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Sun, 04.18.1937

Robert Hooks, Actor, Theatre Advocate born

Robert Hooks

*On this date in 1937, Robert Hooks was born.  He is a Black actor, producer, and activist.  

The youngest of five children, Hooks was born in Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.  His mother was Mae Bertha (Ward), a seamstress, and Edward Hooks who had moved from Rocky Mount, North Carolina with their four other children, Bernice, Caroleigh, Charles Edward "Charlie", and James Walter "Jimmy". Named Bobby Dean Hooks at birth, he was their first child born "up-north" and the first to be born in a hospital. His father, Edward, died in a work accident on the railroad in 1939.  

Hooks attended Stevens Elementary School. In 1945, at the insistence of his sister Bernice he performed the lead in his first play, The Pirates of Penzance, at the age of nine. From the ages of 6 to 12, Bobby Dean traveled with his siblings to Lucama, North Carolina to work the tobacco fields for his uncle's sharecropping farm as a way to help earn money for the coming school year in D.C.  In 1954, he moved to Philadelphia to be with his mother, her second husband, and his half-sister. Hooks experienced his first integrated school experience at West Philadelphia High School. Hooks soon joined the drama club.

He graduated in 1956, passing on a scholarship to Temple University in order to pursue a career as a stage actor at the Bessie V. Hicks School of Theatre.  In April 1960, as Bobby Dean Hooks, he made his Broadway debut in A Raisin in the Sun replacing Louis Gossett, Jr. who would be doing the film version. He then continued to do its national tour. He then stepped into the Broadway production of A Taste of Honey, replacing Billy Dee Williams; then repeating the same national tour trajectory as he had done for "Raisin..." the previous year. In early 1962 he next appeared as the lead in The Blacks, replacing  James Earl Jones as the male lead, leaving briefly that same year to appear on Broadway again in Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright before stepping back into the lead role in The Blacks in 1963.

He then returned to Broadway, first in Ballad for Bimshire and then in the short-lived revival of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More.  On March 24, 1964 he originated the role of Clay in Amiri Baraka's Dutchman. With this play, he became known as, Robert Hooks. He also originated roles on the New York stage in Where's Daddy? for which he won the Theatre World Award and he was nominated for Best Male Lead in a Musical for Hallelujah Baby while he was simultaneously starring in N.Y.P.D., the first Black lead on a television drama.  In 1964, as a result of a speaking engagement at the Chelsea Civil Rights Committee (then connected to the Hudson Guild Settlement House) he founded The Group Theatre Workshop (GTW), a tuition-free environment for disadvantaged urban teens who expressed a desire to explore acting.  The Group Theatre Workshop was folded into the tuition-free training arm of the The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC) founded in 1967.  

In 1968, he was the host of the new public affairs television program, Like It Is.  Hooks was nominated for a Tony for his lead role in the musical, Hallelujah, Baby! has received both the Pioneer Award and the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement and has been inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. He also won an Emmy for his PBS special, Voices of Our People.  Significant roles for which Hooks is known include Reeve Scott in Hurry Sundown (1967), Mr. T. in the blaxploitation film Trouble Man (1972), grandpa Gene Donovan in the comedy Seventeen Again (2000), and Fleet Admiral Morrow in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

He also appeared on television in an episode of the NBC crime drama series The Eddie Capra Mysteries in 1978 and portrayed Doctor Walcott in the 1980s television series Dynasty.  Additionally, Hooks is the sole founder of two significant black theatre companies: the D.C. Black Repertory Company, and New York's Group Theatre Workshop.   Hooks is the father of actor, television and film director Kevin Hooks. He married Lorrie Gay Marlow (actress, author, artist) on June 15, 2008. Previously, he was married to Yvonne Hickman and Rosie Lee Hooks.  

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