Duke, Bill 1943-
Duke, Bill 1943-
Full name, William Henry Duke, Jr.; born February 26, 1943, in Poughkeepsie, NY; son of William Henry and Ethel Louise (maiden name, Douglas) Duke. Education: Boston University, School of Fine Arts, B.F.A., theatre, 1966; New York University, Tisch School of the Arts, M.F.A., fine arts, 1968; American Film Institute, M.F.A., 1971. Avocational Interests: Meditation, yoga, reading, music, martial arts.
Office—Duke Media, 7510 Sunset Blvd., Suite 523, Hollywood, CA 90406; Yagya Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 609, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. Agent—Agency for the Performing Arts, 405 South Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Manager—Rigberg Entertainment Group, 1180 South Beverly Dr., Suite 601, Los Angeles, CA 90035.
Director, producer, actor, and writer. Weusi Kuumba Troupe, Brooklyn, New York City, former director; Sundance Film Festival, member of the dramatic jury, 1992; Howard University, Washington, DC, Time Warner professor and chair of the radio, television, and film department, beginning c. 2000; Yagya Productions, Inc., Pacific Palisades, CA, founder, c. 2000, and chief executive officer, beginning c. 2000; Duke Media, Hollywood, CA, principal; Rosebud (film production company), founder. Mentor to young African American actors and directors. Teacher of transcendental meditation. Affiliated with organizations for the homeless, including the St. Joseph Center and the Willow Opportunity Center.
Screen Directors Guild, Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, American Film Institute (member of the board of trustees), Artists against Homelessness (founding member).
Winner of a national poetry contest as a student; Audelco Recognition Award, 1977, for Unfinished Women …; Best Young Director Award, American Film Institute, 1979, and Houston Film Festival Gold Award, both for The Hero; Special Jury Prize and nomination for the Grand Jury Prize, both in the dramatic category, both Sundance Film Festival, 1985, for "The Killing Floor," American Playhouse; New Vision Award, Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, 1990; Image Award, special achievement—directing, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1991; Star Bright Award, Black American Society, 1991; Golden Palm Award nomination, Cannes International Film Festival, 1991, for A Rage in Harlem; the American Film Institute held "An Evening with Bill Duke" in 1992 to honor his achievement in film; CableACE Award, best directing, drama special or series, 1996, for America's Dream; Career Achievement Award, Acapulco Black Film Festival, 1997; Black Film Award nomination, best director, Acapulco Black Film Festival, 1998, for Hoodlum; Black Reel Award, television: best director, 2004, for Deacons for Defense; Black Reel Award nomination (with others), best director—television, 2006, for Miracle's Boys.
The Hero (short film), c. 1978.
Maximum Security, 1987.
A Rage in Harlem (also known as Harlem Action, A Rage in Harlem—La reine des pommes, Ei armoa Harlemissa, Harlem Action—Eine schwarze Komoedie, Ont blod i Harlem, Rabbia ad Harlem, and Redada en Harlem), Miramax, 1991.
Deep Cover (also known as Agent double, Az alvilag melyen, Cobertura total, Jenseits der weissen Linie, La cara sucia de la ley, Massima copertura, Melytengeri szoernyeteg, and Piilokyttae), New Line Cinema, 1992.
The Cemetery Club (also known as Looking for a Live One, A vivir que son dos dias, Aelska igen!, Diesieben besten Jahre, Efthymes monahikes gynaikes, Il club delle vedove, Kuolleiden aviomiesten seura, and Les veuves joyeuses), Buena Vista, 1993.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (also known as Apaca-show 2., Cambio de habito 2, Cambio de habito 2: Mas locuras en el convento, Do cabare para o convento 2, En vaersting till syster II, En vaersting till syster 2—Redo att synda igen, Halloj i klosteret 2—Nonnernes hus, Mudanca de habito 2: Mais confusoes no convento, Mudanca de habito 2: Mais loucuras no convento, Nune pojejo 2, Nunnia ja konnia 2: Lisaeae saepinaeae, Rock 'n' nonne 2: De retour au couvent, Sister Act, acte 2, Sister Act 2: de vuelta al convento, Sister Act 2—In goettlicher Mission, and Sister act 2—piu svitata che mai), Buena Vista, 1993.
