periodicals

Chicago Defender, June 22-24, 2007, p. 22.

Ebony, April 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, October 22, 1993; December 1, 2006, p. 31.

Esquire, June 1988.

Essence, December 1988.

Hollywood Reporter, January 23, 2006.

Jet, March 6, 1989; October 16, 1995; March 27, 2006, p. 32.

New York, March 14, 1988.

New York Times, June 22, 2007, p. E10.

People, April 4, 1988.

Rolling Stone, May 5, 1988.

Time, January 8, 1990.

Variety, September 1, 1997; February 6, 2006, p. 101; June 25, 2007.

Village Voice, July 24, 1990.

Washington Post, November 13, 2005, p. P01.

On-line

Ground Zero Blues Club,www.groundzerobluesclub.com/home.php (July 24, 2007).

"Morgan Freeman," IMDb,www.imdb.com/name/nm0000151/ (July 23, 2007).

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Freeman, Morgan 1937–

Morgan Freeman 1937

Actor, director

Named Best Actor in Junior High

Goodbye Mechanic, Hello Actor

From The Electric Company to Shakespeare

Nominated for Academy Awards

More Film Work

Sources

Morgan Freeman is a versatile actor who has performed in numerous roles from childrens television to Shakespearean drama. He is best known, however, for his appearances in a string of well-regarded motion pictures, including Driving Miss Daisy, Lean on Me, and Glory. Praise has been bestowed upon Freeman in the form of several awards and award nominations. Time correspondent Janice C. Simpson noted that his performances are so finely calibrated that [the] characters emerge as men of true heft and substance. A private man who says acting comes easy for him, Freeman does not care for the movie star label and all that it implies. The actor observed in Ebony that once you become a movie star, people come to see you. You dont have to act anymore. And, to me, thats a danger.

The big screen has brought Freeman to a wider audience, but he has long been a figure in New York City theater, appearing only in Broadway and off-Broadway plays that suit his very particular tastes. As early as 1967 he held a part in the Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly that starred Pearl Bailey, but the bulk of his work has come in nonmusical, intensely serious dramas that relate various aspects of the African American experience. I have a special affinity for seeing to it that our history is told, Freeman declared in Ebony The Black legacy is as noble, is as heroic, is as filled with adventure and conquest and discovery as anybody elses. Its just that nobody knows it.

Named Best Actor in Junior High

Freeman endured a tumultuous childhood, and he prefers not to reveal much in interviews about his early years. The fourth child in the family, he was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1937. While still an infant, he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi. She died when Freeman was six years old, and he spent the next several years traveling with his mother from Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee, and finally to Greenwood, Mississippi, where they settled down.

Like most youngsters of his generation, Freeman loved the movies. When I was a kid, it cost 12 cents to go to

At a Glance

Born June 1, 1937, in Memphis, TN; son of Grafton Curtis and Mayme Edna (Revere) Freeman; married Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, October 22, 1967 (divorced, 1979); married Myrna Colley-Lee (a costume designer), June 16, 1984; children: Alphonse, Saifoulaye, Deena, Morgana; seven grandchildren. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College.

Career: Actor, 1959. Plays: The Nigger-Lovers, 1967; Hello, Dolly, 1967; Jungle of Cities, 1969; Sisyphus and the Blue-Eyed Cyclops, 1975; Cockfight, 1977; The Mighty Cents, 1978; White Pelicans, 1978; Cortolanus, 1979; Julius Caesar, 1979; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1980; Buck, 1982; The Gospel at Colonus, 1983; Medea and the Doll, 1984; Driving Miss Daisy, 1987; and The Taming of the Shrew, 1990. Films; Brubaker, 1980; Eyewitness, 1980; Harry and Son, 1983; Teachers, 1984; Street Smart, 1987; Clean and Sober, 1988; Johnny Handsome, 1988; Lean on Me, 1989; Driving Miss Daisy, 1989; Glory, 1989; The Bonfire of the Vanities, 1990; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991; Unforgiven, 1992; The Shawshank Redemption, 1994; Outbreak, 1995; Seven, 1995; Moll Flanders, 1996; Chain Reaction, 1996; Kiss the Girls, 1997; Amistad, 1997; Hard Rain, 1998; Deep impact, 1998, Television: Another World; The Electric Company, 197175; Hollow Image, 1979; Attica, 1980; The Atlanta Child Murders, 1985; Resting Place, 1986; Flight for Life, 1987; Clinton and Nadline, 1988; The Civil War, 1990; The Promised Land, 1995. Directed Bhopal, 1993. Military: U.S. Air Force, 195559.

