Obituaries Woody Strode

Woody Strode was tall of build, bald of pate, with a striking screen presence; had he been born white or later he might have became a star. Sidney Poitier became the first black actor to achieve screen stardom, while Strode was playing supporting roles. Poitier was comfortable, while there was a quality of menace about Strode - the legacy, perhaps, of his years as a professional wrestler.

Strode was educated at UCLA before the Second World War and was one of the first blacks to play in integrated college football; he was also a star of the Canadian Football League. In 1941 the producer Walter Wanger gave him a walk-on in one of Hollywood's then frequent tributes to the British Empire, Sundown, but he did not film again for another decade.

He took up wrestling after war service and was noticed by Walter Mirisch, then producing his Bomba the Jungle Boy series, cut-price adventure junkets starring Johnny Sheffield, who had played the son of Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. Mirisch invited Strode to appear in The Lion Hunters (1951). Strode continued his wrestling career taking occasional small parts in movies, as in DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956), in which he was a slave, and Tarzan's Fight for Life (1958), MGM's unenthusiastic attempt atreviving the old series, with Gordon Scott replacing Weissmuller.

By this time Strode was getting regular movie offers and became a full-time actor. John Ford chose him the title-role in Sergeant Rutledge (1960), about a court martial during for the Civil War. The charges - of the rape and murder of a white woman - were obviously trumped up, for no screen hero ever looked as noble, or behaved so selflessly or bravely. No one till late in the plot mentions the colour of his skin - all of which suggests that Ford was trying to appear liberal at a time when the civil rights of blacks needed less simplistic solutions. Ford said later that the good sergeant "was the first time we had ever shown the Negro as a hero", doing himself no credit by overlooking the fact that Poitier and Harry Belafonte had been doing so for several years.

But to his credit Ford used Strode again (if not in leading roles), in three more films, including his last, Seven Women (1966), rather strangely described by Ford as "a hell of a good picture" - a description more apt for either Spartacus (1960), directed by Stanley Kubrick, or Richard Brooks's The Professionals (1966). Besides Sergeant Rutledge they also gave Strode his best American screen roles; in the former as the Nubian gladiatorial opponent who saves the life of Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), and in

the second as a mercenary hired by a millionaire (Ralph Bellamy) to recover his kidnapped wife.

Strode co-starred with another Tarzan, Jock Mahoney, in Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963). But too often he was required merely to lend his formidable presence to potboilers. As good Hollywood offers grew fewer he began accepting some from Europe, for ex a mple the gunman killed before the credits in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). He also worked regularly in television. Unseen in Britain is Seduta alla sua Destra (1968), in which he had the star role as an African leader modelled on Pa trice Lumumba. He had recently completed filming in The Quick and the Dead, a western starring Sharon Stone.

David Shipman

Woodrow Strode, actor: born Los Angeles 25 July 1914; died Glendora, California 31 December 1994.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent