Fredi Washington
American actress, activist
Fredi Washington
Fredericka Carolyn "Fredi" Washington was an accomplished dramatic film actress, most active in the 1920s- 1930s. Fredi was a self-proclaimed Black woman, who chose to be identified as such, and wished for others to do so as well. Because of her features, and because she didn't fit people's stereotypical views of what black is supposed to look like, she faced limited acting opportunities for being "too light or not black enough.
Biography
Fredi Washington's personal information overview.
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News
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Viola Davis on making 'The Help' work - Newsday (subscription)
Google News - over 5 years
... housemaid who helps Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) become a success in the pancake business (posing as a sort of Aunt Jemima on the box), while her light-skinned daughter (Fredi Washington) tries to pass for white, breaking Mom's heart
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Google News article
One Drop Rule: A Guide to Black Celebs - BET (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Fredi Washington, born Fredricka, was one of the first black actresses to garner mainstream attention for her work on stage and screen. She's best known for her portrayal of Peola, a troubled young woman who passes for white, in 1934's Imitation of
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Google News article
Mary Walling Blackburn XOXO Insanity, Institution - E-Flux
Google News - over 5 years
Unlike the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, in which Fredi Washington (founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America) portrays Peola, the 1954 version stars White actress Susan Kohner. In one scene, Kohner, as Sarah Jane, stages her own
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Google News article
Review: By the Way, Meet Vera Stark - BET
Google News - almost 6 years
Also, it's the story of many Black actors of old Hollywood, like Fredi Washington, Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Dandridge (her career suffered for her refusal to play a maid or slave). The first half of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, which is written by
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Google News article
A Black Actress Trying to Rise Above a Maid - New York Times
Google News - almost 6 years
(Ms. Nottage has said she was specifically inspired by Theresa Harris's appearance in the 1933 Barbara Stanwyck vehicle “Baby Face,” but Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington come to mind as well.) In the first act Vera is a real-life
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Google News article
This Day in Film: "Imitation of Life" - BET (blog)
Google News - almost 6 years
In the 1934 original, Sarah Jane was played by a light-skinned Black actress named Fredi Washington. In 1959, the Sarah Jane character was Susan Kohner, who was Mexican and Jewish. Both actresses in the 1959 version, Kohner and Moore, received Oscar
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Google News article
Just a Maid In Movies, But Not Forgotten
NYTimes - almost 6 years
FOR Lynn Nottage, the aha moment that led to ''By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,'' her new play about race, sex, fame and the dream -- and crushing reality -- of Hollywood, was unexpected. She was watching ''Baby Face,'' a delectably sordid 1933 studio film about an Übermensch in silk stockings played by Barbara Stanwyck, who climbs to the top one bed
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NYTimes article
Film Series and Movie Listings
NYTimes - about 8 years
FILM SERIES REMEMBERING RICHARD (Friday) In his 25 years of stewardship, Richard Roud helped to establish the New York Film Festival as one of the world's pre-eminent film events. To honor the 20th anniversary of his death, the Film Society of Lincoln Center offers a double bill of two of Roud's favorite films: Max Ophüls's 1950 work, ''La
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NYTimes article
CRITIC'S CHOICE; New DVD's
NYTimes - about 9 years
SHADOWS of Forgotten Ancestors The swirling, ecstatic handheld camerawork of ''Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors'' was virtually without precedent when the film, directed by Sergei Paradjanov in Ukraine under the Soviets, exploded on the world festival scene in 1966. With its vision of nature in Dionysian riot, its chorus lines of extravagantly
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NYTimes article
PHOTOGRAPHY REVIEW; Portrait of Black Life, Minus the Bad News
NYTimes - about 19 years
There are many ways to approach history. You can look on the bright side and talk about what worked. Or you can concentrate on everything else. Or, with a little patience, you can go with a textured, light-and-dark picture that is often closer to the way things are. The photographs of the brothers Morgan and Marvin Smith, now seen in a superbly
