As Detective Neal Washington in the hit 1980s television series Hill Street Blues, Taurean Blacque was an instantly recognizable figure, wearing a leather or cloth cap and rarely seen without a toothpick clenched between his teeth. Blacque had other accomplishments as an actor, including a lead role in the pioneering daytime television drama Generations and a long record of success in stage productions. As his Hollywood career wound down, Blacque made headlines in another area: his brood of adopted children grew to 11. But it was Hill Street Blues for which he remained best known. That show inspired numerous other ensemble television dramas from the 1980s onward, and Blacque, who developed the character of Washington partly on his own, was a quiet but key contributor to its success.
A native of Newark, New Jersey, Blacque was born Herbert Middleton Jr. on May 10, 1941. His father was a dry cleaner, his mother a nurse. The family never had a lot of money, but Blacque, one of four children, steered clear of trouble on Newark's streets. "I was a good kid," he recalled to Michael E. Hill of the Washington Post. "My mother would have killed me if I hadn't been." Still, his brother struggled with drug addiction. At first Blacque made plans to become a commercial artist (Detective Washington's doodling in Hill Street Blues was a direct reflection of Blacque's own artistic instincts), and he graduated from Newark's Arts High School. Vocal diva Melba Moore was a member of his graduating class.
Worked as Mail Carrier
After finishing high school, Blacque was uncertain about his life's direction. Living in New York City, he worked as a truck driver, a subway conductor, a laundromat manager, and for 12 years, as a mail carrier. He married, had two children, Shelby and Rodney (both of whom later worked as models), and divorced in 1966. One day in 1969 he was unloading a truck, and a friend and co-worker had the idea that the two should take acting classes. Blacque, nearly 30, had never thought about trying to act.
He agreed, however, and enrolled at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Soon he was hooked. Blacque struggled financially, living in a one-room apartment and getting by on McDonald's hamburgers. "But once I found out that acting was my niche, I poured all my energies into it," he told James T. Jones IV of USA Today. He even confessed that at one point, "… I was in three workshops at one time."
Soon he was finding roles in community-theater productions, including one in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood for which Fame actress Debbie Allen served as choreographer. It was a low-budget affair—"We'd all be running to the bank each week before the checks could bounce!" Blacque told TV Guide's Tom Nolan. "I think that's what we call paying dues…." He found that the parts came easier after he took an attention-getting stage name, creating Taurean Blacque by combining his astrological sign and his ethnicity.
Moved to Los Angeles
By 1976, Blacque had begun to make an impact professionally, appearing in productions of New York's prestigious Negro Ensemble Company. That year, he traveled to Hollywood to audition for a role in a CBS network television series pilot. He didn't get the part, but he decided to stay on in Los Angeles. The decision quickly paid off as Blacque landed guest slots in such series as Sanford and Son, The Bob Newhart Show, Charlie's Angels, Good Times, and The Love Boat between 1977 and 1980. He also had several small film roles, including one in Rocky II.
Blacque auditioned for the part of Neal Washington in Hill Street Blues, which began its run on the NBC network in 1981. Washington was one of two African American characters in the original cast of seven police officers staffing a precinct house in an unnamed Northeastern American city. The other, Detective Bobby Hill (played by Michael Warren), had been developed in more detail by scriptwriters, and Blacque actually had to read the lines of the Hill character during his audition.
The sketchiness of his own part worked to his advantage after he was cast, for he was given the latitude to fill out the character on his own. The character's beard (virtually unknown among black male television actors up to that time) and his toothpick were both Blacque's ideas, as was his quiet, spiritual nature. "I think the original concept was that hip, jive black man, you know; but I wanted to turn it around a little, give him some depth, not get into that stereotype," Blacque explained to TV Guide's Nolan. The result was a distinctive character, looking back to the strong black figures of 1970s cinema but smoothed-out in a way that fit into the innovative ensemble storylines of the series.
As Hill Street Blues became a critical and popular success over its eight-year run, some felt that Blacque's character received less attention than those of other members of the cast, and specifically than that of actor Kiel Martin, who played Washington's mercurial partner, J.D. LaRue. Blacque pointed to his own quiet nature as part of the reason. "I would never go in there and say, 'Hey, I need this; I want that,'" he told Nolan. "They say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but—I don't squeak. I just try to do my job, do what they give me as best I can. Lotta people squeak, and they still don't get the oil! 'S matter of fact—some of 'em not even around any more." The Neal Washington character was developed further in the later years of the series, with a multipart romantic storyline among other screenplay features.
Since he had arrived in Los Angeles, and all during the Emmy-winning run of Hill Street Blues, Blacque had been investing in Los Angeles real estate, buying several dilapidated properties and doing the renovation work himself. "I did the painting and plastering and then went to the bank and used that one to get money to buy more," he recalled to the Washington Post's Hill. By the time Hill Street Blues began to wind down in the late 1980s, Blacque owned multiple income-producing buildings.