Hoodlum (also known as Gangster, Harlem, N.Y.C., Hoods, Hampones (Hoodlum), Homens perigosos, Kvodo Shel Gangster, Les seigneurs de Harlem, Os reis do sub-mundo, and Truand), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1997.
Angel: One More Road to Cross (also known as Angel), 2001.
Living in the Spirit Revue, 2001.
Cover (also known as Invisible), Twentieth Century-Fox, 2007.
Not Easily Broken, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2007.
Some sources cite work on Blacktime, Whitenoise, c. 2002.
Film Executive Producer:
Sweet Potato Ride (short film), 1995.
Hoodlum (also known as Gangster, Harlem, N.Y.C., Hoods, Hampones (Hoodlum), Homens perigosos, Kvodo Shel Gangster, Les seigneurs de Harlem, Os reis do sub-mundo, and Truand), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1997.
(With others) Living in the Spirit Revue, 2001.
The Pact (documentary), Spark Media/Duke Media, 2006.
Cover (also known as Invisible), Twentieth Century-Fox, 2007.
Duane (Abdullah), Car Wash, Universal, 1976.
Leon James, American Gigolo, Paramount, 1980.
Cooke, Commando, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1985.
Malcolm, No Man's Land, Orion, 1987.
Sergeant Mac Eliot, Predator, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1987.
Captain Armbruster, Action Jackson, Lorimar, 1988.
Lieutenant Borel, Street of No Return (also known as Sam Fuller's "Street of No Return," Rua sem regresso, and Sans espoir de retour), Bac Films, 1988.
Albert Diggs, Bird on a Wire, Universal, 1990.
Detective, Menace II Society (also known as Die Strassenkaempfer, Nella giungla di cemento, Perigo para a sociedade, Uehiskonna nuhtlus, Vakivallan kierre, and Veszelyes elemek), New Line Cinema, 1993.
Mr. Johnson, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (also known as Apaca-show 2., Cambio de habito 2, Cambio de habito 2: Mas locuras en el convento, Do cabare para o convento 2, En vaersting till syster II, En vaersting till syster 2—Redo att synda igen, Halloj I klosteret 2—Nonnernes hus, Mudanca de habito 2: Mais confusoes no convento, Mudanca de habito 2: Mais loucuras no convento, Nune pojejo 2, Nunnia ja konnia 2: Lisaeae saepinaeae, Rock 'n' nonne 2: De retour au couvent, Sister Act, acte 2, Sister Act 2: de vuelta al convento, Sister Act 2—In goettlicher Mission, and Sister act 2—piu svitata che mai), Buena Vista, 1993.
World Beat (documentary), Western Sunrise Communications, 1993.
Detective Scott, Susan's Plan (also known as Die Again, Dying to Get Rich, Delitto imperfetto, El pla de la Susan, El plan de Susan, Petollinen suunnitelma, and Susan a un plan), Kusher-Locke, 1998.
(Uncredited) Head Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, The Limey (also known as El halcon ingles, Englaenderen, L'anglais, L'inglese, Le limier, The Limey—Kostaja Lontoosta, Limey—Tasuja Londonist, O estranho, O falcao ingles, and Vengar la sangre), Artisan Entertainment, 1999.
Studio producer, Foolish, Artisan Entertainment, 1999.
Detective Hicks, Payback (also known as Porter, Arved klaariks, La revancha, Le reglement, Payback—La rivincita di Porter, Payback—Zahltag, Revancha, and Visszavago), Warner Bros., 1999, director's cut released as Payback: Straight Up—The Director's Cut.
Detective Glass, Fever (also known as Atrapado en la oscuridad, Febre a medo, and Instinto sombrio), 1999, Lions Gate Films/Cowboy Book International, 2001.
