Roundtree, Richard 1942–

views updated May 14 2018

Richard Roundtree 1942


Auditioned for Shaft

Appeared in Roots

Nominated for Image Awards

Selected films


The modern image of the black male in cinema began with Richard Roundtree. As the charismatic private detective John Shaft in the wildly successful 1971 film Shaft, Roundtree created a black action hero of an entirely new kind: confident, hip, funny, triumphant over white antagonists, and possessed of a certain enjoyment of life. For American movie audiences of the 1970s, Roundtree was among the most recognizable of all the leading men in Hollywood. His career took a downturn in the 1980s as he proved unable to escape the typecasting his own success had engendered, but despite a serious illness, his career flourished once again on film and television screen in the 1990s.

Roundtree was born in the New York City suburb of New Rochelle, New York, on July 9, 1942. His father was a chauffeur and his mother a housekeeper. In high school he showed hints of the glamorous presence he would later develop on screen when he was voted the most popular, best dressed, and best looking student in his senior class. Roundtree also excelled as an athlete and went on to Southern Illinois University on a football scholarship. But he found his true calling when he got involved with campus stage productions at SIU.

Dropping out of college, Roundtree headed back to New York and bounced through a series of jobs that seemed random but actually combined to help him develop a classy image and presence. He sold suits for a time at New Yorks Barneys department store and had some success as a male fashion model with the Ebony Fashion Fair. Finally the acting impulse drew him toward the theater again, and in 1967 he enrolled in a workshop program run by the Negro Ensemble Company, a pioneering black theatrical organization of the day. Roundtree appeared in a number of the companys productions, including The Great White Hope the original stage version of a story about boxer Jack Johnson that was filmed several years later.

Auditioned for Shaft

Roundtree had a small part in the 1970 film What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? His breakthrough and career high point came the following year. He heard about a new detective film being made by the famed African American director, photographer, writer, and musician Gordon Parks Sr., who three years earlier had become the first black director of a major-studio American

At a Glance

Born in New Rochelle, New York, on July 9,1942; son of a chauffeur and a housekeeper; married, Karen; children: Tayler, Morgan, and John. Education: Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois.

Career: Actor. Enrolled in Negro Ensemble Company acting workshop, 1967; appeared in plays with Negro Ensemble Company, late 1960s; made film debut in What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, 1970; starring roles in Shan, 1971, and two sequels; appeared in Earthquake, 1974; appeared in television miniseries Roofs, 1977; appeared in Inchon, 1981; suffered from breast cancer, early 1990s; numerous film and television appearances, 1980s and 1990s; appeared in Shan remake, 2000.

Awards: Golden Globe nomination, Most Promising Newcomer, 1972; MTV Movie Award Lifetime Achievement Award, 1994 (both for Shaft); Image Award nomination, 1998, for 413 Hope st

Addresses: Agent Performing Arts, Inc., 9200 W. Sunset Blvd, #900, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

film with The Learning Tree. Roundtree auditioned for the lead role of John Shaft, and got the part. Studio executives asked that he shave off his elegant handlebar moustache, but director Parks demanded that he be allowed to keep it.

In the finished film Roundtree is the very model of aplomb, but as a young, struggling actor in his first starring role he approached the filming of Shaft with considerable nervousness. I was scared to death, he said in Blacks in American Films and Television, adding that he didnt really...begin to feel comfortable with the character until three fourths of the way through the film. But director Parks shrewdly exploited Roundtrees inexperience, bringing out a natural quality in him that was essential to the films success.

For Roundtree in Shaft was above all fun to watch. As Essence magazine critic Maurice Peterson (quoted in Black Action Films) pointed out, Shaft is the first picture to show a black man who leads a life free from racial torment. He is black and proud of it, but not obsessed with itShaft keeps his blackness in perspective. The films plot, which enmeshed Roundtrees classic private-eye hero in a three-way conflict involving black gangsters, the Mafia, and the New York City police, allowed audiences to root for an African American hero against white villains. Few previous films had done that, but even more important to the films success was Roundtrees image: resplendent in beige turtlenecks and leather coats, he exuded a muscular, down-to-earth charm that was perfectly complemented by Isaac Hayess hit soundtrack for the film.

Appeared in Roots

That image landed Roundtree on the cover of national magazines: Newsweek, Ebony, and Jet. The success of Shaft spawned two sequels, Shafts Big Score and Shaft in Africa, with Roundtree reprising his leading role. Roundtree landed other starring roles, such as 1973s Charley One Eye, and appeared in blockbusters like the 1974 disaster film Earthquake and the epic and groundbreaking 1977 television miniseries Roots.

