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Raymond St. Jacques
*Raymond St. Jacques was born on this date in 1930. He was a Black actor, director, and producer.
St. Jacques was born James Arthur Johnson in Hartford, Connecticut. He had a sister, Barbara Ann. Shortly after his birth, his parents divorced; he moved with his mother and sister to New Haven, Connecticut. Johnson's mother Vivienne later worked as a medical technician at Yale University. After graduating from Hillhouse High School, Johnson attended Yale, where he studied drama and psychology. After graduation, he worked as an assistant director, actor, and fencing instructor for the American Shakespearean Festival in New Haven. He staged all of the fencing scenes and duels while at the company and would continue to practice fencing for the rest of his life.
After moving to New York City, Johnson continued to pursue acting and studied at the Actors Studio. To support himself, he worked as a model, dishwasher, and busboy. His first professional acting role was in the off-Broadway play High Name Today. He was cast in the role of "Judge" in the off-Broadway performance of Jean Genet's play The Blacks at St. Mark's Playhouse in 1960. During the 1960s, St. Jacques also guest-starred on numerous television shows including East Side/West Side, Daktari, The Virginian, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In 1965, he was cast as "Simon Blake" in the Western series Rawhide, the first Black actor to ever be cast as a regular on a prime-time American Western series.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, St. Jacques continued with roles on stage, film, and television. He became known as "The Man of a Thousand Faces" due to the varied parts he played throughout his career. After appearing in bit parts on television in the early 1960s, St. Jacques made his film debut in a small part in the 1964 film Black Like Me. He followed with a role in The Pawnbroker later that year. He appeared in supporting roles in The Comedians (1967) and The Green Berets (1968). His best-known film roles were that of Coffin Ed in the blaxploitation classics Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) (adapted from crime novels by Chester Himes) and Come Back, Charleston Blue (1972). In the early 1970s, St. Jacques began teaching fencing and acting at the Mafundi Institute in Watts, Los Angeles. In 1973, he produced, directed, and starred in the crime film Book of Numbers. In 1976, St. Jacques starred as Othello in the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre production of the play of the same name. He remained active in stage work throughout his career, touring in productions of Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, A Raisin in the Sun, and the stage adaptation of The Man with the Golden Arm. From 1988 to 1989, St. Jacques had a two-year stint as Judge Clayton C. Thomas on the syndicated TV show Superior Court. In 1989, he played abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Edward Zwick's Glory. His final film role was in the 1991 sci-fi film Timebomb released after his death.
St. Jacques was a lifelong bachelor. In August 1969, St. Jacques granted an interview to columnist Earl Wilson and told Wilson of his plans to adopt two African American boys who were 6 and 7 years old. The adoption apparently never happened but, by the early 1970s, St. Jacques claimed to have two older sons, Raymond, Jr, and Sterling. In a 1973 interview, St. Jacques claimed that Raymond, Jr was living in Boston. In May 1972, Sterling, then reported to be 22 years old, made news after four men attempted to rob St. Jacques' Bel Air home. Sterling was the only person home at the time (St. Jacques was in Dallas at the time) and fled after calling the police. The four men were apprehended after their getaway car stalled in St. Jacques' driveway. Sterling went on to appear in St. Jacques' 1973 film Book of Numbers. In the mid to late 1970s, Sterling became known as a high fashion model (he was briefly engaged to fellow model Pat Cleveland), dancer, and a frequent New York City nightclub and society fixture.
In her 2016 memoir Walking with Muses, Sterling’s ex-fiancée Pat Cleveland stated that their engagement came to an end because Sterling was Gay. Sometime in the early 1980s, he moved to Europe where he found moderate success as an Italo disco singer. Sterling St Jacques reportedly died of complications of AIDS in 1984 (his death has never been officially confirmed and his true fate remains unknown). However, in a 1988 interview with the Chicago Tribune, St. Jacques still claimed to have two sons and said Sterling was appearing on a television show in Düsseldorf. The adoption of Raymond, Jr., and Sterling was apparently never official. In his will, St. Jacques claimed that he had no children and named only Sterling, whom he identified as his nephew, in his will. St. Jacques bequeathed Sterling $1 from his $750,000 estate.
St. Jacques frequently spoke of the prejudices he and other Black actors faced in being cast in non-stereotypical, thoughtful roles. He later worked to help African Americans find work behind the camera. In 1977 he publicly criticized the lack of minority actors in Star Wars (which he acknowledged having seen five times) and other science fiction films. St. Jacques was also an activist for American Civil Rights. In 1985, he and other protestors were arrested during an anti-apartheid demonstration outside of the South African embassy in Washington, D.C. On August 27, 1990, Raymond St. Jacques, the first Black actor to appear in a regular role on an American western series, playing Simon Blake on Rawhide died of lymphoma in Los Angeles, California. His funeral was held on August 31 at The Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. One of the pallbearers at the funeral was Stanley Bennett Clay, who later revealed that St. Jacques had not been Sterling's adoptive father but his sugar daddy, but that they later had a falling-out.