Selected awards: Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award, and Antoinette Perry Award nomination, 1978, The Mighty Cents; Obie Award, 1987, for stage version of Driving Miss Daisy; NYC Film Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Award, Golden Globe nomination, and Academy Award nomination, 1987, Street Smart; Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination, 1989, Driving Miss Daisy; Academy Award nomination for The Shawshank Redemption, 1994.

Addresses: Office c/o William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

the movies, he related in a People interview with Susan Toepfer. If you could find a milk bottle, you could sell it for a nickel. Soda and beer bottles were worth 2 cents. If you were diligent, you could come up with movie money every day. The World War II-era films Freeman saw inspired him to be a fighter pilot. At first, drama served mainly as a pastime until he could enter the armed services.

Freemans acting hobby began in junior high school. He was trying to gain the attention of a girl named Barbara by pulling her chair out from beneath her. His teacher grabbed him and took him to a room where they were preparing for a drama tournament. Freeman recalled to New York, Well, we do this play bout a family with a wounded son just home from the warI play his kid brother. We win the district championship, we win the state championship, and dadgummit, Im chosen as best actor. All cause I pull this chair out from under Barbara.

Freemans tale showed that he exhibited talent early but did not take acting seriously, even when others recognized his skill. After graduating from high school in Greenwood he entered the U.S. Air Force, hoping to become a pilot. Aptitude tests showed that he had the ability, but he was instead assigned duties as a mechanic and a radar technician. I was aced out, he explained in Esquire. Racism, the southern old-boy network. I had a sergeant who interposed himself between me and the casual barracks [stockade]I was insolent. I called a horses ass a horses ass, even if it was wearin brass. The whole thing in the service, youre supposed to look down. Never could do that, he added.

Goodbye Mechanic, Hello Actor

Freeman spent his spare time while in the Air Force contemplating other careers, and he ultimately decided to become an actor. He left the service in 1959 and headed straight for Hollywood. Once there, he looked up the address of Paramount Studios in the telephone book and went over to apply for a job. Only when he noticed that the questions on the application concerned familiarity with office machinery and typing did it dawn upon him that he would not be hired as an actor on the spot. He opted to follow a more conventional route, taking acting classes at Los Angeles City College while supporting himself as a clerk. He also took dancing lessons, becoming good enough to land a part-time job performing at the 1964 Worlds Fair.

By his own admission, Freeman did not gain much insight from his acting classes. Im not much for talking about acting, he noted in New York Ive been called an intuitive actor, and I guess thats right. I go with what I feel. It doesnt do me any good to intellectualize about it, he continued. Freeman moved to New York City in the early 1960s and supported himself with a series of day jobs while auditioning for theatrical roles. At one point he even served as a counter man in a Penn Station doughnut stand. His first important part came in an off-Broadway play called The Nigger-Lovers, which opened and closed quickly in 1967.

From The Electric Company to Shakespeare

Freemans brief experience in The Nigger-Lovers was valuable, however, because it helped him land a role in the all-black cast of Hello, Dolly that opened on Broadway in 1967. When the show closed, he moved on to a series of off-Broadway and repertory plays in New York City and elsewhere. In 1971 he was cast in a television series produced by the Public Broadcasting System, The Electric Company. On the air for five years, the educational show was aimed at school-aged children, and Freeman played a hip character called Easy Reader. The actor commented in People that he is still remembered for his role. Its like being known as Captain Kangaroo, he said. It irks me when I meet people who are parents now who talk about how they grew up with me, he added.

Freeman drew his first major awards for his role in the play The Mighty Gents, produced at New York Citys Ambassador Theatre in 1978. Even though he won the Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award, and earned a Tony Award nomination, the play closed in nine days and Freeman was out of work. For a while he found himself scuffling for jobs. This experience taught him that awards do not guarantee future success, and he has been decidedly indifferent about them ever since.

The New York Shakespeare Festival ultimately proved fertile ground for Freeman. There he appeared as the lead in Coriolanus in 1979 and had principal roles in Julius Caesar and Mother Courage and Her Children. His work in Coriolanus and Mother Courage earned him yet more awards, this time Obies. The breakthrough play for Freeman was The Gospel at Colonus, first performed in 1983. The musical, based on the ancient Greek drama about Oedipusa mythical character who kills his father and marries his motheris set in a modern Pentecostal church. The Gospel at Colonus featured Freeman as the preacher, a charismatic Oedipus figure around which the frenzied action revolved. Freeman won yet another Obie Award as best actor in a drama, and the play eventually moved to Broadway in 1988 with Freeman still in the lead.