By the 1980s Roundtrees career had fallen on harder times. Identified with the black action genre, he found it difficult to find top roles when that genre went into decline. His involvement in the 1981 big-budget flop Inchon didnt help matters. Roundtree still worked steadily, but his roles were mostly confined to television series, shoestring direct-to-video productions, and quickie foreign-made films. Hollywood, after an initial flurry of activity in the 1970s, was in general less receptive to strong black cinematic figures in the 1980s and 1990s, and Roundtrees career paid the price.

He himself wrote, in his foreword to the book Black Action Films, that [b]lacks are and have always been a part of America, yet institutional racism has smothered many of our accomplishments, including our achievements in Hollywood.

Reflecting on the dry spell in his career, he wrote, I have appeared in more than 30 films and have had my own television program, but the road has been a rocky one, as it is for most blacks in Hollywood. Yet we continue to persevere and hone our craft. We continue to seek excellence regardless of the barriers.

Nominated for Image Awards

That perseverance paid off in the 1990s as the quality of the parts that came Roundtrees way began to improve. He appeared in the stylish 1995 thriller Seven, co-starred in the critically acclaimed memoir of black Southern life Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored, and had a lead role as a teen crisis center administrator in the television series 413 Hope St., an effort that brought him a Best Lead Actor in a Dramatic Series nomination at the 1998 Image Awards. Domestic happiness came Roundtrees way as well; he is married and lives in bucolic Agoura, California, with his wife Karen and three children, Tayler, Morgan, and John.

Unbeknownst to those who followed his resurgent career, however, Roundtree was battling a serious illness. In 1993 he was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease rare but by no means unheard-of among males. One morning, Im in the shower, and getting ready to go to work, and I feel this lump under the nipple, Roundtree was quoted in Jet. He underwent a radical mastectomy and months of grueling chemotherapy treatments, all the while hiding his condition from his co-workers. By the year 2000 Roundtree had gone public with his ordeal and was pleased to be able to announce that he had been given a bill of cancer-free health. A part that year in a new remake of Shaft reminded the American movie going public of the changes he had helped to set in motion.

Selected films

What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, 1970.

Shaft, 1971.

Shafts Big Score, 1972.

Charley One-Eye, 1972.

Shaft in Africa, 1973.

Earthquake, 1974.

Man Friday, 1975.

Roots, 1977 (made for television).

An Eye for an Eye, 1981.

Inchon, 1981.

A Time to Die, 1991.

Amityville: A New Generation, 1993.

Ballistic, 1995.

Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored, 1996.

George of the Jungle, 1997.

Shaft, 2000.



Bogle, Donald, Blacks in American Films and Television, Garland, 1988.

Katz, Ephraim, The Film Encyclopedia, 3rd ed., HarperPerennial, 1998.

Leab, Daniel, From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures, Houghton Mifflin, 1975.

Lloyd, Ann, and Graham Fuller, eds., The Illustrated Whos Who of the Cinema, Macmillan, 1983.

Parish, James Robert, and George H. Hill, Black Action Films, with foreword by Richard Roundtree, McFarland, 1989.


Entertainment Weekly, March 29, 1996, p. 73; September 20, 1996, p. 92.

Jet, May 1, 2000, p. 34.

People, April 24, 2000, p. 85.


Additional information was obtained on-line at the Internet Movie Database at, and The All-Movie Guide,

James M. Manheim

Roundtree, Richard 1942–

views updated May 23 2018

Roundtree, Richard 1942–


Born July 9, 1942, in New Rochelle, NY; son of John (a caterer, limo driver, and garbage collector) and Kathryn (a housekeeper and nurse) Roundtree; married, 1973 (marriage ended); married Karen, 1980 (divorced); children: (first marriage) Kelly, Nicole, another daughter; (second marriage) John James, Morgan Elizabeth, Tayler-Marie. Education: Attended Southern Illinois University. Avocational Interests: Football, photography, golf.

Addresses: Agent—Stone Manners Talent and Literary, 900 Broadway, Suite 803, New York, NY 10003.

Career: Actor. Negro Ensemble Company, New York City, member, 1967; appeared in television commercials, including Reebok, 1996. Worked as a model, toured in productions of Fashion Fair, 1967, sponsored by Ebony magazine; also worked as a clothing salesperson at Barney's, New York City.