Hinges, Exit Wounds (also known as Blessures fatales, Dengeki, Exit Wounds—Die Copjaeger, Ferite mortali, Herida abierta, Hors limites, Izlazne rane, Kuulihaavad, Red de corrupcion, and Rede de corrupcao), Warner Bros., 2001.
Mysterious voice on the telephone, Love and a Bullet (also known as Love & Bullet, De profesion asesino, El ultimo disparo, and Rakkautta luotisateessa), TriStar, 2002.
Police chief, Red Dragon (also known as A Voeroes sarkany, Den rode drage, Dragao vermelho, Dragon rojo, Dragon rouge, El dragon rojo, Punainen lohikaeaerme, Roed drake, and Roter Drache), Universal, 2002.
Earl, Never Again, USA Films, c. 2002.
Lieutenant Washington, National Security (also known as National security—Sei in buone mani, Rahvuslik julgeolek, Securite nationale, Seguranca nacional,Seguridad nacional, and Veijareita vai vartijoita?), Columbia, 2003.
Levar, Get Rich or Die Tryin' (also known as Hustler's Ambition, Locked and Loaded, Untitled 50 Cent Project, and Reussir ou mourir), Paramount, 2005.
Trask, X-Men: The Last Stand (also known as X-Men: Final Decision, X-Men 3, X3, X-mehed—viimane vastuhakk, X-men—Conflitto finale, X-Men—Der letzte Widerstand, X-men—I teliki anametrisi, X-men—L'affrontement final, X-men—L'engagement ultime, X-men—La batalla final, X-Men—O confronto final, X-men—Ostatni bastion, X-men—posledniyat sblasak, X-men—uppgoerelsen, X-men—viimeinen kohtaaminen, X-Men 3—Hamiflat Ha'acharon, X-men 3—La batalla final, and X-men 3—La decision final), Twentieth Century-Fox, 2006.
Liquor supplier, The Go-Getter, Et Cetera Films/Two Roads Entertainment, 2007.
Miles Emory, Yellow, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2007.
Henry Emboli, We're Here to Help, Crossroads Films, c. 2008.
Marble City, Twentieth Century-Fox, 2008.
Television Director; Miniseries:
"Miracle's Song," Miracle's Boys, The N (Noggin), 2005.
Television Director; Movies:
Johnnie Mae Gibson: FBI (also known as Agent Gibson: Undercover FBI, Johnnie Gibson F.B.I., The Johnnie Gibson Story, and Tehtaevae Miamissa), CBS, 1986.
(With others) America's Dream (also known as Amerykanski sen), HBO, 1996.
The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (also known as Golden Spiders), Arts and Entertainment, 2000.
Deacons for Defense (also known as Em defesa dos nossos), Showtime, 2003.
Television Director; Specials:
"The Meeting," American Playhouse, PBS, 1989.
"Raisin in the Sun," American Playhouse, PBS, 1989.
Television Director; Episodic:
"Double Trouble," Flamingo Road, NBC, 1982.
"To Catch a Thief," Flamingo Road, NBC, 1982.
Falcon Crest (also known as The Vintage Years), CBS, multiple episodes in 1982.
Knots Landing, CBS, episodes from 1982-87.
"Chop Shop," Cagney & Lacey, CBS, 1983.
"Crash of '83," Dallas (also known as Oil), CBS, 1983.
"Death by Kiki," Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1983.
"The Reckoning," Dallas (also known as Oil), CBS, 1983.
"Blues for Mr. Green," Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1984.
"The Bounty Hunter," Cagney & Lacey, CBS, 1984.
"Episode 4," Emerald Point N.A.S. (also known as Navy), CBS, 1984.
"The Hot Grounder," Hunter, NBC, 1984.
"Dangerous Ground," Berrenger's, NBC, 1985.
"I Will Abide," Hell Town, NBC, 1985.
MacGruder and Loud, ABC, episodes in 1985.
Me & Mom, ABC, episodes in 1985.
"Double Exposure," Fame, syndicated, 1986.
"Fever," Starman, ABC, 1986.
"The Professor," Matlock, NBC, 1986.