With West Coast real estate booming, it was a lucrative sideline. Financially secure, he moved into a home in the posh, predominantly African-American Baldwin Hills neighborhood in Los Angeles. Around this time, he began to think about ways of giving back to his community. Part of the stimulus was a new commitment to Christianity that grew under the inspiration of the charismatic Rev. Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, where Blacque became a deacon and served as part of a theater board that mounted Christian-oriented plays. He continued to perform in secular—or non-faith-based—dramas as well, both in Los Angeles and in New York, and he mulled the idea of starting a neighborhood theater troupe in Los Angeles.
At a Glance …
Born on May 10, 1941, in Newark, NJ; married (divorced 1960s); children: Shelby and Rodney (first marriage); Paul, Christopher, Marc, Jennifer, Whitley, Marshall, Richard, Sammy, Randy, Ashley, and Jeremy (adopted). Education: Attended American Musical and Dramatic Academy, New York.
Career: Actor, 1970s–; Los Angeles, CA, real estate investor and renovator, 1970–early 1990s.
Awards: Emmy award nomination, 1982, for Out-standing Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, Hill Street Blues.
Addresses: Home—Atlanta, GA. Agent—c/o Gores-Fields Agency, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
In 1985, Blacque was asked to become a celebrity spokesperson for a Los Angeles County agency that worked to promote adoption among African Americans. As he encountered the stories of abused children who got little help from California's foster-care system, he felt a desire to do more than just give speeches and make commercials. "I told them [the county officials] that I didn't just want to be a celebrity spokesman," Blacque recalled to Aldore Collier of Ebony. "I wanted to adopt. I wanted to know firsthand what it was really like. If I was going to tell people to adopt, then I had to know what it was like. I meant to be honest about it."
Began Saga of Multiple Adoptions
Blacque, a single father, had his own relatively young adult children living nearby, and he originally planned to adopt only one child. But on a local television program he saw a pair of twins who were threatened with being split up; other potential adoptive parents were interested in the lighter-skinned of the two black children but not the darker one. Blacque volunteered to take both. He later adopted four children of a substance abuser, paying for a prenatal program so that the youngest one wouldn't be born addicted to drugs.
Along the way, Blacque encountered resistance from bureaucrats. "A woman from Children's Services told me that I could not adopt,…" he recalled to Collier. "When I asked why, she said, 'Three reasons: Number 1, you're single. Number 2, you're male, and Number 3, you're black." Blacque didn't back down, and his various applications were finally accepted. "If you have love in your heart and know that you can take care of a child, that's all you need," he told Collier. Over five years, his adopted brood grew to 11 children. Blacque was honored by President George H.W. Bush for his work in promoting adoption.
With two adjacent houses in Los Angeles, Blacque was in a good position to take care of adopted kids. He had help from a housekeeping couple (who had children of their own), but he was never an absentee father, ferrying his children back and forth to school even as he landed a demanding role in the new daytime soap opera Generations. That show, which went on the air in 1989, dealt with the relationships between a white and a black family over several generations. Blacque played patriarch Henry Martin, the owner of a chain of ice-cream stores. His agent at first turned down the role, assuming that Blacque wouldn't be interested in a soap opera. But, Blacque told Hill, there were some eerie similarities between himself and Henry Martin. "The character had my own initials—my real name is Herbert Middleton—he loves kids, has a sense of community, and he's an entrepreneur." In addition, both actor and character received bills from fraternities for damage caused by their sons during wild parties.
Blacque remained active in television in the 1990s, appearing in a two-part Dream On episode in 1994, on the HBO network, that reunited him with much of the Hill Street Blues cast. But he gradually shifted his attention to live theater. The main reason for the change was that he moved his large family to suburban Atlanta, in despair over the crime wave that engulfed Los Angeles and angered after gang members threatened two of his children. Two of his buildings were burned in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and he endured coronary bypass surgery that year. In 2002 he appeared in the film The Kudzu Christmas, which was set in Atlanta. Mostly out of the national spotlight by the middle 2000s, Blacque continued to appear in African-American-oriented plays in Atlanta—and to play a major role in the lives of the many children to whom he had given the gift of a stable home life.
Rocky II (Lawyer), 1979.
DeepStar Six (Capt. Philip Laidlaw), 1989.
She Stood Alone (William Harris), 1991.
Soul Survivors (Eddie), 1995.
The Kudzu Christmas (Mr. Wiggins), 2002.
Hill Street Blues (Detective Neal Washington), NBC television series, 1981–88.
Generations (Henry Marshall), NBC daytime television series, 1989–90.
African American Review, Winter 1997, p. 725.
Ebony, December 1990, p. 86.
Entertainment Weekly, June 24, 1994, p. 90.
