ADDRESSES: Home—New York, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10001.
CAREER: Historian, editor, and writer. Worked as a staff writer and assistant editor at Ebony magazine. Lectured at Lincoln University, University of Pennsylvania, and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
AWARDS, HONORS: Theatre Library Association Award, best film book of the year, for Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films.
Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: AnInterpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1973, 4th edition, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001.
Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black FemaleSuperstars,Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Blacks in American Films and Television: An Encyclopedia, Garland (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor) Black Arts Annual 1987/88, Garland (New York, NY), 1989.
Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, Amistad (New York, NY), 1997.
Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor to Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy (essays), edited by Marc Miller, Queens Museum of Art (New York, NY) University of Washington Press (Seattle), 1994.
ADAPTATIONS: Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars was made into a series by Public Broadcasting Service. Whitney Houston Products purchased the film rights to Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography.
SIDELIGHTS: Donald Bogle grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and, like many American children of the 1960s, spent much of his leisure time going to the movies or, as he says in the introduction to his book Prime Time Blues: African Americans on Network Television, "plopped in front of the TV set." As a black American, Bogle was especially drawn to performances by black actors and began pondering the types of characters they played, sensing that a fundamental racism was at work in their stereotypical roles. "Even as a kid," he points out in his introduction, "I often found myself asking all sorts of questions about what I was seeing and enjoying."
Bogle's interest in movies and television led him to a career as a writer and a film historian. His first book, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, takes a comprehensive look at blacks in American films from the silent-movie era on. Bogle places his commentary within the appropriate cultural and social context of the times that the films were made. In addition to discussing the films, Bogle also provides information on the performers' lives. Throughout the book, he discusses the stereotypes that black actors have been forced to play, noting that, even given these stereotypes, these films provided black actors with the opportunity for work. Although reviewer Edward Mapp, writing in the Library Journal, felt that "Bogle fails to convince me of the validity of his interpretations," most reviewers found the book to be insightful and important. Commentary reviewer Richard Schickel remarked that Bogle "has responded to a complex subject with a complex, non-ideological, aesthetically aware work, infused throughout with a patient humanity and written in a carefully tempered tone." A reviewer in the New York Times Book Review commented that Bogle's book "is a model of 'interpretative history,' temperate but shrewd in its judgments . . . well organized, well-written, solidly grounded in historical and biographical fact." The reviewer also called the book "non-ideological, esthetically aware, graceful in tone and humane in its point of view."
Bogle's next book, 1980's Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars, chronicles the lives and works of numerous legendary black female entertainers, from Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, and Ethel Waters to Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, and disco queen Donna Summer. Bogle also mentions many lesser-known performers. Writing in Booklist, reviewer William Bradly Hooper noted that Bogle writes "with great spirit and earnestness."
In Blacks in American Films and Television: An Encyclopedia, Bogle provides critical interpretations of more than 260 films and more than 100 television shows, including commentary on how black characters have evolved since the advent of television. Bogle also presents numerous biographical profiles of black actors and actresses and other blacks involved in movies and television, such as black film directors. As a reference book, Blacks in American Films and Television includes a substantial index and bibliography.
However, as a reviewer pointed out in American Libraries, "this is no dull merely descriptive encyclopedia." Rather, the reviewer noted, Bogle's "lively and candid style . . . offers insightful interpretations," while Joseph W. Palmer, writing in American Reference Books Annual, called it "a meaty volume crammed with facts and strong opinions."
For his book Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography Bogle spent several years interviewing family, friends, and associates of the actress, whose success in Hollywood was short-lived and ultimately led to tragedy. The book includes many reminiscences of black entertainers such as Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bobby Short. Bogle recounts how Dandridge rose through the ranks of the entertainment industry, starting out as a child performer and singer in church, vaudeville, and on the "chitlin' circuit," small black nightclubs and "honky tonks" located primarily in the south. Eventually, she began making cameos in mainstream Hollywood movies, like the Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races, and then starred in two low-budget "race movies," films produced by black-owned independent film companies. She was then cast in Carmen Jones by director Otto Preminger and was nominated for an Oscar for her role. Still, good roles for black actors remained rare. After her role as Bess in the 1959 film Porgy and Bess, Dandridge quickly fell from the spotlight. As the press cast aspersions on her for her marriage and affairs with white men and her reputation grew as being "difficult," both her acting and nightclub careers faded. Dandridge died in 1965 from a drug overdose with two dollars and fourteen cents in the bank.
While Bogle focuses on Dandridge in his work, Ed Guerrero, writing in Cineaste, pointed out that the author also "vividly charts the professional and evolutionary stages of black entertainment in America" as he tells Dandridge's story. Guerrero also noted that while Bogle clearly delineates "the socially charged performance of race in America", he never "hectors or editorializes." Rather, said Guerrero, Bogle "lets the events and evidence speak for the frank systemic racism of the day that all blacks, from kitchen maids to movie stars, endured." Writing on BookPage Online, Robert Fleming noted, "He gives the finest view yet of the gutsy, beautiful black actress fighting to survive in Jim Crow Hollywood despite a flood of slights and tragedies."
