Orson Welles used him. Hollywood cast him in "Lifeboat" and "Cry, the Beloved Country" and then the blacklisted him as a communist, driving him to his death in 1952. Actor Canada Lee, civil rights activist and performing artist, is the subject of Mona Z. Smith's Canada Lee, to be read by Los Angeles' The Group at Strasberg May 18 and 19. In Canada Lee, Smith tells of the popular Manhattan ex-boxer's rise to thespian stardom. Lee, whose name came from his professional prize fighting days, stumbled into his first audition and landed a part. He played two or three small roles before Welles cast him as Banquo in the famous Harlem "Voodoo" Macbeth. From there, he joined the WPA Negro Unit before Welles again tapped him, this time to star as Bigger Thomas in the Broadway stage adaptation of Native Sun. Starring and major supporting theatrical roles followed as did movie roles before he was labeled a communist in 1949 and blacklisted. Unable to find any work and a longtime victim of high blood pressure, Lee died penniless May 9, 1952.
Tickets to the 8 PM readings are free, but must be reserved by calling (323) 650-7777. The Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center is located at 7936 Santa Monica Boulevard.
—By Christine Ehren