Nominated for Academy Awards

Freemans success with the New York Shakespeare Festival helped him to land a starring role in the stage play Driving Miss Daisy, for which he won an additional Obie Award. The drama examines the close friendship that develops between a wealthy Jewish widow and her black chauffeur, Hoke, in the post-Civil War South. By the time he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy on stage, Freeman had also earned several film roles, most notably in the Robert Redford vehicle Brubaker and Harry and Son, starring Paul Newman. And because of Driving Miss Daisys success in the theater, Freeman was eager to portray Hoke in a film version of the play.

The actor almost missed his chance. In 1987 he took the part of a near-psychotic pimp in the movie Street Smart. Although the film was a box office flop, Freemans powerful performance earned him an Academy Award nomination. Street Smart essentially serves as a backdrop for Freemans tour de force performance, wrote Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone As the Yoo-Hoo-swilling Fast Black, he alternates fierceness with irresistible charm, engaging intelligence with a bone-chilling capacity for evil. He is the epitome of knowing-ness, he continued. The stage director of Driving Miss Daisy admitted that he never would have hired Freeman to play Hoke if he had seen the actor as the menacing Fast Black first.

Freemans portrayal in the violent Street Smart, however, did not deter the makers of the critically acclaimed 1989 film version of Driving Miss Daisy from casting him in his original role of the kind-hearted Hoke. Once again Freeman was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. That same year he took another important role, this time as a grave digger-turned-soldier in the Civil War epic Glory. The film, a poignant drama about an all-black regiment that was chosen to lead an assault on a Southern fort, received much praise and provided Freeman just the sort of work he relished. Ive been offered Black quasi-heroes who get hanged at the end, he pointed out in Essence I wont do a part like that. If I do a hero, hes going to live to the end of the movie, he added. Freemans character in Glory eventually promoted and decoratedis indeed one of the last fighters to perish as his battalion storms the fort.

More Film Work

Noted for his subtle but scathing critiques of negative representations of African Americans on stage and in films, Freeman is very careful about choosing roles. After ending the 1980s with a hectic spate of film and stage work, he took a brief breather before accepting work on a new project. Cast as Petruchio in the New York Shakespeare Festivals production of The Taming of the Shrew in 1990, Freeman garnered lavish reviews, and he subsequently appeared as Azeem, a Moor, in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Robin Hood opened to mixed reviews. It was labeled a politically correct film.

Freeman received another Academy award nomination for his portrayal of a prisoner, in The Shawshank Redemption. He also made his directorial debut in Bopha! with Danny Glover and Alfre Woodard. He will direct again but told Jerry Roberts of Variety, Im going to shed the directors hat and stick to acting. Its more to my liking. For directing, youve got to really enjoy it. Its time-consuming and its not lucrative. Call me an actor who has directed.

Freeman also turned in stellar performances in such films as Outbreak, Unforgiven, and Deep Impact. He also had an important role in Amistad, a historically-based film about slavery-bound Africans who revolted and fought for their freedom all the way to the Supreme Court. Freeman was given his first starring vehicle, Kiss The Girls, and another film, Seven, was his first top-grossing film. Known for playing good guys and everyday Joes, he portrayed the villain in Chain Reaction and Hard Rain. Freeman told Morgan Dean of WRIC-TV that he was looking for characters to play and looking to have fun playing. Im not drawn to any certain characters at all. I like playing whats eclectic.

Success has allowed Freeman to indulge himself at length in his favorite hobbysailing. One of his acquisitions is a 38-foot sailboat that he has piloted through the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. When you live in the world of make-believe, you need something real, he remarked in Time. I go sailing, Im in the real world. Freeman is often accompanied on his trips by his second wife, costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee, and one of his seven grandchildren, EDena Hines.

When not working, Freeman can also be found on his 44-acre farm in Mississippi. Though a bona fide star in Hollywoods eyes, he does not share that view. As you work, you realize that stardom is really not what you want. You want steadiness, he told the Associated Press in Jet Steady work is better than stardom. And for a character actor, stardom is anathema because once you become a star, it becomes you, he continued. Being one the best character actors in show business, Morgan Freeman no longer needs to worry about steady work.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, April 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, October 22, 1993.

Esquire, June 1988.

Essence, December 1988.

Jet, March 6, 1989; October 16, 1995.

New York, March 14, 1988.

People, April 4, 1988.

Rolling Stone, May 5, 1988.

Time, January 8, 1990.

Variety, September 1, 1997.

Village Voice, July 24, 1990.

