Robert Hooks

ROBERT HOOKS

Robert (Bobby Dean) Hooks

by Dale Ricardo Shields

 

Actor
Producer
Activist
Creator Cultural Institutions
Creator/Co-creator Civil Right Organizations

Graphic by Dale Shields

Born Bobby Dean Hooks into the rat-infested Foggy Bottom of segregated Washington, DC in 1937, a product of the post-Depression Northern Migration, the story of Robert Hooks’ life, in many ways, characterizes the turbulent growing pains of an America which are still struggling to come to terms with its racial history.

Robert Hooks has had a distinguished career as an actor, producer, and political activist. A celebrated and recognizable performer who was repeatedly chosen to break the color barrier in all media before the term “colorblind casting” even existed, Mr. Hooks was instructed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to never forget that artists were an integral and vital part of the struggle for civil rights. That mandate has shaped his existence and career.

He has founded three significant Black theatre companies: New York’s Group Theatre Workshop, the post-riots DC Black Repertory Company in his hometown, and the internationally recognized Negro Ensemble Company. Born as a consequence of Hooks’ first producing venture—a double-bill of Douglas Turner Ward’s Happy Ending and Day of Absence—the NEC was the most important enterprise of its kind, launching the careers of many of our major Black artists in all disciplines.

 

Robert Hooks and Douglas Turner Ward

“My mother remarried in 1954, and we moved to Philadelphia and I went to my first integrated high school: West Philadelphia High School, where I really started acting. Philadelphia was a tryout town for Broadway, and I would go see these plays. Most of the plays I saw were all White plays with no Black characters. But then came “A Raisin in the Sun” on its way to Broadway. It blew my mind. I was in tears just wanting to be on that stage because it had Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, Diana Sands, Ivan Dixon, Louis Gossett Jr. — they were all there. I made up my mind. I wanted to be a professional actor. Instead of going to Temple University, a few months later I was in New York.

I replaced Lou Gossett in the play, and I met Douglas Turner Ward and Lonnie Elder, who were actors but mainly playwrights. So I met these guys as they were writing plays while we went on the road on the national tour. That’s how I really got into understanding the structure of theater and the structure of plays and what made them work. That’s where the whole idea of bringing theater to the Black community came from — in every city that we went, Black people who had never seen a Black play came and were just so enthusiastic. We saw the potential of black audiences in every city.” – WASHINGTON POST [ Roxanne Roberts 2018]

 

Robert Hooks-Vintage Reel of an American Cultural Architect

A 15 min. vintage highlight reel examining the career of Actor/Producer/ Director and co-Founder of the internationally esteemed Negro Ensemble Company Robert Hooks. From stage to screens large and small this is a vivid look at a man who broke color barriers, helped change the racial makeup of American arts, and – politically -worked in front and behind the scenes to enlarge and then protect those rights of access.

 

And the children shall lead them!”…And they did! On this special night at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965 when I directed them in Douglas Turner Ward’s “Happy Ending.” In the very first public showcase performance of my very first arts group – The Group Theatre Workshop (GTW) named as an homage to Harold Clurman’s Group Theatre. Here is the review from one of New York’s top drama critics Jerry Talmer. Reading that gorgeous little review of GTW’s teenage thespians began brainstorms raging in my mind. I immediately decided to buy the option from Doug and personally produce his brilliant one-acts “Happy Ending” and “Day of Absence” professionally! Ten months later, raising all Black financing, I did just that. The plays were a smash hit and Doug became the anointed premier Black playwright, stealing that thunder from LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) and his current hit “Dutchman”! (Since only ONE black playwright could be allowed through at a time.) And all because 30 young, aspiring theatre artists (straight out of my converted apartment living room) showed out in performance! The birth of our Negro Ensemble Company came soon after! And the youngster’s GTW was folded into the NEC as the nucleus of its tuition-free training program!

 

Its nurturing of Black playwrights over the course of three decades created a body of performance literature that comprises the backbone of the African-American theatrical canon and provided nuanced vehicles for Black performers until August Wilson picked up the baton.

