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 their takings, saying “One for you, an’ one for me.” He and Limpy are convinced that they have overheard devils splitting up their souls, and flee in a panic; Bert actually pushing the crippled man over in his haste to run away. Limpy makes his way alone back to the saloon and tells the others about the frightening experience. Bert, meanwhile, encounters the thieves on the road and pieces together what really happened. He invites the thieves to accompany him back to the saloon, where Limpy is made to look foolish. Then Bert and Limpy appropriate the thieves’ stolen chickens, and eject the men from their company.] ”
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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