Other

Information was also obtained online at the IAC Institute and www.wric.com/morganint.html

Mark Kram and Ashyia N. Henderson

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Freeman, Morgan 1937–

Morgan Freeman 1937

Actor

At a Glance

Goodbye Air Force, Hello Hollywood

From The Electric Company to Shakespeare

Two Academy Award Nominations

Smooth Sailing in the Real World

Sources

Morgan Freeman is a versatile actor who has performed in numerous roles from childrens television to Shakespearean drama. He is best known, however, for his appearances in a string of well-regarded motion pictures, including Driving Miss Daisy, Lean on Me, and Glory. Praise has been bestowed upon Freeman in the form of several awards and award nominations. Time correspondent Janice C. Simpson noted that his performances are so finely calibrated that [the] characters emerge as men of true heft and substance. A private man who says acting comes easy for him, Freeman does not care for the movie star label and all that it implies. The actor observed in Ebony that once you become a movie star, people come to see you. You dont have to act anymore. And, to me, thats a danger.

The big screen has brought Freeman to a wider audience, but he has long been a figure in New York City theater, appearing only in Broadway and off-Broadway plays that suit his very particular tastes. As early as 1967 he held a part in the Broadway cast of Hello, Dolly that starred Pearl Bailey, but the bulk of his work has come in nonmusical, intensely serious dramas that relate various aspects of the African-American experience. I have a special affinity for seeing to it that our history is told, Freeman declared in Ebony. The Black legacy is as noble, is as heroic, is as filled with adventure and conquest and discovery as anybody elses. Its just that nobody knows it.

Freeman endured a tumultuous childhood, and he prefers not to reveal much in interviews about his early years. The fourth child in the family, he was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1937. While still an infant, he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Charleston, Mississippi. She died when Freeman was six years old, and he spent the next several years traveling with his mother from Chicago to Nashville, Tennessee, and finally to Greenwood, Mississippi, where they settled down.

Like most youngsters of his generation, Freeman loved the movies. When I was a kid, it cost 12 cents to go to the movies, he related in a People interview with Susan Toepfer. If you could find a milk bottle, you could sell it for a nickel. Soda and beer bottles were worth 2 cents. If you were diligent, you could come up with movie money every day. The World War II-era films Freeman saw inspired him to be a fighter pilot. At first, drama served

At a Glance

Born June 1, 1937, in Memphis, TN; son of Grafton Curtis and Mayme Edna (Revere) Freeman; married Jeanette Adair Bradshaw, October 22, 1967 (divorced, 1979); married Myrna Colley-Lee (a costume designer), June 16,1984; children: Alphonse, Saifoulaye, Deena, Morgana; seven grandchildren. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College.

Actor, 1959. Principal stage appearances include The Nigger-Lovers, 1967; Hello, Dolly, 1967; jungle of Cities, 1969; The Recruiting Officer, 1969; Sisyphus and the Blue-Eyed Cyclops, 1975; Cockfight, 1977; The Last Street Play, 1977 (produced as The Mighty Gents, 1978); White Pelicans, 1978; Coriolanus, 1979; Julius Caesar, 1979; Mother Courage and Her Children, 1980; Buck, 1982; The Cospel at Colonus, 1983; Medea and the Doll, 1984; Driving Miss Daisy, 1987; and The Taming of the Shrew, 1990. Principal film appearances include Brubaker, 1980; Eyewitness, 1980; Harry and Son, 1983; Teachers, 1984; Street Smart, 1987; Clean and Sober, 1988; johnny Handsome, 1988; Lean on Me, 1989; Driving Miss Daisy, 1989; Glory, 1989; and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991. Principal television appearances include The Electric Company, Public Broadcasting Service, c. 1971-75; Hollow Image, 1979; Attica, 1980; The Atlanta Child Murders, 1985; Resting Place, 1986; Flight for Life, 1987; and Clinton and Nadine, 1988. Appeared on television soap opera Another World. Military service: U.S. Air Force, 1955-59.

Selected awards: Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award, and Antoinette Perry Award nomination, all 1978, all for The Mighty Gents; Obie Award from the Village Voice, 1987, for stage version of Driving Miss Daisy; New York Film Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, Golden Globe nomination, and Academy Award nomination, all 1987, all for Street Smart; Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination, both 1989, both for film version of Driving Miss Daisy.

Addresses: AgentJeff Hunter, Triad Artists, 888 Seventh Ave., Suite 1610, New York, NY 10036.

mainly as a pastime until he could enter the armed services.

Freeman recalled in New York that his acting hobby began in junior high school. It all started with a girl named Barbara, he said, the class princess, as nice as you please. I wanted to get her attention, so one day I pulled a chair out from under her. Sure enough, I got attention. The teacher grabbed me by the nape of the neck, lifted me onto my toes, and marched me down the hall. I thought for sure I was gonna be expelled.