As a young actor in Philadelphia, it was seeing A Raisin in the Sun in tryouts both stunned and awakened him to what was possible. Almost immediately, he packed his bags and moved to Manhattan where, in a scene reminiscent of a 1930’s Stage Door musical, he was soon hired for that same original Broadway production A Raisin in the Sun! He then segued into the lead role in Jean Genet’s long-running, politically incendiary play The Blacks (alongside Maya Angelou, Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Adolph Caesar, Raymond St. Jacques, Charles Gordone, and Godfrey Cambridge), followed shortly afterward by inaugurating the male lead in Leroi Jones’ provocative two-character piece, Dutchman produced by Edward Albee. The next decade brought a series of Broadway shows, among them Arturo Ui, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More, A Taste of Honey, and Hallelujah Baby, for which he garnered a Tony nomination for Lead Actor in a Musical.

 

Off-Broadway he broke theatrical color barriers when Joseph Papp cast him in the title role of Henry V, a first in theatre history.

 

In television, the groundbreaking David Susskind-produced N.Y.P.D. was the first prime-time network drama to feature a Black male lead. In addition to two highly-acclaimed mini-series, Backstairs at the White House and Sophisticated Gents, Robert has appeared in over 150 productions for the small screen. And when television producers realized that John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage had no Black heroes it was Robert they invited to star in the hastily added episode Young Frederick Douglas. Films have included Otto Preminger’s Hurry Sundown, Tennessee Williams’ Last of the Mobile Hotshots, Passenger 57 (directed by his son Kevin Hooks), Star Trek III, and the title role in the uncomfortably political cult hit Trouble Man, making him the original “Mr. T.”

 

Canadian actor William Shatner, American George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and Robert Hooks on the set of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, directed by Leonard Nimoy. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Star Trek III, Search for Spock“, was a ton of fun to work on! I had no idea I’d enjoy it as much as I did!… Here, in a rehearsal confab is Leonard Nimoy (who directed the movie) and star William Shatner! Of course, the most fun of all was working with my longtime friend and brilliant artist Nichelle Nichols!

 

His active stance in politics cost him some jobs but engendered continuing requests for him to speak publicly. He’s been invited to speak in front of the House-Senate Committee both on his own and, in 1973, in the company of Sidney Poitier, Maya Angelou, Brock Peters, Bernie Casey, and Terry Carter regarding the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act. He served as the opening speaker for then-President Bill Clinton, was feted by future AMPAS President Jack Valenti at the Nixon White House.

Widely recognized for his contributions to theatre, film, and television, Mr. Hooks has won a Producing Emmy Award for his PBS special Voices of Our People; a New York Drama Critics Award for A Raisin in the Sun, and the World Annual Award for Where’s Daddy? He has been nominated for a Tony for his lead role in the musical Hallelujah, Baby, and has also been presented with both the Pioneer Award and the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement and been inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

 


“Here’s a classic throwback image of the original founders of ‘The Media Forum’, from the Emmy Award-winning PBS/KCET television presentation “Voices Of Our People, In Celebration Of Black Poetry” (circa 1981.) Ladies in front: (left to right) Janet MacLaughlan, Denise Nicholas and Tracy Lyles- Men in back: Charles Floyd Johnson, Me, and Brock Peters. The Media Forum organization advocated for more and better opportunities for Black artists and other professionals of color, in front of and behind Hollywood’s film and TV cameras!”


To cite Herbert Allen, a Chicago-based television producer, in his paper, Robert Hooks: Intergenerational Visionary & Institution Builder, written in 2007 on the occasion of yet another Lifetime Achievement Award:

It is time to acknowledge Robert Hooks as a resource of guiding vision for the African American presence in theater, now and in the future. Contemplating the philosophical and sociopolitical underpinnings of Hooks’ gift and commitment to institution building, and in revisiting Hooks’ accomplishments, it becomes clear that he should be actively treasured as a resource today. His is the kind of historic vision that informs the present and gives direction for the future.

