Monday, February 12, 2018

Edgar Blue Washington

To mark Black History Month, the Louise Brooks Society blog presents this post about actor Edgar "Blue" Washington, a supporting player in the 1928 Louise Brooks film, Beggars of Life.

Black Mose, played by Edgar Washington, carries an injured hobo
This short biographical profile is adapted from my 2017 book, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film. 
Edgar "Blue" Washington (1898–1970), who plays Black Mose, was an actor and one-time prizefighter and professional baseball player. Washington appeared in 74 films between 1919 and 1961. Like Beggars of Life actor Robert Perry, Washington appeared mostly in bit parts throughout his career. And like Perry, Beggars of Life marked a high point in his career. The nickname “Blue” came from director Frank Capra.
Harold Lloyd helped Washington break into acting, and this pioneering African-American actor appeared in the legendary comedian’s Haunted Spooks (1920) and Welcome Danger (1929). Sporadic roles followed, as Washington appeared in films alongside early stars Ricardo Cortez, William Haines, Richard Barthelmess, Ken Maynard, and Tim McCoy.

Director William Wellman worked with Washington again in The Light That Failed (1939). The actor also appeared in a few films helmed by John Ford, including The Whole Town's Talking (1935) and The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). Other notable movies in which Washington had a small part include King Vidor's all-black production, Hallelujah (1929), Mary Pickford's Kiki (1931), King Kong (1933), Roman Scandals (1933), Annie Oakley (1935), The Plainsman (1936), and Gone with the Wind (1939). He was in three installments in the Charlie Chan series, and appears as a comic sidekick in the John Wayne B-Western Haunted Gold (1933). Washington also had small roles in The Cohens and the Kellys in Africa (1930), Drums of the Congo (1942), Bomba, the Jungle Boy (1949) and other lesser fair. Unfortunately, many of these parts traded on racial stereotypes. His last role, as a limping pool hall attendant, was in The Hustler (1961), with Paul Newman. 

In an article about the film, the Afro-American newspaper wrote, “In Beggars of Life, Edgar Blue Washington, race star, was signed by Paramount for what is regarded as the most important Negro screen role of the year, that of Big Mose. The part is that of a sympathetic character, hardly less important to the epic of tramp life than those of Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, who head the cast.”

Richard Arlen and Edgar Washington
It’s notable that not one but two members of the cast of Beggars of Life gained distinction playing professional baseball, while a third also played organized ball. One of them was Washington,

Washington was discovered while pitching for the Los Angeles White Sox of the Negro League. "Rube" Foster (the father of Black baseball) spotted Washington during the Chicago American Giants’ 1916 West Coast tour. Washington was invited to travel along and pitch for the legendary team, which would eventually produce three National Baseball Hall of Famers. During Washington’s tenure with the American Giants, he pitched in seven games, recording three victories against one loss versus white aggregations of the Pacific Coast and Northwestern Leagues. “Ed Washington,” as sports writers initially referred to him, made a name for himself as he ruled the mound with an unorthodox pitching style. In 1920, Washington joined the newly formed Kansas City Monarchs, where he started at first base and batted .275 in 24 games. After a few months of barnstorming, however, Washington left the Monarchs and returned to Los Angeles. That same year, after his first try at acting, Washington rejoined the Los Angeles White Sox for yet a few more games. Between gigs, Washington continued to play ball, and is believed to have occasionally played for Alexander’s Giants in the integrated California Winter League.

[Washington's son, Kenny Washington, was a two-sport great—the first African-American to play baseball at UCLA, the first Bruin to be named an All-American, and the first African-American to sign a contract with a National Football League team in the post-World War II era. His teammate, Jackie Robinson, described him as the greatest football player he had have ever seen.]

Richard Arlen, William Wellman, and Edgar Washington
To learn more,check out Edgar Washington's Wikipedia page or IMDb or his page at SABR (Society of American Baseball Research).

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