But he opens this door and flings me into this room, and theres this English teacher and he asks me, You ever done any actin? Well, under the circumstances, Im quick to say yes. Turns out theres these dramatic tournamentsevery school does a playand the winner goes to the state finals. Well, we do this play bout a family with a wounded son just home from the warI play his kid brother. We win the district championship, we win the state championship, and dadgummit, Im chosen as best actor. All cause I pull this chair out from under Barbara.

Freemans tale shows that he exhibited talent early but did not take acting seriously, even when others recognized his skill. After graduating from high school in Greenwood he entered the U.S. Air Force, hoping to become a pilot. Aptitude tests showed that he had the ability, but he was instead assigned duties as a mechanic and a radar technician. I was aced out, he explained in Esquire. Racism, the southern old-boy network. I had a sergeant who interposed himself between me and the casual barracks [stockade]I was insolent. I called a horses ass a horses ass, even if it was wearin brass. The whole thing in the service, youre supposed to look down. Never could do that.

Goodbye Air Force, Hello Hollywood

Freeman spent his spare time while in the Air Force contemplating other careers, and he ultimately decided to become an actor. He left the service in 1959 and headed straight for Hollywood. Once there, he looked up the address of Paramount Studios in the telephone book and went over to apply for a job. Only when he noticed that the questions on the application concerned familiarity with office machinery and typing did it dawn upon him that he would not be hired as an actor on the spot. He opted to follow a more conventional route, taking acting classes at Los Angeles City College while supporting himself as a clerk. He also took tap dancing lessons, becoming good enough to land a part-time job performing at the 1964 Worlds Fair.

By his own admission, Freeman did not gain much insight from his acting classes. Im not much for talking about acting, he noted in New York. Ive been called an intuitive actor, and I guess thats right. I go with what I feel. It doesnt do me any good to intellectualize about it. Freeman moved to New York City in the early 1960s and supported himself with a series of day jobs while auditioning for theatrical roles. At one point he even served as a counter man in a Penn Station doughnut stand. His first important part came in an off-Broadway play called The Nigger-Lovers, which opened and closed quickly in 1967.

From The Electric Company to Shakespeare

Freemans brief experience in The Nigger-Lovers was valuable, however, because it helped him land a role in the all-black cast of Hello, Dolly that opened on Broadway in 1967. When the show closed, he moved on to a series of off-Broadway and repertory plays in New York City and elsewhere. In 1971 he was cast in a television series produced by the Public Broadcasting Service, The Electric Company. On the air for five years, the educational show was aimed at school-aged children, and Freeman played a hip character called Easy Reader. The actor commented in People that he is still remembered for his role. Its like being known as Captain Kangaroo, he said. It irks me when I meet people who are parents now who talk about how they grew up with me.

Freeman drew his first major awards for his role in the play The Mighty Gents, produced at New York Citys Ambassador Theatre in 1978. Even though he won the Clarence Derwent Award, Drama Desk Award, and earned a Tony Award nomination, the play closed in nine days and Freeman was out of work. For a while he found himself scuffling for jobs. This experience taught him that awards do not guarantee future success, and he has been decidedly indifferent about them ever since.

The New York Shakespeare Festival ultimately proved fertile ground for Freeman. There he appeared as the lead in Coriolanus in 1979 and had principal roles in Julius Caesar and Mother Courage and Her Children. His work in Coriolanus and Mother Courage earned him yet more awards, this time Obies. The breakthrough play for Freeman was The Gospel at Colonus, first performed in 1983. The musical, based on the ancient Greek drama about Oedipusa mythical character who kills his father and marries his motheris set in a modern Pentecostal church. The Gospel at Colonus featured Freeman as the preacher, a charismatic Oedipus figure around which the frenzied action revolves. Freeman won yet another Obie Award as best actor in a drama, and the play eventually moved to Broadway in 1988 with Freeman still in the lead.

Two Academy Award Nominations

Freemans success with the New York Shakespeare Festival helped him to land a starring role in the stage play Driving Miss Daisy, for which he won an additional Obie Award. The drama examines the close friendship that develops between a wealthy Jewish widow and her black chauffeur, Hoke, in the post-Civil War South. By the time he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy on stage, Freeman had also earned several film roles, most notably in the Robert Redford vehicle Brubaker, and in Harry and Son, starring Paul Newman. And because of Driving Miss Daisys success in the theater, Freeman was eager to portray Hoke in a film version of the play.