“I’ve done eight Broadway shows. You will never meet an actor who has done eight Broadway plays. I was doing play after play; Tennessee Williams…. I was being directed by the greats. When a role came up, producers would say, “Can we get Robert Hooks for this?” I was very fortunate. I was the busiest actor in New York City; this is just how it went down for me.”

Born: April 18, 1937 ( age 78 ), Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.

Spouse: Lorrie Marlow (m. 2008) 

Robert Hooks and Lorrie Marlow


“He grows oranges, cooks the most amazing 4th of July hotdogs-with-everything, and LOOKS GORGEOUS AS HE DOES IT ALL!” – Lorrie Marlow

Children:

Kevin Hooks, Eric Hooks, Christopher Michael Carter, Cecilia Ann Hooks Onibudo, Kiyo Dean Tarpley Hooks, Robert (Rob) Hooks, Jr. 

 

“‘All My Sons’. Now, out in the real world- and doing great things!…(left-to-right) Kevin Peale, Christopher Michael, Kiyo Dean, Dad, Eric Dean, and Robert Dean Hooks Jr. (aka Rob Hooks) in the middle below.” – “This is a very rare photo of me and ALL my guys!  Visiting from the East, and it was the only time (EVER!) we were all together at once! What a great time, and it truly warmed my heart to have them ALL!. They are all older now, (all but one, fathers now themselves.) Needless to say, I am one very proud Dad, to witness their growth into brilliant and fruitful manhood!… Love ya guys!

 

“Throwback photo of me and three of “the boys” (Hollywood circa 1978) top to bottom: Dad, Eric, Christopher, and little Robbie! Oh! the fun we shared, I am one lucky Dad. They’re all grown up now and doing wonderful stuff. This is one of my favorite shots!” 

 

Kevin and I, in separate prime-time TV films in the same week.

Kevin, Christopher, and Dad. 

“As an actor, there is no better feeling or experience than being directed in a major movie by your own son! And as a father, there are no words to express the pride I feel watching him on set applying his art as a filmmaker. Here in this photo are three generations of Hooks’ relaxing on the film set of “Passenger 57″ (circa 1992.) On the left is Eric Hooks, on the right is (Director) Kevin Hooks, and Dad in the middle holding (Eric’s ‘little man’) Jordan Hooks!… What a fabulous time that was for me and my guys!.. Plus the movie was a big hit and a great beginning of Kevin’s career as a director!”

Well, I don’t remember the setting for this one- but I sure like it!. And I’m so proud of the guy sitting next to me, who has gone on to do incredibly wonderful work as an artist in American film and television. My “number one” son Kevin Peale Hooks…yes! that’s right Peale!” – Robert Hooks

 

Here’s a throwback photo of the momentous Honorary Degree Ceremony at Maryland’s Bowie State University in May of 2000, where I was ‘Class of 2000’ keynote speaker. On that occasion, my son Kevin Hooks and I received our Doctor of Humane Letters Degrees (Honoris Causa.) It was the first time in the University’s history to bestow Honorary Degrees on both father and son. Important family history indeed!

Fun Flashback let’s go back a while. Here are eight of my amazing and talented celebrity colleagues as we show off some serious ‘Afros’ for this celebrated EBONY COVER!

Nominations:

Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical

Hallelujah, Baby!

 

Leslie and I were both nominated for a Tony that year. How long ago you ask… just look at the price of the Jet back then.

Robert Dean (Bobby) Hooks is an African-American actor in films, television, and stage. With a career as a producer, theatre builder, and political activist to his credit, he is most recognizable to the public for his over 100 roles in films and television. 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ROBERT [ 2020 ]

Slide Presentation by Dale Ricardo Shields

Remembering my longtime and dear friend Maya Angelou, Here’s a FUN Flashback Friday photo from the set of “Trouble Man” (circa 1971). Surprising me on the set for my Birthday is, from left to right, the supremely brilliant Maya Angelou, director Ivan Dixon, actor Lawrence (Al) Cook, me as “Trouble Man/Mr. T” and that most regal thespian Roscoe Lee Browne. The cake and the surprise visit were arranged by Maya and Roscoe. Between us and the crew- the cake was devoured in less than a half-hour.