Awards, Honors: Soap Opera Digest Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor: daytime, 1991, for Generations; Golden Globe Award nomination, most promising male newcomer, 1972, for Shaft; MTV Movie Award, 1994, for lifetime achievement; Image Award nomination, outstanding lead actor in a drama series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1998, for 413 Hope St.


Film Appearances:

Interracial lover, What Do You Say to a Naked Lady? (also known as A Very Candid Camera and Que dice a una mujer desnuda?), United Artists, 1970.

John Shaft (title role), Shaft, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1971.

Himself, Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location, 1971.

John Shaft (title role), Shaft's Big Score, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1972.

Richard "Dick" Shannon, Embassy (also known as Target: Embassy), Hemdale, 1972.

John Shaft (title role), Shaft in Africa, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973.

The black man, Charley One-Eye, Paramount, 1973.

Miles Quade, Earthquake, Universal, 1974.

Archie, Diamonds (also known as Diamond Shaft and Yahlumim), Avco-Embassy, 1975.

Friday, Man Friday, Avco-Embassy, 1976.

Coco Morrell, Portrait of a Hitman (also known as Jim Buck and The Last Contract), Wildfire Productions, 1977.

Nat Judson, Escape to Athena, Associated Film Distributors, 1979.

Gideon Marunga, A Game for Vultures, New Line Cinema, 1979.

Fessler, Day of the Assassin (also known as El dia de los asesinos), 1979.

Dr. Carlson, Gypsy Angels, 1980.

Captain Stevens, An Eye for an Eye, Embassy, 1981.

Sergeant Powell, The Winged Serpent (also known as Q, Q: The Winged Serpent, and Serpent), United Film Distribution, 1982.

Sergeant August Henderson, Inchon (also known as Oh, Inchon!) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1982.

Sergeant John Austin, Young Warriors (also known as The Graduates of Malibu High), Cannon, 1983.

Ralph, One Down, Two to Go, Almi, 1983.

Gordon, The Big Score, Almi, 1983.

Dehl Swift, City Heat, Warner Bros., 1984.

Agent Bill Bryant, Killpoint, Crown Pictures International, 1984.

Sergeant Stafford, Opposing Force (also known as Hell-camp), Orion, 1986.

Chip Williams, Jocks (also known as Road Trip), Crown, 1986.

Police commissioner Pike, Maniac Cop, Shapiro Glick-enhaus, 1988.

Lieutenant Doniger, Angel III: The Final Chapter, New World, 1988.

Officer Kelly, Getting Even (also known as La vendetta), 1988.

Captain Barnes, Party Line, 1988.

Miami Cops, 1989.

Lieutenant Lloyd Hughes, The Banker, Virgin Vision, 1989.

Lieutenant Johnson, Crack House, 21st Century Releasing, 1989.

July, Bad Jim (also known as Big Jim), 21st Century Releasing, 1989.

Captain Crane, Night Visitor (also known as Never Cry Devil), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1989.

Captain Ralph Phipps, A Time to Die, PM Home Video, 1991.

Samuel Stark, Bloodfist III: Forced to Fight (also known as Forced to Fight), New Horizons Home Video, 1992.

Agent Peterson, Deadly Rivals, MCA/Universal Home Video, 1992.

Les, Sins of the Night, Academy, 1993.

Harry Reams, Body of Influence (also known as Indecent Advances), Academy, 1993.

Pauli, Amityville: A New Generation, Republic Pictures, 1993.

Dundee, Getting Even, Columbia/TriStar Home Video, 1993.

Frank Webb, Mind Twister, VCI Home Video, 1994.

Harold, Ballistic (also known as Fist of Justice), Imperial Entertainment, 1995.

District Attorney Martin Talbot, Seven (also known as Se7en), New Line Cinema, 1995.

Cleve, Once upon a Time … When We Were Colored, Republic, 1995.

Commissioner Lynch, Theodore Rex (also known as T. Rex), Turner Home Video, 1995.

Slick, Original Gangstas (also known as Hot City), Orion, 1996.

Uncle Joe, Steel, Warner Bros., 1997.

Kwame, traveling sidekick, George of the Jungle, Buena Vista, 1997.

Uncle John Shaft, Shaft (also known as Shaft—Noch Fragen?), Paramount, 2000.

Lyle Barton, Antitrust (also known as, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2001.

Shoot! (short film), 2001.

M.O., Hawaiian Gardens, 2001.

Howard Shuster, Corky Romano (also known as Corky Romano: "Special' Agent), Buena Vista, 2001.

Boom Boom, Al's Lads (also known as Capone's Boys), 2002.

Felicia's dad, Boat Trip, Artisan Entertainment, 2002.