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NYTimes article
LIVES WELL LIVED: FREDI WASHINGTON; The Tragic Mulatto
NYTimes - about 22 years
1903-1994 Fredi Washington, an early African-American movie star, found her signature role in "Imitation of Life" (1934) as a mulatto who passes for white -- a subterfuge that enacts its own terrible retribution. She also made her name in the theater, appearing in "Lysistrata" and "A Long Way From Home," an all-black production of Gorky's "Lower
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NYTimes article
Fredi Washington Tribute
NYTimes - over 22 years
A memorial service for Fredi Washington is to take place at 3 P.M. on Friday at St. Peter's Church, 619 Lexington Avenue, at 54th Street. Miss Washington, who was among the first widely recognized black stage and film actresses, died of pneumonia in June at the age of 90. Among those who are to speak or perform at the service are Jean-Claude Baker,
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NYTimes article
Fredi Washington, 90, Actress; Broke Ground for Black Artists
NYTimes - over 22 years
Fredi Washington, one of the first black actresses to gain recognition for her work on stage and in film, died on Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Stamford, Conn., where she lived. She was 90. The cause was pneumonia, which developed after a stroke, said her sister, Isabel Powell. Miss Washington's best-known performance was as the young
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NYTimes article
Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Fredi Washington
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1994
    Age 90
    Washington died after a series of strokes on June 28, 1994 in Stamford, Connecticut, aged 90.
    More Details Hide Details According to her sister, Isabel, Fredi never had children. One of Washington's sisters, Isabel Washington (May 23, 1909 – May 1, 2008), was a singer and nightclub performer. She married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the first African American elected to Congress from New York state. They later divorced. At her death, Washington was survived by her sisters Isabel Washington, Rosebud Smith and Gertrude Penna, and a brother, Floyd Washington. Throughout her life, Washington was often asked if she ever wanted to "pass" for white. Washington, a proud black woman, answered conclusively, "No." She said this repeatedly, "I don't want to pass because I can't stand insincerities and shams. I am just as much Negro as any of the others identified with the race." "I have never tried to pass for white and never had any desire, I am proud of my race. In 'Imitation of Life', I was showing how a girl might feel under the circumstances but I am not showing how I felt."
  • FORTIES
  • 1952
    Age 48
    She also consulted on casting for George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, an opera performed in revival on Broadway in 1952, and filmed in 1959.
    More Details Hide Details Washington dated Duke Ellington for a while but, realizing he was not going to marry her, she started another relationship. She married Lawrence Brown, the trombonist in Ellington's jazz orchestra, a relationship which ended in divorce. Washington later married Anthony H. Bell, a dentist. Bell died in the 1980s.
  • 1945
    Age 41
    In 1945 she said:
    More Details Hide Details "You see I'm a mighty proud gal and I can't for the life of me, find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons, if I do I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens." She played opposite Bill Robinson in Fox's One Mile from Heaven (1937), in which she played a mulatto claiming to be the mother of a "white" baby. Claire Trevor plays a reporter who discovers the story and helps both Washington and the white biological mother who had given up the baby, played by Sally Blane. According to the Museum of Modern Art in 2013: "The last of the six Claire Trevor 'snappy' vehicles Allan Dwan made for Fox in the 1930s tests the limits of free expression on race in Hollywood while sometimes straining credulity."
  • THIRTIES
  • 1943
    Age 39
    Washington had an important dramatic role in a 1943 radio tribute to black women, Heroines in Bronze, produced by the National Urban League.
    More Details Hide Details But there were few regular dramatic programs in that era with black protagonists. Washington wrote an opinion piece for the black press in which she discussed how limited the opportunities in broadcasting were for black actors, actresses, and vocalists, saying that "radio seems to keep its doors sealed" against "colored artists."
  • 1937
    Age 33
    In an effort to help other black actors and actresses to find more opportunities, she founded the Negro Actors Guild in 1937; the organization's mission included speaking out against stereotyping and advocating for a wider range of roles.