DCN Presents: The Robert Hooks Story

 

Biography

 

Robert (Bobby Dean) Hooks – Here’s a throwback photo of me, little Bobby Dean, at 10 or 11 years old and Captain of the Steven’s Elementary School Safety Patrol. I was happy when this school photo sitting was over so I could get back to my homeroom and jive around with my classroom buddy Roberta Flack. Those were some very fun times. 

A boy from the projects becomes a successful millionaire. The life of Robert Hooks Jr. is the epitome of the American Dream. But how exactly did he achieve it? In Dreamer, Robert Hooks Jr. shares his remarkable story. Written in a style that is direct, engaging, and inspiring, Dreamer is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, and a testament to the power of dreams.

https://www.amazon.com/Dreamer-Robert-Hooks-Jr/dp/1733330208?

Early life 

Parents: Edward Hooks and Bertha Hooks 

The youngest of five children, Hooks was born in Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C., the son of Bertha (née Ward), a seamstress, and Edward Hooks, who worked on the railroad tracks, where he died.

 

My mother at age 14. Isn’t she something?. The photo was restored by ‘Dexterity Images’ by artist Dexter Bunn.

My Mother and Me…

Bertha (Bert) Ward Hooks, Elizabeth Ward Eatmon, and Alma Powell, looking fabulous! – Newport Place, NW, Washington, DC. 

 

 

My siblings and me (guess who’s ‘me’) posing for the Sunday photographer in front of our railroad flat in the Foggy Bottom ghetto of our nation’s capital (circa 1939.) Yes! that’s me in front holding my wee-wee cause I had ‘to go’. But they needed the shot so my two brothers were holding the back of my dress (yes! dress! it was hand-me-down time, and that’s all there was.) All my siblings are gone now (bless their beautiful souls), but what a life we shared growing up together!  

 

Me and my amazing siblings (l to R) Charles Edward, Bernice, James Walter, Caroleigh, and Me (the baby!) These guys helped raised me, up from the streets of ‘the foggy bottom’! Love you all,..may you continue to rest in glorious peace…

 

Here’s a Thursday throwback I’ll share. Standing on my hotel room balcony looking across the court, anxiously waiting to see three of my favorite cousins in all the world. Three amazing women I hadn’t seen since I was a small boy, and they were energetic youngsters growing up on a farm, who taught me everything I needed to know about life on a farm in deep south North Carolina. At the time I was on location in Wilmington North Carolina shooting a big television movie and had called them to see if it was possible for them to come to the film set- so we could hang out and catch up after so many decades… And LOOK!..there they were walking across the courtyard, my three adorable cousins Lula, Mamie, and Roxie, the Ward sisters! We, hugged and smooched and had a fabulous mini family reunion all day that day! Here we are pictured outside in the hotel courtyard, Roxie standing with me, Lula (who has since sadly passed), and Mamie sitting. It was one of the most exciting times for me- sitting with them and their husbands, laughing and sharing wild kid’s stories of my young summer vacation days with them on my Uncle Joe and Aunt Essie’s tobacco farm. These are three great women pictured with me in this photo. 

This is my amazing and caring brother James Walter Hooks and me. Growing up in DC’s Foggy Bottom, my four siblings, and our angel of a Mom, Mae Bertha (Bert)and I, lived (despite having very little materially) an astoundingly beautiful and healthy life! ‘Jimbo’ was my running buddy and true mentor, and gave me all the protection I needed to whether any difficulty as a youngster on the DC streets! Though he’s gone from this plane, I’m sending him all the love I have (and will always have) for him, and to give him my eternal thanks, (and my other amazing four siblings, all gone from us now)) for guiding me into and through my own fabulous experience on this earth!

