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"I Miss Saigon": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. On how lead roles should feature actors of varying races.

Digital ID



man001036. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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OCR transcription





I know I can act. Why, I've been in the acting business, off and on, for almost forty years. As a child I lived in the movie houses. Somehow or other I would rustle up a quarter or so and that was good for the price of admission, popcorn and a soda water. I would sit in the theater all day, during the summer months, watching the pictures over and over. Many times, when I was just a child, my friends and I would go into the bayou or on a lot behind A.B. Motor Company or wherever we could find a place without any grownups and we would play. Often, our play would revolve around the movies we would have seen that day or during the week or during the weeks and months before. There were some things which we particularly enjoyed playing and we would play at them over and over again.
There were cowboy movies, cowboys arid Indians, war, detectives, comedies, musicals and all sorts of others like horror and romance. We did not play in all of those genres. Action movies were more to our liking. I do recall that when we played cowboys and Indians, none of us wanted to be Indians. As I'm sure some of you recall, Indians were always portrayed as evil savages. We wanted to be good guys. We were Roy Rogers, Alan Rocky Lane, Sunset Carson, Durango Kid, Red Ryder and such as that. None of us were ever Cochise or Geronomo or Sitting Bull or White Feather. When we played war the story was the same. No one wanted to be the Japanese. They were always portrayed as diabolical, scheming, evil savages. They couldn't fight, shoot straight and one G.I. could beat any twenty five of their best soldiers. In our "Old Southwest" scenarios there was a repeat of the same. In that instance the avoided group were Mexicans. In the films of the day they were cattle rustlers, stagecoach and bank robbers and horse thieves. Additionally, they were dirty, drunken, with rotten teeth and cowardly. We didn't want to be anything like them.
Then it was rejection time. We played jungle a lot. I don't know if
it had to do with the countryside or what but we played a lot of it. Tarzan
movies were popular at the time and Tarzan was one of the smartest people
you'd ever expect to see. He could speak the language of a thousand different
tribes even though he had only been in Africa for a short time. There were
natives there who had lived there all of their lives who could barely speak
to each other let along someone from another tribe. Tarzan could also talk
to the animals. Anytime he needed to move a log or some other heavy object
he would call on an elephant. One of his best friends was Simba the lion
and his permanent houseguest was a chimpanzee. He knew where all of the
quicksand was and he could really swing around on those vines. Natives, in
the meantime, knew very little. They were savages, evil and dumb and none
of us wanted to be like them
As you analyze films of the 1930s, 1940s,r1950s and on into the 1960s,
these same representations were manifested throughout and our feelings towards
the characters remained the same. They included films about India (remember
Gunga Din?), Arabs, Chinese, Germans and any and all other groups and
nationalities. With the exceptions of Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto, minority
heroes were few and far between.
Lest we forget, Charlie Chan was never performed by a Chinese actor
and only Peter Lorre played Mr. Moto. Sam Jaffe was Gunga Din, Gary Cooper
was Marco Polo, Rex Harrison was Saladin the Moor/Arab in.Richard The
Lionhearted, John Wayne was Genghis Khan and the list goes on and on and on.
Not many years ago when Freddie Printz was cast to play the role of the
chicano in Chico and the Man, the chicano acting community was up in arms.
The justification for using his talents was "any actor can play any part."
When Peter Ustinow played Charlie Chan just over a decade ago, the justification
was the same as it had been for Printz. At the time I thought there was
something wrong with that sort of casting. I'm not so sure anymore. At the time, I critiqued the world of illusion with a frame of reference manufactured in the world of reality. It did not fit and I knew it but I didn't know why. I still do not know if I know why but at this point, and, remember, everything is a process and the process goes on, I believe that the reason why such thinking did not fit is because in making it fit would be an act contributing to mine and our own
Since it has been well established over the years that "any actor can play any part" it seems to me to mean that any is all inclusive. Any does not exclude certain actors and include others. That being the case, a more definitive case is made in our ongoing complaints that we are not allowed reasonable opportunity to participate in the performing arts especially as they have to do with stage, screen and television. Hitherfore, two distinct sets of standards have existed in regards to our participation in such mediums. Now, as we consider the arguements more philosophically and more logically, we can see that our strength might well be in our support of the contention that "any actor can play any part."
Consider, if that notion be true, does it not seem reasonable that a Asian person might play the part of a European as did one of European ancestry as in the case of John Wayne who played Ghengis Khan? Might not a Native American play the part of a European as did one of European ancestery as in the case of Jeff Chandler who played Cochise? Might not a Mexican play - the part of a European as did one of European ancestry as in the case of Marlon Brando who played Emi 1iano Zapata? Might not an Indian woman play the part of a European as did Jennifer Jones in Duel In the Sun? A Malasian woman reversing the role of Bette Davis in the movie The Letter? Who can forget, as though they would ever allow it, Sir Lawrence Olivier role as Othello? Sure, "any actor can play any part." That is, so long as....
To date, the rationale for our almost total absence from the silver screen has been that there are so few parts for blacks and other minorities. Ha. Who needs them. Afterall, "any actor can play any part." In recent weeks, there has been a lot said and written about the stage production "Miss Saigon." Seems that someone other than an Asian performer was cast to play one of the lead roles. Everybody and their uncle complained when Asian performers complained because a non-Asian was so cast. The opposition said; "any actor can play any part" and, so, that's what they did. Ok. Great. Fine. Robert Redford, even more recently, has cast a non-Indian to play an Indian role in an up-coming film. Couldn't find an Indian actor to fit the part he said.
Ok. Great. Fine. I like Robert Redford and he has done some wonderful things but, well, gee whiz Bobby Boy. You have a school for actors up there in Utah. Haven't you trained at least one Indian to do the job?
No matter. Its better this way. Can't you see it now. Billy Dee Williams will play the lead in the Life of John F. Kennedy. Sidney Poitier will be Abraham Lincoln. Barney Old Coyote will be Gen. George A. Custer. Jose Sanchez will be Maj. Travis at the Alamo. Remember I told you at the outset that I can act? I grew up in Mississippi years ago where oppression of people like me was normal. I've spent the remainder of my life in different parts of this country where racism is the order of the day. I have survived it and that survival, oftentimes, required great acting. When and if the life of John Wayne is made into a movie I want to play the part. If I do not, then surely I shall have to say: "I Miss Saigon."