The actor almost missed his chance. In 1987 he took the part of a near-psychotic pimp in the movie Street Smart. Although the film was a box office flop, Freemans powerful performance earned him an Academy Award nomination. Street Smart essentially serves as a backdrop for Freemans tour de force performance, wrote Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone. As the Yoo-Hoo-swilling Fast Black, he alternates fierceness with irresistible charm, engaging intelligence with a bone-chilling capacity for evil. He is the epitome of knowingness. The stage director of Driving Miss Daisy admitted that he never would have hired Freeman to play Hoke if he had seen the actor as the menacing Fast Black first.

Freemans portrayal in the violent Street Smart, however, did not deter the makers of the critically acclaimed 1989 film version of Driving Miss Daisy from casting him in his original role of the kind-hearted Hoke. Once again Freeman was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor. That same year he took another important role, this time as a grave digger-turned-soldier in the Civil War epic Glory. The film, a poignant drama about an all-black regiment that was chosen to lead an assault on a Southern fort, received much praise and provided Freeman just the sort of work he relishes. Ive been offered Black quasi-heroes who get hanged at the end, he pointed out in Essence. I wont do a part like that. If I do a hero, hes going to live to the end of the movie. Freemans character in Glory eventually promoted and decoratedis indeed one of the last fighters to perish as his battalion storms the fort.

Smooth Sailing in the Real World

Success has allowed Freeman to indulge himself at length in his favorite hobbysailing. One of his acquisitions is a 38-foot sailboat that he has piloted through the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. When you live in the world of make-believe, you need something real, he remarked in Time. I go sailing, Im in the real world. Freeman is often accompanied on his trips by his second wife, costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee, and one of his seven grandchildren, EDena Hines.

Noted for his subtle but scathing critiques of negative representations of African-Americans on stage and in films, Freeman is very careful about choosing roles. After ending the 1980s with a hectic spate of film and stage work, he took a brief breather before accepting work on a new project. Cast as Petruchio in the New York Shakespeare Festivals production of The Taming of the Shrew in 1990, Freeman garnered lavish reviews, and he subsequently appeared as Azeem, a Moor, in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Explaining his philosophy of choosing roles that best suit his talents, the actor related in Ebony, Theres a lot of stuff out there, a lot of people writing. So when the right thing comes along, Ill know, and Ill just tie the boat up, hop on a plane and go to work.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 6, Gale, 1989.

Periodicals

Ebony, April 1990.

Esquire, June 1988.

Essence, December 1988.

Jet, March 6, 1989.

New York, March 14, 1988.

People, April 4, 1988.

Rolling Stone, May 5, 1988.

Time, January 8, 1990.

Village Voice, July 24, 1990.

Mark Kram

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Freeman, Morgan

FREEMAN, Morgan



Nationality: American. Born: Memphis, Tennessee, 1 June 1937; grew up in Greenwood, Mississippi. Family: Married 1) Jeanette Adair Bradshaw (divorced), daughter: Morgana, adopted Bradshaw's daughter, Deena; 2) the costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee; has two sons, Alphonso and Saifoulaye, from other relationships. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Air Force, 1955–59. Career: Took up acting while at college, 1960; had a small role in a touring company of The Royal Hunt of the Sun and worked with the Opera Ring, a San Francisco musical-theater troupe, 1960s; worked as dancer at the New York World's Fair, 1964; made his off-Broadway debut in The Niggerlovers and his Broadway debut in all-black-cast production of Hello, Dolly!, with Pearl Bailey, 1967; made his film debut in small role in Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow?, 1971; played the role of "Easy Reader" on the PBS TV series The Electric Company, 1971–76; continued acting on stage, 1970s; first came to prominence with his stage role in The Mighty Gents, 1978; had his first important screen role in Street Smart, 1987; returned to the stage as Petruchio opposite Tracey Ullman in The Taming of the Shrew, 1991; made his directorial debut with Bopha!, 1993. Awards: Obie Award for Coriolanus, 1979; Obie Award for Mother Courage and Her Children, 1980; Obie Award for The Gospel at Colonus, 1984; Obie Award for Driving Miss Daisy, 1987; Clarece Derwent and Drama Desk Awards, for The Mighty Gents, 1978; Best Supporting Male Independent Spirit Award, National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actor, New York Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actor, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor, for Street Smart, 1987; National Board of Review Best Actor, Berlin Film Festival Best Acting Team (with Jessica Tandy), Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Comedy/Drama Golden Globe, for Driving Miss Daisy, 1989; London Critics Circle Actor of the Year, for Se7en, 1995; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Image Award, for Amistad, 1997; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Image Award, for Deep Impact, 1998; Brussels International Film Festival Crystal Iris, 1998; Acapulco Black Film Festival Career Achievement Award, 1998. Agent: William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1965

The Pawnbroker (Lumet) (extra)

1971

Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow? (Barney) (Edward Mann) (as Afro)

1978

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Smight—for TV)

1979

Hollow Image (Chomsky—for TV) (as Sweet Talk)

1980

Brubaker (Rosenberg) (as Walter); Attica (Chomsky—for TV) (as Hap Richards)

1981

Eyewitness (The Janitor) (Yates) (as Lt. Black); The Marva Collins Story (Levin—for TV) (as Clarence Collins); Death of a Prophet (King Jr.)