Career

Robert Hooks is regarded, variously, as a gifted artist who has broken color barriers on stage, film, and television.  A leading man when there were few African American matinee idols. He originated roles on the New York stage in such classics as Dutchman, A Taste of Honey, and Where’s Daddy? for which he won the Theatre World Award. He was the first African American male lead on a television drama, the original N.Y.P.D.

In 1968, Hooks was the host of the new public affairs television program, Like It Is.
Famously, Hooks, along with Douglas Turner Ward, founded The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). He then brought Gerald Krone in as Production Manager. The NEC is credited with the launch of the careers of many major Black artists of all disciplines, while creating a body of performance literature over the last thirty years, providing the backbone of African-American theatrical classics. This important theater company has produced plays by Charles Fuller, Wole Soyinka, Peter Weiss, Derek Walcott, Samm Art Williams, Leslie Lee, and Joseph A. Walker, and many others.

Additionally, Hooks is the sole founder of two significant Black theatre companies: the DC Black Repertory Company, and New York’s Group Theatre Workshop, which was created to mentor the talents of New York’s disadvantaged youth. He brought in Dr. Barbara Ann Teer to help teach classes and develop the workshop.

 

This was our Group Theatre Workshop! culled from the underprivileged communities of New York’s five working-class boroughs. The first-ever teenager’s theatre arts group! Many students went on to big success in the entertainment industry! Every major American city should have such an outlet for its hungry young talent!

 

“The Group Theater Workshop (the first and ONLY Black teenage theatre company in America…ever!) Here is what a top professional New York theatre producer (and creator of the NY Shakespeare Festival) thought of this dynamic young theatre group.”

“Saturday morning classes were held in the living room of my Chelsea apartment (circa 1964.) The Kurt Vonnegut quote, the James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, poems and many other Black literary materials ‘lit up’ the excitement of these workshop sessions at our new Group Theatre Workshop.

 

 

“All of it was informal (as you can see here! where I guess I should have been standing front and center ) but Oh! so vitally important to the young wannabee thespians getting the chance to show their talents. Everything was free to those New York youngsters who wanted to learn the art of acting and of the new and burgeoning Black theatre movement!”

Here are some young artists/students from my very first drama company… The Group Theatre Workshop (circa 1964…a tuition-free arts program and the precursor to the Negro Ensemble Company…and also the model for its stellar training arm). From left to right.. Bostic Van Felton, Hattie Winston, Maxine Griffith, Pamela Jones, and me. These four young artists, together with thirty other teenagers from the mean streets of New York, changed their own lives even as they sowed the seeds of change for others.”

Robert Hooks was nominated for a Tony Award for his lead role in the musical, Hallelujah, Baby!, has received both the Pioneer Award and the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement, and has been inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. He also won an Emmy Award for his PBS special Voices of Our People.

He passed down his passion for acting to two of his sons, Kevin Hooks, and Eric Hooks. Kevin Hooks is also a film director, and cast his father in two of his films: Passenger 57 (1992) and Fled (1996). Eric Hooks is an actor, known for Sounder (1972) and Just an Old Sweet Song (1976).

Significant roles for which Robert is known, include Reeve Scott in Hurry Sundown (1967), Mr. T. in the blaxploitation film Trouble Man (1972), grandpa Gene Donovan in the comedy Seventeen Again (2000), and Fleet Admiral Morrow in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). He also appeared on television in an episode of the NBC crime drama series The Eddie Capra Mysteries in 1978 and portrayed Doctor Walcott in the 1980s television series Dynasty.

 

 

The momentous Honorary Degree Ceremony at Maryland’s Bowie State University in May of 2000, where I was ‘Class of 2000’ keynote speaker. On that occasion, my son Kevin Hooks and I received our Doctor of Humane Letters Degrees (Honoris Causa).       It was the first time in the University’s history to bestow Honorary Degrees on both father and son. Important family history indeed!

 

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