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Mon, 04.18.1881

Noble Johnson, a Hollywood original

Noble Johnson

Noble Johnson was born on this date in 1881. He was a nineteenth century African American 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 very beginning of his screen career, in 1916, he was a supporting actor. He appeared in a number of films, in 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 has a self-control and dignified stature that gave power and substance to his screen persona.

He also felt ambitious enough to create his own studio, the Lincoln Motion Picture Company 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 managed to keep everything together due to his 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 president of the studio he founded 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 of 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 of them are: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1921; The Ten Commandments, 1923; and 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

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