    More Details Hide Details Washington served as the organization's first executive secretary. Despite receiving critical acclaim, she was unable to find much work in the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s. On the one hand, black actresses were expected to have dark skin, and were usually typecast as maids. On the other hand, directors were concerned about casting a light-skinned black actress in a romantic role with a white leading man; the film production code prohibited suggestions of miscegenation, so Hollywood directors did not offer her any romantic roles. As one modern critic explained, Fredi Washington was "too beautiful and not dark enough to play maids, but rather too light to act in all-black movies." She also tried to find work in radio, where most opportunities for black performers were as musicians in bands, or as comedic sidekicks, such as Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, in his role as Jack Benny's valet.
  • 1934
    Age 30
    In 1934 she said the role did not reflect her off-screen life, but "If I made Peola seem real enough to merit such statements, I consider such statements compliments and makes me feel I've done my job fairly well."
    More Details Hide Details She told reporters in 1949 she identified as black "Because I'm honest, firstly, and secondly, you don't have to be white to be good. I've spent most of my life trying to prove to those who think otherwise... I am a Negro and I am proud of it." Imitation of Life was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, but it did not win. Years later, in 2007, Time magazine ranked it as among "The 25 Most Important Films on Race". She also appeared in the 1939 film Mamba's Daughters, along with popular singer Ethel Waters.
    Her best-known role was in the 1934 movie Imitation of Life; Washington played a young mulatto who chose to pass as white to seek more opportunities in a society restricted by legal racial segregation in some states and social discrimination in others.
    More Details Hide Details As Washington had visible European ancestry, the role was considered perfect for her, but it led to her being typecast by filmmakers. Moviegoers sometimes assumed from Washington's appearance–her blue-gray eyes, pale complexion, and light brown hair–that she might have passed in real life.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1926
    Age 22
    In 1926, Washington was recommended for a co-starring role on the Broadway stage with Paul Robeson in Black Boy.
    More Details Hide Details She was very attractive, as well as a talented entertainer, and she easily moved up to become a popular featured dancer. She toured internationally with her dancing partner Al Moiret; they were especially popular in London. Fredi Washington turned to acting in the late 1920s. Her first movie role was in Black and Tan (1929), in which she played a dancer who was dying. She also had a small part in The Emperor Jones (1933), based on a play by Eugene O'Neill and starring Paul Robeson.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1921
    Age 17
    Fredi's performing career began in 1921, when she got a chance to work in New York City, where she was living with her grandmother and aunt.
    More Details Hide Details She was a chorus girl in the hit Broadway musical Shuffle Along. She was hired by dancer Josephine Baker as a member of the "Happy Honeysuckles," a cabaret group. Baker also became a friend and mentor to her. Washington's friendship with Baker, as well as her talent as a performer, led to her being discovered by producer Lee Shubert.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1903
    Born
    Fredi Washington was born in 1903 in Savannah, Georgia to Robert T. Washington, a postal worker, and Harriet Walker Ward, a former dancer.
    More Details Hide Details Both were of African-American and European ancestry. Fredi was the second of their five children. Her mother, Hattie, died when Fredi was eleven years old. As the oldest girl in her family, Fredi helped raise her younger siblings, Isabel, Rosebud and Robert, with the help of their grandmother, whom the family called "Big Mama." After their mother's death, Fredi was sent to the St. Elizabeth's Convent School for colored girls in Cornwells Heights, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her sister, Isabel, soon followed her. At some point her father, Robert T. Washington, remarried. His second wife died while pregnant. He later married a third time and had four children with his last wife. Fredi had a total of eight siblings from her father's two families. While Fredi was still in school in Philadelphia, her family moved North to Harlem, New York in the Great Migration for work and opportunity in the industrial North. Fredi followed her family to Harlem, where she graduated from Julia Richman High School in New York City.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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