Samuel Légitimus was born into the first family of Black artists in Paris.
His father, Hégésippe Légitimus, or simply “Gésip” as he was often called, was the first Black television producer in France. His mother, Noéma Thomassine, better known in the West Indies by the name of “Noéma”, was a journalist.https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150340343663166&set=vb.759333165&type=3&theater He became co-producer of the first film directed by the Hungarian Lazlo Szabo, “Les Gants Blancs du Diable” (The Devil’s White Gloves) starring Bernadette Lafont and Jean-Pierre Kalfon. In theatre, where he started playing at the age of 8 alongside Jean-Louis Barrault, Henri Rollan, Henry Crémieux and Lucien Coedel, he learned how to direct by becoming Raymond Rouleau’s assistant at the Edouard VII theatre in 1948 for Tennessee Williams’s play “A Streetcar Named Desire”, starring Arletty, Louis De Funès, Milly Mathis, Darling Légitimus, etc…. and in 1952 at the Sarah Bernhardt theatre in “The Crucible” with Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Nicole Courcel, Pierre Mondy and his mother Darling Légitimus. In 1960 he collaborated with Roger Blin at the Théâtre de Lutèce, creating “Les Nègres”, a play by Jean Genet with the troupe “Les Griots”. Wanting to artistically support his compatriots in Metropolitan France, he founded the Federation of French-speaking Black Artists which helped theatre companies such as “Les Griots” and “Le Théâtre Noir”, run by his brother Théo. In 1966 he was congratulated by President Senghor and Aimé Césaire for leading the French artist’s delegation at the World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, with Josephine Baker, Marpessa Dawn and Moune de Rivel. In 1979 he was named director of the Theatre de la Renaissance and founded the CICAF (International Centre for French-speaking Audiovisual Creation). Gésip Légitimus was very concerned about the evolution of the black Diaspora and in 1981 the “Légitimus Report” enabled him to obtain, in the form of the Fillioud law of 1982, the creation of the National Society of Overseas Radio and Television Programs (RFO). In 1982, in Paris, he created the first West-Indian broadcasting station outside the territory to which it transmits (Tropique FM) all the while producing the “Overseas Calendar”, a weekly information page concerning the latest artistic and cultural overseas news, broadcast on RFO. He died in Paris on the 18th of January (2000) at the age of 69.”
He is the grandson of the famous actress, the late Darling Légitimus (who won the Golden Lion at Venice in 1983 for her role of Man Tine in Euzhan Palcy’s “Sugar Cane Alley”) and the cousin of the famous actor and comedian Pascal Légitimus.Darling Légitimus
In his youth Samuel was very attracted by the performing arts: answering advertisements, passing auditions and finally picking up small roles in a number of full-length movies. He did voice-overs, recorded quite a few radio and television publicity campaigns (with the great Michel Colombier).
“When he turned 18 he studied law for a few years then enrolled in the theory of theatre at the New Sorbonne. At the same time, and for two years during, he helped to present the radio show “Délires” on Radio D’OM. He soon met a surprising group of artists, the Macmadedown, with whom he wrote and directed a play, “Jackpot”, a parody of British comedies of the time.
In 1989, he was accepted into the first promotion of prestigious school of theatre at the “Ecole” du Théâtre National de Chaillot under the direction of Jérôme Savary. It was here that Samuel tackled classical theatre and refined his acting skills with teachers such as Andrzej Seweryn, Nita Klein and Michel Lopez. At the end of his studies he was assistant director to Andrzej Seweryn for Shakespeare’s piece Love’s Labour’s Lost.
In 1991, after 2 years at the Chaillot School, he directed and acted in Harold Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter”, at the Cité Internationale in Paris. He then got the role of Epikodov in The Cherry Garden, a piece adapted from Tchekhov’s “The Cherry Orchid”, directed by Romuald Sciora at the Théâtre du Lucernaire.
In 1992 he began to study his roots (as the worthy great-grandson of Hégésippe Jean Légitimus, the first black elected deputy in history) and discovered a passion for human rights, especially those of minority groups.
In the Afro-American culture, more particularly in the writings of James Baldwin (1924-1987), Samuel found an echo of his own ideas and concerns. Out of this was born the musical show “Tiens Bon – Never Despair” inspired by the Blues and Gospels adapted by Marguerite Yourcenar. The show was played in Paris at the Berry-Zèbre theatre and in Amiens during a tribute hosted by the Amiens Film Festival to his grandmother, Darling Légitimus. In 1995 he co-wrote, directed and played in a children’s musical show representing the history of jazz The Fabulous Life of de Harry Bottleneck which was commissioned by the Théâtre du Vésinet.”
“In 1996, at the Espace Kiron he created and played in, after having translated it from English into French, The Midnight Hour, A Night In The Life of James Baldwin a one-character play by James Campbell.
As narrator he was invited, in January 1997, by the Afro-American community of Paris to be the recitant of a Tribute to Martin Luther King as part of the Gospel Festival of Paris in the Auditorium des Halles.
At the TILF (Théâtre International de Langue Française), Gabriel Garran directed the piece Bintou by Koffi Kwahulé in collaboration with Pascal N’Zonzi and chose Samuel to interpret the role of Drissa, the uncle of the heroin (the actress Aïssa Maïga’s first role).
In 1998, as part of the Villette Jazz Festival, he presented Blues for Mister Baldwin, a cultural event/tribute to James Baldwin marking the 10 years since his death in France.
Samuel’s voice was to be heard on France-Culture in various radio plays and he took part in many reunions, debates and demonstrations for the defence of human rights. He put on James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues in Montreal, Canada.”
“He met and collaborated with the Afro-American author and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles for the French version of the musical comedy Don’t Play Us Cheap which then became “Une Fête à Harlem“.
Since 2000 he has undertaken the translation of a number of classic afro-american theatre pieces and has continued his militant and artistic actions with the group Collectif James Baldwin, a philanthropic organization which he founded a few years earlier. He is an activist for the liberation of Mumia Abu Jamal, an Afro-American journalist unjustly condemned to death for a crime he did not commit.
The year 2005 saw the coordination and elaboration of a number of websites, one of which was dedicated to the life and work of James Baldwin (who would have been 80 years old in 2005). Another was dedicated to his great-grandfather, the black politician Hégésippe Jean Légitimus.
Samuel continues to work on diverse translations while at the same time creating and directing works of various Afro-American authors such as A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, and “Purlie Victorious” by Ossie Davis.
The Amen Corner by James Baldwin