Then off to college as a freshman Political Science major until he got involved with classes in his chosen minor, Theatre and he ended up graduating with a double major in Political Science and Theatre with a Teaching Certificate (“To fall back on.”) While in college, highlights included approaching the chairman of the Theatre Department along with his college roommate, Thomas Carter to do something about the limited opportunities for Theatre majors of color to do roles in department productions. (Even though there were only a handful of Black majors in the department at the time.) The result was the creation of the Ebony Players and a department production of Lorraine Hansbury’s A Raisin in the Sun.
After its run on campus, the cast was invited to perform the play in a command performance for former President (and Southwest Texas State University alumnus) Lyndon Baines Johnson at his ranch in Johnson City, Texas.
Following the performance, President Johnson wrote a check for ten thousand dollars to the group, and the following year (Eugene and Thomas’ senior year) the Ebony Players mounted a production of Lonne Elder’s Ceremonies in Dark Old Men. The two also got other opportunities to create roles in department productions including Shakespeare and others.
Upon graduation, Eugene went back to Fort Worth and took a position at age 21 teaching Speech and Drama and coaching Debate and track and tennis and directing the one-act play and just about everything except always driving the bus. Every summer he’d have some dollars saved to make a trip to LA and try his hand at the business of acting there all the while during the school year working in radio as a news announcer and doing local commercials and industrial management training films and doing extra work in films and television shows, like the first five episodes of the original Dallas series, that were shot in Dallas. He also stayed busy working in local Metroplex community theatre productions with Dallas Minority Rep, Sojourner Truth Players, and Jubilee Theatre in Fort Worth.
During this four-year period, he auditioned for the top MFA programs in acting at the top Universities and took the Law School Admissions Test still clinging to that possibility of a career as an attorney. Then one week in the Spring of 1978 he received a letter of acceptance to South Texas Law School. That same week he got a letter of acceptance to the MFA program in acting at New York University and acceptance into the MFA acting program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. (It should be noted that also around this time Eugene participated in a production at Southern Methodist University where he had the chance to meet and work with Douglas Turner Ward, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of New York’s Negro Ensemble Company, who was on the campus as a guest artist.) The same week he received the acceptance letters to Law School and to the Graduate programs in Acting Eugene also was cast in, Cotton Candy, a television movie of the week that was shooting in Dallas that Spring playing a High School student. The movie was actor-turned-director Ron Howard’s directorial debut. Standing at a crossroads for diverse paths to his future, Eugene opted to pass on the graduate school options, resign from his teaching position at the High School in Fort Worth and take the role in Ron Howard’s film.
When the shooting was over, he packed his things and moved West to Hollywood early summer 1978 in time to crash an audition as they were replacing the role of Lionel on the series, The Jeffersons, and he got a call back which didn’t land him that job, but the following week, he did get hired by the same casting director for a role on an episode of the series, Good Times and that was followed in the ensuing months by a couple of appearances on The White Shadow and as a guest bachelor on The Dating Game.
Easter the following year, 1979, he got a cheap ten-day round trip ticket to the East Coast to visit family there for the holidays. When he got there, he got in touch with a manager he’d met in LA who got him an audition for a Ragu spaghetti sauce commercial which he booked, and on the tenth day, he wasn’t on a plane back to LA but on a set in New Rochelle shooting that commercial and over the next six months he was fortunate to shoot six national spots and get hired in the original company of what was to become one of the country’s most noted new Black Theatre companies, Crossroads Theatre Company in the city of his birth New Brunswick, New Jersey.
As an original member of that company which operated under the umbrella of the established George Street Playhouse as a Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) project, he played roles in their productions of Steve Carter’s, Eden, One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Purlie, a cabaret titled, On The Corner to name a few. Then came an audition for Douglas Turner Ward and the Negro Ensemble Company in New York. Mr. Ward remembered him from when they’d worked together at SMU and Eugene’s first job with that prestigious company was as understudy to Samuel L. Jackson on the Southern Tour of the Samm Art Williams’ play, Home after it’s Broadway run.
That tour eventually led to more work with NEC (Negro Ensemble Company) which started with being cast in the original cast of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, A Soldier’s Play which became the company’s first million-dollar grossing production and kept him busy in New York and on the National tour for over two years.
Eyes of the American by Samm Art Williams