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Canada Lee
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Actor
    (March 3, 1907-May 9, 1952)
    Born in Manhattan, New York
    Birth name was Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata
    Actor in the Federal Theater Project
    Appeared in Orson Welles’s productions of ‘Macbeth’ (1936) and ‘Native Son’ (1941)
    Appeared in the films ‘Lifeboat’ (1944), ‘Body and Soul’ (1947) and ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ (1951)
    At 14, he ran away from home to become a jockey.
    He got his stage name as an amateur boxer when the ring announcer misread ‘Canegata, Lee.’
    He had a fairly successful pro boxing career until he suffered a detached retina in a fight; he kept the injury hidden and eventually lost the sight in his right eye.
    During his first marriage, he conducted an affair with socialite Caresse Crosby.
    New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson called him ‘certainly the best Negro actor of his time, as well as one of the best actors in this country.’
    He was honored by the US Treasury for his success in selling war bonds during WWII.
    He was the first African-American to produce a Broadway play, ‘On Whitman Avenue’ (1946).
    He was dropped from the film version of ‘Native Son’ after being placed on the Hollywood blacklist of suspected Communist sympathizers.
    J. Edgar Hoover offered to have the FBI formally clear him if he publicly called Paul Robeson a Communist, but he refused, saying ‘All you’re trying to do is split my race.’

Credit: C. Fishel


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