Bogle returned to his childhood love of television in his book Primetime Blues: African Americans onNetwork Television. This comprehensive history of blacks working on network television series begins with the early days of television following World War II through the 1990s. Bogle traces the early stereotypes that blacks were forced to play on such shows as Beulah, in which famed black entertainer Ethel Waters played a loyal and not-too-bright maid to a white family, and the infamous Amos 'n' Andy, which perhaps epitomized what Bogle calls "parts that were shameless, dishonest travesties of African American life and culture." Nevertheless, says Bogle, many of the performers were able to present portrayals in ways that that allowed the black community to identify with them. Although blacks gained more prominence on network television in the seventies, Bogle points out that ethnic urban comedies like Sanford and Son and Good Times also presented blacks in a less-than-stellar light. Bogle also analyzes such popular shows in the 1980s at The Cosby Show and explores the black-white buddy relationship in programs like Miami Vice.
New Republic reviewer John McWhorter found Bogle's fixation on stereotypes to be an "ideological straightjacket." Although John Anderson, writing in the Nation, called the history presented in Primetime Blues "fascinating," he disagreed with Bogle's seeming emphasis that a "positive image or political message" should be inherent in black acting roles on television. "In this," wrote Anderson, "Bogle skirts the two basic aspects of television's nature. First, that it is craven, soulless and bottom-line fixated. And second that it is aimed at morons." Nevertheless, Anderson and other viewers generally praised Bogle's work as the first comprehensive view of black actors on television. McWhorter called Bogle's chapters focusing on the 1950s and 1960s "masterful." In a review in Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker called the history "thorough" and "engagingly opinionated." Vanessa Bush, writing in Booklist, called Primetime Blues "an extensive and even-handed look at how television has mirrored and distorted race images and issues in the premier multiracial society."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, May, 1989, Blacks in AmericanFilms and Television: An Encyclopedia, p. 410.
American Reference Books Annual, Volume 20, 1989, Joseph W. Palmer, review of Blacks in American Films and Television: An Encyclopedia, p. 509.
Black American Literature Forum, winter, 1991, Edward Mapp, review of Blacks in American Films and Television: An Encyclopedia, p. 793.
Booklist, June 15, 1980, William Bradley Hooper, review of Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars, p. 1479; July, 1994, review of Blacks in American Films and Television, pp. 1966-1967; February 15, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, p. 978; January 1, 2001, Vanessa Bush, review of Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, p. 896.
Bookwatch, August, 1990, review of Brown Sugar:Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars, p. 6.
Choice, November, 1973, review of Toms, Coons,Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, p. 1395; September, 1988, C.A. Larson, Blacks in American Films and Television: An Encyclopedia, p. 74.
Cineaste, fall, 1998, Ed Guerrero, review of DorothyDandridge: A Biography, p. 60.
Commentary, November, 1973, Richard Schickel, review of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, pp. 90, 92-94.
Encore, August, 1980, "A Talk with Critic Donald Bogle," p. 38.
Entertainment Weekly, March 2, 2001, Ken Tucker, "Color Blind: Donald Bogle Takes an Incisive Look at Small-Screen Depictions of African Americans in Primetime Blues," p. 62.
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, spring, 1998, S. Craig Watkins, review of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, p. 226.
Library Journal, July, 1973, Edward Mapp, review of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, p. 2141; June 15, 1980, review of Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars, p. 1405; November 1, 1997, Corinne Nelson, review of Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, p. 75; November 1, 2000, Ann Burns and Emily Joy Jones, review of Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, p. 104; January 1, 2001, David M. Lisa, review of Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, p. 109.
Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2001, Lynell George, "Tuned in to TV's Racial Divide" (interview), p. E 1.
Nation, April 16, 2001, John Anderson, review of Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, p. 28.
New Republic, March 5, 2001, "Gimme a Break! Blacks, Television, and the Decline of Racism in America," p. 30.
New Yorker, August 18, 1997, Hilton Als, review of Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, p. 68.
New York Times Book Review, August 26, 1973, review of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, November 13, 2000, review of Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television, p. 91.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (March 30, 2002), Robert Fleming, review of Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography.
Museum of Television & Radio Web site, http://www.mtr.org/ (September 12, 2002), excerpt from Donald Bogle's introduction in Prime Time Blues: African Americans on Network Television.
Hollywood and the Black Actor (sound recording), interview with Donald Bogle and others about the portrayal and stereotyping of blacks in American movies, J. Norton Publishers.*