"Atomic Fallout," Crime Story, NBC, 1987.
"Frye for the Defense," Amen, NBC, 1987.
"The Junction," The Twilight Zone, CBS, 1987.
"The System," Starman, ABC, 1987.
"Baseballs of Death," Miami Vice (also known as Gold Coast and Miami Unworthiness), NBC, 1988.
"Fathers," Blue Skies, CBS, 1988.
"Short Timer," Tour of Duty, CBS, 1988.
"The Siege," Spenser: For Hire, ABC, 1988.
Heartbeat (also known as HeartBeat, Private Practice, and Women's Medical), ABC, episodes beginning c. 1988.
"The Divided Child," A Man Called Hawk, ABC, 1989.
"Kennonite," Gideon Oliver (also known as By the Rivers of Babylon), a segment of the The ABC Mystery Movie (also known as The Mystery Movie, The ABC Monday Mystery Movie, and The ABC Saturday Mystery Movie), ABC, 1989.
"Passing the Bar," A Man Called Hawk, ABC, 1989.
Brewster Place, ABC, episodes in 1990.
The Outsiders, Fox, episodes in 1990.
"Emma," Legacy (also known as Loganin perhe), UPN, 1998.
"The Search Party," Legacy (also known as Loganin perhe), UPN, 1998.
"Bride and Prejudice," City of Angels (also known as Anglarnas stad, Englenes by, Enkelten kaupunki, and Orasul ingerilor), CBS, 2000.
"Compassionate Release," Strong Medicine, Lifetime, 2002.
"Overkill," Fastlane (also known as Fastlane: Brigada especial), Fox, 2003.
"Partners of the Heart," The American Experience, PBS, 2003.
"Vamonos Chica," Robbery Homicide Division (also known as Metro and R.H.D./LA: Robbery Homicide Division/Los Angeles), CBS, 2003.
"Mr. Nobody," Missing (also known as 1-800-MISSING), Lifetime, 2004.
"Prince among Slaves," American Experience, PBS, 2006.
Directed "Win or Lose," an episode of Trauma Center, ABC.
Television Work; Other; Episodic:
Developer, "You Must Remember This," WonderWorks (also known as WonderWorks: You Must Remember This), PBS, 1992.
Television Director; Pilots:
"The Killing Floor," American Playhouse (also known as American Playhouse: The Killing Floor), PBS, 1984.
New York Undercover (also known as Uptown Undercover), Fox, 1994.
Television Appearances; Series:
Luther Freeman, Palmerstown, U.S.A. (also known as Kings of the Hill and Palmerstown), CBS, 1980-81.
Himself, Champlin on Film (also known as American Directors: The Next Wave and Champlin on Film: American Directors: The Next Wave), Bravo, beginning c. 1989.
Amos Andrews, Karen Sisco (also known as Ofiter Karen), ABC, 2003, USA Network, 2004.
Television Appearances; Movies:
"Happy" Jordan, Love Is Not Enough, NBC, 1978.
Sergeant Matlovich vs. the U.S. Air Force, NBC, 1978.
Luther Seth Foster, Dallas: The Early Years, CBS, 1986.
Blackbird Wills, Always Outnumbered (also known as Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned), HBO, 1998.
Jenga, Who Killed Atlanta's Children? (also known as Echo of Murder), Showtime, 2000.
Book of Love (also known as Book of Love: The Definitive Reason Why Men Are Dogs), Black Entertainment Television, c. 2002.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Mr. Sands, "Santiago's Ark," ABC Afterschool Specials, ABC, 1972.
Mr. Sands, "Santiago's America," ABC Afterschool Specials, ABC, 1975.
Second FBI agent, "The Meeting," American Playhouse, PBS, 1989.
Himself, Frank Capra's American Dream, 1997.
Himself, Roots: Celebrating 25 Years (also known as Roots—Celebrating 25 Years: The Saga of an American Classic), NBC, 2002.
Miracle's Boys: The Making of a Mini-Series, The N (Noggin), c. 2004.
