Canada Lee as Bigger Thomas in NATIVE SON, March 24, 1941.  Photo: Vandamm,(c) Museum of the City of New York.  Gift of the Vandamm Studio.   Becoming Something: The Story of Canada Lee
by Mona Z. Smith
(Faber & Faber; ISBN: 0571211429)

A heroic figure of 30s and 40s arts, sports, and civil rights -- rediscovered

Imagine an actor as familiar to audiences as Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman are today - who is then virtually deleted from public memory. Such is the story of CANADA LEE. Among the most respected black actors of the 40s and a tireless civil rights activist, Lee's name was reduced to a footnote in the history of the McCarthy era, his death one of a handful directly attributed to the blacklist.

Born in Harlem in 1907, Lee was a true Renaissance man: a musical prodigy at eleven; by thirteen he had become a successful jockey; in his twenties a champion boxer. After wandering into auditions for a WPA Negro Theater project, Lee took up acting and soon shot to stardom in Orson Welles's Broadway production of Native Son, and appeared in such films as Hitchcock's Lifeboat and Cry, the Beloved Country. His meteoric rise to fame was followed by a devastating fall. Labeled as a Communist by the FBI and HUAC as early as 1943, Lee was publicly denounced during the notorious Judith Coplon spy trial in 1949. Lee died in 1952, at the age of 45, a heartbroken victim of a dangerous and conflicted time. Now, after nearly a decade of research Mona Z. Smith revives the legacy of a man who was perhaps the blacklist's most tragic victim.

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