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Nick Stewart, 1945
*On this date in 1910, Nick Stewart was born. He was a Black actor and theater owner.
He was born Horace Stewart in Harlem, briefly trying his luck at boxing, took to tap dancing, and later made the rounds as a stand-up comic. Stewart used various names, including Nicodemus Stewart, in a career that began in the 1930s and lasted for decades. He made his first movie appearance in 1936’s Go West Young Man. The voice he contributed for the character of Br’er Bear in the 1946 animated film Song of the South lives on in Disneyland’s "Splash Mountain" ride. But his life’s work was with the Ebony Showcase Theater, which he and his wife, Edna, founded in 1950.
He started the theater with money he earned playing the janitor Lightnin’ on Amos ‘n’ Andy in the early 1950s. "His life was that theater." Actors such as John Amos, Nichelle Nichols, and Isabel Sanford gained early experience in the mid-city theater, which performed shows from The Odd Couple to No Exit to Carousel. It allowed Blacks to play non-stereotypical roles and show them as actors. Sometimes they were all Black casts; other times, they were integrated casts. The Black stereotypes of Amos ‘n’ Andy have long since come under criticism. Of her father’s role, Valerie Stewart said he was a pioneer who came up from the streets of New York, and it was "a part that was a stepping stone that enabled so many thousands of people to get opportunities."
The Ebony Showcase Theater closed in 1996 after the Stewart family lost the building in a foreclosure sale; the building was demolished in 1998. The Stewart family blames the city and its community redevelopment agency for the demise of the building and for shutting them out of plans to rebuild it. They’ve refused to let the new building bear the Ebony Showcase name and are trying to raise funds to build their own replacement. Stewart showed up in a wheelchair at the groundbreaking.
Horace “Nick” Stewart died of natural causes at his son’s home in December 2000 at the age of 90. His wife, sons Christopher and Roger, and daughter Valerie survive him.