Himself, Ego Trip's Race-O-Rama, VH1, 2005.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Presenter, The Fourth Annual Trumpet Awards, TBS, 1996.
Presenter, The Fifth Annual Trumpet Awards, TBS, 1997.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Sylk, "Bad Dude," Kojak, CBS, 1976.
David Pearl, "Angels on the Run," Charlie's Angels, ABC, 1978.
Officer Dryden, "Hutchinson: Murder One (a.k.a. Hutchinson for Murder One)," Starsky and Hutch, ABC, 1978.
Mad Dog, "The Grass Ain't Greener," Benson, ABC, 1981.
Himself, "Good Times," The E! True Hollywood Story (also known as Good Times: The E! True Hollywood Story and THS), E! Entertainment Television, 2000.
Himself, Intimate Portrait: Robin Givens, Lifetime, 2000.
Captain Bob Parish, "Get Your Mack On," Fastlane (also known as Fastlane: Brigada especial), Fox, 2002.
Captain Bob Parish, "Ryde or Die," Fastlane (also known as Fastlane: Brigada especial), Fox, 2002.
Voice of detective, "The Brave and the Bold: Part 1," Justice League (animated; also known as JL, JLA, Justice League of America, and Justice League Unlimited), Cartoon Network, 2002.
Captain Bob Parish, "Iced," Fastlane (also known as Fastlane: Brigada especial), Fox, 2003.
Captain Bob Parish, "Simone Says," Fastlane (also known as Fastlane: Brigada especial), Fox, 2003.
Himself, Jimmy Kimmel Live, ABC, 2005.
Phelan, "Black Market," Battlestar Galactica (also known as Galactica, Galactica—Estrella de combate, and Taisteluplaneetta Galactica), Sci-Fi Channel, 2006.
Warden Harris, "Every Man for Himself," Lost, ABC, 2006.
Also appeared in other programs, including Maddox.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
(Uncredited) Hit man, New York Undercover (also known as Uptown Undercover), Fox, 1994.
Ivor "Max" Maxwell, Black Jaq, ABC, 1998.
Police officer, R.U.S./H., CBS, c. 2002.
The Secret Place, Playwrights Horizons, New York City, 1972.
Unfinished Women …, New York Shakespeare Festival, Public Theater, Mobile Theater, New York City, 1977.
Sonata, Theatre of the Arts, Los Angeles, 1985.
No Place to Be Somebody, Matrix Theatre, 1987.
Dutchman, Cherry Lane Theatre, New York City, 2007.
Directed other stage productions.
Akano, Slave Ship, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, New York City, c. 1969-70.
First man, industrialist, and Rastus, Day of Absence (produced as part of a double-bill with Brotherhood), Negro Ensemble Company, St. Mark's Playhouse, New York City, 1970.
Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, 1971, Ambassador Theatre, New York City, 1971-72.
Himself, If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: The Making of "Predator" (short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
Himself, Predator: Character Design (short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
Himself, Predator: Classified Action (short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
Himself, Predator: The Life Inside (short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
Himself, Predator: Old Painless (short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
Himself, Predator: The Unseen Arnold (short), Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
Busta Rhymes, "Dangerous," 1997.
Common, "Testify," 2005.
Writings for the Stage:
An Adaptation: Dream (one-act), Negro Ensemble Company, New York City, 1971.
Sonata, Theatre Genesis, St. Mark's Playhouse, New York City, 1975, later at produced at Theatre of the Arts, Los Angeles, 1985.
"Cousin Raymond," Good Times, CBS, 1979.
Duke's poetry published in various books.
(With Danny Glover) Black Light: The African American Hero, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993.
Author of Heroes: A Black Family Picture Album, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1991. Also wrote Bill Duke's 24-Hours L.A. Contributor of articles and poems to magazines and newspapers, including Black Creation.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 3, Gale, 1992.
Ebony, January, 1991, p. 128.
Essence, February, 1994, p. 52; October, 2000, p. 78.
Jet, April 12, 1999, p. 24.
New York Times, April 10, 1980.
Premiere, April, 1991, pp. 40-42.
