Pi­o­neer­ing U.K. ac­tor had role in ‘Thunderbal­l’

Chicago Sun-Times - - OBITUARIES -

Earl Cameron, who was one of the first Black ac­tors to per­form in main­stream Bri­tish films and played sup­port­ing roles to en­dur­ing en­ter­tain­ment icons such as James Bond and the ti­tle char­ac­ter in “Doc­tor Who” be­fore ap­pear­ing in the U.N. thriller “The In­ter­preter” in his 80s, has died. He was 102.

Mr. Cameron died Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to The Royal Gazette, a news­pa­per in his na­tive Ber­muda. The Bri­tish news­pa­per The Guardian, quot­ing the ac­tor’s agent, said he died at home in War­wick­shire, Eng­land.

Mr. Cameron stum­bled into act­ing as a way to earn money dur­ing World War II and kept at it with reper­tory the­ater roles and train­ing from the grand­daugh­ter of Ira Aldridge, an Amer­i­can who be­came a renowned Shake­spearean ac­tor in Eng­land, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Cameron’s Bri­tish Film In­sti­tute bi­og­ra­phy.

His break into movies also broke bar­ri­ers for Bri­tish cin­ema. Mr. Cameron was cast in one of the star­ring roles in “Pool of Lon­don,” a 1951 crime noir movie that was the first Bri­tish film to fea­ture an in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tion­ship. His char­ac­ter, Johnny Lam­bert, is a mer­chant sea­man who meets a white woman while on shore leave.

Mr. Cameron worked steadily mak­ing movies through­out the 1950s, some­times in stereo­typed roles such as a witch doc­tor and a mur­der­ous rebel leader in Bri­tish Kenya, and some­times in roles de­signed to con­found stereo­types, such as his por­trayal of a doc­tor in “Simba,” a 1955 film that also dealt with the Mau Mau up­ris­ing in Kenya.

He earned his 007 stripes in the fourth James Bond film, “Thunderbal­l,” in 1965, play­ing an in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive in the Ba­hamas op­po­site Sean Con­nery. Dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s, he sup­ple­mented his film work with fre­quent Bri­tish TV roles, in­clud­ing two episodes of “Doc­tor Who” in 1966.

“Un­less it was spec­i­fied that this was a part for a Black ac­tor, they would never con­sider a Black ac­tor for the part. And they would never con­sider chang­ing a white part to a Black part,” Mr. Cameron told the Guardian in a 2017 in­ter­view.

“So that was my prob­lem. I got mostly small parts, and that was ex­tremely frus­trat­ing — not just for me but for other Black ac­tors. We had a very hard time get­ting worth­while roles.”

In 1972, Mr. Cameron got to work along­side an­other Ba­ham­aborn ac­tor who broke bar­ri­ers for Black film ac­tors. Sid­ney Poitier cast Mr. Cameron to play the am­bas­sador of an African coun­try in “A Warm De­cem­ber,” in which Poitier starred and di­rected.

Born in Ber­muda in 1917 as the youngest of six chil­dren, Mr. Cameron ar­rived in Eng­land in 1939 af­ter join­ing the Bri­tish mer­chant marine. Af­ter Bri­tain en­tered World War II that same year, “it was al­most im­pos­si­ble for a Black per­son to get any kind of job,” and he didn’t have any qual­i­fi­ca­tions, Mr. Cameron would re­call.

“Com­ing from Ber­muda in 1939, which was a very racist is­land, the de­gree of racism in Eng­land didn’t sur­prise me. I had grown up with it,” he told The Royal Gazette in a 2018 in­ter­view.

Mr. Cameron ap­peared in a num­ber of ma­jor Hol­ly­wood and Bri­tish films late in his life, in­clud­ing “The In­ter­preter” with Ni­cole Kid­man and Sean Penn (2005); “The Queen” with Hellen Mir­ren (2006) and “In­cep­tion” (2010).

Mr. Cameron is sur­vived by his wife, Bar­bara, and his chil­dren.


Earl Cameron in 2009, af­ter be­ing pre­sented his medal­lion as Com­man­der of the Most Ex­cel­lent Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire.

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