1984

Teachers (Hiller) (as Lewis); Harry & Son (Paul Newman) (as Siemanowski)

1985

Marie (Donaldson) (as Charles Traughber); That Was Then . . . This Is Now (Cain) (as Charlie Woods); The Atlanta Child Murders (Erman—for TV) (as Ben Shelter)

1986

Resting Place (Korty—for TV) (as Luther Johnson)

1987

Street Smart (Schatzberg) (as Fast Black); Fight for Life (Silverstein—for TV) (as Dr. Sherard)

1988

Clean and Sober (Caron) (as Craig); Clinton and Nadine (Blood Money) (Schatzberg—for TV) (as Dorsey Pratt)

1989

Glory (Zwick) (as John Rawlins); Lean on Me (Avildsen) (as Joe Clark); Driving Miss Daisy (Beresford) (as Hoke Colburn); Johnny Handsome (Walter Hill) (as Lt. A. Z. Drones); The Execution of Raymond Graham (Petrie—for TV)

1990

The Bonfire of the Vanities (DePalma) (as Judge Leonard White)

1991

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Kevin Reynolds) (as Azeem)

1992

Unforgiven (Eastwood) (as Ned Logan); The Power of One (Avildsen) (as Geel Piet)

1994

The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont) (as Ellis "Red" Redding)

1995

Outbreak (Petersen) (as Gen. Billy Ford); Se7en (Fincher) (as Detective William Sommerset)

1996

Moll Flanders (Densham) (as Jemmy); Chain Reaction (Davis) (as Paul Shannon); Cosmic Voyage (Silleck) (doc) (short) (as Narrator)

1997

The Long Way Home (Harris) (as Narrator); Kiss the Girls (Fleder) (as Alex Cross); Amistad (Spielberg) (as Theodore Joadson)

1998

Screening (Cates Jr.) (short) (as himself); Deep Impact (Mimi Leder) (as President Tom Beck); Hard Rain (Salomon) (as Jim)

1999

Water Damage (Battle) (as Tom Preedy); Mutiny (Hooks—for TV) (ro + co-exec pr)

2000

Along Came a Spider (Tamahori) (as Alex) (+ exec pr); Long Way to Freedom (Kapur) (as Nelson Mandela); Rendezvous With Rama (Fincher) (as Commander William T. Norton); Under Suspicion (Hopkins) (+ exec pr); Nurse Betty (LaBute)



Film as Director:

1993

Bopha!



Publications


By FREEMAN: articles—

Interview with Robert Berkvist, in New York Times, 21 April 1978.

"Morgan Freeman Takes Off," interview with Ross Wetzsteon, in New York, 14 March 1988.

"Quiet Cool," interview with Anthony DeCurtis, in Rolling Stone (New York), 5 May 1988.

Interview with Richard Harrington, in Washington Post, 3 March 1989.

"Two for the Road," interview with H. Alford, in Interview (New York), November 1989.

"For Morgan Freeman, Stardom Wasn't Sudden," interview with Helen Dudar, in New York Times, 10 December 1989.

Interview with Lynn Darling, in New York Newsday (Melville, New York), 10 December 1989.

"Brad Company/Co-Star Quality," interview with Dan McLeod and Tom Charity, in Time Out (London), 13 December 1995.

"Free Man," interview with G. Fuller, in Interview (New York), June 1996.

"The Sure Thing," interview with Jeff Dawson, in Empire (London), March 1998.


On FREEMAN: books—

DeAngelis, Gina, Morgan Freeman—Actor, Broomall, 1999.

On FREEMAN: articles—

Lombardi, John, "Morgan Freeman," in Esquire (New York), June 1988.

Southgate, Martha, "Star Quality," in Essence (New York), December 1988.

Meises, Stanley, "Street Smart," in Premiere (New York), December 1989.

Lombardi, Fred, "Focus on an Actor: Morgan Freeman," in International Film Guide (London, Hollywood), 1990.

Schiff, Stephen, "Freeman's Freeway," in Vanity Fair (New York), January 1990.

Whitaker, Charles, "Is Morgan Freeman America's Greatest Actor?," in Ebony (Chicago), April 1990.

