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Noble Johnson was born on this date in 1881. He was a nineteenth-century Black actor and producer.
From Marshall, MO. Johnson was an impressive-looking individual at 6'2" and 215 pounds and one of the most handsome Black actors of the silent era. At the beginning of his screen career, in 1916, he was a supporting actor. He appeared in several films, serials, Westerns, and adventure movies. He was obviously cast in Black roles, but he would also play other exotic character parts, such as Native Americans, Latinos, and Arabians. In these roles, Johnson had self-control and a dignified stature that gave power and substance to his screen persona.
He and his younger brother George felt ambitious enough to create their own studio, the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, from 1916 to 1921. Lincoln was an all-Black company and the first to produce films depicting Blacks as real people with real lives. The first film produced at Lincoln was The Realization of a Negro's Ambition 1916. While Johnson was president (and actor for) of this pioneering yet struggling Black studio, he pulled double duty appearing in dozens of films for the white Hollywood studios. He and his brother managed to keep everything together due to their extraordinary commitment to the art of film. After four years of spreading himself very thinly between Lincoln and his personal career, he was forced to resign as studio president because of this conflict of interest in 1920.
At this point, Johnson threw himself into a very busy career in acting and supported some of the biggest 20th-century stars on the screen. These included Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton, Hoot Gibson, Laura La Plante, John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, George O'Brien, Richard Arlen, Richard Dix, Dolores Costello, and William Haines. Of his silent films, several still exist. Some are The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1921; The Ten Commandments, 1923; The Thief of Baghdad, 1924; and more. Some of Johnson’s sound-era films include Moby Dick, 1930; King Kong, 1933; Lost Horizon, 1937; The Ghost Breakers, 1940; and others.
His last appearance was on the small screen in 1966, in Lost Island of Kioga. Noble Johnson was a grand performer and lived to the grand age of 96. He died January 9, 1978, in Yucaipa (San Bernardino), CA
The Ghost Walks:
A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business 1865-1910
Henry T. Sampson
Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ., 1988), p.321