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Tue, 02.16.1904

Walt Disney’s First Live Actor, James Baskett

James Baskett

*On this date we point out the birth of James Baskett in 1904. He was a Black actor.

From Indianapolis, IN., originally a passionate student of pharmacology, James Baskett had to abandon it due to lack of money. It was then that he perused his untrained dramatic talent. While visiting Chicago, he was lured to the stage and performed under the Salem Whitney and Homer Tutt Troupes before moving to New York to join Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's company.

At this time, Baskett quickly established himself as one of the leading Black performers in New York and appeared in several of Lew Leslie's annual Blackbird productions. In California, Baskett met comedian Freeman Gosden of the "Amos 'N' Andy" radio program and invited him to join the cast. Baskett's role as the fast-talking lawyer Gabby Gibson earned him a national reputation and roles in such B-rated movies such as Harlem in Heaven 1932, Straight to Heaven and Policy Man 1938, Comes Midnight 1940, and Revenge of the Zombies 1943.

In 1945, Baskett answered an ad to provide the voice of a talking butterfly in Walt Disney's Song of the South. Upon review of his voice, Walt Disney wanted to meet James personally. Not only did he get the part of the butterfly's voice, but also the voice of Brer Fox and as an actor the part of Uncle Remus, becoming the first live actor to be hired by Walt Disney.

Baskett’s vocal talent was so extensive he even filled in for Johnny Lee, the voice of Brer Rabbit, in the Laughing Place sequence, when he was called away on a USO tour.  James Baskett died on July 9, 1948, in Los Angeles, CA., that same year an honorary Academy Award for his role as Uncle Remus was given to him.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
ISBN 0-85229-633-0

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