Current Biography 1991, New York, 1991.

Webster, Andy, "Morgan Freeman," in Premiere (New York), March 1995.

Farber, S., "Morgan Freeman in 'Seven,"' in Movieline (Escondido), September 1996.

Rubello, S. and others, "Who's The Best Actor in Hollywood?" in Movieline (New York), October 1996.

Roberts, J., "Freeman's Films Find Followers, Thesp Ready to Take the Helm," in Variety, 1–7 September 1997.

Norman, Barry, "With Actors This Good, Who Needs Stars?" in Radio Times (London), 15 November 1997.


* * *

For years, Morgan Freeman was an award-winning stage actor who occasionally would appear in supporting roles in movies. While he may have been a known quantity to discerning theatergoers, he was barely a name (if not a face) to the public at large: His greatest mass exposure had come during the 1970s, when he played "Easy Reader" on the PBS children's series The Electric Company. As late as 1983—even after winning two Obie Awards, Clarence Derwent and Drama Desk awards, and a Tony nomination—he seriously considered abandoning acting and becoming a taxi driver.

Freeman's career went on the permanent upswing in 1987 when he riveted audiences as Fast Black, a vicious, slyly evil pimp, in the grade-B urban crime drama Street Smart. He was especially effective as his character segued from relaxed cordiality to menacing, frightening evil. Not all moviegoers immediately became aware of Freeman, because Street Smart is a genre film that appealed only to a narrow audience. Nevertheless, critics who otherwise might pass by such a film were taken by his memorable acting. Pauline Kael, one of the most influential of all American critics, asked point-blank in her review, "Is Morgan Freeman the greatest American actor?" As a result, Freeman earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, a rare feat for a performance in a film like Street Smart.

One of Freeman's most memorable characterizations came in a film that is strikingly dissimilar to Street Smart: Driving Miss Daisy, set in the pre-integration South, in which he plays Hoke Colburn, a modest, unpretentious black man hired as chauffeur to a petulant white lady (Jessica Tandy). Freeman, who also played the role on stage, makes Hoke likable and deeply sympathetic. His subtle performance also allows the viewer a peek into the soul of a black man who not only had come of age but had grown to maturity in a segregated Southern society. Freeman and Tandy's performances blend beautifully together, and both actors earned Oscar nominations. She, and not he, won the statuette, but his performance as Hoke nonetheless served as testimony that the actor was no Oscar nominee one-shot.

Freeman is capable of creating a wide range of characters. If he played a bad guy who was tough and satanic in Street Smart, he also could play good guys who are tough and dynamic (real-life high school principal Joe Clark in Lean on Me); tough and thoughtful (the grave digger who becomes a Civil War infantry recruit in Glory, the ex-addict who conducts a therapy group in Clean and Sober); and tough and world-weary (the veteran cop on the trail of a serial killer in Se7en). In Deep Impact, a disaster epic about a comet set to crash into Earth, he is a commanding and reassuring presence as a U.S. President: yet another role that is the direct opposite of the one that earned him celluloid stardom.

In Driving Miss Daisy, Freeman shined in a starring role; yet he also has had the sense to accept quality roles in quality films even if those parts are satellites of the scenario's main character. This was the case in Unforgiven, in which Freeman plays Clint Eastwood's cowboy buddy; and The Shawshank Redemption, in which he is cast as the wizened veteran convict who befriends falsely convicted Tim Robbins. For the latter film, Freeman netted his third Oscar nomination. One major film in which he was sorely underused is Amistad, Steven Spielberg's pre-Civil War morality tale, in which Freeman plays a former slave/Boston abolitionist; Anthony Hopkins and Djimon Hounsou have the showy roles, and give the flashy performances. And he has emerged unscathed from his few unwise career choices, most notoriously his casting as the judge in the mega-bomb The Bonfire of the Vanities.

In 1993, Freeman made his directorial debut with Bopha!, a tense, politically savvy drama about Master Sergeant Micah Mangena (Danny Glover), a black policeman in a South African township. Mangena teaches his class of new recruits that their job is to "uphold the law, and maintain the peace." To many, in particular South Africa's political radicals, Mangena is little more than an Uncle Tom, a tool of the white ruling class, a cog in a system in which blacks are oppressed. His world is destined to crumble, and he will undergo a crisis of conscience, when his son, whom he expects to become a police officer, takes part in a rebellion against the discipline and curriculum of the local white-run school. This choice of projects serves as evidence that Freeman is fully aware of his role as an African-American artist, and that he is concerned with examining black characters in all their flaws and contradictions.

—Rob Edelman

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