Shock Cinema, issue 27, 2005, pp. 3-6, 30.
US, October, 1991.
"Duke, Bill 1943-." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/duke-bill-1943-0
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Duke, Bill 1943–
Bill Duke 1943–
Bill Duke has enjoyed a long and unique career as both an actor and director in theater, television, and film. During the 1970s he directed more than 30 off-Broadway plays. In the 1980s he focused on television, directing three teleplays for the American Playhouse series on PBS. He also directed numerous episodes of various television series, including the hits Hill Street Blues and Dallas. As an actor, Duke is known to moviegoers for his portrayals of fearsome and frightening villains in such movies as American Gigolo, Commando, Predator, and Bird on a Wire. He also played roles in several episodes of popular television series, including Benson, Maddox, Starsky and Hutch, and Kojak. In 1980 he was even the star of a short-lived series called Kings of the Hill.
Duke first became interested in the performing arts while attending Boston University, where he had originally enrolled as a pre-med student. He eventually majored in theater there and then went on to earn a master’s in fine arts from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Duke later enrolled in the American Film Institute (AFI) and in 1979 received the AFI’s lifetime achievement award as best young director for his first short film, titled “The Hero.”
Duke began his career as an actor, initially in the small theaters of Harlem and elsewhere around New York City. In 1969 he performed some of his own works at Harlem’s New Heritage Theater. That year he also acted in LeRoi Jones’s Slave Ship, playing the role of Akano, at the Chelsea Center of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Portraying an African in bondage, he raged against his fate in the hold of the ship carrying him to slavery in the United States. In 1970 Duke acted in Days of Absence, by Douglas Turner Ward, as part of a double bill for the Negro Ensemble Company of New York. He had three roles—First Man, Industrialist, and Rastus—in the play, a revival originally performed successfully off Broadway in 1965. Duke then performed in the 1971 run of Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, a musical by Melvin Van Peebles. Although the theater critics of the New York Daily News and the New York Post gave it negative reviews, the play ran for 325 performances.
In 1980 Duke won the lead role in the short-lived television series Kings of the Hill. About a black family living in Tennessee in the 1930s, the series featured Duke as a blacksmith. Produced by television legend Norman Lear,
Born February 26, 1943, in Poughkeepsie, NY. Education: Boston University, B.A. in theater; New York University, M.F.A. from Tisch School of Fine Arts; studied directing at American Film Institute.
Acting credits include Broadway and off-Broadway productions of Barefoot in the Park, Plaza Suite, Look Back in Anger, Emperor Jones, Macbeth, Richard III, Othello, Slave Ship, Days of Absence, and Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death. Films appearances include Car Wash, Universal, 1976; American Cigolo, Paramount, 1980; Commando, Twentieth Century Fox, 1985; No Man’s Land, New Yorker Films, 1987; Action Jackson, Lorimar, 1988; Predator,1987; and Bird on a Wire. Has appeared in episodes of various television series.
Director of more than 70 episodes of over 20 television series, teleplays for PBS and CBS, and feature films A Rage in Harlem,1991, and Deep Cover, New Line Cinema, 1992.
Awards: Lifetime achievement award for best young director, American Film Institute, 1979.
Addresses: Office —c/o New Line Cinema Corporation, 116 North Robertson Blvd., Ste. 200, Los Angeles, CA 90048.
Kings of the Hill followed on the heels of the television miniseries based on Alex Haley’s novel Roots; Haley himself supervised scripts for the program.
Of his role in the series, Duke said in the New York Amsterdam News,“Luther is a community leader, a churchgoer, the head of a family. He has all the solid qualities that Blacks have had denied us in weekly programs. His wife is happy as a homemaker, who keeps the house together and gives the children their moral values.” Duke also noted that in order for a show like Kings of the Hill to survive it would need to be actively supported by black families. “Very few of the families that are surveyed for the Nielson ratings are Black. So we have got to go outside that structure,” he contended. Urging viewers to write letters of support for the series, he said, “You’d be surprised how much impact all this direct communication from viewers has on network programmers.” Unfortunately, however, Kings of the Hill was cancelled after one season.
