- Search The Registry
- Teacher’s Forum
- Youth Programs
- About Us
- Creating Support
- My Account
*Arthur Wilson was born on this date in 1886. He was a Black actor, singer and musician.
Arthur "Dooley" Wilson was born in Tyler, Texas, the youngest of five children. At age seven, the year of his father's death, he began to make a living by performing in churches in Tyler. When he was eight years old, he was making $18 a week, singing and playing in tent shows. By 1908 he was in Chicago in the repertory company of the Pekin Theatre. By then he had earned the nickname "Dooley", for his whiteface impersonation of an Irishman singing a song called "Mr. Dooley".
As part of the emerging African American theater, Wilson worked with the Anita Bush company in New York City in 1914 and with Charles Gilpin's stock company at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in 1915. He performed in James Reese Europe's band, and after World War I he toured Europe with his own band, The Red Devils, throughout the 1920s. Working in the U.S. again during the Great Depression, Wilson starred in Conjur' Man Dies (1936) and other plays for the Federal Theatre Project's Negro Theatre Unit, then under the direction of John Houseman. His breakthrough role came in 1940, with his portrayal of Little Joe in the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky.
This won him a contract with Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. He found himself playing Pullman Porters while his stage role in the MGM film adaptation of Cabin in the Sky was played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. In May 1942, Warner Bros. was casting its production of Casablanca and borrowed Wilson from Paramount Pictures for seven weeks at $500 a week. Per the studio custom of the day, Wilson received his contract salary, $350 per week, and Paramount kept the balance. Wilson was cast in the role of Sam, a singer and pianist employed by nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart). Wilson performs the Herman Hupfeld song "As Time Goes By", a continuing musical and emotional motif throughout the film.
In the film, Wilson as Sam performs several other songs for the cafe audience: "It Had to Be You", "Shine", "Knock on Wood", "Avalon" and "Parlez-moi d'amour". Wilson was a singer and drummer, but not a pianist. The piano music for the film was played offscreen and dubbed. Wilson was cast in the film version of Stormy Weather (1943), as Gabe Tucker, the best friend of Bill Williamson (Bill "Bojangles" Robinson). Back on Broadway, Wilson played Pompey, an escaped slave, in the musical Bloomer Girl (1944–46). His performance of the song "The Eagle and Me" in this show was selected by Dwight Blocker Bowers for inclusion in a Smithsonian recordings compilation, American Musical Theatre.
Later, Wilson played the role of Bill Jackson on the television situation comedy Beulah during its 1951–52 season. Wilson was on the executive board of the Negro Actors Guild of America. Arthur Wilson died May 30, 1953 of natural causes, at his Los Angeles home. He had become ill two years earlier, while he was performing in a stage production of Harvey in New York. He is buried at the Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife, Estelle (née Williams).