Jet, March 15, 1993, p. 32.
News & Record March 7, 1994, p. 182.
New York Times, May 22, 1975, p. 35; April 23, 1987, p. C3.
Oregonian (Portland, OR), March 27, 1989, p. C2.
TV Guide, February 14, 1987, p. 39.
USA Today, June 6, 1989, p. D3.
Washington Post, March 26, 1989, p. J8.
"Taurean Blacque," Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com (August 13, 2006).
Blacque, Taurean 1941(?)–
BLACQUE, Taurean 1941(?)–
Original name, Herbert Middleton, Jr.; born May 10, 1941 (some sources say August 21, 1948), in Newark, NJ; married (divorced, 1966); children: (first marriage) Shelby (a model), Rodney (a model); 11 adopted children. Education: Attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
Addresses: Agent —c/o GoresFields Agency, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Career: Actor. Previously worked as a mailman.
Awards, Honors: Emmy Award nomination, outstanding supporting actor in a drama series, 1982, for Hill Street Blues.
Levi, House Calls, Universal, 1978.
Beyond Death's Door, 1978.
Lawyer, Rocky II, United Artists, 1979.
Hustler, The Hunter, Paramount, 1980.
Voice of Roscoe, Oliver and Company (animated), Buena Vista, 1988.
Captain Phillip Laidlaw, Deepstar Six (also known as Deep Star Six ), TriStar, 1989.
Les, Fled, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, 1996.
Mr. Wiggins, The Kudzu Christmas, Urban Works Entertainment, 2002.
Nowhere Road, 2002.
Television Appearances; Series:
Detective Neal Washington, Hill Street Blues, NBC, 1981–1987.
First Henry Marshall, Generations, NBC, 1989–1990.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Backstairs at the White House, NBC, 1979.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Jive, The $5.20 an Hour Dream, CBS, 1980.
Oscar, The Night the City Screamed, ABC, 1980.
William Harris, She Stood Alone, NBC, 1991.
Jonah Perry, Sr., Murder without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story (also known as Best Intentions ), NBC, 1992.
Eddie, Soul Survivors, 1995.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Nick, Frankie and Annette: The Second Time Around, NBC, 1978.
Barney, Alex and the Doberman Gang, NBC, 1980.
Carl Sebastian, Off Duty (broadcast as an episode of CBS Summer Playhouse ), CBS, 1988.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Presenter, 19th Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1987.
The 23rd Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1991.
Himself, NBC 75th Anniversary Special (also known as NBC 75th Anniversary Celebration ), NBC, 2002.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Mr. Donovan, "Saturday's Hero," What's Happening!!, ABC, 1976.
Honest Hank, "Fred the Activist," Sanford and Son, NBC, 1977.
Arthur Tatum, "Ex–Con Job," The Bob Newhart Show, CBS, 1977.
Voice of Chopper, "Breaker, Breaker," Good Times, CBS, 1977.
Dr. Stevens, "Hours of Desperation," Charlie's Angels, ABC, 1978.
Dunbar, Jr., "The Boarder," Good Times, CBS, 1978.
Policeman, "Bobby's Acting Career," Taxi, ABC, 1978.
Arthur Tatum, "Son of an Ex–Con Job," The Bob New-hart Show, CBS, 1978.
"Dear John," Paris, CBS, 1979.
"Delores, Of Course," White Shadow, CBS, 1979.
Mike, "Rent a Romeo/Matchmaker, Matchmaker/Y' Gotta Have Heart," The Love Boat, ABC, 1980, Just Men!, 1983.
Walter Pinkay, "Truth and Consequences," Gabriel's Fire, 1991.
Victor Dufoxe, "Poor Relations," In the Heat of the Night, CBS, 1994.
"The Taking of Pablum 1–2–3: Parts 1 & 2," Dream On, HBO, 1994.
Detective Wheeler, Savannah, The WB, 1996.
Also appeared as Chief Ray Trimble, John Grisham's The Client, CBS.
D. J., Welcome to Black River, Negro Ensemble Company, St. Mark's Playhouse, New York City, 1975.
Title role, Orrin, Negro Ensemble Company, St. Mark's Playhouse, 1975.
Luke, We Interrupt This Program …, Ambassador Theatre, New York City, 1975.
Lee, So Nice They Named It Twice, New York Shakespeare Festival, Public Theatre, New York City, 1975–1976.
Rashad, The Meeting, New Federal Theatre, Henry Street Settlement Playhouse, New York City, 1987.
Tyrone Washington, Bourbon at the Border, Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, GA, 1997.
Jacob Marley/Christmas Future, A Christmas Carol, Atlanta, GA, 2000.
Also appeared in The Amen Corner, Alliance Theatre; The Meeting; as Shealy, Jitney, Alliance Theatre.
Ebony, December, 1990, p. 86.
Jet, March 15, 1993, p. 32.