As a film actor Duke is known to movie audiences for his bad guy roles in Commando, Predator and Bird on a Wire. Prior to his appearance in the 1980 film American Gigolo, Duke was probably best known for his part in Car Wash as the confused young man Adullah. In American Gigolo, which starred Richard Gere as a male prostitute, Duke played a pimp—a player in a game of aberrant sexual behavior and murder. According to New York Amsterdam News contributor Nelson George, “The character is somewhat sleazy, but Duke’s acting skill is apparent.” Of the veracity of Duke’s role, director Paul Schrader said in Film Comment,“You want to see the black guy (Leon, a pimp) squashed out. You want to see his head bounce like a walnut down the street. Then you feel terrible for wanting it.”
Duke’s directing credentials were established while he shepherded more than 30 off-Broadway plays for such producers as Joseph Papp and Woody King, Jr. In December of 1972 he directed The Secret Place, by Garrett Morris, who would later achieve fame as an original member of television’s Saturday Night Live. In 1985 Duke directed the experimental one-act play Sonata at Los Angeles’s Theatre of Arts. Reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, it was apparently too experimental for critic Robert Koehler, who described “a scramble of skits,” seen through the hallucinating eyes of a Shakespeare-quoting hobo.
During the 1980s Duke amassed more than 100 television directing credits, including more than 70 episodes of roughly 20 television series such as Miami Vice, Dallas, Crime Story, Cagney and Lacey, and Hill Street Blues. His television directorial debut came in 1982 when he directed episodes of Knot’s Landing, Falcon Crest, and Flamingo Road for Lorimar Productions. Duke’s most prominent and critically acclaimed television work, however, has been his direction of teleplays for the PBS series American Playhouse. In 1984 he directed his first feature for television—The Killing Floor —about a black sharecropper who risked his life to unionize an early twentieth-century Chicago meatpacking plant. The feature was selected as one of seven films chosen for Critic’s Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 1985. Later, Duke directed Johnnie Mae Gibson, a two-hour CBS Movie of the Week. That was followed by a three-hour PBS version of Lorraine Hansberry’s famed A Raisin in the Sun, which starred Danny Glover and Esther Rolle.
In 1989 Duke directed another teleplay for American Playhouse. It was The Meeting, a 90-minute drama that depicted an imaginary meeting between black leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Written in 1987 by Jeffrey Stetson, The Meeting was reviewed in Variety. ‘“The Meeting’ points up how much the two men did for the cause, and how different they were in their approach—and even in their goals,” the influential entertainment trade journal observed. “As such, it’s an important document about American civil rights.”
During 1990 Duke was at work directing an all-black ensemble cast in the film adaptation of Chester Himes’s novel A Rage in Harlem. Himes’s novels had also been the basis for the films Cotton Comes to Harlem and Uptown Saturday Night. Characters from the earlier films appear in A Rage in Harlem, and all three films share Himes’s comic vision. Rage in Harlem co-producer Stephen Woolley told Premiere magazine why Bill Duke was sought as the film’s director: In large part, the decision was based on Duke’s television track record and his work on historical subjects. “A lot of the younger black directors are auteurists [filmmakers who believe that the director is the primary creative force in producing a motion picture] whose work is built around personal experiences. We needed someone who was older and secure enough to collaborate and make a picture that we could distribute widely, but who still had a passion for the material.”
Woolley continued: “Bill’s Hill Street Blues experience was very important to us because of the way that series mixed humor and violence. There’s very little sarcasm or cynicism here—his vision of the film doesn’t condescend, like a lot of Hollywood movies, and there’s no wink-wink, like with [comedic stars] Eddie Murphy or Robert Townsend. The movie is as far from [Murphy’s film] Harlem Nights as could be conceived.”