(In archive footage) Himself, Sex at 24 Frames Per Second (documentary), Image Entertainment, 2003.

Vegas Vamps, 2003.

Tahsi, Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon, Rigel Entertainment, 2004.

Assistant Vice Principal Trueman, Brick, Focus Features, 2005.

Lee Marvin, Wild Seven, 2006.

El Doctor, All the Days before Tomorrow, 2006.

Also appeared in Parachute to Paradise.

Television Appearances; Series:

John Shaft (title role), Shaft, CBS, 1973–74.

Isaiah "Ice" McAdams, Outlaws, CBS, 1986–87.

Sergeant Matt Gideon, Cadets, 1988.

Doctor Daniel Reubens, Generations, NBC, 1989–91.

Host, Cop Files, UPN, 1995–96.

Henry Carlisle, Buddies, ABC, 1996.

Mr. Phil Thomas, 413 Hope St., Fox, 1997–98.

Captain Durfee, Rescue 77, The WB, 1999.

Oliver Travers, As the World Turns, CBS, 2002–2003.

Mr. Shaw, a recurring role, Desperate Housewives, ABC, 2004–2005.

Also appeared in Search for Tomorrow, CBS and NBC.

Television Appearances; Miniseries:

Sam Bennett, Roots, ABC, 1977.

Serpenius, A.D. (also known as A.D.—Anno Domini), NBC, 1985.

Himself, Y2K: A World in Crisis, 1999.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Shelly Forsythe, Firehouse, ABC, 1972.

Matt, Just An Overnight Guest, 1983.

Walter "Frosty" Frost, The Baron and the Kid, 1984.

Commander Frederick Bryce, The Fifth Missile (also known as The Gold Crew and Operation Fire), NBC, 1986.

Nero come il cuore (also known as Black as the Heart), 1991.

Mr. Prescott, Christmas in Connecticut, 1992.

Jacob Briscoe, Bonanza: The Return, NBC, 1993.

Gray, Moscacieca (also known as Blind Man's Bluff), 1993.

Dunc, Shadows of Desire (also known as The Devil's Bed), CBS, 1994.

Jacob Briscoe, Bonanza: Under Attack, NBC, 1995.

Agent Gil Oberman, Any Place But Home, USA Network, 1997.

Booker T. Washington, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years (also known as Having Our Say), CBS, 1999.

Jack Blackburn, Joe and Max, Starz!, 2002.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Performer, Circus of the Stars #2, 1977.

Jason Ruigh, "Daddy Can't Read," ABC Afterschool Specials, ABC 1988.

The World's Funniest Hypnotist, ABC, 1996.

Christmas in Hollywood, syndicated, 1998.

Narrator, Intimate Portrait: Pam Grier, Lifetime, 1999.

Host, Rhythm and Blues 40: A Soul Spectacular, 2001.

(In archive footage) Baadasssss Cinema, Independent Film Channel, 2002.

Narrator, The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (documentary), PBS, 2002.

Roots—Celebrating 25 Years: The Saga of an American Classic, NBC, 2002.

Himself, Roots: Celebrating 25 Years, 2002.

Himself, Soul Comes Home, PBS, 2003.

Narrator, The John H. Johnson Story, 2005.

Also appeared in Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant; The New Yorkers; as himself, Superfly: Ron O'Neal Story: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television.

Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:

Presenter, The 44th Annual Academy Awards, NBC, 1972.

16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1989.

The 13th Annual Stellar Awards, 1998.

Presenter, The 29th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 1998.

Presenter, The 2000 Trumpet Awards, 2000.

Host, The Ninth Annual Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2001.

Host, The 2002 Trumpet Awards (also known as The 10th Annual Trumpet Awards), TBS, 2002.

Himself, The 2004 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2004.

Himself, The 2006 Trumpet Awards, 2006.

Television Appearances; Pilots:

Mean Willy, Masquerade, 1983.

Outlaws, 1986.

Sergeant Matthew Gideon, Cadets (also known as Rotten to the Corps), ABC, 1988.

Colonel Ethan Watts, Painkiller Jane, Sci-Fi Channel, 2005.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Himself, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, NBC, 1971.

Himself, New York, New York, 1972.

Himself, The Dean Martin Show (also known as The Dean Martin Comedy Hour), 1973.

Dave Williams, "The Kinfolk/Sis and the Slicker/Moonlight and Moonshine/Affair: Parts 1 & 2," The Love Boat, ABC, 1980.

Sergeant Aikens, "Sharks," CHiPs (also known as ChiPs Patrol), NBC, 1981.

