Original name: William Best
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Added by: Scott Michaels
|February 2009 press release:|
After nearly fifty years with an unmarked grave, forgotten black actor Willie Best is remembered with a memorial donated by fans.
Los Angeles, CA ( February 25, 2009) -- Willie Best, a pioneering black actor who began a busy film career in 1930 on the heels of popular actor "Stepin Fetchit" has received a long overdue grave marker donated by film buffs.
The Sunflower, Mississippi native and former chaffeur was discovered in a Los Angeles stage show and got into films at the start of the sound era. Best was cast in racial stereotype roles prevalent in early Hollywood, usually as a dim-witted, lazy, cowardly man-servant. In his early films, Best was credited only with the moniker, "Sleep 'n' Eat".
Regarding his degrading roles in films, Best told a 1934 interviewer: "Sometimes I tell the director and he cuts out the real bad parts…But what's an actor going to do? Either you do it or get out."
Due to the embarrassing stereotypes that Best often portrayed, he was vilified by civil rights activists in the late 1950s and he withdrew from show business. He died of cancer at age 45 on February 27, 1962 at the Motion Picture Home Hospital and was buried by the Motion Picture Fund.
His grave at Valhalla Cemetery in North Hollywood, California remained unmarked for 47 years until film buffs from Dearly Departed Tours and the blog "CelluloidSlammer" raised the funds to purchase a marker. "We felt it was time to give a proper memorial to a dedicated and talented actor of his era who died virtually forgotten," said writer Donna Lethal of CelluloidSlammer.
In his 25 year career, Best worked opposite some of the era's biggest stars, including Humphrey Bogart, Bob Hope, Carole Lombard and Shirley Temple. His 118 films include Little Miss Marker (1934), The Littlest Rebel (1935), The Green Pastures (1937), Blondie (1938), The Ghost Breakers (1940), High Sierra (1941), and Cabin in the Sky (1943). He later co-starred on several 1950s television series, including the popular My Little Margie where he played Charlie the elevator operator – confidante of the mischievous title character played by series star Gale Storm.
Gale Storm shared this statement about her former television co-star: "I loved Willie Best with all my heart...and so did everyone who worked with him. Not only was he a joy to be with, but as an actor he was an ultimate professional, always knew his lines and a director's delight. I am so grateful to his fans for honoring him this way."
At Valhalla Cemetery, Willie Best is buried near other such pioneering black actors as: Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Mantan Moreland, and Sam McDaniel.
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