The film’s producers consulted leading man Forest Whitaker, among others, in their search for a black director. According to Premiere, “[Co-producer Kerry] Boyle and Woolley believed that maintaining the cultural integrity of the novel demanded a black director.” Woolley explained, “There’s a blackness to Himes’s writing that comes from an ironic statement about life and poverty, about the humor rising out of hopelessness. We wanted to arrive at the visual equivalent of Himes’s prose. We felt it would be an absolute dishonor to Himes for a white to direct it. It would be folly, madness, to make it without a black director.”
Regarding his feature directorial debut, Duke told the New York Times, “Television is an excellent training ground for a director. If you work consistently in television, as I did, you have to come in on time and on budget. You have to know how to get along with and instruct actors. You have to know how to manage a crew and hire people to enable you to manifest your vision. So the basic elements of film are in television.”
Duke selected Robin Givens to play Rage’s female lead, Imabelle. In spite of the controversy surrounding Givens’s breakup with boxer-husband Mike Tyson, Duke felt she could meet the demands of the part. According to Premiere, “The powerful screen potential Givens displayed during her auditions and screen tests” clinched the role for her in Duke’s mind. “I saw 300 women for the part of Imabelle, and it got down to four of them,” the director recalled. “Robin was one. At that point, I decided to do an old-fashioned screen test with one of the toughest scenes emotionally in the script. It’s the love scene where Slim realizes that Imabelle has been with another man.” Duke felt Givens proved she had the glamour and star potential he was looking for.
On its release in 1991 A Rage in Harlem received mixed reviews. Veteran film critic Stanley Kauffmann called it a “creaky comedy-thriller” in the New Republic. Vincent Canby of the New York Times deemed the film a “lightweight comedy caper” while praising Givens’s acting ability; he wrote, “Because the screenplay is so thin, the characters are revealed entirely by the actors who play them. Miss Givens does particularly well as a doxy with a heart of gold as well as a trunk full of it. She looks great and shows a real flair for absurd comedy.” Similarly, Rolling Stone cited Givens in its summation of the film: “Givens adds dimension and true grit to a film all too eager to settle for being a slick Hollywood package.”
In early 1992 Duke served as a juror at actor-director Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. He had recently completed directing his second feature film, Deep Cover. Starring Larry Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum, the film tells the story of an undercover narcotics officer seduced by the lifestyle of the drug dealers he is assigned to apprehend. Though Entertainment Weekly contributor Owen Gleiberman took issue with the narrative approach of the film, he described Deep Cover as “stylish and impassioned,” calling it an attempt to “blend the commercial, gut-wrenching pleasures of an inner-city shoot-’em-up with [a] complex moral rage….” Alternately citing Duke’s “craftsmanship” and “explosive vision,” Gleiberman decided, “Still, if [the] film fails as narrative, it succeeds… as a kind of stylized fever dream. The movie peels away every layer of hope, revealing a red-hot core of nihilistic despair.”
Another Entertainment Weekly piece explored Duke’s use of improvisation on the set of Deep Cover. Clearly, Duke’s experience as an actor has aided him in creating a uniquely productive actor/director relationship; Entertainment Weekly reported, “Duke recalls: ’[Fishburne] hated working with me in the beginning. He’s used to rehearsing a scene the way it’s going to be shot. I said, “Larry, that’s not how I work.” It always made him nervous, but he started to trust me and we had a good collaboration.”’ Whether as actor or director—or, in this instance, as the special link between the two—Duke has throughout his career maintained impeccable production values and unwavering fidelity to his social ideals and personal artistic mandate. In so doing he has become an important force in American dramatic arts.
Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1992.
Essence, July 1991.
Film Comment, March/April 1980.
Jet, May 17, 1982.
Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1985; August 15, 1986.
New Republic, August 5, 1991.
New York Amsterdam News, February 16, 1980.
New York Post, October 21, 1971.
New York Times, March 17, 1970; June 15, 1990; May 3, 1991.
Premiere, April 1991; May 1992.
Rolling Stone, June 13, 1991.
Variety, May 17, 1989.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from a Miramax Films press release on the film A Rage in Harlem, 1991.
"Duke, Bill 1943–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/duke-bill-1943
"Duke, Bill 1943–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/duke-bill-1943