Peter Jordan, "Two Birds of a Feather," Magnum, PI., CBS, 1983.

Major Kevin Cooper, "The Last Flight of the Dixie Damsel," Murder, She Wrote, CBS, 1988.

Cleon Manning, "Ceremony of Innocence," Beauty and the Beast, 1989.

Clinton Reese, "Great Expectations," A Different World, 1989.

Clinton Reese, "Answered Prayers," A Different World, 1989.

Cleon Manning, "Though Lovers Be Lost," Beauty and the Beast, 1989.

Cleon Manning, "Nevermore," Beauty and the Beast, 1989.

Sergeant Burke, "She's in the Army Now: Part 2," Amen, 1989.

Sergeant Burke, "Sergeant in Arms," Amen, 1989.

Ben, "La Bizca," 21 Jump Street, Fox, 1990.

Captain Rutherford "R. T." Hines, "Tough Boys," MacGyver, ABC, 1990.

"Little Orphan Eddie," Dream On, HBO, 1990.

"Finale: Part One," Dream On, HBO, 1990.

"Finale with a Vengeance," Dream On, HBO, 1990.

Dr. Mumford, "Clubba Hubba," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NBC, 1990.

"Kansas," The Young Riders, ABC, 1991.

Robinson Ashe III, "Ashes to Ashes," Beverly Hills, 90210, Fox, 1991.

Russell, Andrew's brother, "Can't Stop Lovin' That Man!," Roc, Fox, 1991.

Xavier Burns, Hearts Are Wild, 1992.

Judge Carl Williams, "Love on the Rox," L.A. Law, 1992.

Chester Cooper (Mark's dad), "Hangin' with Mrs. Cooper," Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, ABC, 1993.

Russell, "Second Time Around," Roc, Fox, 1993.

Russell, "God Bless the Child," Roc, Fox, 1993.

Russell, "Brother,Roc, Fox, 1994.

Gene Collins, "Thrill Kill," Renegade, 1994.

Dr. Saunders, "ER," The Wayans Bros., The WB, 1995.

Murray, "Rock 'n' Roll Dad," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 1996.

Reverend Gordon Sims, "Here Today …," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NBC, 1996.

Detective James Henegar, "Power Corrupts," Profiler, NBC, 1997.

Barracuda Jim Barnes, "The Fight," Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, 1998.

Jake, "Real Time," Linc's, 1999.

Mr. Hardy Lester, "The More Things Stay the Same," Soul Food, Showtime, 2000.

Mr. Hardy Lester, "Heart of the Matter," Soul Food, Showtime, 2000.

Mr. Hardy Lester, "What Women Want," Soul Food, Showtime, 2000.

Mr. Hardy Lester, "Truth Be Told," Soul Food, Showtime, 2000.

Himself, "I Love 1971," I Love 1970's, BBC, 2000.

Mr. Hardy Lester, "Nice Work If You Can Get It," Soul Food, Showtime, 2001.

Mr. Hardy Lester, "Never Can Say Goodbye," Soul Food, Showtime, 2001.

Nate Khane, "Ansiedad," Resurrection Blvd., Showtime, 2001.

Nate Khane, "La gran pelea," Resurrection Blvd., Showtime, 2001.

Sam Haslett, "Father Figure," 1-800-MISSING (also known as Missing), Lifetime, 2003.

Brill, "Breaking Point," Alias, ABC, 2003.

Brill, "Blood Ties," Alias, ABC, 2003.

Judge, Ultimate Film Fanatic, Independent Film Channel, 2004.

Himself, "Richard Roundtree," Negermagasinet, 2005.

Colonel Walter, "Show Yourself," The Closer, TNT, 2005.

Also appeared in The Dean Martin Show, NBC; The Merv Griffin Show, NBC, syndicated, and CBS.

Stage Appearances:

Appeared in Kongi's Harvest, The Mau Mau Room, and as villager, Man, Better Man, all Negro Ensemble Company, New York City; as Jack Johnson, The Great White Hope, Negro Ensemble Company, Philadelphia, PA.



Recorded The Man from Shaft. Singles include "Street Brother."

Video Games:

Voice of Captain Barnes, Party Line, Sony Video Software, 1988.

Voice of Akuji, Akuji the Heartless, 1998.



Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 27, Gale Group, 2001.


Jet, May 1, 2000, p. 34.

New York Times, March 12, 1972.

People Weekly, April 24, 2000.

About this article

Richard Roundtree

All Sources -
Updated Aug 08 2016 About content Print Topic