A Natural Born Gambler
R: Bert Williams. D: Bert Williams. P: American Biograph. USA 1916
“Our story centers upon the activities of a Negro fraternal organization, the Independent Order of Calcimine Artists of America. [Inside joke: “calcimine” is whitewash, and yet most of these black actors appear to have darkened their complexions with blackface makeup.] The group meets in the back of a saloon. Their leader, Brother Scott, is a lawyer who disapproves of gambling – although, after breaking up a poker game, he doesn’t object to appropriating others’ winnings. Our protagonist is lodge member Bert Williams, described as a “walking delegate,” who is clearly in arrears with both the saloon’s barkeep, Hostetter Johnson, and with the lodge itself. Early on, he is compelled to remit the dues he owes (three dollars), which he does reluctantly. [Some prints of the film omit the next sequence: After leaving a meeting with his friend Limpy Jones, who is handicapped with gout and must ride on Bert’s shoulders, Bert passes a graveyard where he overhears two chicken thieves splitting up.”
In an unprecedented move for its day in 1915, Biograph Company executives hired actor Bert Williams to star, produce, direct, and write his own films, having full control, the first time a Black-American ever had such control given by a mainstream movie company. The two films made for Biograph were A Natural Born Gambler 1916, and Fish (1916).
About Bert Williams: Black face!
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